Despite what Steven Spielberg, hazy science theories and our own imaginations have come up with, we haven't had much evidence of what dinosaurs looked like. That changed yesterday when, in the most recent issue of Current Biology
, scientists reported finding the actual tail of a dinosaur encased in amber, and that tail is covered completely with tiny, delicate feathers.
The fossil, dubbed “Eva,” comes from an amber mine in northern Myanmar that has already produced an impressive collection of specimens from the cretaceous period. Initially believed to be a plant, the fossil was partially carved into a oval by a jewelry maker to be sold. This isn't the first such specimen to come from the mine; this part of the world is recognized for having produced a large variety of cretaceous era flora and fauna trapped in hunks of amber.
This specimen and more than a dozen others were purchased by Chinese paleontologist Xing Lida, who was browsing the famed amber market in Myitkyana
for earth shattering fossil discoveries and other objects of interest.
The case for feathered dinosaurs has existed for more than two decades and been supported by evidence of feather impressions in and around fossilized bones, individual feathers encased in amber and quill knobs in velociraptors
The tail comes from a young coelurosaur, which is a therapod dinosaur and part of a group that includes tyrannosaurs. Fluffy T-rex: CONFIRMED. This specimen is only 1.4 inches long and belonged to a creature that was roughly the size of a sparrow. Scans and photographs show the feathers to be a light brown color with a pale white underside, far too delicate for flight. The sample, dubbed "Eva", also includes soft tissues, ligaments and artifacts of ferrous iron, which is a byproduct of hemoglobin which was once present in the tail.
"Using sophisticated techniques, they extract the preserved blood and bingo! Dino DNA!"
Part of the reason this is so exciting is that this is the first time the feathers have been preserved together with the underlying bones, which gives scientists a window into key questions of evolution including what the original point of feathers was, how they evolved from dinosaurs to birds and what dinosaurs actually looked like.
It’s a watershed moment in paleontology research that will undoubtedly lead to more discovery that will finally lift the 65 million year old veil that obscures our prehistoric past and bring us one step closer to the Jurassic Park recipe for cloning dinosaurs.
Hold onto your butts.