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China Focus: Scientists find "fresh" dinosaur tail in amber

By : Xinhua | Published: 2016-December-14

[InKunming--China] Scientists announced Friday in Beijing that a fossilized-feathered dinosaur tail has been discovered in a piece of amber, complete with bones and feathers.

Researchers believe that the tail belongs to a tiny dinosaur that lived about 99 million years ago during the mid-Cretaceous period.

A paper on the findings, co-authored by Chinese paleontologist Xing Lida, Canadian scientist Ryan C. McKellar and others, has been published in the journal "Current Biology."

This is the first time dinosaur material has been found fossilized in amber.

The specimen was named "Eva."

"FRESH" DINOSAUR

In near-perfect condition, the tail looked very "fresh," even after 99 million years.

The tail is six centimeters long, by which scientists estimate that the dinosaur was around 18.5 centimeters long. The feathers on the tail appear to be brown on the top and pale white on the underside.

"The specimen has been so well preserved that we believe it is very close to what it would have looked like when the dinosaur was alive," Xing said.

The amber was found in Hukawng Valley in northern Myanmar. In June, Xing's team announced that they had found amber specimens containing the remains of prehistorical birds.

Philip J. Currie, from the Academy of Science under the Royal Society of Canada, said he had never expected to see such a well preserved dinosaur specimen.

Scientists cannot confirm if Eva was a juvenile or adult based on its bones, said Tseng Kuowei from Taipei, one of the authors of the paper. He said there were no obvious signs of a violent struggle so that the animal may be encased by the sap upon death.

The cause of death can not be confirmed either, Tseng said.

SHEDDING LIGHT ON EVOLUTION

The well preserved specimen will be an invaluable resource for scientists studying the evolution of prehistorical species, said Xing.

The dinosaur's feathers have been a focus of the research, according to McKellar. The feathers are so well preserved that many delicate details are visible, including the arrangement of feathers and feather follicles, which will be used by scientists to understand the early evolution of feathers, McKellar said.

The sample contains at least nine caudal vertebrae but these are not associated with birds, said Xu Xing, a paleontologist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and another author.

It is likely that the dinosaur belonged to the maniraptorans, a branch which included many tiny species, such as the anchiornis, a tiny dinosaur with feathered wings that lived in northern China about 160 million years ago. The anchiornis was only about 34 centimeters long and weighed just 110 grams.

The research team used modern imaging and analysis methods to create a high-definition 3D mock-up of the caudal vertebrae behind the feathers. They also gained insight into the distribution of the micro elements in the cross sections of the fossil, including titanium, manganese and iron.

The fossil contains abundant ferrous iron, suggesting traces of blood, said Li Gang, a physicist from the CAS.

However, Li underscored, there is no chance of the team extracting DNA to make clones, as Eva is nearly 100 million years old, far exceeding the DNA half-life, which is generally put at 521 years.

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