1104: Feathers

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Click to see a video of a modern bird using stability flapping during predatory behavior. It all fits! Also, apparently Microraptor had *four* wings? The past keeps getting cooler! (And there's more of it every day!)
Title text: Click to see a video of a modern bird using stability flapping during predatory behavior. It all fits! Also, apparently Microraptor had *four* wings? The past keeps getting cooler! (And there's more of it every day!)


Dinosaurs have been a fascinating topic in popular science and have captivated children's interest since the first fossils were discovered in modern times, around the 1700s; prior discoveries in China and elsewhere were thought to be the bones of dragons or other mythical creatures. The success of the Jurassic Park movies perpetuated an erroneous understanding of the physical characteristics of dinosaurs. Since the first movie of that series, scientific evidence has emerged suggesting that Dromaeosauridae, or "raptors", the main antagonists of that movie, looked quite different from their animatronic and CGI versions. In particular, they are now known to have been much smaller, and are believed to have had feathers and even wings, as evidenced by quill nobs observed on the arms of raptors.

Denver W. Fowler is among the scientists who support this hypothesis. (incidentally, a "Fowler" is a hunter of wildfowl/birds) The comic refers to a publication by him and his colleagues ("et al."), in the PLoS ONE, an online scientific journal ("PLoS" stands for "Public Library of Science").

Megan believes this new model of the appearance of raptors makes them much less cool, but the way in which Jill reformulates the facts to make them seem like even more vicious predators re-ignites her interest and makes the new raptors seem like at least as good a candidate for a good action thriller movie like the original version, if not better. Thus, the phrase "the past keeps getting cooler". (Or that Megan, like Randall, has an irrational fear of raptors and is updating her knowledge of them.)

Clicking on the original cartoon links to a YouTube video of a bird of prey (in this case a secretarybird) using its wings for stability while standing on top of a struggling prey, from which one can easily envision instead a raptor upon its prey—especially in case of some kind of "raptorphobia", as for Randall (see 87: Velociraptors and 135: Substitute). Microraptor was a small raptor with four wings, which lets you imagine even scarier scenes.

The same idea is later explored from a different perspective in 1527: Humans.


[Megan is walking up to Jill with a bow in her hair bun. Jill has a stack of three books in front of her, is reading another book and a fifth book lies behind her on the floor.]
Megan: What are you reading about?
Jill: Dinosaurs!
Megan: Oh, yeah.
[Zoom out of the same scene, with Megan standing and Jill looking up at her.]
Megan: They've gotten all weird since when I was a kid.
Megan: They used to be awesome, but now they all have dorky feathers, right?
Jill: Yup!
[Same scene in a frame-less panel. Jill looks down and below the two characters there is a footnote.]
Jill: This says they now think raptors used their wings for stability, flapping to stay on top of their prey while hanging on with their hooked claws and eating it alive.
*Fowler et. al., PLoS ONE 6(12), 2011
[Zoom in on the same scene, the book on the floor is outside the panel. Megan just stands staring at Jill who reads on. Beat panel.]
[Megan is now on the floor next to Jill flipping through the top book she has taken from the pile.]


  • In the comic it says "et. al." instead of the correct "et al.", this is a common mistake.

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Okay, this is seriously messing with my world. T-Rex covered in downy goodness? I mean it explains a lot, like how they were able to survive in Northern Climes, but, I don't know...--grate314 (talk) 12:38, 5 September 2012 (UTC)

Lets put it this way, would it be any less intimidating if it were chasing you? -Pennpenn 04:08, 25 January 2016 (UTC)

If anyone wanted to look at it, here's a link to the article mentioned


I think the linked article is the wrong one. First, it was published in 2009, not 2012. And second, it's talking about raptors (eagles), not (veloci)raptors (dinosaurs). Oddly, it is talking about raptors (eagles) restraining prey, so maybe Randal made the mistake? No, the picture's caption clearly references another article. I'm having a hard time tracking it down. 21:01, 5 September 2012 (UTC)

"Correct" article is: http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0028964 - "Full" citation is: Citation: Fowler DW, Freedman EA, Scannella JB, Kambic RE (2011) The Predatory Ecology of Deinonychus and the Origin of Flapping in Birds. PLoS ONE 6(12): e28964. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0028964 --B. P. (talk) 21:35, 5 September 2012 (UTC)

That citation  I do not think is the correct, article it goes to is not matching up fully, this link was published in December 2011 though the rest of the citation appears to be correct. 12:22, 5 September 2017 (UTC)

Jurassic Park was not incorrect in the size of the raptors; it was incorrect in the *name* of them! The so-called velociraptors in the movie were actually Deinonychus, which did grow to about that size and had the same shape and form as the smaller velociraptor. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

There is no mention of velociraptors at this comic or explain. I have changed the category to dinosaurs. --Dgbrt (talk) 20:33, 28 April 2014 (UTC)

The video link seems to be DEAD. If anyone has the video or knows where it can be found, please... (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I think it's worth mentioning that the last part of the title text "And there's more of it every day!" is a fun way of stating that the history we can study becomes longer and therefore more interesting every day simply because every day another 24 hours is "added" to history. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

The video is no longer available, should we mention this in the explanation? Argis13 (talk) 01:54, 4 October 2019 (UTC)

The Explanation literally reads: "This video is now defunct, but you can still access it via the Wayback Machine." --Lupo (talk) 09:27, 4 October 2019 (UTC)

I clicked on the original comic, and got taken to YouTube, where I got the message Video unavailable. Whether it's inaccessible to everyone, or just where I live (New Zealand), I don't know. Koro Neil (talk) 22:26, 21 June 2021 (UTC)