Tag Archives: Cretaceous Period

Dinosaur Feathers Discovered in Canadian Amber

Dinosaur Feathers Discovered in Canadian Amber

Today a group of paleontologists announced the results of an extensive study of several well-preserved dinosaur feathers encased in amber. Their work, which included samples from many stages in the evolution of feathers, bolstered the findings of other scientists who’ve suggested that dinosaurs (winged and otherwise) had multicolored and transparent feathers of the sort you might see on birds today. The researchers also presented evidence, based on the feathers’ pigmentation and structures, that today’s bird feathers could have evolved from dinosaur feathers.

We’ve got a gallery of these intriguing feathers preserved in amber.

In a profile of lead researcher Ryan McKellar, The Atlantic‘s Hans Villarica writes:

These specimens represent distinct stages of feather evolution, from early-stage, single filament protofeathers to much more complex structures associated with modern diving birds . . . They can’t determine which feathers belonged to birds or dinosaurs yet, but they did observe filament structures that are similar to those seen in other non-avian dinosaur fossils.

Villarica also did io9 readers a favor and asked McKellar whether this discovery could lead to aJurassic Park scenario. McKellar said:

Put simply, no. The specimens that we examined are extremely small and would not be expected to contain any DNA material. To put this into context, the only genetic material that has been recovered from amber is from lumps of mummified insect muscle tissue in much younger Dominican amber that are approximately 17 million years old and well after the age of dinosaurs.

So much for our dreams of dino domination.

What you’ll notice in the gallery below is that the researchers are emphasizing two basic pieces of evidence: the similarity in coloration to today’s bird feathers, and the similarity in morphology or shape. Some of these feathers strongly resemble those of diving water birds today (and the researchers include one example of a modern diving bird feather so you can compare them). Other structures, however, look nothing like feathers of today. In a news report about McKellar’s findings in Science, Sid Perkins writes:

In one instance, the amber holds regularly spaced, hollow filaments, each of which is about 16 micrometers in diameter, about the size of the finest human hair. The filaments apparently have no cell walls, so they’re not plant fibers or fungal threads, McKellar says. And they don’t have features that look like small scales, as mammal hair does. “We don’t absolutely know what they are, but we’re pretty sure what they’re not,” he notes. They could be protofeathers, McKellar says.

Often this kind of structure is called “dinofuzz.”

Check out the feathers and the fuzz for yourself. All captions are taken from materials provided by the researchers in their paper, published today in Science.

Dinosaur Feathers Discovered in Canadian Amber

An isolated barb from a vaned feather, trapped within a tangled mass of spider’s web in Late Cretaceous Canadian amber. Pigment distribution within this feather fragment suggests that the barb may have been gray or black. Image via Science/AAAS

Dinosaur Feathers Discovered in Canadian Amber

Numerous individual filaments in Late Cretaceous Canadian amber. These filaments are morphologically similar to the protofeathers that have been found as compression fossils associated with some dinosaur skeletons. Pigment distributions within these filaments range from translucent (unpigmented) to near-black (heavily pigmented). Image via Science/AAAS

Dinosaur Feathers Discovered in Canadian Amber

Cross-section through a feather with basally-coiled barbules, accompanied by a microphysid plant bug. The helical coiling observed within these barbules is most obvious in isolated barbules within the image, and is directly comparable to coils found in modern bird feathers specialized for water uptake. The high number of coils in the amber-entombed feather is suggestive of diving behavior, but similar structures are also used by some modern birds to transport water to the nest. Image via Science/AAAS

Dinosaur Feathers Discovered in Canadian Amber

Series of six feather barbs in Late Cretaceous Canadian amber. Localized pigmentation creates a beaded appearance within each barbule: This has implications for the structural interpretation of fossil feathers exhibiting this general morphology. Pigment distribution within the specimen suggests that the feather would have originally been medium- or dark-brown in color. Image via Science/AAAS

Dinosaur Feathers Discovered in Canadian Amber

Photomicrograph of coiled barbules in Late Cretaceous Canadian amber. The cork-screw shaped structures in the image are the tightly coiled bases of feather barbules, and these are interrupted towards the bottom of the image, where they exit the amber piece. Image via Science/AAAS

Dinosaur Feathers Discovered in Canadian Amber

An isolated barb from a white belly feather of a modern grebe bird (Aechmophorus occidentalis), illustrating coiled barbule bases comparable to those in the Cretaceous specimen. In both cases, the coiling is a structural adaptation that allows the feather to absorb water.Image via Science/AAAS

Dinosaur Feathers Discovered in Canadian Amber

A feather barb within Late Cretaceous Canadian amber that shows some indication of original coloration. The oblong brown masses within the dark-field photomicrograph are concentrated regions of pigmentation within the barbules. In this specimen, the overall feather color appears to have been medium- or dark-brown. Image via Science/AAAS

Dinosaur Feathers Discovered in Canadian Amber

Overview of 16 clumped feather barbs in Canadian Late Cretaceous amber. Image via Science/AAAS

Dinosaur Feathers Discovered in Canadian Amber

Overview of six pigmented feather barbs in Canadian Late Cretaceous amber. Image via Science/AAAS

Dinosaur Feathers Discovered in Canadian Amber

Overview of isolated, unpigmented feather barb and a mite in Canadian Late Cretaceous amber.Image via Science/AAAS

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Dino-era water trapped under impact crater

Dino-era water trapped under impact crater

By Tim Wall

Published November 19, 2013

Discovery News 

 If you’ve ever searched for dinos on the Internet, chances are, you’ve come across the drawings of Nobu Tamura. What began as a hobby in 2006, when he realized most dinosaurs on Wikipedia had no photos due to copyright, Tamura is now one of the most prolific producers of up-to-date paleo critters on the web. He’s shared with us his 19 favorite. For his complete works, check out his blog.

More than one kilometer beneath the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, geologists discovered 100- to 150-million-year-old water from the Atlantic Ocean’s infancy. The ancient water hid under a more recent 56-mile-wide crater left after a massive rock or block of ice nailed the Earth near what is now the entrance to the bay.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) hydrologists didn’t know the water beneath the crater dated from dino days until they analyzed the chemicals in the water. The water held forms of chloride and bromide, along with other chemicals, that allowed the scientists to estimate the water’s age. And while older water is known from Canada, the Chesapeake Bay impact water is now the oldest large body of water known on the planet.

“Previous evidence for temperature and salinity levels of geologic-era oceans around the globe have been estimated indirectly from various types of evidence in deep sediment cores,” said lead author Ward Sanford, USGS research hydrologist, in a press release. “In contrast, our study identifies ancient seawater that remains in place in its geologic setting, enabling us to provide a direct estimate of its age and salinity.” Sanford and colleagues published their findings in the journal Nature.

The ancient water contained twice the salt content of the modern ocean and dates from the early Cretaceous Period, when dinosaurs dominated the planet and the newborn north Atlantic was more of a lake than an ocean.

In the late Jurassic Period, 150 million years ago, pieces of the Earth’s crust, called tectonic plates, split to divide Europe from North America and Africa. This split formed a rift basin filled with extremely salty water that would later become the Atlantic Ocean. However the Atlantic would have to wait 50 million years until the mid-Cretaceous for a space to open between what is now Central and South America, just as the narrow Strait of Gibraltar now allows the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea to mingle.

Before the north Atlantic connected with the rest of the world’s waters, some of that briny water became trapped underground beneath a coastal plain and isolated. The water remained largely unchanged until approximately 35 million years ago when a meteor or comet slammed into the Earth during the late Eocene Epoch. That impact created massive tsunamis that swept far inland and devastated the Atlantic coast of North America, yet helped to preserve the Cretaceous ocean water.

The process that made the infant north Atlantic so salty can still be seen today. The Dead Sea contains extremely salt water because more water evaporates out of the sea than flows into it. The Uyuni salt flats of Bolivia serve as an example of what happens when an inland sea completely dries out. Even the Mediterranean nearly became a salt flat during a period from 5.96 to 5.33 million years ago when the sea’s connection to the Atlantic intermittently closed.

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