An artist's rendering of Anzu wyliei. REUTERS/Bob Walters
If you're a dinosaur with a nickname as funky as "the chicken
from hell," you had better be able to back it up.
A dinosaur called Anzu wyliei that scientists identified this
week from fossils found in North Dakota and South Dakota does
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
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 (3.5 meters), 5 feet
tall (1.5 meters) at the hip and weighed about 440 to 660
pounds (200 to 300 kg), the researchers said.
"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
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
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 researcher works.
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