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Scientists Find Feathered Dino Tail Inside 99-Million-Year-Old Amber

ByAllison EckNOVA NextNOVA Next

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For 99 million years, a dinosaur tail resided peacefully inside a piece of amber. In 2015, a geoscientist named Lida Xing bought that piece of amber from an amber market in Myanmar.

Now, it’s the first fully-preserved evidence that two-legged dinosaurs had bird-like feathers.

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In the past, scientists have discovered ancient feathers preserved in amber, but they’d been dislocated from any dinosaur body part—making it unclear as to whether the feathers belonged to a dinosaur or a bird. But the 2015 chunk of amber contains feathers attached to eight pieces of vertebrae: a 3.67 centimeter-long portion of a dinosaur’s tail (the whole tail was probably made of 25 vertebrae). The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Current Biology, have identified it as possibly a juvenile coelurosaur tail from the mid-Cretaceous period.

A Cretaceous-era ant and plant debris were also trapped in this slab of amber.

Here’s Selina Cheng, reporting for Quartz:

For a long time, dinosaurs were thought to be a relative of scaly lizards, but researchers have found more and more evidence in the past two decades showing that many species had feathers or plumage. A current exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Dinosaurs Among Us, presents extensive fossil evidence that feathered dinosaurs have evolved into modern birds, and therefore aren’t really extinct.

“I think at this point the number of specimens we’ve seen to date point to the fact that most theropod dinosaurs probably had plumage or feathers at some point in their life, [although] may not have been all the way through to adulthood,” says McKellar. “It’s basically one half of the [dinosaur] family tree.”

In addition, the scientists concluded that if the dinosaur’s entire body was covered with this type of feather, it likely would have been incapable of flight. The team hopes to learn more about the chemistry and other physical qualities about the dinosaur through this sample, but hope they might uncover even better examples in the future.

Photo credit: Royal Saskatchewan Museum/ Ryan C. McKellar