Science News
from research organizations

Early bird wings preserved in Burmese amber

Date:
June 28, 2016
Source:
University of Bristol
Summary:
Thousands of remarkable 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.
Share:
FULL STORY

Enantiornithes wing and skin sections encased in amber, nicknamed "Rose".
Credit: Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM/ R.C. McKellar)

Thousands of remarkable 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 international research team was led by Dr Xing Lida from the China University of Geosciences, and colleagues from Canada, United States and Professor Mike Benton from the University of Bristol, UK. The specimens 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 centimetres 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 solidified tree sap, and the Burmese amber occurs in small blocks that are polished to reveal the treasures within.

Mike Benton, Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology from the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol and one of the researchers, said: "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.

Dr Xing Lida, lead author of the study, explained: "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.

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

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.

The research is published today in Nature Communications.


Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Bristol. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lida Xing, Ryan C. McKellar, Min Wang, Ming Bai, Jingmai K. O’Connor, Michael J. Benton, Jianping Zhang, Yan Wang, Kuowei Tseng, Martin G. Lockley, Gang Li, Weiwei Zhang, Xing Xu. Mummified precocial bird wings in mid-Cretaceous Burmese amber. Nature Communications, 2016; 7: 12089 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms12089

Cite This Page:

University of Bristol. "Early bird wings preserved in Burmese amber." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 June 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160628141419.htm>.
University of Bristol. (2016, June 28). Early bird wings preserved in Burmese amber. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 23, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160628141419.htm
University of Bristol. "Early bird wings preserved in Burmese amber." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160628141419.htm (accessed May 23, 2017).

RELATED STORIES