Part of a dinosaur tail has been found preserved in stunning detail in a piece of amber, the fossilised resin from now extinct trees.
The specimen with primitive plumage, about 3.5cm long, was spotted for sale in a market in Myanmar in 2015, destined to become a curiosity or a piece of jewellery.
This first discovery of a dinosaur tail in amber provides insight into the evolution of feathers from dinosaurs to birds.
Ryan McKellar, curator of invertebrate palaeontology at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada, says the specimen unquestionably represents the feathered tail of a non-avian dinosaur preserved from about 99 million years ago.
A paper in the journal Current Biology says the specimen was purchased from an amber market by McKellar’s colleague Lida Xing, of the China University of Geosciences, who recognised its scientific importance.
Visible to the naked eye are a dense covering of feathers from a tail segment which includes eight vertebrae and part of a ninth.
An X-ray scan identified soft tissue, likely muscles, ligaments and skin, as well as trace amounts of ferrous iron indicating that relics of haemoglobin remain trapped within the tail.
“The bone shapes showed that this tail was long and flexible which is unlike the tail type present in modern birds and their close relatives,” says McKellar.
“What makes this specimen particularly unique is that although these feathers are not the first to be found in amber, most other discoveries have been challenging to link to their source animal.”
More images from the piece of amber:
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