Next time you're cutting up a fresh bird, try looking for the lungs. They're about where you'd expect them to be, but they're nestled up dorsally against the ribs and vertebrae, and they're surprisingly small. If you think about it, the the thorax of a bird is a fairly rigid box, with that large sternal keel up front and short ribs—it's a wonder that they are able to get enough air from those tiny organs with relatively little capability for expanding and contracting the chest.
How they do it is an amazing story. Birds have a radically effective respiratory system that works rather differently than ours, with multiple adaptations working together to improve their ability to take in oxygen. There is also a growing body of evidence that dinosaurs also shared many of these adaptations, tightening their link to birds and also making them potentially even more fierce—they were big, they were active, and their lungs were turbocharged.
Continue reading Dinosaur lungs (on Pharyngula)