In 2015, Lida Xing was visiting a market in northern Myanmar when a salesman brought out a piece of amber about the size of a pink rubber eraser. Inside, he could see a couple of ancient ants and a fuzzy brown tuft that the salesman said was a plant.
As soon as Xing saw it, he knew it wasn’t a plant. It was the delicate, feathered tail of a tiny dinosaur.
“I have studied paleontology for more than 10 years and have been interested in dinosaurs for more than 30 years. But I never expected we could find a dinosaur in amber. This may be the coolest find in my life,” says Xing, a paleontologist at China University of Geosciences in Beijing. “The feathers on the tail are so dense and regular, this is really wonderful.”
He persuaded the Dexu Institute of Palaeontology to buy the artifact.
After analyzing the delicate tail, Xing and his colleagues in China, the U.K. and Canada now have an idea of what type of dinosaur it is, and of the evolutionary clues it holds. Their research was published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.
They say that 99 million years ago, a baby dinosaur about the size of a sparrow got stuck in tree sap and never made it out. Had the young dinosaur had a more auspicious day, it would have grown up to be a little smaller than an ostrich.
The young coelurosaur, nicknamed “Eva,” is closely related to iconic meat-eaters Tyrannosaurus rex and Velociraptor, which chases the kids around the kitchen in Jurassic Park.