Tail of feath­ered di­nosaur found in chunk of am­ber

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By REUTERS in Wash­ing­ton

Around 99 mil­lion years ago, a ju­ve­nile di­nosaur got its feath­ery tail stuck in tree resin, a death trap for the small crea­ture. But its mis­for­tune is now giv­ing sci­en­tists unique in­sight into feath­ered dinosaurs that pros­pered dur­ing the Cre­ta­ceous Pe­riod.

Re­searchers said on Thurs- day that a chunk of am­ber — fos­silized resin — spot­ted by a Chi­nese sci­en­tist in a mar­ket in My­itky­ina, Myan­mar, last year con­tained 36 mil­lime­ters of the tail of the di­nosaur, com­plete with bones, flesh, skin and feath­ers.

The di­nosaur it­self was no more than 15 cen­time­ters long, about the size of a spar­row.

“This is the first of its kind,” said pa­le­on­tol­o­gist Ryan McKel­lar of the Royal Saskatchewan Mu­seum in Canada, one of the re­searchers in­volved in the study pub­lished in the jour­nal Cur­rent Bi­ol­ogy. “I’m blown away.”

The sci­en­tists sus­pect the tail be­longed to a type of two­legged, bird­like di­nosaur called a mani­rap­tora, one of sev­eral groups of dinosaurs that had feath­ers.

Birds, which first ap­peared about 150 mil­lion years ago dur­ing the Juras­sic Pe­riod, evolved from small, feath­ered dinosaurs.

The re­searchers used so­phis­ti­cated scan­ning and mi­cro­scopic ob­ser­va­tions to study the tail. They de­ter­mined it boasted a chest­nut-brown up­per sur­face, with a pale or white un­der­side, a pat­tern known as coun­ter­shad­ing.

“We’re see­ing feath­ers still at­tached to the tail, and we can see how they at­tach, the shapes that they have down to the mi­crom­e­ter scale, and things like pig­ment pat­terns within the feath­ers,” McKel­lar said.

The tail con­sisted of eight ver­te­brae, soft tis­sue and feath­ers exquisitely pre­served in three di­men­sions.

REUTERS

A chunk of am­ber shows the tip of a pre­served tail of a two­legged, bird­like feath­ered di­nosaur.

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