On October 30th, a team of Chinese and foreign scientists announced that a very special fossil of ancient birds was found in Burmese amber. The details are important for understanding the diversity of ancient birds and the evolution of feathers. The research was led by Xing Lida, an associate professor at China University of Geosciences (Beijing). Niu Kecheng, executive director of the Yingliang World Natural History Museum, and Zou Jingmei, an American researcher at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and other scholars. The paper was published in the Science Report of the Nature Group.
The specimens of the study were from the famous amber producing area, the Hukang Valley in Kachin State in northern Myanmar. The amber here is about 100 million years old and provides a unique record of forest ecosystems.
The newly discovered ancient bird amber is collected by the Yingliang World Stone Natural History Museum in Quanzhou, Fujian Province. The Yingliang specimen does not store many bones of the foot, but the outline of the bird’s foot is recorded by the detailed skin, and the surface of the remaining ancient bird’s foot has a large amount of hair on the surface. In addition, the specimen is also preserved very much. A rare feather-dominant feather.
“Specifically, the Yingliang specimen has large, curved claws, flattened paws, and similar cross-sectional morphology to existing arboreal birds, unlike terrestrial species; secondly, the distal toe section of the specimen is relatively long. This is a characteristic of arboreal birds, while terrestrial birds have longer toe nodes,” Xing Lida explained.
The most interesting part of the new specimen is that its toes are very thick, unlike all the bird fossils previously found in the area. The outer toe, the fourth toe, has a laterally elongated toe pad that is very thick relative to the two inner toes (second and third toes). The strong toes with claws are similar to the current raptors, which may indicate that the Yingliang specimen is a small aerial insectivorous bird.
Paleontologists currently believe that the feather-dominant plume is a tool for information exchange within ancient birds. The main functions are courtship, species identification and visual communication. “The bone material was not found near the feather-dominant feathers we found earlier. The specimens found this time are the first evidence that the feather-dominant feathers directly correspond to the anti-bird remains.” Zou Jingmei told the reporter.
In short, the toe of Yingliang specimens is wider than any anti-birds previously observed in Burmese amber. This unique foot pattern reflects the difference in the way birds catch prey. This type of foot has not been found in local fossil records, indicating the diversity of birds in the dinosaur era. There is growing evidence that the Hugang bird fauna is unique compared to other Cretaceous fauna.
It is reported that the research of this subject has been funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the National Geographic Society.