British scientists find feathered dinosaur tail preserved in amber

An artist impression of what the dinosaur may have looked like Credit: University of Bristol

A team of researchers from the University of Bristol have found a dinosaur tail almost perfectly preserved in amber - covered in feathers.

The discovery was made in Myanmar in a joint project with teams from Canada and China.

Fossil evidence had previously indicated that many dinosaurs did have feathers, and while these are not the first to be found in amber, it is the first time they can be definitively linked to an animal.

The researchers say the specimen is about 99 million years old, dating back to the mid-cretaceous period.

The feathered tail is from a theropod - a group of dinosaurs that walked on two legs and were largely carnivorous.

“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."

Prof Mike Benton, University of Bristol
The feathers suggest the tail had a chestnut-brown upper surface and a pale or white underside. Credit: University of Bristol

The initial discovery was made by Lida Xing from the China University of Geosciences in Beijing who came across the remarkable specimen at an amber market in Myitkyina, Myanmar in 2015.

Ryan McKeller, from the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada, says they can be confident the tail is that of a dinosaur and not a 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. Instead, the tail is long and flexible, with keels of feathers running down each side. In other words, the feathers definitely are those of a dinosaur not a prehistoric bird.”

Ryan McKeller, Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada

The research team say they're now eager to find more specimens from the region.