In an astonishing find, researchers have discovered a chunk of feathered dinosaur tail stuck in amber which includes flesh, bone, feathers and other body parts. The revolutionary find is a proof that dinosaurs with feather existed millions of years ago and the sample will become a key interlink in understanding the evolutionary pattern of species over the years.
Amber is the fossilized resin from ancient forests and forms from plant resin. The aromatic honey-like liquid ooze down trees and solidifies over the time. Meanwhile, it can trap debris such as seeds, leaves, feathers and insects. This time, it has trapped dinosaur fossils that lived 99 million years ago on Earth.
The discovery was made by the amber hunters in Myanmar who once thought that the stone has trapped vegetation. They went to the market to sell the amber where a Chinese palaeontologist named Xing Lida saw the astonishing piece brought it with him for further research.
“With the new specimen from Myanmar, we finally get that association between identifiable bones and feathers preserved in exquisite detail,” said Ryan McKellar of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada, a palaeontologist and an author of the study.
Earlier, researcher thought that the feathers belong to a bird, but anatomy of feather did not match with any bird species. Researchers then used microscopic tool to study the tail and feather and found that it boasted a chestnut-brown upper surface, with a pale or white underside, a pattern known as countershading.
Study authors then took micrometer scale to measure how feather are attached to the tail and studied other things like pigments, patterns, and size of feather. McKellar revealed that the tail consisted of eight vertebrae, soft tissue and feathers exquisitely preserved in three dimensions
Researchers have previously found feather trapped in the Cretaceous amber. However, it is the first time that feathers have been found along with other body parts which make it special.
Scientists conducted further examination of the collected piece. X-ray analysis revealed that the tail belongs to a theropod (a two-legged dinosaur) and no ancient bird was this big. “We can tell that this specimen came from a theropod dinosaur because the tail is flexible and the vertebrae articulate with each other, instead of being fused together to form a solid rod — which is a characteristic of modern birds and their closest relatives,” McKellar said.
Further studying the feathers revealed that they fall in between in the evolutionary process of two predicted stages. Thus, it is confirmed that dinosaurs had much wider range of feathers than thought by the palaeontologists.
Researchers further added that they cannot extract DNA of the species it has a half-life of about 521 years, it would take less than 7 million years for an organisms’ DNA to be completely destroyed. Since the newly found sample belongs to a dinosaur that lived 99 million years ago, its DNA has long gone.
Scientists are excited to conduct more research and unravel mysteries of these ancient species in future.
The study appeared in the journal Current Biology.