young Cretaceous bird trapped in tree resin
Xing, O'Connor, McKellar, et al., 2018.
Illustration: Cheung Chung Tat
Cretaceous amber from Myanmar (∼99 Ma Burmese amber) has become a valuable supplement to the traditional skeletal record of small theropod dinosaurs preserved in sedimentary rocks, particularly for coelurosaurs and enantiornithines. The specimens recovered from this deposit preserve skeletal material and soft tissues in unmatched detail. This provides opportunities to study three-dimensional preservation of soft tissues, microstructure, and pigmentation patterns that are seldom available elsewhere in the fossil record. Ultimately, this line of research provides insights into life stages that are difficult to preserve, the ecology and appearance of the groups involved, and the evolutionary-development of structures such as feathers. Here we describe the most recent discovery from Burmese amber, an articulated skeleton of an enantiornithine bird. This individual has been sectioned along the coronal plane, providing a unique view inside multiple body regions. Osteological observations and plumage patterns support placement within the Enantiornithes, and suggest that the animal may have been a juvenile at the time of death. The specimen has a complex taphonomic history that includes exposure at the surface of a resin flow prior to encapsulation, and may include scavenging by some of the insects trapped within the same amber piece. The chemical composition observed along surface exposures and shallowly buried regions of the body indicate that the specimen has not undergone significant exchange with its surroundings. High iron concentrations are present in regions that preserve soft tissues as carbon films, and calcium distribution corresponds to regions where bones breach the surface of the amber.
Keywords: Enantiornithes; Juvenile; Osteology; Soft tissue preservation
|An illustration shows the young Cretaceous bird trapped in tree resin, which would eventually fossilize into amber.|
Illustration: Cheung Chung Tat
Decay and interactions with the surrounding resin have obscured many of the features of DIP-V-15102, but X-ray µCT is able to provide some osteological information, and the coronal section yields an interesting picture of preservation. The balance of osteological evidence preserved in DIP-V-15102 points towards a source within Enantiornithes. The plumage preserved is also consistent with this placement. The remains are compacted into an amber thickness of approximately 7 mm, but they provide a better sense of how a relatively complete and moist corpse behaves upon entering this preservational setting. Hopefully, this specimen provides a better search image for future discoveries, improving recovery rates and reducing losses due to specimen preparation.
Lida Xing, Jingmai K. O'Connor, Ryan C. McKellar, Luis M. Chiappe, Ming Bai, Kuowei Tseng, Jie Zhang, Haidong Yang, Jun Fang and Gang Li. 2018. A Flattened Enantiornithine in mid-Cretaceous Burmese Amber: Morphology and Preservation. Science Bulletin. In Press. DOI: 10.1016/j.scib.2018.01.019
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