Scientists Find 99 Million-Year-Old, Mostly Complete Baby Bird Trapped in Amber

By Ryan F. Mandelbaum on at

This has been a huge year for finding specimens in amber, from bird wings to dinosaur feathers to this ugly-ass bug. But this new finding might be the best one yet: a nearly complete 99-million-year-old baby bird.

Scientists found the specimen in Myanmar, where others have purchased or found plenty of other incredible amber samples in the amber mines. But this one is crazy: an almost complete baby bird that lived during the time of the dinosaurs.

“Seeing this much of an animal preserved in amber is exciting,” study author Ryan McKellar told Gizmodo. “In this case we have the whole right side of the body.”

Image: Ming Bai

Burmese amber is pretty incredible. Not only are the pieces generally big and translucent, but the mines in Northern Myanmar have yielded plenty of incredible insects and plants recently, according to the research published yesterday in the journal Gondwana Research.

This specific sample preserves a baby enantiornithine bird, who was probably partly through its first moult a few days or weeks after hatching. The team analysed the bird with microscopes and a lab micro CT scanner, essentially a special kind of x-ray, to create 3D reconstructions. “It’s neat because it preserves a very early growth stage,” said McKellar. It was only just growing its tail feathers.

Image: Ming Bai

Enantiornithines are closely related to modern birds. But unlike the birds that poop on your car, this bird was beakless, toothed, had claws on its wings, and a different arrangement of bones in its ankles, said McKellar. The sample preserves a strange combination of features, like having functional wing feathers but not a lot of body feathers.

Unfortunately, while the bird looks cool, there probably isn’t any DNA left to do a crazy Jurassic Park-type reanimation, reports New Scientist. All of the meat has since turned into unusable carbon.

Image: Ryan McKellar

This probably won’t be the last or the craziest sample found in Burmese amber. But until the next one comes along, holy shit.[Gondwana Research via New Scientist]

More Science Posts: