Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Meet the chicken from hell

A screenshot of the 'chicken from hell' from news.sciencemag.org/.

A screenshot of the 'chicken from hell' from news.sciencemag.org/.

Feathered beast was built for speed, measured 3m from beak to tail and had long, sharp claws.

THE fossilised remains of a bizarre, bird-like dinosaur, which has been nicknamed the “chicken from hell” by scientists, have been unearthed in the United States.

The 66-million-year-old feathered beast would have resembled a beefed-up emu with a long neck, a metre-long tail, a tall crest on its head, and long, sharp claws at the end of its forelimbs.

It stood 1.5m high at the hip and measured more than 3m from beak to tail. Researchers believe that it lived on ancient flood plains and fed on plants, small animals and possibly eggs. An adult weighed up to 300kg.

Researchers extracted the remains of several skeletons from mudstone in the Hell Creek formation in North and South Dakota, where fossil hunters have previously excavated bones from Tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops.

Over the past decade they have recovered three partial skeletons of the animal but until now had not recognised it as a new genus and species of a mysterious family of dinosaurs called Caenagnathidae. The fossils are being kept at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.

Scientists working on the remains coined the “chicken from hell” moniker, which later influenced their choice of its more formal name, Anzu wyliei.

Anzu is the name of a giant bird-like demon from ancient Sumerian mythology, and Wyliei comes from Wylie J Tuttle, the son of a donor who funds research at the museum.

The animal belongs to a group called oviraptorosaurs, which are mostly known from fossils discovered in central and east Asia, but the remains provide the first detailed picture of them in north America.

“For almost 100 years, the presence of oviraptorosaurs in North America was only known from a few bits of skeleton, and the details of their appearance and biology remained a mystery,” said Hans-Dieter Sues, curator of vertebrate palaeontology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

“With the discovery of A. wyliei, we finally have the fossil evidence to show what this species looked like and how it is related to other dinosaurs.”

Anzu had the build of a fast runner and with substantial claws at the tips of its forelimbs, was well-equipped to fight. A close inspection found that two showed signs of skirmishes. One had a healed broken rib. Another had an arthritic toe that was probably caused by a tendon being ripped off the bone.

“Whether these injuries were the result of combat between two individuals or an attack by a larger predator remains a mystery,” said Emma Schachner, a palaeontologist at the University of Utah.

However, Anzu is not the largest of the oviraptorosaurs. The aptly named Gigantoraptor, which was discovered in Inner Mongolia in 2005, grew to around 8m long and weighed more than a tonne.

“Whereas some were turkey-sized, others like Anzu and Gigantoraptor, were the kind of thing you definitely wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley,” said Matthew Lamanna at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. – Guardian News & Media

Tags / Keywords: Science Technology , Science , palaeontology , Anzu wyliei , chicken from hell , Oviraptosaur , fossil , North America


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