While at an amber market in Myanmar, Chinese paleontologist Lida Xing stumbled upon an extraordinary clue about the appearance of dinosaurs. Enclosed in a chunk of amber for sale, Xing spotted what turned out to be the perfectly preserved tail of a dinosaur that roamed the Earth some 99 million years ago. Her discovery marked the first time a mummified dinosaur skeleton has ever been found, and a paper on it was just published in the journal Current Biology.
Interestingly, the tail was neither big nor scaly. Instead, it measures about 3.7 centimeters in length and it is covered in feathers that appear to be chestnut-colored. The tail's vertebrae aren't fused like that of a bird's tail, suggesting the dinosaur could've moved the appendage in a "whip-like" fashion. Scientists believe the tail came from a young coelurosaur "about the size of a sparrow," BBC reported. At full size, NPR says the dinosaur likely would've been "a little smaller than an ostrich."
Different as this tiny, feathered dino may sound from the mammoth creatures featured in films, scientists say coelurosaurs are actually closely related to both the Tyrannosaurus rex and the velociraptor. Moreover, this newly discovered tail has more and more scientists thinking this feathery creature might be a more accurate portrait of dinosaurs than the ferocious beasts of Jurassic Park. "The more we see these feathered dinosaurs and how widespread the feathers are, things like a scaly velociraptor seem less and less likely and they've become a lot more bird-like," said Ryan McKellar, a paleontologist who co-authored the paper. "They're not quite the Godzilla-style scaly monsters we once thought."