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June 30, 2016

Near-perfect wings from dinosaur times discovered in amber


From The Verge:


Prehistoric feathers worked a lot like modern birds'


A pair of wings found encased in amber suggest that the plumage of modern birds has remained almost unchanged from some of their dinosaur-era ancestors, according to scientists.

In a new study published in Nature Communications this week, researchers say that the structures, coloring, and feather layouts are very similar to the wings of modern birds, despite the fact they likely belonged to 100-million-year-old avialans called enantiornithes.


X-ray scans indicate that the fossilized wings — found in northern Myanmar — likely belonged to juvenile creatures — they contain skin, muscle, and claws as well as various layers of feathers, arranged in a markedly similar fashion to those of birds.

That's not the only similarity: the feathers, which appear uniformly black inside the amber, actually show up in shades of brown, silver, and white under the microscope.


The smaller of the two samples has been nicknamed "Angel," a nod to the fact it was originally destined to be included in a jewelry piece called "Angel's Wings" before the scientists behind the study procured it from a Myanmar amber market.

Burmese amber is famous for containing mummified plant and animal life, with as much as 30% featuring "phenomenal biodiversity," according to David Grimaldi at the American Museum of Natural History.


While paleontologists now generally agree that at least some dinosaur species did indeed sport feathers, so far they've had to base their work on limited samples.

Ryan McKellar, co-author of the study, told National Geographic that "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]."

The new samples on the other hand feature bone, feathers, and soft tissue,


allowing paleontologists to see just how similar prehistoric bird wings were to modern examples.

"We don't get something like this," McKellar said. "It's mind-blowingly cool."

June 30, 2016 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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