A dinosaur tail complete with its feathers has been found preserved in a piece of amber. According to researchers, this is not the first time feathers have been found trapped in amber, but this is the first time they have been able to definitively link them to their source animal. CT scans and microscopic analysis revealed that the tail belonged to a flightless, sparrow-sized coelurosaur that lived in the mid-Cretaceous period around 99 million years ago.
“The new 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,” says Ryan McKellar, from the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada in a news release.
“We can be sure of the source because the vertebrae are not fused into a rod or pygostyle as in modern birds and their closest relatives. Instead, the tail is long and flexible, with keels of feathers running down each side. In other words, the feathers definitely are those of a dinosaur not a prehistoric bird.”
The specimen was discovered by the study’s lead author Lida Xing from the China University of Geosciences at an amber market in Myitkyina, Myanmar in 2015. It was first thought to be some kind of plant inclusion and destined to become a curiosity or piece of jewelry. The finding has been published in the journal Current Biology.
[Picture: A segment from the feathered tail of a dinosaur that lived 99 million years ago is preserved in amber. A Cretaceous-era ant and plant debris were also trapped in the resin. Credit: R.C. MCKELLAR, ROYAL SASKATCHEWAN MUSEUM via National Geographic]