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Single feather, and a mite, preserved in Late Cretaceous amber found in Canada.

Single feather, and a mite, preserved in Late Cretaceous amber found in Canada.

In the movie, Jurassic Park, humans are able to get dinosaur DNA from insects that were preserved in fossilized amber millions of years ago. Well, it has been very convincingly shown that any DNA that might get trapped in amber during the age of dinosaurs would degrade too badly over time to still be viable today. However, this does not mean that amber is useless in preserving amazing structures that we can find and learn from and marvel at.

A recent report that appeared in the journal Science is an excellent example of what I mean. Researchers examined a number of fossilized feathers that were preserved in amber during the Late Cretaceous. These feathers likely came from dinosaurs! And they are beautiful, having been spectacularly preserved in the amber that surrounds them. At this point, no one is exactly sure if these some of these feathers came from early members of what would become the bird lineage, or if they came from non-avian dinosaurs, but either way, the feathers are stunning. In fact, the feathers are in such high quality condition that even tiny features can be observed. Impressively, many of these tiny features on the dinosaur feathers look exactly like the tiny features one would see on the feathers of a modern bird. One example of this is the way that the barbs of some of the feathers twist like a corkscrew. This is a feature also found in modern water birds and may suggest that the dinosaur that those feathers came from lived in close association with water as well. The researchers can even take a stab at figuring out what color some the feathers were; colors that range from white to brown to black. This backs up a lot of other research that has suggested that dinosaur feathers probably had a wide range of colors and patterns, some of them quite bright and dramatic!

A feather found in Late Cretaceous Canadian amber. The dark masses all along the filaments are regions of pigment concentration. This feather was probably medium to dark brown.

A feather found in Late Cretaceous Canadian amber. The dark masses all along the filaments are regions of pigment concentration. This feather was probably medium to dark brown.

Another exciting outcome of all these fossils is that they represent a range of stages in feather evolution. Some of the fossils are little more than very thin filaments, sometimes referred to as protofeathers (or dino fuzz). These protofeathers are probably some of the earlier stages in the evolution of the structures that would eventually become the tail feather of a Peacock or the crest feather of a Royal Flycatcher. These filaments have been found preserved in the rock surrounding other non-avian dinosaur fossils, but they have never been seen in such detail as they can be in the amber. Others of these fossil feathers show much more elaborate feathers that have many of the same complex features of modern feathers.

Follow this link: http://io9.com/5840854/dinosaur-feathers-discovered-in-canadian-amber to see more photos of feathers fossilized in amber. And next time you see a member of the only living lineage of dinosaurs (a.k.a. a bird), take a moment to think about the feathers that cover its body and to realize that millions of years ago, there were animals sporting feathers that look just about the same. Pretty amazing!

A cluster of 16 feathers preserved in Canadian Late Cretaceous amber.

A cluster of 16 feathers preserved in Canadian Late Cretaceous amber.

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