Scientists: ancient birds had strange feathers

Scientists: ancient birds had strange feathers

Found in amber samples and changed the idea of researchers about the functions of tail feathers of ancient birds.


A hundred million years ago the Earth was inhabited by a great variety of birds. Many of them had long tail feathers of the special shape, not like the feathers of modern birds.

— RealityZen (@RealityZenView) 14 Dec 2018

Now paleontologists have discovered a well-preserved examples of such feathers in 31 piece of amber from Myanmar. The findings prove that the structure and functions of feathers in the ancestors of modern birds were very different.

Scientists believe that the tail feathers not only help the birds to set the direction of flight, but also protected them from predators. For a long time these long feathers, which scientists found in the fossil record, was considered decorative.

To examine the issue in more detail failed due to the lack of well-preserved specimens. Prehistoric feathers found in flattened form. But the feathers preserved in amber have given scientists a 3D picture.

An international team of researchers, led by Lida Xing of China University of Geosciences in Beijing, analyzed the findings of the age of 100 million years.

“This is the strangest feathers that I have ever seen,” says Yangmei O’connor, co-author of the study published in the journal Science.

All modern feathers have a Central stem like a hollow tube. The stem in the feathers of prehistoric birds were much thinner and had the shape of a half-cylinder, flat on one side. These feathers were straight and rigid.

The authors argue that the tail feathers of ancient birds were “disposable”. If a predator attack the bird from behind, grabbing her long tail, she just dropped those feathers and flew away. Feathers easily grow again.

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