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Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM/ R.C. McKellar)
Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM/ R.C. McKellar)

Scientists Find Feathered Dinosaur Tail Preserved in Amber

Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM/ R.C. McKellar)
Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM/ R.C. McKellar)

Paleontologists have discovered a tiny dinosaur’s fluffy tail preserved inside a drop of amber. They described their findings in the journal Current Biology.

The amber market in northern Myanmar where the specimen was found has already proven itself a rich scientific resource. Earlier this year, a team of researchers reported finding a pair of well-preserved bird wings dating back at least 100 million years. The team had bought more than a dozen pieces of amber, including those two. As they turned their attention to the rest of their purchase, one silver dollar–sized chunk stood out.

Lida Xing

Within this drop lay what looked like a tiny, feathery switch not even an inch and a half long. Computed tomography (CT) scans, high-powered microscopy, and chemical analysis confirmed the team’s suspicions: They’d found a dinosaur tail.

More specifically, they’d found part of the tail of a fluffy young theropod, most likely a coelurosaur.

Look at that cutie. Image Credit: Chung-tat Cheung

The articulated tail contained eight vertebrae and delicate, barbed feathers that would have been white or chestnut brown while the little dinosaur was still alive. Unlike the bird wing feathers, these appear to be more ornamental than anything else. The researchers say that if the rest of the coelurosaur’s tail looked like this segment, it was unlikely it would have been flight-worthy at all. Its handsome fluffy feathers would have kept it on the ground.

Co-author Ryan McKellar of the Royal Saskatchewan museum says these findings reaffirm the importance of amber to the scientific record. “Amber pieces preserve tiny snapshots of ancient ecosystems,” he said in a statement, “but they record microscopic details, three-dimensional arrangements, and labile tissues that are difficult to study in other settings. This is a new source of information that is worth researching with intensity and protecting as a fossil resource."

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LEGO
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New LEGO Set Recreates Jurassic Park's Iconic Velociraptor Chase Scenes
LEGO
LEGO

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth installment in the Jurassic Park franchise, is skulking into theaters on June 22. That makes now the perfect time to revisit the original film in LEGO form.

This LEGO set, spotted by Nerdist, depicts some of the most suspenseful scenes from the 1993 movie. There's the main computer room where Ariana Richards's Lex shows off her hacker skills while Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) struggle to keep a hungry dinosaur from barging in. Just like in the film, the door features a deadbolt lock that's velociraptor-proof (though, unfortunately for the characters, the detachable window is not). Other Easter eggs hidden in this part include a map of Isla Nublar and a screener saver of LEGO Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight).

In the neighboring room, you'll find the cold storage unit where the dinosaur embryos are kept, along with the fake shaving cream can Nedry uses to steal them. The final section is the kitchen, where Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex are stalked by the velociraptor. There's less room for them to hide in the LEGO version compared to the movie set, but there is at least one functioning cabinet for Lex to tuck herself into. Closer inspection reveals even more details from the film, like the lime-green Jello Lex is eating when the raptors first arrive and the step ladder the gang uses to escape into the air ducts during the final chase.

LEGO Jurassic Park set.

LEGO Jurassic Park set.

LEGO Jurassic Park set.

The Jurassic Park Velociraptor Chase set is currently available from the LEGO shop for $40.

[h/t Nerdist]

All images courtesy of LEGO.

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CHLOE EFFRON / DINOSAURS: ISTOCK
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science
Why Are There No More Dinosaurs?
CHLOE EFFRON / DINOSAURS: ISTOCK
CHLOE EFFRON / DINOSAURS: ISTOCK

WHY? is our attempt to answer all the questions every little kid asks. Do you have a question? Send it to why@mentalfloss.com.

Actually, there are still dinosaurs: Birds! But let’s talk about that a little later. Scientists have found clues in rocks and fossils that tell us that by 65 million years ago, the climate (CLY-met), or usual weather, of the Earth had changed a lot, becoming cooler and drier. That was hard on the heat-loving dinosaurs. But that’s not why almost all of the dinosaurs became extinct, or disappeared forever. Scientists think a terrible event occurred that killed them off.

In 1991, scientists discovered a huge 110-mile-long crater, or hole, in the Gulf of Mexico. They think this crater was made by a giant, fiery, 6-mile-wide asteroid (AST-er-oyd) from space that smashed into the Earth about 65 million years ago. The impact was more powerful than any bomb we have ever known. Scientists believe this event killed most plant and animal life—including the dinosaurs. The asteroid probably caused shockwaves, earthquakes, fireballs, wildfires, and tidal, or really big, waves. It also sent huge amounts of dust and gas into the atmosphere, which is like a big blanket of air that surrounds the Earth. That was really bad for the planet.

The dust blocked sunlight, making the planet very cold and dark. Then, over time, the gases trapped heat, causing the Earth to get even hotter than it was before the asteroid hit. This change was deadly for most dinosaurs, and they became extinct. But birds survived. Many millions of years earlier, they had evolved (ee-VOL-ved), or changed slowly over time, from one group of dinosaurs. And when the dinosaurs disappeared, mammals diversified (die-VERSE-uh-fide), or changed, into many different kinds of animals—including us, many millions of years later. So the next time you see a bird swoop by, wave hello to the little flying dinosaur!    


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