If you are 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 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 Emma Schachner, a University of Utah paleontologist and one of the researchers.
Anzu wyliei measured about 3.5m long, 1.5m tall at the hip and weighed about 200kg to 300kg, 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.”
This dinosaur’s bird-like traits included a beak, hollow leg bones and air spaces in its backbone, paleontologist Hans-Dieter Sues of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History said.
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.
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.
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.