FROM THE EDUCATION DESK
Can you believe that half a year is gone already? I thought last year went fast but this year is topping it! There does not seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything I want to do done. The first half of the year has been great and we are hoping that the second half will be even better.
This 3-inch piece of amber contains the fossilized remains of a baby bird that lived about 99 million years ago. CT scans reveal that it’s the most complete fossil ever found in Burmese amber.
According to scientists writing in the journal Gondwana Research the hatchling belonged to a major group of birds known as enantiornithes, which went extinct along with dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period about 65 million years ago. Funded in part by the National Geographic Society’s Expeditions Council, this discovery is providing critical new information about these ancient, toothed birds and how they differed from modern birds. Mined in the Hukawng Valley in northern Myanmar, Burmese amber deposits contain possibly the largest variety of animal and plant life from the Cretaceous period.
Based on its molting pattern, researchers could determine that the bird was only in its first days or weeks of life when it was frozen in time by the sticky tree resin. Nearly half of the body is preserved including its head, wings, skin, feathers and a clawed foot which is clearly visible to the naked eye. Its feathers range from white and brown to dark grey in color. It has been nicknamed ‘Belone’, after a Burmese name for the amber-hued Oriental skylark. These nearly 100 million year old wings are remarkably similar to those on modern birds. In this specimen, the baby enantiornithine possessed a full set of flight feathers on its wings, but the rest of the plumage was sparse. The presence of the flight feathers on such a young bird reinforces the idea that enantiornithes hatched with the ability to fly, making them less dependent on parental care than most modern birds. The researchers point out that a slow growth rate made these ancient birds more vulnerable for a longer amount of time, as evidenced by the high number of juvenile birds in the fossil record. No juvenile fossil remains from any other bird lineage are known from the Cretaceous period.
In 2014 the fossilized specimen was purchased by Guang Chen, director of the Hupoge Amber Museum in China. He brought the fossil to Lida Xing of the China University of Geosciences, who identified it as an enantiornithine foot. No one realized really what they had until the fossil underwent CT imaging. They found translucent sheets of skin that connected many of the body regions along with the remarkable extent of preservation obscured behind thick layers of amber, carbonized plant remains, and clay filled bubbles.
The find was reported by several of the same researchers who discovered a feathered theropod dinosaur tail preserved in amber last December.
Life isn’t about finding yourself…
Life is about creating yourself…