In Myanmar, scientists have discovered a 99 million-year-old dinosaur tail with feathers stuck in a chunk of amber, providing us with evidence that dinosaurs had feathers rather than scales.
According to CNN, Chinese paleontologist Xing Lida came across the 1.4 inch tail—with feathers, bones, and soft tissue preserved in a 6.5 gram chunk of amber at an amber market in northern Myanmar near the Chinese border. The trader didn't seem to realize he was in possession of "a once in a lifetime find." While the amber might have otherwise ended up as jewelry, Xing said, "I realized that the content was a vertebrate, probably theropod, rather than any plant."
The findings, published in Current Biology's December issue, show that dinosaurs are "not quite the Godzilla-style scaly monsters we once thought," the paper's co-author, Royal Saskatchwan Museum paleontologist Ryan McKellar, told CNN. He explained, "The more we see these feathered dinosaurs and how widespread the feathers are, things like a scaly Velociraptor seem less and less likely and they've become a lot more bird like in the overall view."
While researchers believe the tail belonged to a bird-like dinosaur, they know it didn't belong to a bird. The six-inch dinosaur's tail is flexible, which "isn’t something that you see in modern birds, so it restricts you to a group of dinosaurs that are outside of archaeopteryx and modern birds," McKellar told the LA Times. "You have to be dealing with something lower down in the evolutionary tree. And this means you’re firmly in dinosaur territory, as opposed to bird territory."
Previously, "individual dinosaur-era feathers have been found in amber, and evidence for feathered dinosaurs is captured in fossil impressions," according to National Geographic, which partly funded the research. For the first time, however, this discovery allows scientists "to clearly associate well-preserved feathers with a dinosaur, and in turn, gain a better understanding of the evolution and structure of dinosaur feathers."