Although paleontologists have been finding animal fossils in the form of bones and bone-shaped rocks for eons, full-bodied amber-encased fossils have been making headlines much more commonly these days than any time prior.
These hunks of amber are sourced directly from Myanmar, where unfortunate animals had found themselves trapped inside of forever-hardened tree resins and were sealed away from Mother nature’s elements and preserved for millions of years.
Shared in the journal Gondwana Research, another example of an amber-encased creature has been discovered and is causing quite a bit of buzz in the scientific community. This time, it’s a nearly full-bodied fossil of an adorable baby bird estimated to have existed as many as 99 million years ago. It’s being nicknamed ‘Belone.’
Image Credit: Ming Bai, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Just how much of a baby Belone? Some experts place the age at somewhere around just days or weeks old before it was captured inside of this tree resin tomb.
Because Belone is encased in this hunk of amber, its bodily features are preserved in nearly mint condition. It’s incredible to think that this little creature would have existed in the mid-cretaceous period, probably alongside very many of the dinosaurs we’ve found bones for over the years.
Belone and its family group were all unlike those we see on Earth today; rather, it was a member of an extinct animal group known as enantiornithes. This group isn’t related to the birds that fly through the skies today, but instead an evolution of some of the last dinosaurs to walk the Earth.
Worthy of note, Belone’s plumage was similar to that of the feathers found on many fossilized dinosaurs, exhibiting no true rachis at the center of the feather. All modern bird feathers have one of these rachises, which is the central stem that gives the feather its structural integrity.
These creatures weren’t as cute, soft, and feathery as the birds you’ll see in trees on modern planet Earth; they were a little bit more menacing and had features like teeth in their bills and sharp claws at the ends of their wings, enabling them to be much more predatory.
Image Credit: Chung-Tat Cheung
Despite all the differences, researchers are still excited to learn more about these creatures and anything else we might come about as the search for Myanmar-based amber fossils continues.