The fossilised remains of a bizarre, bird-like dinosaur, 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 and a tall crest on its head. At the end of its forelimbs were long, sharp claws.
The creature stood 1.5 metres high at the hip and reached more than three metres from beak to tail. Researchers believe it lived on ancient floodplains and fed on plants, small animals and possibly eggs. An adult weighed up to 300kg.
Researchers dug the remains 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 s
keletons 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” monicker, which later influenced their choice of its more formal name, Anzu wyliei. Anzu is the name of a giant bird-like demon from ancient mythology. Wyliei comes from Wylie J Tuttle, the son of a donor who helps to fund research at the museum.
The animal belongs to a group called the oviraptorosaurs, which are mostly known from fossils found in central and east Asia but the remains provide the first detailed picture of the North American oviraptorosaurs.