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Tail of feathered dinosaur found in chunk of amber

By Reuters in Washington | China Daily | Updated: 2016-12-10 07:05

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 Thursday 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 two-legged, 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.

Tail of feathered dinosaur found in chunk of amber

A chunk of amber shows the tip of a preserved tail of a two-legged, birdlike feathered dinosaur. Reuters

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