Feathered dinosaur tail survives 99 million years trapped in amber

Feathered dinosaur tail survives 99 million years trapped in amber

(RNN) - What could've ended up as an amber trinket peddled in the markets of Myanmar has instead become a spyglass into prehistoric history.

This golden bubble holds the feathered tail of a what was most likely a sparrow-sized baby dinosaur, who lived in the mid-Cretaceous period surrounded by now-extinct creatures.

Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM/ R.C. McKellar)

That would've been some serious bling.

Most amber in Myanmar is mined to make pendants and gemstones, but scientist Lida Xing kept that from happening. He discovered the amber fossil, which also contains eight vertebrae and preserved soft tissue, in 2015 by braving a war-torn country through a group of middlemen traders. Since then, scientists have fawned and marveled over the specimen.

"When it hit my desk, I was blown away," said Dr. Ryan McKellar, an amber expert who studied the fossil after Xing found it. "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.'"

Studying the amber has given scientists new insights on the evolution of feathers and their utility in the Cretaceous period. The feathers appear to be better suited for temperature regulation and camouflage, not flight.

A small coelurosaur approaching a resin-coated branch on the forest floor. (Source: Cheung Chung-tat and Liu Yi)

For those readers willing to get into the scientific weeds, Xing and McKellar  published their findings on Thursday after studying the amber with several other scientists.

There's hope that Myanmar's deposit of amber might yield further discovery, especially as conflict in the country wanes.

"The conflict between government forces and local armed forces in nearing an end," Xing said. "Soon, there will be a lot of specimens excavated."

To National Geographic, he shared an even more ambitious hope.

"Maybe we can find a complete dinosaur."

Xing using a compound microscope to examine the finest details of the tail. (Source: Shenna Wang)

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