While any fossilized specimen is always an incredible find, this newest find from Myanmar puts nearly anything previously found to shape!
A piece of amber has preserved an ancient bird hatchling since dated as 100-million years old!
In the amber you can clearly see the bird – including head, neck, and tail – but the real stars are the wings and feet, perfectly preserved, which can help us understand the doomed group of “opposite birds” to which this hatchling belonged.
“It’s the most complete and detailed view we’ve ever had,” Ryan McKellar of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada told New Scientist. McKellar was one of the scientists behind the find.
“Seeing something this complete is amazing. It’s just stunning.”
Strange as it may seem, scientists still don’t completely understand how such amber-preserved specimens occur.
Full amber sample. Credit: Lida Xing, Jingmai K. O’Connor, Ryan C. McKellar, Luis M. Chiappe, Kuowei Tseng, Gang Li, Ming Bai
Close-up of the wing. Credit: Ming Bai
What they do know is that after something gets stuck in tree resin, and that resin begins to harden, if you have the right combination of temperature and pressure, the thing stuck can be preserved – first in something called copal, then in amber.
“The speed of this process varies tremendously depending on the conditions,” Brian Palmer explains for The Washington Post.
“Scientists don’t agree on when resin officially becomes copal, or when copal officially becomes amber. Some say that amber must be at least 2 million years old, but that cutoff is arbitrary.”
All of that aside, there’s still plenty to be learned from the preserved hatchling. First, it was clearly what is referred to as an “opposite bird,” or one of the Enantiornithes – a group of prehistoric birds, thought to have evolved at the same time as the ancestors of modern birds, but for some reason died off with the non-avian dinosaurs.
“In appearance, opposite birds likely resembled modern birds, but they had a socket-and-ball joint in their shoulders where modern birds have a ball-and-socket joint – hence the name,” Michael Le Page reports for New Scientist.
“They also had claws on their wings, and jaws and teeth rather than beaks – but at the time the hatchling lived, the ancestors of modern birds had not yet evolved beaks either.”
You can see the rest of the images of the amber below:
Close-up of foot. Credit: Xing Lida
Close-up of claw. Credit: Xing Lida
Reconstruction. Credit: Cheung Chung Tat
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