Theropods in Amber

A really cool fossil find from Myanmar: bird’s wings mumified in Amber. As Lida Xing and coauthors report, the extraordinary fossil preserved “the osteology, plumage and pterylosis of two exceptionally preserved theropod wings from Burmese amber, with vestiges of soft tissues.” (p. 1) I.e., we can have a rare glimpse of what the wing of this animal actually looked like in life.

The sample is dated to approximately 99 million years ago—the mid-Cretaceous period. The specimens are identified as “theropods”, which means something bird or dinosaur-y. The evidence suggests that these are newly hatched birds that became trapped in amber. The fully fledged wings indicate that this species was precocial, i.e., born ready to leave the nest immediately, as some birds are. Thus, the fossil also hints that this developmental pattern was present in the past.

The preserved feathers suggest that the animal might have appeared brown with white undersides. Given that these are baby chicks, it is possible that the mature animals would have different plumage. But this is one of the clearest records of the coloring of a “dinosaur”.

As the BBC says, this is a spectacular find!

Nice work, all.

From Figure 2 (f)” Alula barbs with blunted apices and blade-like barbules with banded pigmentation.” (the scale bar is 1.5 mm) Link: http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2016/160628/ncomms12089/fig_tab/ncomms12089_F2.html

 

  1. Xing, Lida, Ryan C. McKellar, Min Wang, Ming Bai, Jingmai K. O/’Connor, Michael J. Benton, Jianping Zhang, Yan Wang, Kuowei Tseng, Martin G. Lockley, Gang Li, Weiwei Zhang, and Xing Xu, Mummified precocial bird wings in mid-Cretaceous Burmese amber. Nat Commun, 7 06/28/online 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms12089

 

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