Reporting the extraordinary findings in a new paper, paleontologists have discovered what they believe to be the finest example of dinosaur feathers trapped in fossilized amber ever. Working with a CT scanner and electron microscope, researchers identified the ancient feathered tail as belonging to an adolescent coelurosaur, a family of bird-like carnivorous dinosaurs from the Cretaceous era some 99 million years ago.
Strangely enough, lead author Lida Xing from the China University of Geosciences in Beijing accidentally spied the rare specimen of amber at an outdoor market in Myanmar in 2015. Xing instantly recognized its fantastic scientific value and called upon Professor Ryan McKellar of Canada's Royal Saskatchewan Museum to assist the team in its research and analysis.
“The [amber] material preserves a tail consisting of eight vertebrae from a juvenile; these are surrounded by feathers that are preserved in 3D and with microscopic detail,” explained McKellar in a official statement.
Despite the absence of a strong central shaft, the feathers do display a branching pattern of individual barbs and barbules, a design seen in modern bird feathers and indicating how long ago these structures formed. Feathered specimens have been found in amber pieces before, but never in this near-perfect state. What is remarkable is the fact that these feathers could be the first non-avian dinosaur evidence found neatly preserved in amber. You can read the entire report at the online journal Current Biology.
“Amber pieces preserve tiny snapshots of ancient ecosystems, but they record microscopic details, three-dimensional arrangements, and...tissues that are difficult to study in other settings,” noted McKellar. “This is a new source of information that is worth researching with intensity and protecting as a fossil resource.”
Have a look at this glimpse back in time nearly 100 million years ago in the gallery below and tell us if this feathery creature might be included in an upcoming Jurassic World sequel.