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Why on earth did researchers create a robot dinosaur?

Answer: To study potential hunting behaviors.

A closeup image of a yellow dinosaur eye.
Scientists have found a new way to study dinosaurs in action, and no, it doesn’t involve re-creating them with frog DNA like they did in Jurassic Park. Researchers at Seoul National University have built a robot dinosaur to help them determine why dinosaurs might have had feathers and wings long before they could fly.

Robopteryx was modeled on a dinosaur called Caudipteryx that was roughly the size of a peacock. Complete with feathered wings and a tail, Robopteryx was programmed to perform flush-pursuit hunting behaviors using its wings and tail. These behaviors are often seen in roadrunners, which will flap their wings and spread their tails to frighten insects out of hiding so they can catch them.

The team then set Robopteryx in the wild on some unsuspecting grasshoppers, since those insects typically respond to flush-pursuit hunting behaviors and had relatives that were alive at the same time as the Caudipteryx that the robot was imitating. Ninety-three percent of the grasshoppers fled when Robopteryx flapped its wings and spread its tail, compared to only 47 percent when it didn’t. This suggests that dinosaurs may have used their feathers and wings to hunt before evolution realized they could be used for flying.