Researchers in Myanmar have discovered a 99 million-year-old baby bird encased in amber. The ancient hatchling died when it was just a few days or weeks old after a blob of sticky tree resin fell on it, leaving half of its body frozen in time.
Xing Lida, from the China University of Geosciences, led an international team of researchers in analyzing the three-inch specimen. Their study, published in the journal Gondwana Research, will help scientists better understand the toothed birds that lived alongside dinosaurs—and how they differ from birds living today.
The amber encases the bird’s skull, neck, a partial wing, a hind limb and one foot. The hatchling would have belonged to a group of birds called enantiornithines, that lived during the Cretaceous period, 145 to 65 million years ago. They died out during the mass extinction event that killed off the dinosaurs.
The National Geographic Society’s Expeditions Council partly funded the research. The fossil was mined from the Hukawng Valley in northern Myanmar.
Scientists discovered the bird was unusual in several ways—the structure of its wings was very similar to those seen in modern flying birds—but it retained some features that are seen in more primitive theropods, the group of dinosaurs from which modern birds emerged.
Chen Guang, curator of a museum in Yunnan and owner of the specimen, told Xinhua : "Many people thought it was a lizard. But the scales, thread-like feathers and sharp claws on the feet were so noticeable that I thought they must belong to a bird.”