World First as Feathered Dinosaur Tail is Found Preserved in Amber

World First as Feathered Dinosaur Tail is Found Preserved in Amber

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Researchers from China, Canada, and the University of Bristol have discovered a dinosaur tail complete with its feathers trapped in a piece of amber.

The finding reported today in Current Biology helps to fill in details of the dinosaurs' feather structure and evolution, which can't be surmised from fossil evidence.

While the feathers aren’t the first to be found in amber, earlier specimens have been difficult to definitively link to their source animal, the researchers say.

Ryan McKellar, from the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada, said: "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.

"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."

A 99 million-year-old piece of amber with a feathered dinosaur tail trapped inside. Ryan McKellar/Royal Saskatchewan Museum.

The study's first author Lida Xing from the China University of Geosciences in Beijing discovered the remarkable specimen at an amber market in Myitkyina, Myanmar in 2015.

The amber piece was originally seen as some kind of plant inclusion and destined to become a curiosity or piece of jewellery, but Xing recognized its potential scientific importance and suggested the Dexu Institute of Palaeontology buy the specimen.

The researchers say the specimen represents the feathered tail of a theropod preserved in mid-Cretaceous amber about 99 million years ago. While it was initially difficult to make out details of the amber inclusion, Xing and his colleagues relied on CT scanning and microscopic observations to get a closer look.

The feathers suggest the tail had a chestnut-brown upper surface and a pale or white underside. The specimen also offers insight into feather evolution. The feathers lack a well-developed central shaft or rachis. Their structure suggests that the two finest tiers of branching in modern feathers, known as barbs and barbules, arose before a rachis formed.

Artist impression of a small coelurosaur on the forest floor. Cheung Chung and Liu Yi

Professor Mike Benton from the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol, added: "It's amazing to see all the details of a dinosaur tail – the bones, flesh, skin, and feathers – and to imagine how this little fellow got his tail caught in the resin, and then presumably died because he could not wrestle free.

"There's no thought that dinosaurs could shed their tails, as some lizards do today."

The researchers also examined the chemistry of the tail inclusion where it was exposed at the surface of the amber. The analysis shows that the soft tissue layer around the bones retained traces of ferrous iron, a relic left over from haemoglobin that was also trapped in the sample.

The findings show the value of amber as a supplement to the fossil record. Ryan McKellar added: "Amber pieces preserve tiny snapshots of ancient ecosystems, but they record microscopic details, three-dimensional arrangements, and labile tissues that are difficult to study in other settings.

"This is a new source of information that is worth researching with intensity, and protecting as a fossil resource."

The researchers say they are now "eager to see how additional finds from this region will reshape our understanding of plumage and soft tissues in dinosaurs and other vertebrates."

Further information: ‘A Feathered Dinosaur Tail with Primitive Plumage Trapped in Mid-Cretaceous Amber’ by L. Xing, M. Benton, R McKellar et al in Current Biology

Feathered dinosaur

A feathered dinosaur is any species of dinosaur possessing feathers. While this includes all species of birds, there is a hypothesis that many, if not all non-avian dinosaur species also possessed feathers in some shape or form. However, Professor Paul Barrett of the British Natural History Museum says on the matter, 'We have really strong evidence that animals like the duck-billed dinosaurs, horned dinosaurs and armoured dinosaurs did not have feathers because we have lots of skin impressions of these animals that clearly show they had scaly coverings. We also have zero evidence of any feather like structures in the long-necked dinosaurs, the sauropodomorphs." [1]

It has been suggested that feathers had originally evolved for the purposes of thermal insulation, as remains their purpose in the down feathers of infant birds today, prior to their eventual modification in birds into structures that support flight.

Since scientific research began on dinosaurs in the early 1800s, they were generally believed to be closely related to modern reptiles, such as lizards. The word dinosaur itself, coined in 1842 by paleontologist Richard Owen, comes from the Greek for 'fearsome lizard'. This view began to shift during the so-called dinosaur renaissance in scientific research in the late 1960s, and by the mid-1990s significant evidence had emerged that dinosaurs were much more closely related to birds, which descended directly from the theropod group of dinosaurs [2] and are themselves a subgroup within the Dinosauria.

Knowledge of the origin of feathers developed as new fossils were discovered throughout the 2000s and 2010s and as technology enabled scientists to study fossils more closely. Among non-avian dinosaurs, feathers or feather-like integument have been discovered in dozens of genera via direct and indirect fossil evidence. [3] Although the vast majority of feather discoveries have been in coelurosaurian theropods, feather-like integument has also been discovered in at least three ornithischians, suggesting that feathers may have been present on the last common ancestor of the Ornithoscelida, a dinosaur group including both theropods and ornithischians. [4] It is possible that feathers first developed in even earlier archosaurs, in light of the discovery of highly feather-like pycnofibers in pterosaurs. [5] Crocodilians also possess beta keratin similar to those of birds, which suggests that they evolved from common ancestral genes. [6]

𧯪utiful' dinosaur tail found preserved in amber

The one-of-a-kind discovery helps put flesh on the bones of these extinct creatures, opening a new window on the biology of a group that dominated Earth for more than 160 million years.

Examination of the specimen suggests the tail was chestnut brown on top and white on its underside.

"This is the first time we've found dinosaur material preserved in amber," co-author Ryan McKellar, of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada, told the BBC News website.

The study's first author, Lida Xing from the China University of Geosciences in Beijing, discovered the remarkable fossil at an amber market in Myitkina, Myanmar.

The 99-million-year-old amber had already been polished for jewellery and the seller had thought it was plant material. On closer inspection, however, it turned out to be the tail of a feathered dinosaur about the size of a sparrow.

Lida Xing was able to establish where it had come from by tracking down the amber miner who had originally dug out the specimen.

Dr McKellar said examination of the tail's anatomy showed it definitely belonged to a feathered dinosaur and not an ancient bird.

"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 explained.

"Instead, the tail is long and flexible, with keels of feathers running down each side."

Dr McKellar said there are signs the dinosaur still contained fluids when it was incorporated into the tree resin that eventually formed the amber. This indicates that it could even have become trapped in the sticky substance while it was still alive.

Co-author Prof Mike Benton, from the University of Bristol, added: "It's amazing to see all the details of a dinosaur tail - the bones, flesh, skin, and feathers - and to imagine how this little fellow got his tail caught in the resin, and then presumably died because he could not wrestle free."

Examination of the chemistry of the tail where it was exposed at the surface of the amber even shows up traces of ferrous iron, a relic of the blood that was once in the sample.

The findings also shed light on how feathers were arranged on these dinosaurs, because 3D features are often lost due to the compression that occurs when corpses become fossils in sedimentary rocks.

The feathers lack the well-developed central shaft - a rachis - known from modern birds. Their structure suggests that the two finest tiers of branching in modern feathers, known as barbs and barbules, arose before the rachis formed.

Kachin State, in north-eastern Myanmar, where the specimen was found, has been producing amber for 2,000 years. But because of the large quantity of insects preserved in the deposits, over the last 20 years it has become a focus for scientists who study ancient arthropods.

"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 jewellery. We never know how much of the specimen has been missed," said Dr McKellar.

"If you had a complete specimen, for example, you could look at how feathers were arranged across the whole body. Or you could look at other soft tissue features that don't usually get preserved."

Other preserved parts of a feathered dinosaur might also reveal whether it was a flying or gliding animal.

"There have been other, anecdotal reports of similar specimens coming from the region. But if they disappear into private collections, then they're lost to science," Dr McKellar explained.

Dr Paul Barrett, from London's Natural History Museum, called the specimen a "beautiful fossil", describing it as a "really rare occurrence of vertebrate material in amber".

He told BBC News: "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/bird for the first time, as 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.

"The new amber specimen confirms ideas from developmental biologists about the order in which some of the detailed features of modern feathers, such as barbs and barbules (the little hooks that hold the barbs together so that the feather can form a nice neat vane), would have appeared also."

Earlier this year, scientists also described ancient bird wings that had been discovered in amber from the same area of Myanmar.

Feathered dinosaur tail found trapped in amber

In 2015, scientist Lida Xing came across a beautiful and curious piece at an amber market in Myitkyina, Myanmar, likely destined to become a piece of jewelery. Trapped inside the yellow piece was a feather that others had overlooked as belonging to a plant. But Xing knew that it could be something more.

It was a piece of 99 million-year-old history: a dinosaur feather.

"This is the first time that skeletal material from a dinosaur has been found in amber," Xing told the CBC. "Previous finds in amber have included isolated feathers that may have belonged to dinosaurs, but without an identifiable part of the body included, their source has remained open to debate."

Also part of the study was the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. Ryan McKellar, curator of invertebrate palaeontology, was involved in specimen photography and feather-work, determining what happened between when the dinosaur died and when it was trapped.

"It's spectacular," he told the CBC. "Because this is the first time we're seeing dinosaur material preserved in amber where we know for sure that we're dealing with dinosaur as opposed to bird material because we've got the skeletal material there, not just the feathers."

The idea that dinosaurs had feathers is a relatively new one, gaining more support since around 1995, McKellar said.

It's believed they began to develop feathers in the Jurassic period, between 200 and 144 million years ago. Dinosaurs began living side-by-side with birds in the Cretacous period, where this specimen is believed to have originated.

Using CT scanning and microscopes, the researchers ascertained that the feathers belonged to dinosaur with a tail that was chestnut-brown at the upper surface and pale or white on the underside. It is the first time that researchers have been able to glean colour out of a feather.

Along with being able to provide a picture of the dinosaur's plumage, it also gives insight as to how feathers evolved. This ancient find lacks a central shaft that is well-developed — by today's standards. The branching of modern feathers — called barbules — must have formed before the central shaft matured.

The dinosaur is likely a theropod, belonging to a group of coelurosaurs. It would be a small, bipedal carnivore that ran around on the ground rather than flying around.

Xing, who has discovered feathers in amber before finds this discovery particularly thrilling.

"I have been thinking," he said. "This may be the coolest find in my life."

"The preservation is spectacular. It's one of those specimens that's just a jaw-dropper."

Scientists discover feathered dinosaur tail in amber!

The one-of-a-kind find is helping scientists to figure out more about the extinct creatures that roamed the Earth for more than 160 million years.

The amber specimen is 99 million years old and was discovered by a scientist on sale at an amber market in Myanmar in South East Asia.

The amber had been polished to be made into jewellery, as its seller had thought it was plant material trapped inside.

In fact, it turned out to be the feathered tail of a sparrow-sized dinosaur!

Experts determined that the feathery find belonged to dinosaur and not an ancient bird as the bones inside it were not fused together, like they are in today’s birds.

It’s likely that the ancient creature met a sticky end when his tail got caught in the resin that later formed the amber.

Although this spelled bad news for the little fellow, it’s good news for scientists, who have previously only been able to see dino feathers as fossils – not the 3D view that this amber specimen offers.

The tail, which is chestnut brown on top and white on its underside, is such a small sample, scientists haven’t yet been able to tell whether the dinky dino used his feathers for flying or gliding.

Beautiful Feathered Dinosaur’s Tail Found Preserved in 99-Million-Old Amber Fossil

Our past holds the key to our present and future. This’s very same when it comes to our and other species’ evolution on this planet. For millions of years, the dinosaurs had roamed the Earth and then they became extinct leaving us with fossils and clues as to how life was back then. Recently, the scientists have discovered a piece of amber that contained feathered dinosaur’s tail from the mid-cretaceous period which sheds new light on the evolution of bird plumage.

The amber is 99 million years old and belonged to mid-Cretaceous time. The tail is believed to belong to a juvenile coelurosaur, a close relative of birds, and has a chestnut-brown upper surface and white underside.

Image credits: Ryan McKellar via

Lida Xing from the China University of Geosciences in Beijing and Ryan McKellar from the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada have published a study of the amber fossil on Current Biology. Though it is not new to find feathers in ambers, there has never been a complete part, such as a tail in this case, of a dinosaur preserved in it. The researchers believe that the dinosaur is a juvenile and about the size of a sparrow.

Lida Xing first discovered the fossil at an amber market in Myitkina, Myanmar. For over 2,000 years, Myanmar has been mining ambers and a large number of insects preserved in the deposits has made it a place of interest for scientists studying anthropology for the last 20 years.

Image Source: bbc

Kachin State of north-eastern Myanmar is a place of interest for both scientists and jewelers due to all the amber being mined there, which also preserves many small species that are unlucky enough to get trapped in the sticky sap of the trees back then.

Image Source: cbc

Though it is a treasure trove for research and there are reports of similar species being found there, the larger pieces of amber often are broken down into smaller pieces during mining, and according to Dr. McKellar, the scientists don’t always get to know how much of the specimen gets missed as the amber is turned into jewelry. By the time Lida Xing found the fossil, it was already polished for jewelry.

The amber fossil is unique in the sense that corpses usually are flattened when fossilized, but this one contained a tail with eight vertebrae surrounded by feathers, and its structure is intact and preserved in 3D. It also preserved the flesh and skin, which would have otherwise easily decomposed or altered, ferritin (a blood cell protein), and even ferrous iron.

Image Source: Ryan McKellar/Royal Saskatchewan Museum via nytimes

When scientists find skeletons or the remains of dinosaurs as fossils, the features and details are usually lost as they get flattened, and so the three-dimensional structure must be reconstructed through speculation. But, this fossil preserved not just the structural arrangement of the feathers on the tail, but also labile tissues and matter that are difficult to study in other settings. The soft tissue layer around the tailbone retained abundant ferrous iron, which means that there are traces of primary hemoglobin and ferritin trapped in the tail.

Image Source: Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM/ R.C. McKellar) via livescience

The CT scan of the fossil shows how the feathers are attached to the vertebrae of the tail.

Image Source: Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM/ R.C. McKellar) via livescience

It also shows that the tail vertebrae of this dinosaur are not fused into a rod or pygostyle like in modern birds, proving that it’s not just a prehistoric fossil.

Image Source: Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM/ R.C. McKellar) via livescience

The mapping of flow lines in the amber as seen under UV light.

Image Source: Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM/ R.C. McKellar) via livescience

The researchers found that the feathers did not have well-developed central shaft known as rachis. However, they had barbs and barbules, the two finest tiers of branching in modern feathers, showing that these structures had developed much before the rachis did.

Image Source: Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM/ R.C. McKellar) via livescience

Barbs are the thin hair-like structures that are attached to the central shaft of a feather. Barbules are the minuscule structures on the barbs that crisscross and lock with the barbules of the next barb to create vane, the part of the feather with no gaps between barbs, which helps the birds during the flight to resist the air.

Xing and McKellar believe that fossils like these would help us understand the evolutionary development of feathers, and also they offer a glimpse into the preservation potential of amber fossils.

Image Source: Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM/ R.C. McKellar) via livescience [sources: BBC,]

That Thing With Feathers Trapped in Amber? It Was a Dinosaur Tail

While most paleontologists dig up prehistoric bones from the ground, Lida Xing hunts for fossils in the amber markets of Myanmar. In 2015, he made a remarkable find: Trapped in what looked like golden glass was the feathered tail of a dinosaur.

Along with the primitive plumage, the 99-million-year-old amber also preserved soft tissue and eight complete vertebrae. The tail bones indicated that the specimen belonged to a dinosaur that was not a prehistoric bird and also provided researchers with insight into the evolution of feathers.

“This is the first time that skeletal material from a dinosaur has been found in amber,” Dr. Xing, who is a paleontologist at China University of Geosciences in Beijing, said in an email. He and his colleagues published their findings Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

After performing a CT scan and microscopic analysis, Dr. Xing and his colleagues realized that the feathers did not belong to a bird because the specimen’s tail vertebrae were not fused into a rod, as they are in modern birds. The feathers most likely belonged to a baby nonavian theropod, meaning it looked more similar to a velociraptor or Tyrannosaurus rex than to a modern bird. That said, it was probably only about the size of a sparrow.


After death, the tiny dinosaur’s body was most likely covered in tree resin. The resin is produced as a defense mechanism against insect infestations. When it dries it becomes a plasticlike substance that can survive for millions of years.

“Once the resin leaks out on the side of the tree it’s like a big sticky trap waiting for anything to fall into it,” said Ryan McKellar, a paleontologist at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada and an author of the study. “Then once the next resin falls on top of the existing one, it seals it in.”

After Dr. Xing found the amber, he sent it to Dr. McKellar, an amber expert, to further investigate the specimen.

“When it hit my desk, I was blown away,” Dr. McKellar said. “It’s one of those things where you’re like ‘Wow, it’s the closest you’ll ever get to holding a fleshed-out dinosaur in your hands.”

Using a high-powered microscope, Dr. McKellar recorded images of the amber. He found that the underside of the feathers was white and the top was chestnut brown. But it was not the color that fascinated him the most.

“I was seriously puzzled by the feather structure we’re seeing in this sample,” he said.

Most modern bird feathers have a central shaft called a rachis think of the ink rod in a quill pen. Branching from the rachis are smaller shafts called barbs, and then branching from the barbs are even smaller filaments called barbules. But this specimen lacked the rachis it just had barbs and barbules down its ribbonlike tail.

“They are more fuzzy than sleek,” Dr. McKellar said. “It shapes our view of how feathers came to develop in modern birds, and it gives us a rare glimpse of what dinosaurs looked like and potentially what feathers were being used for in the mid-Cretaceous.”

The finding suggests that the barbs and barbules evolved before the rachis in feathers. That is interesting because the rachis seems to aid in flight. It could be that dinosaurs with more primitive feathers used them for temperature regulation, camouflage and visual signaling, rather than flight.

“It’s a spectacular specimen,” said Mark Norell, a paleontologist from the American Museum of Natural History, who was not involved in the study. He added that because the feathers were found with the vertebrae, there was no question they belonged to a nonavian theropod dinosaur as opposed to a prehistoric bird. “This is a novel feather type that we haven’t seen before.”

Barely bigger than a quarter, this small piece of amber contains a smorgasbord of paleontological gems, including a feathered dinosaur tail.

Amber is a fossilized form of tree resin that can preserve organic matter for millions of years. Popularized by the Jurassic Park series, which reanimates dinosaurs using DNA from blood found inside mosquitoes preserved in amber, amber has become ubiquitous with dinosaurs.

Feathers Aren’t Just for Birds

This particular sample contains the bone, tissue, and feathers of a coelurosaur from the Cretaceous era.

Scans of the sample have confirmed that the sample is not a bird, evidenced by separated vertebrae.

At this point in the evolutionary line, the feathers would have been largely vestigial, but this has the potential to be the most conclusive evidence so far that dinosaurs were feathered.

Credit: RC McKellar of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum

Almost Jewelry

Although scientific samples are often found in amber, the material is more often used for jewelry.

This piece, in particular, was found in a Myanmar mining site. The amber was already shaped a bit before researchers recovered it.

Conflicts in the Myanmar region have kept researchers from being able to thoroughly explore the area’s amber mines. Lida Xing of the China University of Geosciences even thinks there could be an entire dinosaur preserved somewhere in the region.

More than a Tail

The tail isn’t alone in the amber a number of plant pieces and complete insects are also encased inside the hardened sap.

Researchers believe there is more Cretaceous period ecology in this quarter-sized piece of amber than anything else found before.


In a historic find, the tail of a 99 million year old dinosaur is seen intact and perfectly preserved in amber including bones, soft tissue, and feathers. The finding was reported in the latest issue of the science journal, Current Biology.

According to National Geographic, ‘this marks the first time scientists have been able to clearly associate well-preserved feathers with a dinosaur and in turn gain a better understanding of the evolution and structure of dinosaur feathers.’ [source]

The amber sample was discovered in a mine in the Hukawng Valley of northern Myanmar. Amber from this region is believed to contain the world’s largest variety of animal and plant life from the Cretaceous period.

The research, led by paleontologist Lida Xing of the China University of Geosciences, was funded in part by the National Geographic Society’s Expeditions Council. You can read the full story on this fascinating discovery on National Geographic.

Scientists Find First Feathered Dinosaur Tail Preserved in Amber

A new report in Current Biology has revealed that a dinosaur tail, complete with soft tissue and feathers was discovered almost perfectly preserved in amber. This is the first time paleontologists have had an opportunity to study well-preserved dinosaur feathers.

A team led by Dr. Lida Xing, of the China University of Geosciences, Beijing, discovered the amber in a market in Myanmar. The sample was in the process of being shaped for use in jewelry, partially damaging the amber, but the tail within remained well-preserved.

The tail, which paleontologists believe to be some 99-million-years old, likely came from a Coelurosaur, a dinosaur group that also includes the fabled Tyrannosaurus Rex. The dinosaur in question was certainly not as large as T-Rex, though, the amber piece is "roughly the size and shape of a dried apricot," according to National Geographic.

The feathered tail cannot belong to a prehistoric bird, the study said, as the vertebrae found within the amber was shown to belong to a surface-dwelling dinosaur. Ryan McKellar, a curator at the Canada's Royal Saskatchewan Museum and co-author of the study, speculated that the feathers "may have served a signaling function or played a role in temperature regulation."

The chance to study dinosaur feathers in detail was an opportunity that Xing&rsquos team was glad to have. The Current Biology report states that it may yield "enriched models of morphological character evolution that help explain major evolutionary transitions in key clades such as theropods, including birds."

Xing&rsquos team previously uncovered feathers belonging to prehistoric birds, also frozen in amber, and also acquired from a market in Myanmar. Those feathers revealed clear similarities between the plumage of prehistoric and modern birds.

Both of these major finds came from the Hukawng Valley, located in Myanmar&rsquos Kachin State. Kachin is under the control of the Kachin Independence Army, who seek autonomy for the Kachin State from the government of Myanmar, in a conflict that has raged since the 1960s.

While it became well-known during the 1960s that dinosaurs are more closely related to birds than they are to lizards, it was not until the 1990s that fossils conclusively revealed that dinosaurs had feathers. By this point 20th-century textbooks, and films like The Lost World, The Land Before Time, and Jurassic Park, had rendered dinosaurs as scaly, featherless creatures in the popular imagination.


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