Dinosaur Feathers Found in Ancient Amber 古代琥珀中发现恐龙羽毛

渌荷Lotus 2018年6月21日 11:00
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Dinosaur Feathers Found in Ancient Amber

Instead of digging through rocks and rubble to find fossils, a group of Canadian paleontologists decided to dig through museums’ amber collections instead. Their unique approach paid off when they discovered feathers and never-before-seen structures, which they think are something called dinofuzz. As described in Science Now,

 Some of the structures embedded in the amber don’t resemble anything seen on any creature living today.

Finding Feathers

The researchers combed through thousands of minuscule amber nuggets from nearly 80 million years ago. Among them they found 11 M&M-sized globules with traces of ancient feathers and fuzz. A number resembled modern feathers—some fit for flying and others designed to dive. And unlike fossils, the amber preserved colors too: white, gray, red and brown.

But a few hollow hair-like structures stumped researchers. The unidentifiable filaments weren’t plant fibers, fungus or fur, so the researchers surmise that they are protofeathers (thought to be the evolutionary precursors to feathers). Discovery News explains:

 The collection is among the first to reveal all major evolutionary stages of feather development in non-avian dinosaurs and birds.

A Clearer History

The results, published in Science, give researchers a clearer picture of which ancient animals were feathered and the various purposes those structures served. As described in National Geographic:

 The unusual find suggests a wide array of plumed creatures populated the time period—sporting everything from seemingly modern feathers to their filament-like forebears—and that even by this early date, feathers had become specialized, for example, for diving underwater.

It’s unlikely that the amber will have preserved enough DNA to sequence entire genomes, but who knows. Maybe geneticists will again strike scientific gold—er, amber.

古代琥珀中发现恐龙羽毛

通常人们靠搜集岩石和碎石寻找恐龙化石,但一组加拿大考古学家们却另辟蹊径,试图从博物馆收藏的琥珀化石入手。这种研究方法虽然罕见,但最终有所收获,他们发现了一种从未见过的羽毛,并认为这是一种叫做dinofuzz的恐龙毛发。正如《今日科学》中的描述,

琥珀化石中所展现的某些构造是我们从未见过的,任何一个现存生物体都没有类似的构造。

寻找羽毛

这些研究员仔细检查了数千个约8000万年前的小琥珀圆块,其中有11个巧克力豆大小的圆珠形琥珀被发现含有古生物羽毛和绒毛。这之中的一部分羽毛与现代羽毛很相似——有些像是飞禽的羽毛,另有些则像是水中生物的毛发。与化石不同的是,琥珀同时保留了羽毛的颜色,如白色、灰色、红色、棕色等。

但是还有些完全像是羽毛的构造却难住了这些研究员。这些无法鉴别的细丝不是植物花丝,真菌或者绒毛,所以他们猜测这些细丝有可能是原始羽毛(即羽毛在形成之前处于进化阶段的形态)。《探索新闻》这样说道:

这类馆藏琥珀最先揭示了非鸟类恐龙和鸟类羽毛发展进化的所有主要阶段。

历史更加清晰

这些发现让研究员们对哪些古代生物有羽毛以及这些羽毛构造又发挥什么样的作用有了清楚的理解认识。研究结果被刊登于《科学》杂志内。《国家地理》这样描述道:

这个不寻常的发现说明了,在那个时期生活着许多各色有羽毛的生物,羽毛的形态也不尽相同,有的类似于现代羽毛,有的还只是初始形态的细毛丝。也或许早在这个时期,羽毛就已经有了某些特殊的作用,比如为了在水下潜行。

琥珀很可能没有保存足够的DNA信息来帮助完成整个基因组序列,但是谁又知道呢。或许遗传学家又将再一次打碎科学的黄金——琥珀。

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