Small bird skull found preserved in 99 million-year-old amber

For genetic scientists, the discovery of a perfectly preserved skull of a bird smaller than a hummingbird is a miracle that they are finding exquisite. It was found encased in 99 million-year-old amber. The skull was so well fossilized that even the tiny teeth on the jaw are intact.

Paleontologist Jingmai O’Connor of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing could not believe the discovery. She says that this fossil is probably the most beautifully preserved Mesozoic bird skull she has ever seen. She calls it weird in a cute way/it’s so weird.”

The tiny skull belongs to a bird named Oculudentavis khaungraae. It lived during the Cretaceous period in the now called northern Myanmar. 

The skull is so tiny that measures only 14.25 mm long. It is thought that this bird was perhaps smaller than a bee hummingbird. The bee hummingbird currently is the world’s smallest bird. Though this tiny bird lived so long back, it still had teeth, not to mention the most teeth. Its eyes are like that of an owl and it had an acute vision as understood from the make of its eye socket.

The Oculudentavis has about 100 tiny teeth with a conical shape and sharp ridges with which they hunted for insects. Unfortunately, it was only the skull that was fossilized. None of the other body parts was found. Yet looking at its tiny skull researchers calculate the bird’s body weight to be not more than an ounce or 28 grams. They estimate that its body length would not have been more than 2 inches (5 cm) long including a hypothetical bony tail. The age during which bird lived was the Mesozoic age when the dinosaurs lived on Earth too.

About preservation in amber, O’Connor says that is an amazing preservational medium. He adds that if the animal does not decay much before getting entombed in resin, the preservation is phenomenal: All the soft tissues preserved in three dimensions, like a window into an ancient world.