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What I Learned – Why Did This Extinct Bird Have Such a Weird, Long Toe?

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Some 99 million years ago, a small animal with a weird elongated toe died and became partially entombed in amber. Its lower leg and foot remained undisturbed in the hardened tree resin until amber miners eventually discovered the fossil in Myanmar’s Hukawng Valley in 2014.

The preserved toe measures less than half an inch from knuckle to claw-tip, making it 41 percent longer than the next longest digit on the animal’s foot. When traders showed the curious specimen to Chen Guang, a curator at China’s Hupoge Amber Museum, they suggested that it probably belonged to an extinct lizard.

Mr. Chen thought that the remains looked more like an avian species, so he looped in Lida Xing, a paleontologist at China University of Geosciences who specializes in Cretaceous birds.

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