Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Meet Anzu Wyliei, a 'Really Freaky' Find a Dino-Discovery Scientists at the Carnegie and Smithsonian Museums and the University of Utah Announce the Finding of a 500-Pound Bird-Like Cretaceous Dinosaur

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Meet Anzu Wyliei, a 'Really Freaky' Find a Dino-Discovery Scientists at the Carnegie and Smithsonian Museums and the University of Utah Announce the Finding of a 500-Pound Bird-Like Cretaceous Dinosaur

Article excerpt

In prehistoric North Dakota, a marshy land roamed by turtles and crocodiles, there lived a dinosaur that experts think looked sort of like a giant chicken.

When the species' bones arrived at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History a decade ago, employees looked at the 11-foot-long animal -- with its beak, long neck, crested head and slanted posture -- and nicknamed it the "chicken from hell."

"He probably did look like a giant, really freaky chicken," said Matt Lamanna, assistant curator of the Carnegie Museum, who spent nine years studying the animal and can't help but think of it when he now eats chicken wings.

On Wednesday, Mr. Lamanna and three other paleontologists published a paper giving the infernal chicken a place in the dinosaur family tree. Now it has a more dignified name: Anzu wyliei.

Anzu, who weighed about 500 pounds, lived 66 million years ago during the Cretaceous era, shortly before dinosaurs went extinct. The species was probably an omnivore, Mr. Lamanna said, using its claws to pick leaves and its toothless beak to eat them. It might have also dined on fruit, eggs and tiny creatures such as insects and lizards.

When it wasn't chowing down, Anzu was probably busy running away from its contemporary, Tyrannosaurus rex, through the Dakotas' coastal floodplains.

The discovery of Anzu sheds light on the last years of the dinosaurs, said Tyler Lyson, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian Institution, who co-authored the paper. Some scientists think the number of dinosaur species was in decline before their extinction, but the addition of Anzu to the list of Cretaceous species bolsters the theory that many were still around.

"The fact that we're still finding new species in the late Cretaceous indicates that dinosaur diversity was doing very well when the meteorite struck," Mr. Lyson said, referring to a leading theory -- a giant meteorite hitting the Yucatan Peninsula -- that led to the extinction of dinosaurs.

Anzu also is important as a rare example of the oviraptorosaur genus, closely related to the ancestors of birds. Oviraptor bones are hard to find because they were so brittle; like bird bones, they were full of tiny air ducts.

There are three sets of Anzu fossils, two of them stored in wooden trays in a room in the Carnegie Museum's basement that employees call "the big bone room."

One of the sets was found by Mr. Lyson. In 1999, he spotted a bone sticking out of the ground in the Hell Creek formation in North Dakota, a place with abundant dinosaur fossils. After cleaning up the set of six bones, he and his team knew right away that they'd found a new species. They were intrigued by its appearance, especially the crest on its skull, which was probably used for mating displays.

"That was very striking to all of us, to see that giant crest," Mr. …

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