Newly identified dinosaur: A chicken from hell

Image: An illustration of Anzu wyliei by Mark Klingler / Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Image: An illustration of Anzu wyliei by Mark Klingler / Carnegie Museum of Natural History

    At first glance, it looks to be part ostrich, part reptile and truly a face only a mother could love.

    While the creature is not lovely to behold, scientists are excited about adding a species whose fossils were discovered in North and South Dakota.
     The dinosaur lived 66 million to 68 million years ago and was identified through a collaboration of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh and the University of Utah. The feathered dinosaur’s name is Anzu wyliei, or A. wyliei, for short.
     The genus name comes from Anzu, a feathered monster in ancient Mesopotamian mythology. The species name, wyliei, honors the dinosaur-loving grandson of two supporters of the Carnegie Museum.
     Roughly 11 feet long and 5 feet tall at the hip, the creature was identified from three partial skeletons collected from the Upper Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation in North and South Dakota in digs dating back to the 1990s. It has been nicknamed “The Chicken from Hell.”
     The species belongs to the Oviraptorosauria, a group of dinosaurs mostly known from fossils found in Central and East Asia. The fossils of Anzu provide, for the first time, a detailed picture of the anatomy, biology and evolutionary relationships of North American Oviraptorosaurs. A detailed report about the team’s research has been published by PLOS ONE March 19.     
     Two partial skeletons of this newly described dinosaur were discovered by private collectors -- including Mike Triebold and the Nuss family -- in South Dakota, and later acquired by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. A third partial skeleton was recovered in North Dakota by a team led by Tyler Lyson, now a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. All three fossils are housed at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.
     Hans-Dieter Sues, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the National Museum of Natural History, and Lyson collaborated with Matthew Lamanna, assistant curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Carnegie Museum, and Emma Schachner, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, to describe the species.
     “For almost a hundred years, the presence of Oviraptosaurs in North America was only known from a few bits of skeleton, and the details of their appearance and biology remained a mystery,” said Sues. “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.”
     The three Anzu specimens preserve almost the entire skeleton of this species, giving scientists an in-depth look at its striking anatomy. Except for its long tail, A. wyliei resembled a large, flightless bird, with feathers on its arms and tail, a toothless beak and a tall crest on top of its skull. The neck and hind legs were long and slender, similar to those of an ostrich. Unlike in birds, the forelimbs of A. wyliei were tipped with large, sharp claws. The structure of the skull suggests that Anzu may have been an omnivore. Like many other species excavated from the Hell Creek Formation, its fossils were found in humid floodplain sediments.
     “Over the years, we’ve noticed that Anzu and some other Hell Creek Formation dinosaurs, such as Triceratops, are often found in mudstone rock that was deposited on ancient floodplains,” Lyson said. “Other dinosaurs like duckbills are found in sandstone deposited in or next to rivers.”
     The National Museum of Natural History will showcase dinosaurs and other fossils from the world in which Anzu lived as part of its temporary exhibition, “The Last American Dinosaurs: Discovering a Lost World,” which opens Nov. 25. The exhibition will feature specimens from the Hell Creek and Lance formations, such as Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops.
     In 2013, the National Museum of Natural History announced a 50-year loan agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to transfer a T. rex skeleton to the Smithsonian for eventual display in the museum’s new dinosaur hall, scheduled to open in 2019. The skeleton, excavated from the Hell Creek Formation, is one of the most complete T. rex specimens ever discovered. The T. rex is set to arrive at the Smithsonian April 15. The last day for the public to visit the current dinosaur hall will be April 27, after which it will close for renovation.

     Taken from a Smithsonian Institution press release.



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