99 million years old dinosaur-era bird wings found trapped in amber
The new specimens come from a famous amber deposit in northeastern Myanmar, which has produced thousands of exquisite specimens of insects of all shapes and sizes
Beijing: In a first, scientists have discovered specimens of complete wings of tiny, prehistoric birds that were trapped in amber 100 million years ago and preserved in exquisite detail.
Thousands of fossil birds from the time of the dinosaurs have been uncovered in China. However, most of these fossils are flattened in the rock, even though they commonly preserve fossils.
The new specimens, discovered by researchers including Xing Lida from the China University of Geosciences, and Mike Benton from the University of Bristol in the UK, come from a famous amber deposit in northeastern Myanmar, which has produced thousands of exquisite specimens of insects of all shapes and sizes, as well as spiders, scorpions, lizards, and isolated feathers.
This is the first time that whole portions of birds have been noted.
The fossil wings are tiny, only two or three centimeters long, and they contain the bones of the wing, including three long fingers armed with sharp claws, for clambering about in trees, as well as the feathers, all preserved in exquisite detail.
The anatomy of the hand shows these come from enantiornithine birds, a major group in the Cretaceous, but which died out at the same time as the dinosaurs, 66 million years ago.
Amber is a solidified tree sap, and the Burmese amber occurs in small blocks that are polished to unveil treasures within. “These fossil wings show amazing detail.
The individual feathers show every filament and whisker, whether they are flight feathers or down feathers, and there are even traces of colour – spots and stripes,” said Benton.
“The fact that the tiny birds were clambering about in the trees suggests that they had advanced development, meaning they were ready for action as soon as they hatched,” said Lida.
“These birds did not hang about in the nest waiting to be fed but set off looking for food, and sadly died perhaps because of their small size and lack of experience,” he said.
“Isolated feathers in other amber samples show that adult birds might have avoided the sticky sap, or pulled themselves free,” he added.
The Burmese amber deposits are producing a treasure trove of remarkable early fossils, and they document a particularly active time in the evolution of life on land, the Cretaceous terrestrial revolution.
Flowering plants were flourishing and diversifying, and insects that fed on the leaves and nectar of the flowers were also diversifying fasts, as too were their predators, such as spiders, lizards, mammals, and birds.
This Gecko Has Been Trapped In Amber For 100 Million Years
Researchers at the University of Oregon state and the Natural History Museum in London confirmed that they had found the oldest known gecko fossil with life-like pieces after 100 million years of the amber-buried skeleton.
The tiny foot of this ancient lizard also displays the tiny “lamellae” or sticky headdress hairs, that to this day give modern geckos their unusual ability to cling to surfaces or run across a ceiling. Research programs around the world have tried to mimic this bizarre adhesive capability, with limited success.
This gecko’s running days are over, however, as only the foot, toes, and part of a tail are left in the stone. The rest might have become lunch for a small dinosaur or another predator during an ancient fight in the tropical forests of Myanmar during the Lower Cretaceous Period, from 97 million to 110 million years ago.
The find is at least 40 million years older than the oldest known gecko fossil, shedding additional light on the evolution and history of these ancient lizards that scampered among the feet of giant dinosaurs then and still are common in tropical or sub-tropical regions all over the world.
The findings were just published in Zootaxa, a professional journal.
“It’s the unusual toe pads and clinging ability of some geckos that make them such a fascinating group of animals, so we were very fortunate to find such a well-preserved foot in this fossil specimen,” said George Poinar, Jr., a courtesy professor at OSU and one of the world’s leading experts on insects, plants and other life forms trapped in amber, a semi-precious stone that begins as tree sap.
“There’s a gecko society, gecko clubs, just a lot of interest in these animals because of their unusual characteristics,” Poinar said. “So there are a lot of people pretty excited about this.”
Based on the number of lamellae found on its toe pads, this gecko was probably a very small juvenile of what would have become a comparatively large adult, possibly up to a foot long, the researchers say. Modern geckos get no more than about 16 inches long, although it’s possible there were larger species millions of years ago.
The juvenile gecko found in the fossil was less than an inch in length when it died – possibly by being eaten or attacked since only partial remains were found.
The discovery has been announced as a new genus and species of gecko, now extinct, and has been named Cretaceogekko. It had a striped pattern that probably served as camouflage.
There are more than 1,200 species of geckos in the world today, common in warm or tropical regions, including parts of the southern United States. They are frequently kept as pets, and often are welcome in the homes of some tropical residents because they help control insects. Some are very colorful. They use long tongues to lick, clean, and moisturize their eyes.
“Geckos are territorial, and when I lived in Africa in the early 1980s we used to have them in our house,” Poinar said. “They are pretty friendly and don’t bother humans. Certain individuals would move into the house, we’d give them names, and they would run around the house, catch mosquitoes, help control bugs. They would crawl across the ceiling and look down at you.”
The new study provides evidence that geckos were definitely in Asia by 100 million years ago, and had already evolved their bizarre foot structure at that time. The amber fossil was mined in the Hukawng Valley in Myanmar, and during its life, the gecko probably lived in a moist, tropical forest with ample opportunities for climbing.
The ability of geckos to walk on vertical walls or even upside down is due to the presence of thousands of “setae” on their toes, very tiny, hairlike structures that have tips which attach to surfaces by van der Walls forces. It’s a type of incredibly strong, dry adhesion shared by virtually no other group of animals.
It’s not known exactly how old this group of animals is, and when they evolved their adhesive toe pads. However, the new study makes it clear that this ability was in place at least 100 million years ago, in nature. Modern research programs still have not been able to completely duplicate it.
Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley reported earlier this year that they have developed a new “anti-sliding” adhesive that they said was the closest man-made material yet to mimic the ability of geckos – they think it might help a robot climb up the side of walls. A research team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this year created a waterproof adhesive bandage inspired by geckos, that may someday be used in surgery. And of course, geckos have become an advertising icon for the insurance company Geico.
This study is just one of many in which Poinar and colleagues have used the unusual characteristics of amber to study ancient life forms and develop information on the ecology of ancient ecosystems.
As a stone that first begins to form as sap oozing from a tree, amber can trap small insects or other life forms and preserve them in near-perfect detail for observation millions of years later.
99-Million-Year-Old Millipede Trapped In Amber Discovered In Myanmar
The analysis of an amber-trapped, 99 million-year-old fossilized millipede is bringing scientists to utterly rethink the evolution of the entire millipede species.
Researchers found that the perfectly preserved 8.2 mm specimen found in Burma was an entirely new species, according to a study published in the journal ZooKeys, due to its peculiar morphology that differed greatly from existing millipede classifications.
Professor Pavel Stoev at the Bulgarian National Natural History Museum told us in a statement that “We were very surprised that this animal can not be placed into the present Millipede classification.
“Even though their general appearance has remained unchanged in the last 100 million years, as our planet underwent dramatic changes several times in this period, some morphological traits in Callipodida lineage have evolved significantly.”
As a result of this exciting find, Stoev together with his colleagues Dr. Thomas Wesener and Leif Moritz of the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig in Germany had to revise the current millipede classification and introduce a new suborder for the specimen. There have only been a handful of millipede suborders described in the last five decades.
To get a more accurate look at the fossilized millipede’s morphology, researchers used 3D X-ray microscopy to construct a virtual model of the ancient millipede, including its internal features.
The examination showed that the 99 million-year-old millipede was, in fact, significantly different from other early millipede species. The researchers named the new species Burmanopetalum inexpectatum, with the latter word meaning “unexpected” in Latin.
Among the Burmanopetalum inexpectatum’s unique traits are its eye, which is composed of five optical units where other millipede orders usually have but two or three.
Another fascinating trait of the newly discovered millipede is its smooth hypoproct, which is the spot located in between the anal opening and the genitalia of an insect.
By comparison, its younger brethren usually have hypopcrocts that are covered in bristles. These highly unusual traits have given scientists a completely new perspective regarding how its kind evolved.
Not to be confused with centipedes, millipedes belong to the Diplopoda class which is Latin for “double foot.” The name refers to the two pairs of legs that these critters have on each of their body segments in addition to its many tiny legs. By comparison, centipedes have only one pair of legs per body segment.
Also unlike centipedes, millipedes are not active predators and they survive on a diet of decaying plant matter. When threatened, millipedes will secrete poisonous chemicals to deter animals that may want to hurt or eat them.
Scientists estimate that there are 80,000 species of millipedes, yet only a fraction have been discovered and studied.
This ancient insect’s peculiar characteristics are not the only thing that sets it apart, however. The fact that it was discovered in Myanmar is also significant because scientists have never discovered a Callipodidan in Myanmar before, which means that this order of insects must have existed in the Southeast Asian region as well.
The Burmese amber that the millipede had been trapped in was part of a private collection of animals that belonged to Patrick Müller.
This collection included 400 amber stones that the scientists had been granted access to, and is the largest collection of its kind in Europe and the third-largest in the world.
Much of the collection is now deposited at the Museum Koenig in Bonn, Germany, where other researchers from around the world may gain access to study the collection, too.
This 99-Million-Year-Old Dinosaur Tail Trapped in Amber Hints at Feather Evolution
A feathered dinosaur’s tail has been found in Myanmar amber perfectly preserved. The one-of – a-kind breakthrough helps to put a new perspective on the evolution of a group that dominant in the world for more than 160 million years.
The examination of the specimen suggests the tail was chestnut brown on top and white on its underside. The tail is described in the journal Current Biology.
“This is the first time we’ve found dinosaur material preserved in amber,” co-author Ryan McKellar, of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada, told the BBC News website. The study’s first author, Lida Xing from the China University of Geosciences in Beijing, discovered the remarkable fossil at an amber market in Myitkina, Myanmar.
The 99-million-year-old amber had already been polished for jewellery and the seller had thought it was plant material. On closer inspection, however, it turned out to be the tail of a feathered dinosaur about the size of a sparrow.
Lida Xing was able to establish where it had come from by tracking down the amber miner who had originally dug out the specimen. Dr. McKellar said examination of the tail’s anatomy showed it definitely belonged to a feathered dinosaur and not an ancient bird.
“We can be sure of the source because the vertebrae are not fused into a rod or pygostyle as in modern birds and their closest relatives,” he explained.
“Instead, the tail is long and flexible, with keels of feathers running down each side.”
Dr. McKellar said there are signs the dinosaur still contained fluids when it was incorporated into the tree resin that eventually formed the amber. This indicates that it could even have become trapped in the sticky substance while it was still alive.
Co-author Prof Mike Benton, from the University of Bristol, added: “It’s amazing to see all the details of a dinosaur tail – the bones, flesh, skin, and feathers – and to imagine how this little fellow got his tail caught in the resin, and then presumably died because he could not wrestle free.”
Examination of the chemistry of the tail where it was exposed at the surface of the amber even shows up traces of ferrous iron, a relic of the blood that was once in the sample.
The findings also shed light on how feathers were arranged on these dinosaurs because 3D features are often lost due to the compression that occurs when corpses become fossils in sedimentary rocks.
The feathers lack the well-developed central shaft – a rachis – known from modern birds. Their structure suggests that the two finest tiers of branching in modern feathers, known as barbs and barbules, arose before the rachis formed.
Kachin State, in north-eastern Myanmar, where the specimen was found, has been producing amber for 2,000 years. But because of the large number of insects preserved in the deposits, over the last 20 years it has become a focus for scientists who study ancient arthropods.
“The larger amber pieces often get broken up in the mining process. By the time we see them, they have often been turned into things like jewellery. We never know how much of the specimen has been missed,” said Dr. McKellar.
“If you had a complete specimen, for example, you could look at how feathers were arranged across the whole body. Or you could look at other soft tissue features that don’t usually get preserved.”
Other preserved parts of a feathered dinosaur might also reveal whether it was a flying or gliding animal.
“There have been other, anecdotal reports of similar specimens coming from the region. But if they disappear into private collections, then they’re lost to science,” Dr. McKellar explained.
Dr. Paul Barrett, from London’s Natural History Museum, called the specimen a “beautiful fossil”, describing it as a “really rare occurrence of vertebrate material in amber”.
He told BBC News: “Feathers have been recovered in amber before, so that aspect isn’t new, but what this new specimen shows is the 3D arrangement of feathers in a Mesozoic dinosaur/bird for the first time, as almost all of the other feathered dinosaur fossils and Mesozoic bird skeletons that we have been flattened and 2D only, which has obscured some important features of their anatomy.
“The new amber specimen confirms ideas from developmental biologists about the order in which some of the detailed features of modern feathers, such as barbs and barbules (the little hooks that hold the barbs together so that the feather can form a nice neat vane), would have appeared also.”
Earlier this year, scientists also described ancient bird wings that had been discovered in amber from the same area of Myanmar.