This 100-Million-Year-Old Bird Trapped in Amber Is The Best We’ve Ever Seen

This 100-Million-Year-Old Bird Trapped in Amber Is The Best We've Ever Seen

This 100-Million-Year-Old Bird Trapped in Amber Is The Best We’ve Ever Seen

Scientists have uncovered an incredible specimen in Myanmar, a piece of amber containing the remarkably preserved remains of an ancient bird hatch from 100 million years ago.

The amazing discovery reveals the head, neck, wing, tail and feet of a now-extinct bird that had lived in incredible detail at the time of the dinosaurs. Researchers called the young enantiornithine ‘Belone,’ a Burmese name for the amber-hued Oriental skylark.

The ‘most complete hatchling specimen’ ever to be seen has been unearthed by scientists. An international team of experts made the stunning find, which has been encased in this 3-inch piece of amber, in China

“It’s the most complete and detailed view we’ve ever had,” one of the team behind the discovery, Ryan McKellar from the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada, told New Scientist.

‘Seeing something this complete is amazing. It’s just stunning.’ The hatchling belonged to a group of birds known as “opposite birds,” who lived together with the ancestors of modern birds and, according to archaeologists, were more diverse and successful – until they died out with the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

Researchers have nicknamed the young enantiornithine ‘Belone’, after a Burmese name for the amber-hued Oriental skylark. Pictured here are preserved feathers that show that the hatchling died during its first feather molt

‘We report on the most complete bird preserved encased in Amber uncovered to date, including most of the skull and neck, a partial wing and hindlimb, and soft tissue of the tail, the morphologies of which refer this specimen to the Enantiornithes,’ the researchers wrote in Gondwana Research.

‘The proportions of the bird and morphology of the plumage indicate a very young individual, adding the mounting data that the Enantiornithes were highly precocial; however, the scarcity of body feathers represents a distinct departure from living precocial birds.

The amber even preserve some of the feather colours, although the researcher admit they are a boring brown.  

While it looks as if the actual skin and flesh of the bird are preserved in the amber, the amber shows a very detailed impression of the animal. Amber miners who found the specimen thought that they had found a ‘strange’ lizard’s claw until they realised it was a bird

Previous fossil finds have led researchers to believe the ‘opposite birds’ hatched with flight feathers making them able to fend for themselves.

The hatchling had a full set of flight feathers and was growing tail feathers, but lacked body feathers. 

‘The plumage includes filamentous body feathers that resemble proto-feathers, scutellae with distal bristle-structures, mature remiges, and erupting ornamental rectrices, revealing an unexpected diversity of primitive and derived feather morphotypes present in the plumage of early birds,’ the team wrote.

They probably hatched on the ground and climbed into trees, says McKellar, making them particularly likely to get stuck in sap.

Birds are believed to have evolved around 150 million years ago, when a group of meat-eating dinosaurs spread their wings and took to the skies.

They then split into two distinct groups: the lineage that led to modern birds, called the ornithuromorphs, and the opposite birds, or enantiornithines – of which this bird belongs.  

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 join, a difference which led to their name (artist’s impression pictured)

In appearance, opposite birds likely resembled modern birds, but they had strange shoulder bones.

The area where the shoulder blade met the shoulder girdle was convex.

This means they had a socket-and-ball joint in their shoulders where modern birds have a ball-and-socket joint. The difference led to their name.

They also had claws on their wings, and jaws and teeth rather than beaks, which had not yet evolved in any birds. 

The amber containing the bird was collected by a museum in China several years ago. 

When it realised what it had, the museum contacted Lida Xing of the China University of Geosciences in Beijing, who led the team that described the find. 

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