It’s been 10 years since professional fossil hunters in Montana and the Dakotas dug up a set of fossil bones they variously describe as weird and bizarre. Now they’ve discovered what animal they belonged to: a bird-like creature they’re calling “the chicken from hell.”
Yes, it’s taken them 10 years, but scientists have now recreated a freakish, birdlike species of dinosaur. Officially, it’s a member of a group of dinosaurs called oviraptorosaurs, and it’s the biggest of this species found in North America. So why “chicken from hell”?
As NPR explains:
First: If you took a chicken, crossed it with an ostrich, bulked it up to 500 pounds, stretched it out to roughly 11 feet, put a bony crest on its head (like some ancient Greek helmet), added a dinosaur tail and a pair of forelimbs with five-inch claws, and then, finally, stuck some feathers on it … you would have what paleontologists formally call Anzu wyliei.
“If you were to take a time machine back to the end of the age of dinosaurs (fossil-hunters love the idea of time machines) … and encountered this animal, your first thought would probably be, ‘What a big, weird looking bird,’” says Lamanna, the top dinosaur scientist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. “I actually think ‘chicken from hell’ is a pretty good nickname for this thing.”
Reason two for the nickname: The three new specimens Lamanna has now put together were dug up from the Hell Geological Formation in Montana and the Dakotas.
However, this creature is not literally a chicken, or even a bird. It’s definitely a dinosaur, and it lived at the end of the Cretaceous period, from about 68 million to 66 million years ago.
A brief pre-history primer here: Tyrannosaurus Rex is part of the carnivorous groups of dinosaurs that, according to new research, maintained a stable level of biodiversity leading up to the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous Period. The Jurassic Period, by contrast, ended about 145.5 million years ago.
Hell chicken probably ate vegetation. Small animals, maybe, and eggs. Certainly it was fast, with its thigh-bone like a baseball bat, and bony ridges where big muscles could attach.
Hans-Dieter Sues, a curator at the Smithsonian Museum, says in the journal PLOS One that the discovery shows how widely life forms evolved. “We had little bits and pieces of it,” he says of the Asian bones that were known before, “but now we have, for the first time, a complete picture of what this creature look[ed] like … certainly a remarkably odd-looking creature.”
For Lamanna, the discovery shows that there are still new fossil surprises to dig up.
“What else is waiting for us out there in some of the far reaches of the world?” he asks. “That’s one of the most exciting things to me about being a dinosaur paleontologist.”
The scientific name of the new species is Anzu wyliei — “Anzu” is from a mythological creature; “wyliei” is after the grandson of a patron of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, which acquired the fossils and where the research has been conducted. (I guess there are benefits to having a grandad in an important museum post.)
There aren’t many dinosaurs known from the end-Cretaceous period. This has led some scientists to argue that dinosaurs were already disappearing when the final whammy came in the form of a large asteroid that struck the Earth near the Yucatán peninsula.
I wonder how the creationists will respond to news of the “chicken from hell.”
In order to square the existence of dinosaurs with the Book of Genesis, which proposes a world that’s only several thousand years old, creationists insist that dinosaurs were created along with all the other animals, including man. They choose to completely deny techniques as radioactive dating and sediment analysis, which conclusively prove that dinosaur fossils are at least 65 million to 230 million years old.
Let’s see what they make of this latest discovery!
Photo Credit: Bryan Jones