Perfectly Preserved Feathered Dinosaur Tail Found Encased in Amber

When an amber miner first found a small piece of amber with what appeared to be plant material inside, he never imaged that it, in fact, was actually a feathered dinosaur tail!

The piece of amber, estimated to be 99 million years old, had been already polished and ready to sell at an amber market in Myitkina, Myanmar.  It was discovered by Lida Xing, from the China University of Geosciences in Beijing.

One of a Kind Discovery

Current Biology

Co-author, Ryan McKellar described the tail in the Current Biology Journal.  “This is the first time we’ve found dinosaur material preserved in amber.”  He examined the tail’s anatomy and found that it definitely belonged not to an ancient bird, but a feathered dinosaur.

“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”, he said.  “Instead, the tail is long and flexible, with keels of feathers running down each side.”

Current Biology

How it Happened

The area where the piece of amber was found had been producing similar pieces for the past 2000 years.  Scientists especially have been drawn to this location thanks to a large number of insects that have been found preserved in the amber.

“The larger amber pieces often get broken up in the mining process.  By the time we see them, they have often been turned into things like jewelry.  We never know how much of the specimen has been missed”, said McKellar.

In this particular case, McKellar stated that there were signs that the dinosaur was still alive when it became stuck inside of the sticky substance because there was proof of fluids contained inside of the dinosaur.

Dr. Paul Barrett, from the London Natural History Museum, called the piece of amber a “beautiful fossil”, and stated that it was a “really rare occurrence of vertebrate material in amber.”

Current Biology

“Feathers have been recovered in amber before, so that aspect isn’t new, but what this new specimen shows is the 3D arrangement of feathers in a Mesozoic dinosaur or bird for the first time,” said Dr. Barrett.

“Almost all of the other feathered dinosaur fossils and Mesozoic bird skeletons that we have are flattened and 2D only, which has obscured some important features of their anatomy.”