In 2015, a scientist made a once-in-a-lifetime discovery at a northern Myanmar amber market.
Perfectly preserved in a piece of amber about the size of a dried apricot was a 99-million-year-old feathered dinosaur tail.
The bones of the long, flexible tail are not fused, leading researchers to conclude that the tail belonged to a terrestrial dinosaur rather than a bird.
Chinese and Canadian researchers have identified the specimen as belonging to a type of coelurosaur. The coelurosaurs were a group of dinosaurs that included, among other things, a number of bipedal birdlike species.
This particular tail section belonged to a species that was about the size of a sparrow. When the dinosaur was alive, it would have had a mouse-like tail covered in bird-like feathers. Closer examination of the feathers under a microscope indicates that they were likely brown and white.
Dr. Lida Xing, the paleontologist who discovered the specimen, knew immediately that he had stumbled upon something invaluable.
“I realized that the content was a vertebrate, probably theropod, rather than any plant…I was not sure that (the trader) really understood how important this specimen was, but he did not raise the price,” Xing told CNN.
Paleontologist Ryan McKellar, co-author of the paper on this discovery, notes that although bird wings from the dinosaur age have previously been discovered in amber, this is the first time a segment of a mummified dinosaur skeleton has been found preserved in it.
The bone fragments and feathers found in the amber add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that plumage was more common among dinosaurs than scientists originally thought.
According to McKellar;
“The more we see these feathered dinosaurs and how widespread the feathers are, things like a scaly velociraptor seem less and less likely and they’ve become a long more bird like in the over all view…They’re not quite the Godzilla-style scaly monsters we once thought.”
And for those out there who were hoping for a real-life Jurassic Park, sorry…no dice. The amber contained soft tissue and decayed blood from the tail, but did not contain any genetic material.
Chicken-lovers should take special note of this particular discovery. Why? Because our feathered friends originated in the dinosaur era, in a group of dinosaurs called theropods. The dinosaur that owned the feathered tail found in the amber was a coelurosaur, which was a member of a subgroup of the theropods.
Kind of makes you think a little differently about your backyard egg-layers, doesn’t it?
If you’re interested in reading more about this incredible scientific discovery, the researchers’ findings are available in the December issue of Current Biology.
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