A Feathered Dinosaur Tail with Primitive Plumage Trapped in Mid-Cretaceous Amber

Lida Xing, Ryan C McKellar, Xing Xu, Gang Li, Ming Bai, W Scott Persons, Tetsuto Miyashita, Michael J Benton, Jianping Zhang, Alexander P Wolfe, Qiru Yi, Kuowei Tseng, Hao Ran, Philip J Currie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)
425 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

In the two decades since the discovery of feathered dinosaurs [1-3], the range of plumage known from non-avialan theropods has expanded significantly, confirming several features predicted by developmentally informed models of feather evolution [4-10]. However, three-dimensional feather morphology and evolutionary patterns remain difficult to interpret, due to compression in sedimentary rocks [9, 11]. Recent discoveries in Cretaceous amber from Canada, France, Japan, Lebanon, Myanmar, and the United States [12-18] reveal much finer levels of structural detail, but taxonomic placement is uncertain because plumage is rarely associated with identifiable skeletal material [14]. Here we describe the feathered tail of a non-avialan theropod preserved in mid-Cretaceous (∼99 Ma) amber from Kachin State, Myanmar [17], with plumage structure that directly informs the evolutionary developmental pathway of feathers. This specimen provides an opportunity to document pristine feathers in direct association with a putative juvenile coelurosaur, preserving fine morphological details, including the spatial arrangement of follicles and feathers on the body, and micrometer-scale features of the plumage. Many feathers exhibit a short, slender rachis with alternating barbs and a uniform series of contiguous barbules, supporting the developmental hypothesis that barbs already possessed barbules when they fused to form the rachis [19]. Beneath the feathers, carbonized soft tissues offer a glimpse of preservational potential and history for the inclusion; abundant Fe(2+) suggests that vestiges of primary hemoglobin and ferritin remain trapped within the tail. The new finding highlights the unique preservation potential of amber for understanding the morphology and evolution of coelurosaurian integumentary structures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3352-3360
Number of pages9
JournalCurrent Biology
Volume26
Issue number24
Early online date8 Dec 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 19 Dec 2016

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