Kevin Padian

Title
Professor of Integrative Biology
Department
Dept of Integrative Biology
Phone
(510) 642-7434
Fax
(510) 643-6264
Research Expertise and Interest
evolutionary biology, paleontology, systematics, functional morphology, Mesozoic vertebrate paleontology, terrestrial vertebrate fauna, pterosaurs, Mesozoic era, bones of extinct reptiles
Research Description

My work falls into four general areas: (1) Origin of major evolutionary adaptations. Through a synthesis of phylogenetic, functional, and comparative morphological evidence, I try to assemble the best-supported evolutionary sequences available and to reconstruct the steps by which major adaptations, particularly flight, arise. (2) The beginning of the "Age of Dinosaurs." Although I work generally on Mesozoic vertebrate paleontology, I am most interested in the changes in the terrestrial vertebrate fauna that took place around the Triassic-Jurassic boundary. (3) Systematics, functional morphology, and flight of pterosaurs. Pterosaurs, the first vertebrates to gain powered flight, provide many interesting keys to the evolution of posture, locomotion, homeothemy, and vertebrate adaptation in the early Mesozoic Era. (4) Histology and constructional morphology of the bones of extinct reptiles. We study the microscopic structure of bones, and place our data in two contexts: phylogenetic (evolution of tissue types) and ontogenetic (development of tissue types with age). These two approaches, taken together, can provide the best picture of age, growth, and metabolism, and engineering design of bone. Our histology work is in conjunction with other researchers in California, Montana, and France.

In the News

April 4, 2022

T. rex’s short arms may have lowered risk of bites during feeding frenzies

In a new paper appearing in the current issue of the journal Acta Palaeontologia Polonica, Padian floats a new hypothesis: The T. rex’s arms shrank in length to prevent accidental or intentional amputation when a pack of T. rexes descended on a carcass with their massive heads and bone-crushing teeth.
December 7, 2021

Fleshing out the bones of Quetzalcoatlus, Earth’s largest flier ever

Look around any wetland today and you’re likely to see 3-foot-tall egrets or 4-foot-tall herons wading in the shallows in stealthy search of fish, insects or crustaceans. But 70 million years ago, along the Rio Grande River in Texas, a more impressive and scarier creature stalked the marshes: the 12-foot-tall pterosaur known as Quetzalcoatlus. With a 37- to 40-foot wingspan, it was the largest flying animal that ever lived on Earth.

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In the News

April 4, 2022

T. rex’s short arms may have lowered risk of bites during feeding frenzies

In a new paper appearing in the current issue of the journal Acta Palaeontologia Polonica, Padian floats a new hypothesis: The T. rex’s arms shrank in length to prevent accidental or intentional amputation when a pack of T. rexes descended on a carcass with their massive heads and bone-crushing teeth.
December 7, 2021

Fleshing out the bones of Quetzalcoatlus, Earth’s largest flier ever

Look around any wetland today and you’re likely to see 3-foot-tall egrets or 4-foot-tall herons wading in the shallows in stealthy search of fish, insects or crustaceans. But 70 million years ago, along the Rio Grande River in Texas, a more impressive and scarier creature stalked the marshes: the 12-foot-tall pterosaur known as Quetzalcoatlus. With a 37- to 40-foot wingspan, it was the largest flying animal that ever lived on Earth.

Featured in the Media

Please note: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of UC Berkeley.
April 5, 2022
Sommer Brokaw
The Tyrannosaurus rex's arms may have evolved to become extremely short to lower the risk of bites while feeding in packs, a new study says. A 45-foot-long T. rex may have 3-feet long arms--the equivalent of a 6-foot human with 5-inch arms, study author Kevin Padian, emeritus professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a curator of the UC Museum of Paleontology , said. "What if several adult tyrannosaurs converged on a carcass?," he asked in his statement. "You have a bunch of massive skulls, with incredibly powerful jaws and teeth, ripping and chomping down flesh and bone right next to you. What if your friend there thinks you're getting a little too close? They might warn you away by severing your arm." This story appeared in several media outlets. For more, see our release at Berkeley News.
December 9, 2021
Jordan Mendoza
Imagine a giraffe, but with a 40-foot wingspan and a massive beak. That was the Quetzalcoatlus, a type of pterosaur that dominated the skies millions of years ago. Neither a bird nor a dinosaur, the pterosaur was around for millions of years alongside the likes of the Tyrannosaurus rex and is one of the most recognizable creatures from prehistoric times. However, not much is known about the giant Quetzalcoatlus. It is regarded as the biggest flying creature to ever exist, but there is skepticism as to whether it did fly, and if it did, how it got in the air. Now, a group of researchers say they have figured out the Quetzalcoatlus did in fact fly and have learned how it did so by discovering two new types of pterosaurs. Their findings were published in the journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. Kevin Padian, co-author of the study and an emeritus professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, added the creatures had large breastbones, so they were "terrific flyers." With its long jaws, the Quetzalcoatlus often ate crabs, worms and clams from rivers and lakes. For more on this story, see our press release at Berkeley News.
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