A dinosaur called Anzu wyliei that scientists identified on
Wednesday from fossils found in North Dakota and South Dakota does
just that. It had a head shaped like a bird's, a toothless beak, an
odd crest on its cranium, hands with big sharp claws, long legs for
fast running and was probably covered in feathers.
It is the largest North American example of a type of bird-like
dinosaur well known from Asia. Its extensive remains offer a
detailed picture of the North American branch of these dinosaurs
that had remained mysterious since their first bones were found
about a century ago, the scientists said.
What would someone think if they encountered this creature that
lived 66 million years ago? "I don't know whether they would scream
and run away, or laugh, because it is just an absurd-looking monster
chicken," said University of Utah paleontologist Emma Schachner, one
of the researchers.
Anzu wyliei measured about 11 feet long, 5 feet tall at the hip and
weighed about 440 to 660 pounds (200 to 300 kg), the researchers
"It has the nickname 'the chicken from hell.' And that's a pretty
good description," said paleontologist Matt Lamanna of the Carnegie
Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, who led the research
published in the journal PLOS ONE.
"If you could get in a time machine and go back to Western North
America at the end of the age of dinosaurs and see this thing, I
would say your first reaction might be, 'What a weird looking
bird,'" Lamanna added. "It would not look like most people's
conception of a dinosaur."
Scientists think birds arose much earlier from small feathered
dinosaurs. The earliest known bird is 150 million years old. This
dinosaur's bird-like traits included a beak, hollow leg bones and
air spaces in its backbone, paleontologist said Hans-Dieter Sues of
the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.
Its bizarre head crest resembled that of the cassowary, a flightless
bird native to Australia and New Guinea.
Fossils of feathers are extremely rare and they were not found with
any of the three partial skeletons of Anzu wyliei. But the
researchers believe it had feathers based on fossils of close
relatives from China that have clear evidence of them.
It closely resembles its Asian cousins like Oviraptor, whose fossils
have been found brooding over a clutch of its eggs in a bird-like
manner. The Asian part of the family includes many well-preserved
examples, from ones as small as a turkey to one even bigger than
Anzu wyliei. The North American branch until now had been
represented by largely fragmentary remains.
[to top of second column]
Anzu wyliei lived at the sunset of the age of dinosaurs, not long
before an enormous meteorite is thought to have struck Earth about
65.5 million years ago and wiped them out along with hordes of other
creatures, while sparing many birds.
It lived in a humid, warm, low-lying environment dotted with rivers
and swamps that may have looked like the Louisiana bayou. It was
lush with vegetation and plant-eating dinosaurs like the horned
Triceratops, armored Ankylosaurus, dome-headed Pachycephalosaurus
and duck-billed Edmontosaurus.
But also hanging around the neighborhood was one of the fiercest
predators in Earth's history, Tyrannosaurus rex.
Anzu wyliei may have been an omnivore, munching on leaves, fruits or
flowers while also swallowing the occasional mammal foolish enough
to cross its path, the researchers said.
It probably needed to be careful not to end up on someone else's
menu. "To a T. rex, this thing would not look like a 'chicken from
hell.' It would look like lunch," Lamanna said.
Its genus name, Anzu, is named after a feathered demon in Sumerian
mythology. Its species name, wyliei, honors the grandson of a
trustee of the Carnegie museum in Pittsburgh where the lead
The three sets of bones — which together included almost all parts
of the skeleton — come from a region famed for dinosaur remains
known as the Hell Creek Formation of the Dakotas and Montana. Two of
the three sets of remains had partially healed injuries, perhaps the
remnants of a couple of dinosaur tussles.
(Reporting by Will Dunham; editing by Cynthia Osterman)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.