By: Jerico Mandybur
The tiny tail of a 99 million-year-old dinosaur has been found preserved in an amber fossil, according to a Thursday report in the journal Current Biology. It’s the first time researchers have been able to study dino feathers while they’re still attached to a body.
Next step? Use their DNA to open a prehistoric theme park featuring cloned dinosaurs, obviously. JK, please don’t.
Incredibly, paleontologist and report co-author Dr. Lida Xing of China’s University of Geosciences made the discovery while perusing an amber marketplace in Myitkyina, Myanmar.
Reportedly, the small piece of amber was believed to contain a plant and would have been turned into a rather fetching piece of vintage jewelry, had Xing not come along.
“It’s one of those things where if there hadn’t been the right person on the ground at the time, I think it would have disappeared into a private collection or gone entirely unnoticed,” co-author Ryan McKellar of Canada’s Royal Saskatchewan Museum told the ABC.
The appendage itself is believed to have come from a sparrow-sized juvenile coelurosaur, a dinosaur belonging to the theropod family, same as ol’ Tyrannosaurus rex, but much teenier.
Micro-CT scans of the mini feathers show they’re a “chestnut brown” colour, with a pale-ish under side. Researchers believe the full tail would have been made up of over 25 vertebrae.
This kind of articulated vertebrae was not found on Cretaceous birds nor their modern equivalents, who all have pygostyle vertebrae. This ruled out the possibility that the tail belonged to a prehistoric bird, according to researchers.
“[A pygostyle] is the sort of thing you’ve seen if you’ve ever prepared a turkey,” McKellar told National Geographic.
The amber goodness came from a fossil-rich mine in Hukawng Valley within the Kachin state of Myanmar.
Sadly the piece of amber containing “Eva,” as it was affectionately named, had already been shaped and polished for use in jewelry by the time Xing found it.
“Maybe we can find a complete dinosaur,” Xing told Nat Geo. Maybe one day.
In the meantime, this will be the closest thing we’ve got to patting a real-life dinosaur.