A 99-Million-Year-Old Dinosaur Tail Was Found In Amber!
Millions of years before humans walked the Earth, a diverse group of reptiles by the name of "dinosaurs" ruled the world. While dinosaurs have long been extinct, fossils left behind have helped scientists piece together the mystery of their time. And, a recent discovery founded by a Chinese paleontologist might be one of the most shocking finds yet! Keep reading to learn about this extraordinary revelation, and what it means about the ancient dinosaurs.NEXT »
99 Million Years Old!
About 99 million years ago during the Cretaceous period, a tiny dinosaur roamed the Earth. And now, we have its feathery tail - totally preserved inside a nugget of amber. But, who was this mystery dinosaur, and what can its tail tell us about its history? You'll be surprised to find out all that you can learn from such a rare discovery as this one.
Once In A Lifetime Discovery
The discovery may not seem so astonishing to the average person, especially since we've already found thousands of bones, but it's the first time a feathered tail has been found still attached to part of a dinosaur. With that said, it's a once in a lifetime discovery - and even though the specimen was just the size of a dried apricot, it has an amazing tale to tell.
Meet The Coelurosaur
The tail belongs to none other than the coelurosaur, a mainly plant-eating and bird-like creature from the family of theropod dinosaurs. The species name Coelurosauria is actually derived from Greek, translating to "hollow tailed lizards." So far, most feathered dinosaurs that have been discovered have been identified as coelurosaurs, and it's believed it's possible that all coelurosaurs were feathered.
Just A Tiny Little Guy
The hollow-tailed dinosaur would typically grow to a medium size, but this new discovery comes from a baby. Scientists are calling its size sparrow-like and saying this particular coelurosaur could fit into the palm of a hand! While the amber was small and only weighed 6.5 grams, it contained both bone fragments and feathers, providing more insight into this little dino.
Found By A Chinese Paleontologist
The stunning find was made by Chinese paleontologist Lida Xing, pictured right, from the China University of Geosciences. It's detailed in an article published in Current Biology. The co-author on the paper, Ryan McKellar, a paleontologist at the Royal Saskatchwan Museum in Canada - was absolutely shocked when Xing revealed to him his amazing new discovery.
Discovered In Northern Myanmar
You may be surprised to learn that Xing came across the specimen at an amber market in northern Myanmar near the Chinese border. The paleontologist says he wasn't sure that the trader understood how important the amber was. In fact, Xing explained that the remarkable discovery was intended to be sold with the impression that it had a plant fragment stuck inside.
Destined For Jewelry
If Xing hadn't found the specimen, it would have been very likely that the Burmese traders would have turned the discovery into jewelry. In fact, amber from Myanmar has been used in jewelry since 600 BC! But, as soon as Xing spotted the specimen, he knew that inside was a historically trapped vertebrate, much more special than what the traders believed they had.
Not Just A Tail!
Clearly, this amber trapped more than just the coelurosaur's feathery tail! What do you see captured in there upon first glance? According to microscopic scans, the amber's interior also revealed soft tissue, bone fragments, and an insect! That's a lot of remnants left behind in just a small piece of amber - crazy to think that it's all been trapped there for so many years!
How Big Is This Thing?
According to Mike Benton, an Earth sciences professor at the University of Bristol and one of the study's authors, the dinosaur would have only been a few centimeters long. And its 1.4-inch tail, only partially pictured here, isn't exactly the size of an anaconda. The scan also revealed only eight vertebrae, and it's believed that it was originally much longer...
Over 25 Vertebrae!
Trapped inside in the amber were eight tail vertebrae, though scientists believe this dinosaur could have had as many as over 25! Can you believe that? Imagine that little guy walking around with such a long tail! It seems that this small amber discovered by Xing did a great deal for science, and helped further our knowledge of these fascinating reptiles.
What This Means For Science
"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," says Ryan McKellar, co-author of the study. In other words, finding these dinosaur tail vertebrae entrapped in amber was the perfect opportunity to study the specimen!
"The fact that [the iron] is still present gives us a lot of hope for future analysis, to obtain other chemical information on things like pigmentation or even to identify parts of the original keratin," says co-author Ryan McKellar. "Maybe not for this particular specimen, but for other [samples] down the road." Now that sounds like promising news!
The Incredible Power Of Technology
You can't get a grasp on all this information just by looking at the amber nugget with your naked eye! Scientists used high-powered synchrotron X-ray radiation to provide the unprecedented look. It was the help from this technology that confirmed the paleontologists' suspicions that the specimen left behind was indeed from a theropod dinosaur and not a bird.
One Of Dozens Of Samples
Surprisingly, this isn't the first time the paleontologist discovered such a fascinating sample at an amber market in Myitkyina. This amber specimen is just one of more than a dozen samples collected by Xing and his team in 2015. In fact, two other samples contained dinosaur-era bird wings, as pictured. He published his findings earlier in the summer of 2016.
Modern Ornamental Feathers
The structure of the chestnut brown feathers on this particularly dinosaur is open, flexible, and more similar to modern ornamental feathers than flight birds. As you can see from this incredible micro-CT scan, the light brown feathers are soft and delicate, with a pale or almost white underside to them. Knowing these characteristics makes it easier to envision the little dino!
Slaps Previous Studies In The Face
Previous studies on dinosaur coloring had to rely on capturing details from melansomes - little structures buried in feathers that provide color. Then, after capturing this information from the melansomes, the researcher would have to compare their findings with bird feathers. And, as you can probably imagine, that process is much more tedious and difficult.
Though there have been feathered dinosaurs discovered in the past two decades, those feathers were preserved completely flat - which didn't allow for much exploring of the specimen's morphology. However, the three-dimensional view of the feathers on this tail show that structures called barbs were critical to the evolution of modern feather structure.
The sample of amber which was originally specified as DIP-V-15103, and comes from a mine in the Hukawng Valley in Kachin state, northern Myanmar - has been nicknamed "Eva" in honor of co-author Philip Currie's wife, paleobotanist Eva Koppelhus. By the time the researchers stumbled across Eva, the traders had already begun shaping the amber for jewelry.
Feathered, But Could It Fly?
Just because this tiny coelurosaur was covered in feathers does not mean it had the ability to fly. Since the researchers discovered a presence of articulated tail vertebrae in the specimen, they were able to rule out the chance that the feathers had once belonged to a prehistoric bird. And, knowing what we know now about the mystery dinosaur, the thought of flight just seems silly. After all, do you see any wings on this thing?
Still No Jurassic Park
If you're thinking scientists can extract dino DNA from blood preserved in the amber, we're sorry to say that a real Jurassic Park still isn't going to happen. "Unfortunately, the Jurassic Park answer is still a 'no' -- this is firmly in the realm of science fiction," Ryan McKellar explained. But if the next discovery includes genetic material, who knows what can happen.
An Ancient Battle
One of the most shocking, yet amazing fossils discovered is known as "Fighting Dinosaurs." As you can see, it's aptly named - the bones depict a Protoceratops mid-battle with a Velociraptor. However, it appears that their duel was cut short when something heavy - perhaps a sand dune, collapsed on the two dinosaurs, killing them and leaving these fossils behind.
Talk About Wimpy Arms
Did you know that the Tyrannosaurus wasn't the only dinosaur who had a body proportion problem? Although the T. rex is often made fun of for his shortcomings, most people don't realize that the Canotaurus actually had the smallest arms out of all the known dinosaur species! But, fortunately for the Cano, his puny limbs flew under the radar thanks to the popularity of the T. rex.
What's That Smell?
It's believed that the Sauropods (a long-necked species) basically had fermentation chambers for stomachs, meaning that the gas-producing bacteria that helped them process their fibrous herbivorous (plant) diet, would cause these beings to fart constantly. Keep in mind, the Sauropods were the largest of all dinosaurs, so you can only imagine the damage their bodily functions did.
Speaking Of Bodily Functions...
While we're all aware that there have been many discoveries of dental fossils which provide insight into the dinosaurs' eating habits, there's also another type of trace that the creatures left behind - coprolites. Yes, fossilized feces left behind by dinosaurs have been discovered, and provide further knowledge into dinosaurs' dietary and feeding habits.
It's A Bird, It's A Plane... It's A Dinosaur?
Many people seem to be under the impression that these creatures were considered dinosaurs no matter if they walked, flew, or swim - but that's not the case. While dinosaurs were indeed the species that walked the Earth, pterosaurs flew in the air, and pterosaurs swam in the water. Yep, this means that the flying Pterodactyl technically isn't a dinosaur!
Not So Bright
It turns out that limbs weren't the only parts not proportionate with dinosaur bodies. The Stegosaurus, which was a species that could reach nearly 30 feet in length and weigh up to 6,000 pounds, didn't have so much going on in his head to back up that size. Apparently, the dinosaur had a brain that was only barely the size of a walnut! Poor guy.
Of course, dinosaurs had to be intimidating to other animals around, but it's believed that not all mammals fled from these creatures. The Repenomamus, a badger-sized mammalian ancestor that lived over 125 million years ago, has been discovered with shocking proof that they may have been friendly with the creatures - baby dinosaurs in their stomachs!
Wait... They Aren't All Huge?
Not sure if you're ready for this one - but you know how almost every time we see a depiction of a dinosaur, it's horrifyingly massive? Well, it turns out that most dinosaurs were actually quite small. In fact, most dinosaurs - like the ornithischian, were tiny and frail with bones less likely to withstand long periods of time, which is why paleontologists tend to stumble across the fossil of the more massive creatures.
What Does "Dinosaur" Even Mean?
Dinosaurs walked the Earth much earlier before you and me, so the name obviously had to be made up. Ever wonder where the term "dinosaur" even came from? Well, the term actually wasn't even coined until 1842, by an English paleontologist by the name of Sir Richard Owen. And, apparently, "dinosaur" actually translates to "terrible reptile."
A Woman's Job
Have you ever heard of an English paleontologist by the name of Mary Anning? No? We're not surprised. Most of Anning's work was overshadowed by men, or even flat out stolen - she was even responsible for the discovery of the first ichthyosaur and plesiosaur skeletons! But, although her work was critical to dinosaur history, most of us never even knew she existed.