A dinosaur tail preserved in amber was just discovered in Myanmar. The fossil includes completely preserved feathers in perfect condition. The exciting findings are helping scientists begin to understand the evolution of feathers. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Current Biology.
While it’s been known for a while that some dinosaurs had feathers, the anatomical features of plumage have been difficult to study. In the past, researchers have discovered feathers in fossils but they were never fully preserved. When preserved feathers have been found, they were usually found in small bits of fossilized amber and impossible to connect to a specific animal.
A researcher from the China University of Geosciences noticed a chunk of fossilized amber for sale in 2015 during a trip to an amber market in Myitkyina, the capital of Myanmar. After realizing this fossil was special and contained full feather structures, the Dexu Institute of Palaeontology purchased the specimen. The amber was dated at around 99 million years old, which would have been during the mid-Cretaceous period. The fossil contained a feathered dinosaur tail with fully intact plumage. The team used powerful microscopes and CT scans to analyze the structures.
They found that the tail was brown on top with white coloration on the underside. The feathers lacked features seen in more modern feathered animals, suggesting this was an early evolutionary version of plumage. The authors emphasize the importance of amber pieces when analyzing fossil records due to the uniquely preserved information.
The findings are an exciting step to fully understanding the evolution of feathered dinosaurs. The feathered tail discovered in a piece of amber is so well-preserved that researchers are still analyzing the details. The fossil may challenge current theories of feathered dinosaur evolution. The team believes this finding shows the benefits of using fossilized amber in evolution research.
Xing et al. A Feathered Dinosaur Tail with Primitive Plumage Trapped in Mid-Cretaceous Amber. Current Biology (2016).