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Earth Science

First Dinosaur Tail Found Preserved in Amber ( 70

The tail of a beautiful, feathered dinosaur has been found perfectly preserved in amber from Myanmar. It is a huge breakthrough that could help open a new window on the biology of a group that dominated Earth for more than 160 million years. From a report on the National Geographic: The semitranslucent mid-Cretaceous amber sample, roughly the size and shape of a dried apricot, captures one of the earliest moments of differentiation between the feathers of birds of flight and the feathers of dinosaurs. Inside the lump of resin is a 1.4-inch appendage covered in delicate feathers, described as chestnut brown with a pale or white underside. CT scans and microscopic analysis of the sample revealed eight vertebrae from the middle or end of a long, thin tail that may have been originally made up of more than 25 vertebrae. NPR has a story on how this amber was found. An excerpt from it reads: In 2015, Lida Xing was visiting a market in northern Myanmar when a salesman brought out a piece of amber about the size of a pink rubber eraser. Inside, he could see a couple of ancient ants and a fuzzy brown tuft that the salesman said was a plant. As soon as Xing saw it, he knew it wasn't a plant. It was the delicate, feathered tail of a tiny dinosaur.
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First Dinosaur Tail Found Preserved in Amber

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  • by Snufu ( 1049644 ) on Thursday December 08, 2016 @03:46PM (#53447839)

    Just a dead parrot.

  • Question (Score:2, Interesting)

    I know amber is fossilized tree resin, but at this point is it possible to somehow dissolve the amber without destroying what's inside it?

    It would be interesting if it could be done so we could see the tail and feathers in real light without the amber being in between.

    Also, from the picture, there are bits and pieces of vegetation not to mention at least one ant inside the specimen which could be recovered.

    • Amber is used as a rosin to make various things like varnish or paint, although more common in the past. I'm not sure about all the procedures, but most would involve heat and turpentine or other solvent, so I'm not sure it would be very kind to the inclusions.
    • Re:Question (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 08, 2016 @04:30PM (#53448141)

      AFAIK you don't want to mess with solvents when it comes to amber. The stuff's origin is resinous could theoretically be attacked with something like turpentine or a petroleum solvent. However the amber is hard; you'd be better off dealing with it like paleontologists approach dinosaur bones in rock.

      Ultimately though it's probably all a bad idea. Amber has proven itself to be an ideal preservation mechanism, lasting tens or hundreds of millions of years. Once the specimen is released from the amber shell, it is vulnerable to oxidation, fungal attack, physical disturbance and all the rest. It's the sort of thing you could consider for a few of your less-valuable specimens. You don't want to ruin your best stuff on some quixotic quest to make it 'better'.

      It would be a bit like approaching a dinosaur skeleton, fully restored and in museum display quality. Then going to the keepers of the displays and saying, "I want to free the display specimens from the obscuring qualities of the glues and lacquers, the unnatural steel support structures holding it up, the clearly fake restored components, and the interference of the display cases and presentation stands!"

    • Jeff Goldblum says that this is a bad idea.

    • Re:Question (Score:4, Interesting)

      by danbuter ( 2019760 ) on Thursday December 08, 2016 @04:33PM (#53448177)
      Yeah, two complete insects from millions of years ago is also a huge find. I'm sure the bug people are excited.
  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Thursday December 08, 2016 @04:17PM (#53448019) Journal
    Here is another one with tail feathers from a bird [], ~100million years BC.
    • That's a wing tip, not a tail. And, incidentally, the same people are quoted in that article, also about amber from Myanmar.

      They are the first Cretaceous plumage samples to be studied that are not simply isolated feathers, according to study co-author Lida Xing of the China University of Geosciences.

      "The biggest problem we face with feathers in amber is that we usually get small fragments or isolated feathers, and we’re never quite sure who produced [them]," says co-author Ryan McKellar, curator of invertebrate palaeontology at Canada's Royal Saskatchewan Museum.

      • And, incidentally, the same people are quoted in that article, also about amber from Myanmar.

        Yeah, but no one reads the article :)

        I used to write +5 moderated comments over and over, merely by reading the article, and restating some interesting points here in the comments. Easy mod points, and the mods hadn't read the article.

        • I think Lida Xing is a marked man. If he shows interest in your piece of amber in the amber market in Myitkyina, you mark that thing up. Did I say this was $100? No, I meant $10,000.

  • Dinosaur birds are filthy animals.
  • by omfglearntoplay ( 1163771 ) on Thursday December 08, 2016 @06:27PM (#53448989)

    Either way, what a huge find, this is awesome! Colors, positioning, type of feathers. The feathers on this tail are more floppy like the display, not flight, feathers in modern birds, showing that sexual display likely came before flight in evolution. Colors probably were important early on some are saying.

    Bird-like dinosaurs just got a whole lot more real.

  • By today's taxonomy, birds ARE dinosaurs, not descendants of dinosaurs. But that would make the story less sensational. Besides, people need to hold onto their incorrect schooling that says that all dinosaurs were just huge lizards, even though the two have little to do with each other.

  • by Comrade Ogilvy ( 1719488 ) on Thursday December 08, 2016 @09:02PM (#53449793)

    We are predisposed to think of feathers as equipment for flying. But seeing all those flying "dinosaurs" flitting about our yard is misleading.

    Reptilian scales are basically fish scales that have been greatly toughened to control moisture loss, allowing colonization of the land. But if you are a non-big dinosaur, thermal regulation is a significant problem. Feathers are basically scales that can be fluffed up or laid flat, to varying degrees, giving different insulating profiles, at the cost of possibly losing some moisture, which many dinosaurs could well afford.

    The feather more appropriate for flying could have been variants that were big for display and could lay very flat. But the original purpose was not flying. Flatness is possibly desirable for: reducing insulation when desired, streamlining the body if traveling quickly through brush, making big visual displays with relatively light equipment. However a small dinosaur that jumped around trees would find that large flattish feathers would give it added control over gliding descents, which is a fabulous thing if you are in a hurry.

Mediocrity finds safety in standardization. -- Frederick Crane