Friday, August 18, 2017

100-million-year-old baby bird fossil preserved in amber found in Tanai

A baby bird fossil preserved in amber that is thought to be about 100 million years old has been found in Tanai township, Kachin State, according to a paper published recently in an international science journal.

The amber specimen (a), an X-ray reconstruction (b) and an illustration of the fossil (c). Photo - Gondwada Research/Chinese Academy of SciencesThe amber specimen (a), an X-ray reconstruction (b) and an illustration of the fossil (c). Photo - Gondwada Research/Chinese Academy of Sciences

The fossil is a mid-Cretaceous hatchling with unusual plumage, according to the article in the June 6 issue of Gondwada Research. It said the fossil, which is the most complete bird preserved in amber uncovered to date, includes most of the skull and neck, a partial wing and hind limb, and soft tissue of the tail.

The amber that trapped the ancient bird has been cut through the middle into two sections, and the original specimen has been housed and displayed in the Hupoge Amber Museum in China.

The scientists identified the preserved baby bird as a member of the avian clade Enantiornithes, which is extinct. The scarcity of body feathers on the specimen represents a distinct departure from living precocial birds, the paper said.

“This new specimen brings a new level of detail to our understanding of the anatomy of the juvenile stages of the most species-rich clade of pre-modern birds and contributes to mounting data that enantiornithine development drastically differed from that of Neornithes,” it said.

The researchers said that the Cretaceous sites in northern Myanmar have become paramount for the study of insect and plant fossils trapped in amber during the past 20 years, and fossils preserved in amber have become increasingly important in the study of vertebrates.

The scientists said that the hatchling fossil is complete and will lead to better research.

“Preservation in amber provides a clear view of feathers that have been difficult to interpret in compression fossils,” the paper said.

“Such clarity provides insight into which structures are taphonomic in origin, and which unusual feather morphotyes may better inform our understanding of feather evolution,” it said.

The scientists hope to produce early avians in a wider range of taxa and life stages from Burmese amber, according to the paper.

The authors of the study were Lida Xing, Jingmai K. O’Connor, Ryan C. McKellar, Luis M. Chiappe, Kuowei Tsen, Gang Li and Ming Bai.

The study was funded by the national basic research programme of China, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the National Geographic Society, National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the Scientific Research Equipment Development project of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

A dinosaur tail thought to be about 99 million years old was found trapped in amber in December 2016 in Kachin State.