Skip to main content

Scientists unveil dinosaur dubbed the 'chicken from hell'

By Greg Botelho and Matt Smith, CNN
updated 10:12 AM EDT, Thu March 20, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Anzu wyliei lived near the end of the dinosaur era alongside T. rex
  • It looked like a cross between an ostrich and velociraptor, an expert says
  • Remains of three animals were used to piece together its skeleton

(CNN) -- For a Tyrannosaurus rex looking for a snack, nothing might have tasted quite like the "chicken from hell."

That's one way Matt Lamanna describes Anzu wyliei, the species of dinosaur that he and fellow paleontologists unveiled Wednesday.

It's not the only way, though. Feathered demon also works, which is why Anzu -- derived from Sumerian mythology -- was chosen as a name. Or you could characterize it, as Lamanna also told CNN, as a 600-pound cross between an ostrich and a velociraptor. And it's "pretty damn close" to looking like the 6-foot-tall turkey a child famously referred to in the movie "Jurassic Park," except a lot stranger and meaner looking.

"You might think this was a really, really weird-looking bird," Lamanna said. "... But, in fact, this was a very bird-like dinosaur ... with a really long bony tail, very large hands and really sharp claws."

Lamanna, from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, detailed the finding Wednesday with fellow scientists from the University of Utah, the Smithsonian Institution in the scientific journal PLOS One. This study came about not from one excavation but from three dating to Cretaceous period and from a rock formation known as Hell Creek in North and South Dakota.

The "chicken from hell" moniker aside, what makes Anzu wylie especially exciting to paleontologists is that it's the largest species of egg-stealing oviraptors yet found in North America, said Emma Schachner, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Utah.

It's also "the first largely complete skeleton I think anyone has found of these guys," she said.

Lamanna's predecessor at Carnegie -- Hans-Dieter Sues, now with the Smithsonian -- had acquired two fossils that were dug up in the late 1990s in South Dakota by commercial fossil hunters. Lamanna said that he and Sues decided to work together to figure out what they had.

Their breakthrough came at a 2005 conference in Canada, where it became "abundantly clear" that a presentation from Schachner and colleague Tyler Lyson detailed the same species. Collectively, they pieced together 75% to 80% of the skeleton, which is a very large percentage in paleontology circles, according to Lamanna.

Rather than race to publish their finding first, the four scientists teamed up and by doing so, "learned more ... than we would all have learned independently," said Lamanna.

What they learned was that the 11½-foot-long, roughly 10-foot-tall Anzu wyliei had a bird-like beak and apparent feathers, with a large crest atop its skull and less of a tail than a T. rex. It munched on vegetation, small animals and perhaps eggs.

A replication of its skeleton is on display inside Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum. That's a very different environment from the lush, warm, humid, almost bayou-like conditions that it enjoyed roughly 66 million years ago in what's now a very different North and South Dakota.

Not that it was an easy life. Schachner noted that one specimen appeared to have a broken rib, while another had a busted toe. And those injuries are nothing compared with Anzu wyliei's likely efforts dodging the so-called King of the Dinosaurs.

"It probably spent a lot of its life," Lamanna pointed out, "on the lookout for T. rex."

Itsy bitsy dinosaur had a famously big cousin

Biggest predator ever to stalk Europe: 4-inch teeth and 33 feet long

Check out a mutant blend of a triceratops and a giant parrot

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Science news
updated 7:52 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
The world's largest flying aquatic insect, with huge, nightmarish pincers, has been discovered in China's Sichuan province.
updated 8:10 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
As fans of "Grey's Anatomy," "ER" and any other hospital-based show can tell you, emergency-room doctors are fighting against time.
updated 7:59 AM EDT, Thu May 29, 2014
Ask 100 robotics scientists why they're inspired to create modern-day automatons and you may get 100 different answers.
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
From the air, the Namibian desert looks like it has a bad case of chicken pox.
updated 12:43 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
The trend for nature-inspired designs has spread across industries from crab-style deep-sea vessels to insect-inspired buildings.
updated 8:22 AM EDT, Sun May 25, 2014
Consider it the taxonomist's equivalent of a People magazine's Most Beautiful List.
updated 11:32 AM EDT, Fri May 9, 2014
For the first time, scientists have shown it is possible to alter the biological alphabet and still have a living organism that passes on the genetic information.
updated 7:48 AM EDT, Mon May 5, 2014
Do we really want to go the route of "Jurassic Park"?
updated 8:44 AM EDT, Fri May 2, 2014
Catch a train from the sky! Perhaps in the future, the high-rise superstructures could help revolutionize the way we travel.
updated 10:58 AM EDT, Mon May 5, 2014
In a nondescript hotel ballroom last month at the South by Southwest Interactive festival, Andras Forgacs offered a rare glimpse at the sci-fi future of food.
updated 10:12 AM EDT, Thu March 20, 2014
For a Tyrannosaurus rex looking for a snack, nothing might have tasted quite like the "chicken from hell."
updated 6:29 PM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
Everyone is familiar with Tyrannosaurus rex, but humanity is only now meeting its much smaller Arctic cousin.
updated 12:12 PM EST, Thu March 6, 2014
At about 33 feet long, weighing 4 to 5 tons and baring large blade-shaped teeth, the dinosaur Torvosaurus gurneyi was a formidable creature.
updated 6:43 AM EST, Fri February 21, 2014
This Pachyrhinosaurus can go to the head of its class.
updated 8:04 AM EDT, Thu March 27, 2014
Science is still trying to work out how exactly we reason through moral problems, and how we judge others on the morality of their actions. But patterns are emerging.
updated 7:06 PM EST, Thu February 27, 2014
A promising way to stop a deadly disease, or an uncomfortable step toward what one leading ethicist called eugenics?
updated 8:07 PM EST, Fri February 14, 2014
Seattle paleontologists safely removed the largest fossilized mammoth tusk discovered in the region from a construction site.
updated 6:13 AM EDT, Tue April 23, 2013
A mysterious, circular structure, with a diameter greater than the length of a Boeing 747 jet, has been discovered submerged about 30 feet underneath the Sea of Galilee in Israel.
updated 5:25 PM EST, Fri January 17, 2014
Every corner of the planet offers some sort of natural peculiarity with an explanation that makes us wish we'd studied harder in junior high Earth science class.
updated 8:20 AM EST, Thu November 14, 2013
Deep in a remote, hot, dry patch of northwestern Australia lies one of the earliest detectable signs of life on the planet, tracing back nearly 3.5 billion years, scientists say.
updated 3:10 PM EDT, Wed September 4, 2013
We leave genetic traces of ourselves wherever we go -- in a strand of hair left on the subway or in saliva on the side of a glass at a cafe.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT