A Saskatchewan palaeontologist helped pen a study on a new dinosaur-era “pancake” bird found trapped inside the amber deposits of Myanmar.
Dr. Ryan McKellar, a palaeontologist with the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, along with a research crew of around 10 people from the U.S., Canada and China, studied the fossil found in northern Myanmar’s Hukawng Valley in 2015.
With a specimen the size of a belt buckle, McKellar said they were able to break down what the prehistoric bird may have looked like when it was alive 99 million years ago.
“It was a toothed bird — it’s a group called enantiornithines. They look a lot like modern birds but they had teeth and claws on their wings and a few other dinosaur-like characteristics,” he described.
McKellar said the bird was young when it died and was dark brown in colour. Today, it would look similar to a Hoatzin in South America or a brush turkey in Australia.
Before this project, McKellar has worked on isolated feathers trapped inside amber in both southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, but never anything with a skeleton.
“What makes it special is that we get to look inside the animal and work out a little bit about how it was preserved in the amber and see these bones preserved with soft tissue. Usually, we just get the bones,” he explained.
McKellar added by looking at its bone and feather structure, they were able to decipher how the bird became extinct.
“It looks like they weren’t particularly good flyers — sort of an early experiment in flight,” explained McKellar. “They had a lot of the same characteristics of modern birds, but didn’t quite make it there, in terms of advancement.”
The bird fossil is now being displayed at a Chinese museum.