Researchers discovered in Myanmar a 99 million-year-old bird encased in amber. The remains belonged to a baby bird that lived millions of years ago, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Gondwana Research.

The bird is thought to have been just days or weeks old when it was engulfed in tree resin, which allowed for the creature to remain almost intact. Researchers believe the specimen belonged to a group of birds called enantiornithes, which became extinct over 65 million years ago alongside dinosaurs, according to National Geographic.

99 million-year-old bird
The bird was found trapped in tree resin. Image credit: Lida Xing.

The 99 million-year-old bird was nicknamed ‘Belone’

It was discovered in northern Myanmar and became the most complete specimen found in Burmese amber to date. In the Hukawng Valley located in the north of Myanmar, Burmese amber deposits contain possibly the largest variety of plant and animal life from the Cretaceous period, which lasted from 145.5 until 65.5 million years ago. The young bird is almost entirely preserved, as its small head, neck, a partial wing, and a clawed foot can be seen in the 3-inch piece of fossilized amber.

“[I thought we had] just a pair of feet and some feathers before it underwent CT imaging,” said Linda Xing, co-leader of the research team at China University of Geosciences. “It was a big, big, big surprise after that.”

Its feathers range from white and brown to dark gray. The researchers nicknamed the specimen “Belone,” after a Burmese name for the amber-hued Oriental skylark. The team noted that while the baby enantiornithine had a full set of flight feathers on its wings, the rest of the plumage was sparse and similar to the theropod dinosaur feathers.

Scientists believe that the presence of flight feathers on such a young bird reinforces the idea that enantiornithines hatched already with the ability to fly, making them less dependent on their parents, and setting them apart from modern birds.

However, the independence came at a cost, as researchers noted that a slow growth rate made these birds more vulnerable for a longer amount of time, as evidenced by the great number of young enantiornithines found in the fossil record.

‘Belone’ is currently on display at the Hupoge Amber Museum in China

The young bird was purchased in Myanmar in 2014 by Guang Chen, director of the Hupoge Amber Museum in Tengchong City, China after he heard about an odd specimen found with a “lizard claw.” Chen took the sample to Xing, who identified the claw as an enantiornithine foot. The researchers marveled at the finding, as they were able to study the ancient bird in depth.

99 million-year-old bird
An artist’s reconstruction of the bird. Image credit: Cheung Chung Tat.

“The surprise continued when we started examining the distribution of feathers and realized that there were translucent sheets of skin that connected many of the body regions appearing in the CT scan data,” added team co-leader Ryan Mc Kellar of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, according to National Geographic.

“Belone” is currently on display in the Hupoge Amber Museum and will be moved to the Shanghai Museum of Natural History for a special exhibit that will take place between June 24 and the end of July.

Source: National Geographic