❄ DINO FACTS ❄
Brr! It’s chilly out there today, but luckily our dinosaurs have feathers on them to keep them warm!
We know this because, after years of speculation, a dinosaur tail full of feathers was found perfectly preserved in amber in 2017. Read all about the discovery in the timeline below:
Well-preserved fossils of feathered dinosaurs were discovered during the 1990s in Liaoning, China. The area had repeatedly been smothered in volcanic ash produced by eruptions in Inner Mongolia 124 million years ago. The fine-grained ash preserved the living organisms that it buried in fine detail. The area was teeming with life, with millions of leaves, insects, fish, frogs, salamanders, mammals, turtles, lizards, and the oldest known flowering plants discovered to date.
But the most important discoveries at Liaoning were the host of feathered dinosaur fossils. These new finds were critical in filling in the picture of the dinosaur–bird connection and contributing key elements to develop theories of the evolutionary development of feathers and flight.
Not all of the Chinese fossil discoveries proved valid however. In 1999, a supposed fossil of an apparently feathered dinosaur found in Liaoning turned out to be a forgery. Comparing the photograph of the specimen with another find from Liaoning, Chinese paleontologist Xu Xing came to the conclusion that it was composed of two portions of different fossil animals. After Xu Xing’s claim National Geographic also reviewed their research and came to the same conclusion.
In 2011, samples of amber were discovered containing preserved feathers from 75 to 80 million years ago, with evidence that they were from both dinosaurs and birds. Initial analysis suggests that some of the feathers were used for insulation, and not flight. More complex feathers were revealed to have variations in coloration similar to modern birds, while simpler protofeathers were predominantly dark. Only 11 specimens are currently known. The specimens are too rare to be broken open to study their melanosomes, but there are plans for using non-destructive high-resolution X-ray imaging.
In 2017, the discovery was announced of a feathered dinosaur tail preserved in amber, estimated to be 99 million years old. Lida Xing, a researcher from the China University of Geosciences in Beijing, found the specimen at an amber market in Myanmar. It is the first definitive discovery of dinosaur material in amber, confirming that dinosaurs had a lot more in common with birds than first realised!