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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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Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
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Feathers, Fighting, and Feet: A Brief History of Dinosaur Art
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

One of the first-known works of dinosaur art was The country of the Iguanodon, an 1837 watercolor by John Martin. It depicts the ancient reptiles as giant iguanas, thrashing and fighting near a stone quarry—a far cry from today's sophisticated 3D renderings.

By watching the PBS Eons video below, you can learn how our image of dinosaurs has changed over the centuries, thanks to artworks based on new scientific discoveries and fossil findings. Find out why artists decided to give the prehistoric creatures either feathers or scales, make them either active or sluggish, present them as walking on two or four feet, and to imagine tails that either dragged or lifted, among other features.

Keep in mind, however, that both emerging technologies and new findings are constantly changing the way scientists view dinosaurs. A new species, on average, is named every two weeks—and this research will likely keep artists busy (and constantly revising their work) for years to come.

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Pop Chart Lab
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Design
Epic Poster Features Over 100 Hand-Drawn Illustrations of Dinosaurs
Pop Chart Lab
Pop Chart Lab

Paleontologists are constantly discovering new dinosaurs (or questioning whether beloved species ever existed in the first place), so it's hard to keep track of every dino that ever existed. But if you want an up-to-date catalogue of the most significant beasts from the Triassic to the Cretaceous periods, this taxonomy poster from Pop Chart Lab is tough to beat.

Titled Dinosauria, the chart organizes more than 700 genera of dinosaurs into one easy-to-read infographic. All of the standard favorites are represented, like Triceratops and T. Rex, as well as some more obscure or newly discovered prehistoric reptiles like Conchoraptor and Psittacosaurus. Pop Chart Lab pulled its data from the most current classification systems, even including research published just this year that unifies ornithischians with theropods.


The 100 hand-drawn illustrations and accompanying taxonomic timeline took over 500 hours of research to design. Hanging it on your wall at home requires a lot less effort: You can order a 24-inch-by-36-inch print for $37 from Pop Chart Lab’s online store.

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