• Illustration of birds and dinosaurs cohabiting by Danielle Dufault. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Newly discovered fossils of ancient birds are in mint condition, thanks to the hard amber they've been preserved within.
By
Shami Sivasubramanian

29 Jun 2016 - 2:25 PM  UPDATED 29 Jun 2016 - 2:32 PM

Two wings of a prehistoric species of bird have been found in Myanmar, preserved in 99 million-year-old amber. The wings are said to have come from baby birds, and have even maintained traces of their original pigment.

The discovery by paleontologists from both the UK and China has been recently described in Nature Communications.

"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," co-author Professor Mike Benton from the University of Bristol tells BBC News.

The study claims claw markings within the amber could suggest the birds were alive when covered by the tree sap that later crystallised to form the amber fossils.

"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," says Dr Xing Lida, the lead author of the paper.

"Isolated feathers in other amber samples show that adult birds might have avoided the sticky sap, or pulled themselves free."

It should be noted the wings found in the amber are of birds, not winged dinosaurs. However, given the timeline deduced by the study, these birds would have lived alongside dinosaurs, making this discovery all the more exciting for scientists. It could reveal more about the evolution of winged dinosaurs to modern day birds.

"Three dimensional preservation in amber provides a whole new perspective and these fossils make it clear that very primitive birds living alongside the dinosaurs had wings and feather arrangements very similar to today's birds," says Dr Steve Brusatte, a vertebrate palaeontologist at Edinburgh University.

X-ray scans of their anatomy show the fossilised wings come from members of the enantiornithine bird group, which lived during the Mesozoic Era. Historians and archeologists know enantiornithine species died out around the same time as the dinosaurs, around 66 million years ago. 

 

 

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