Miners digging for amber in Myanmar discovered a complete bird hatchling that dates back to the time of the dinosaurs, encased in hardened tree sap. Almost half of the bird’s body was engulfed in the sap, which then hardened around the bird’s neck bones, claws, wings, and jaws.
Scientists identified the bird as a member of enantiornithes, an extinct group, The Washington Post reports. The hatchling died halfway before its first feather molt was completed, suggesting that it broke out of its egg just a few days before falling into the sap. The bird most probably hatched in the tropics, beneath conifer trees. Its life ended in conifer sap, or resin, which then fossilized into amber.
Some 99 million years later, diggers unearthed the amber.
Ryan McKellar, a paleontologist at Canada’s Royal Saskatchewan Museum, said,
Enantiornithines are close relatives to modern birds, and in general, they would have looked very similar. However, this group of birds still had teeth and claws on their wings.
The bird lived during the Cretaceous Period, which ended 65.5 million years ago.
The enantiornithes have distinct hip and ankle bones, which may have allowed them to fly differently than modern birds. Nonetheless, they could fly well enough.
The fossil in the amber contained fine details, including the hatchling’s eyelid and outer opening of the ear. The resin did not show any signs of a struggling, and McKellar said, “The hatchling may have been dead by the time it entered” the resin.
One of the leg bones has been dragged away from its natural position, suggesting that the corpse may have been scavenged before it was covered by the next flow of resin.
The claws had plenty of details, had golden scales and measured just under one inch long. McKellar said, “The preserved skin surface allows us to observe the feet in great detail.”
McKellar and a team of scientists examined the fossil using several imaging technologies, including light microscopes and X-ray micro-CT scanning.
There have been a number of discoveries in amber in recent years, offering very detailed glimpses into prehistoric animals. In December, McKellar and colleagues said that they had found a dinosaur tail also trapped in amber, from a mine in Myanmar.
The study was published in Gondwana Research.