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.
Dubbed Kryptodrakon progenitor, the beast had a wingspan of 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) as it flew the Jurassic skies about 163 million years ago.
The new species gets its first name from the Latin krypto (hidden) and drakon (serpent), a nod to the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which was filmed in the desert where the species was discovered. Progenitor refers to its status as the oldest known pterodactyl.
Scientists first discovered fragments of Kryptodrakon’s delicate fossils in 2001 in northwestern China’s remote Shishiugou Formation. That geologic formation has been called a “dinosaur death pit” because ancient quicksand entombed so many prehistoric creatures there.
At first, Kryptodrakon’s bones were misidentified as belonging to a type of two-legged dinosaur called a theropod, said James Clark.
It wasn’t until another scientist assembled the fossil parts into a skeleton several years later that “I looked at it and said, ‘That’s not a theropod, that’s a pterosaur.’ And the rest is history,” said Clark, a biologist at George Washington University’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences in Washington, D.C.
Pterodactyls are a type of pterosaur, a wider group of flying reptiles that went extinct 66 million years ago.
Because pterodactyl bones are so fragile, little is known about the origins of the ancient dinosaur relative, which eventually evolved into the biggest creature ever to take wing.
Birds and feathers are synonymous now, but what prompted their evolution?
Photograph: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP/Getty Images
by Dr Dave Hone
A common creationist canard is the supposedly unanswerable “what use is half a wing?”.
Apparently there to confound biologists, what it generally does is demonstrate the ignorance of the asker with respect to evolutionary theory. However, the actual broader question that is inferred – what use is a feather to a non-flying bird? – is both relevant and interesting.
The earliest filamentous feathers appeared in dinosaurs well before birds ever did, and were present in plenty of species that had no hope of taking to the air (though I for one would love to see a flying tyrannosaur).
So then, what might their original function have been, and what prompted them to be maintained, grow larger and change over time?
The exact answer is sadly unknown. It is likely a number of factors in concert, or different ones having greater importance over others at various times, and piecing those fragments together is very tricky.
However, there are some strong leads and ideas, and for some feather types in some groups the answer is rather convincing.
To deal with the central issue though, there are in fact various things that feathers may offer animals aside from flight alone.
A quick look at living birds reveals plenty of possibilities, and almost all of them may be applied to various (or even all) dinosaurs that preceded true, powered flight.
There really are quite a few, so I’ll try to be brief, but it shows just how many selective pressures may have acted on feathers and led to their spread and development across the various dinosaurs that had them.
Scientists have discovered a new species of dinosaur that belonged to the same family as Tyrannosaurus rex.
The remains of the long-snouted tyrannosaur, formally named Qianzhousaurus sinensis and nicknamed Pinocchio rex, were found near the city of Ganzhou in southern China. Researchers believe the animal was a fearsome carnivore that lived more than 66 million years ago during the late Cretaceous period.
The bones were discovered on a construction site by workmen who took them to a local museum.
Experts from the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences and the University of Edinburgh then became involved in examining the remains.
With an elongated skull and long, narrow teeth, the predator would have looked very different from a T rex, which had thick teeth and more powerful jaws.
Palaeontologists had been uncertain about the existence of long-snouted tyrannosaurs.
Previously, just two fossilised tyrannosaurs with elongated heads had been found, and since they were juveniles it was unclear whether they were from a new class of dinosaur or simply at an early growth stage.
It is thought that Qianzhousaurus sinensis lived alongside other tyrannosaurs but would not have been in direct competition with them, since they probably hunted different prey.
Experts at the University of Edinburgh said the new specimen was of an animal nearing adulthood. It was found largely intact and “remarkably well preserved”.
An artistic reconstruction of the Regaliceratops peterhewsi, the newly discovered Triceratops cousin with a built-in crown. (Art by Julius T. Csotonyi. Courtesy of Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller, Alberta.)
By Li Zhou, smithsonian.com
“Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” That’s especially true in the case of Regaliceratops peterhewsi: The skull of this recently discovered dinosaur with crown-like headgear tops the scales at 592 pounds.
The new species, a cousin of the Triceratops, was formally named for its regal appearance—the skull bears a bony frill decorated with a series of pentagon-shaped plates, like spikes on a crown. Compared to Triceratops, the dinosaur also possesses a taller nose horn and two “comically small” horns over its eyes.
As such, the researchers have nicknamed the creature Hellboy.
No matter what you call it, though, the 70-million-year-old fossil represents an unexpected case of evolutionary convergence among horned dinosaurs, and it hints at the potential for more fossil wonders waiting to be unearthed.
“This discovery shows that we are perhaps still quite a ways from knowing the complete diversity of dinosaur species in the Late Cretaceous of western North America,” says James Farlow, a professor of geology at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. “The evolutionary tree presented by the authors suggests that an immediate ancestor of Regaliceratops that would have lived a few million years ago has yet to be found. So there are plenty of interesting dinosaurs still to be discovered.”
Geologist Peter Hews found the fossil skull a decade ago along the Oldman River in southeastern Alberta, Canada, a place where horned dinosaurs have rarely been unearthed. Paleontologists Caleb M. Brown and Donald Henderson at the Royal Tyrrell Museum had the opportunity to examine the skull after it had been excavated and cleaned.
There are two historical classifications of horned dinosaurs: Chasmosaurines and Centrosaurines. Species belonging to the Chasmosaurines, like Triceratops, have a small horn over the nose, large horns over the eyes and a large frill. Centrosaurines, on the other hand, have a large horn over the nose, small ones over the eyes and a small frill.
The Regaliceratops contains traits of both, so Brown and Henderson have concluded that the species provides evidence of evolutionary convergence—the dinosaur evolved from one lineage but then independently developed traits from another.
Its relatively young age suggests that Regaliceratops existed after Centrosaurines were believed to be extinct, indicating that their characteristics were later integrated into other species, many of which may not have been excavated yet.
Rather than the sharp teeth, large head and thick neck of its meat-eating cousins, Chilesaurus had a horny beak, flatter teeth for chomping plants, a small head and slender neck. Illustration: Gabriel Lío
Ian Sample, science editor.
Fossil hunters in Chile have unearthed the remains of a bizarre Jurassic dinosaur that combined a curious mixture of features from different prehistoric animals.
The evolutionary muddle of a beast grew to the size of a small horse and was the most abundant animal to be found 145 million years ago, in what is now the Aysén region of Patagonia.
The discovery ranks as one of the most remarkable dinosaur finds of the past 20 years, and promises to cause plenty of headaches for paleontologists hoping to place the animal in the dinosaur family tree.
“I don’t know how the evolution of dinosaurs produced this kind of animal, what kind of ecological pressures must have been at work,” said Fernando Novas at the Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum in Buenos Aires.
The first fossilised bones of the beast were discovered in 2004 when a Chilean couple, who are geologists, were studying rocks in the Andes to understand how the mountain range formed.
The couple’s son, Diego, was playing nearby when he found a fossilised bone that turned out to belong to the new species.