Feathered dinosaur tail found preserved in amber
'One-of-a-kind discovery' - bought in a market in Myanmar - offers scientists fresh insight into the evolution of feathers
Bones and feathers from the tip of a dinosaur tail have been found among fossils for sale in a market in Myanmar, report a team of scientists in Current Biology.
The "one-of-a-kind discovery helps put flesh on the bones of these extinct creatures", says the BBC, and opens a "new window on the biology of a group that dominated Earth for more than 160 million years".
It was uncovered by geoscientist Lida Xing, from the China University of Geosciences in Beijing, who was able to trace its origin by tracking down the amber miner who had dug it out of the earth.
Dr Ryan McKellar, the co-author of the study, said it was "fortunate" Xing was in the marketplace on that particular day.
He said: "It's one of those things where if there hadn't been the right person on the ground at the time, I think it would have disappeared into a private collection or gone entirely unnoticed."
Researchers believe the tail probably belonged to a theropod, a classification that includes the tyrannosaurus.
This example came from a "juvenile coelurosaur, a creature closely related to birds that typically had some kind of feathers", says the Smithsonian Magazine.
National Geographic says it "captures one of the earliest moments of differentiation between the feathers of birds of flight and the feathers of dinosaurs".
For a long time, dinosaurs were thought to be a relative of scaly lizards, reports Quartz, but over the past two decades, researchers have found more and more evidence that many species had feathers or plumage.
McKellar said: "I think at this point the number of specimens we've seen to date point to the fact that most theropod dinosaurs probably had plumage or feathers at some point in their life, [although] may not have been all the way through to adulthood. It's basically one half of the [dinosaur] family tree."