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Rare Dinosaur-Era Bird Wings Found Trapped in Amber

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Two tiny wings entombed in amber reveal that plumage (the layering, patterning, coloring, and arrangement of feathers) seen in birds today already existed in at least some of their predecessors nearly a hundred million years ago.

A study of the mummified wings, published in the June 28 issue of Nature Communications and funded in part by the National Geographic Society’s Expeditions Council, indicated they most likely belonged to enantiornithes , a group of avian dinosaurs that became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period. (Read more about the evolution from dinosaurs to modern birds.)

‘Mind-Blowingly Cool’

While the fact that many, if not nearly all, dinosaurs were feathered has been generally accepted since the 1990s, our knowledge of prehistoric plumage until now has come from feather imprints in carbonized compression fossils and individual feathers fossilized in amber. (See dinosaurs in their feathered glory.)

But while feather imprints in compression fossils may show arrangement, they generally lack very fine detail and rarely preserve information on color, while individual feathers in amber cannot be associated with the animal they originally came from. (How did feathers evolve?)

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