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Paleontology: Theropod Dinosaurs and the Origin of Birds

University of Alberta via Coursera

6 Reviews 1757 students interested
  • Provider Coursera
  • Subject Science
  • Cost Free Online Course (Audit)
  • Session In progress
  • Language English
  • Certificate Paid Certificate Available
  • Start Date
  • Duration 5 weeks long
  • Learn more about MOOCs

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Paleontology: Theropod Dinosaurs and the Origin of Birds is a five-lesson course teaching a comprehensive overview of the origins of birds. This course examines the anatomy, diversity, and evolution of theropod dinosaurs in relation to the origin of birds. Students explore various hypotheses for the origin of flight. Watch a preview of the course here:


Bird Anatomy
In Lesson 1, we explore the anatomy and adaptations of birds, and meet the Victorian scientists who first suspected the link between the terrible lizards and modern birds. In order to fly, birds have undergone a series of anatomical specializations that distinguishes them from other vertebrates. However, many of the most striking and anatomically unusual traits of birds originated over 230 million years ago with the very first theropod dinosaurs. Just a quick note before you get started: 'Palaios' is the Greek word for 'ancient', so palaeontology or paleontology is the study of ancient life. Both spellings are correct, with palaeontology used in Britain, and paleontology more common in the US.

Survey of Non-Avian Theropods
In the wake of the Permian mass extinction, the prehistoric world was ripe for the taking. All the world’s landmass was consolidated into the single supercontinent: Pangaea. With no seas standing in their way, new terrestrial animal lineages were able to exploit new habitats all across the globe. Archosaurs, meaning ‘ruling reptiles’, came to dominate Triassic ecosystems. However, dinosaurian archosaurs were not the top predators. Instead, crurotarsans sat undisputed at the top of the food chain. The first theropods were small, but agile carnivores, and although they started out as the Darwinian equivalent of the mail room clerks, by the next geological period (the Jurassic), they were large and in charge. In Lesson 2, we will introduce you to some of the earliest theropods, and explore the anatomical secrets to their survival and eventual success. We will also meet the largest land predators of all time.

Coelurosaurs I
In the previous lesson, we explored how the various theropod lineages adapted to their role as apex predators. In this lesson, we will explore a new group of theropods, as much characterized by their speed and agility as their predatory prowess. The coelurosaurs were the most successful and diverse of all the theropods, and included herbivores, the smallest of all dinosaurs, and, of course, the mighty tyrannosaurs.

Coelurosaurs II
Dinosaurs had long been thought of as overgrown reptiles; cold blooded, swamp bound, with meagre intelligence and little to no social complexity. The ‘Dinosaur Renaissance’ was a revolution in palaeontological thinking that entirely transformed that traditional image of dinosaurs. In Lesson 4, we will see how new research and discoveries over the past fifty years have shaped our modern image of dinosaurs into one of energetic, intelligent animals, that likely displayed many of the complex social behaviours witnessed in modern birds. You’ll also meet the deinonychosaurs, A.K.A. ‘the raptors’, and you will learn the leading theories for how one group of dinosaurs learned to fly.

The Avian World
66 million years ago, an asteroid the larger than Mt. Everest collided with the earth and brought about the extinction of the dinosaurs…except birds! Now that you’re familiar with some of their larger Mesozoic ancestors and their bird-like features, it’s time to meet the avian lineage proper. With the evolution of flight, birds could exploit habitats and resources that were literally unreachable by other animals. The evolution of birds has been one of diversification. Flightlessness has evolved numerous times, as have specializations for insectivory, swimming, and predation. Although theropods may no longer dominate the land, they still rule the skies.

Taught by

Angelica Torices, Ph.D and Philip John Currie, Ph.D

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Reviews for Coursera's Paleontology: Theropod Dinosaurs and the Origin of Birds
4.8 Based on 6 reviews

  • 5 stars 83%
  • 4 star 17%
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  • 1
Pat B
5.0 3 years ago
by Pat completed this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.
A fascinating course that discussed the evolution of birds and convinced me that the age of dinosaurs did not end 65 million years ago.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Kristina Š
5.0 5 days ago
by Kristina completed this course and found the course difficulty to be medium.
The same way Dino 101 is certainly in the top three of all MOOCs I have ever taken, if not the best, these courses seem like worthy sequels. I was thrilled to see professor Curie as well again. All in all, a great lecturer, amazing graphics, and the most awesome real-life fossils from the University of Alberta. This course continues Dino 101 in more detail, focusing on Theropoda dinosaurs, and describing their evolution into birds we know today. You'll learn a lot about anatomy, hunting habits, life conditions and novelties these species have manifested, and you'll learn that everything you kn…
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
5.0 3 weeks ago
Anonymous completed this course.
Course is well organized and presented. The instructors were enthusiastic and easy to understand. Fascinating subject. I had no idea there were so many kinds of dinosaurs. The course work increased my curiousity about the subject, and I found myself going to other sources, as well, to learn more.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes
Anastasia B
5.0 3 years ago
by Anastasia completed this course.
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Tom H
4.0 3 years ago
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Tess E
5.0 2 years ago
by Tess completed this course.
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  • 1

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