New birdlike dinosaur is one funky chicken

  • Updated: March 29, 2014 - 4:41 PM

A new birdlike species — think funky chicken — offers new insights about a little-known period

Scientist have discovered a birdlike species of dinosaur (11 feet long, 500 pounds) officially a member of the group of dinosaurs called oviraptorosaurs, and given the species the nickname "chicken from hell." Illustrates DINOSAUR-CHICKEN (category a), by Joel Achenbach (c) 2014, The Washington Post. Moved Wednesday, March 19, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: Bob Walters)

Photo: Illustration courtesy of Bob Walters,

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Scientists have discovered a freakish, birdlike species of dinosaur — 11 feet long, 500 pounds, with a beak, no teeth, a bony crest atop its head, murderous claws, prizefighter arms, spindly legs, a thin tail and feathers sprouting all over the place. Officially, it’s a member of a group of dinosaurs called oviraptorosaurs. Unofficially, it’s the Chicken from Hell. This dino-bird is not actually a chicken, or even a bird. It’s a dinosaur that lived about 66 million years ago. “This group of dinosaurs looks really bizarre even by dinosaurian standards,” said Hans-Dieter Sues, a Smithsonian paleontologist and a co-author of the paper in the journal PLOS One. “It would look like a really absurd, stretched-out chicken,” paleontologist Emma Schachner of the University of Utah said. The fossils of three specimens of the new dinosaur, scientifically named Anzu wyliei, were found at the Hell Creek Formation in North and South Dakota. The formation helped inspire the nickname. But there’s also the matter of appearance: It looks like it could stomp you, rip you to pieces or simply peck you to death. It’s a big animal, the biggest oviraptorosaur species found in North America. Carnegie Museum paleontologist Matthew Lamanna, the lead author of the study, and his colleagues spent close to a decade figuring out how the disarticulated bones of the three specimens fit together. There aren’t many dinosaurs known from the end-Cretaceous period. This has led some scientists to argue that dinosaurs were petering out when the final whammy came in the form of a large asteroid that hit the Earth. But now comes Anzu, adding another genus to the dinosaur bestiary. Anzu also reminds everyone of the birdiness of dinosaurs, and the dinosaur-ness of birds. Paleontologists can become dyspeptic when they hear that dinosaurs are extinct. Not so: Birds are dinosaurs.

Did it … cluck? “We have no evidence that it clucked,” Lamanna said. Washington Post

  • Anzu wyliei

    How it got its name: “Anzu” is from a mythological creature; “wyliei” is after the grandson of a patron of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

    Top of its class: Anzu, which weighed about 500 pounds, is the biggest oviraptorosaur species found in North America. It lived 66 million years ago in the Cretaceous era, shortly before dinosaurs went extinct. It was probably an omnivore, using its claws to shred leaves and its beak to eat them. It might have also dined on fruit, eggs and tiny creatures like lizards.

    Why it’s important: Anzu is a rare example of the oviraptorosaur genus, a cousin of the ancestors of birds. Oviraptor bones are hard to find because they were so brittle, full of tiny air ducts like the bones of birds. The discovery of the dinosaur — “It would have been a cross between a chicken and a lizard,” said paleontologist Emma Schachner of the University of Utah — sheds light on the last years of the dinosaurs.

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