March 20, 2014
Scientists Find New Bird-Like Dinosaur – Anzu Wyliei
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Researchers writing in the journal PLOS ONE have discovered a new bird-like dinosaur named Anzu wyliei.
The fossil skeletons of Anzu were discovered in North and South Dakota underneath 66-million-year-old rocks. Anzu gives scientists the chance to study the anatomy and evolutionary relationships of Caenagnathidae, which is a group of theropod dinosaurs.
“Anzu is far and away the most complete caenagnathid that has ever been discovered. After nearly a century of searching, we paleontologists finally have the fossils to show what these creatures looked like from virtually head to toe. And in almost every way, they’re even weirder than we imagined,” Dr. Matthew Lamanna of Carnegie Museum of Natural History said in a statement.
Anzu was 11 feet long and five feet tall at the hip, and the scientists say it would have resembled a gigantic flightless bird. The dinosaur’s jaws were tipped with a toothless beak and its head featured a tall crest similar to a cassowary. Anzu’s neck and hind legs were long and slender similar to an ostrich, according to the researchers.
“We jokingly call this thing the ‘Chicken from Hell,’ and I think that’s pretty appropriate. So we named it after Anzu, a bird-like demon in ancient mythology,” Lamanna said.
The fossils shed light on a group of dinosaurs that were first discovered nearly 100 years ago by paleontologist Charles Whitney Gilmore. Then, in 1940, another fossil was discovered that belonged to the same dinosaur group.
“We’re finding that caenagnathids were an amazingly diverse bunch of dinosaurs,” says Dr. Lamanna. “Whereas some were turkey-sized, others—like Anzu and Gigantoraptor—were the kind of thing you definitely wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. Apparently these oviraptorosaurs occupied a much wider range of body sizes and ecologies than we previously thought.”
The way the world was when Anzu existed provides scientists with the intel they need to understand the dinosaur’s diet and habitat preferences. The researchers believe that caenagnathids were probably omnivores, meaning they could eat both meat and plants.
“For many years, caenagnathids were known only from a few bits of the skeleton, and their appearance remained a big mystery,” Dr. Hans-Dieter Sues, of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, said in a statement.
While the discovery of Anzu gives scientists more insight into the caenagnathids, there is still much more to learn about this mysterious dinosaur group.
“For nearly a hundred years, we paleontologists knew almost nothing about these dinosaurs,” concludes Dr. Lamanna. “Now, thanks to Anzu, we’re finally starting to figure them out.”
Image 2 (below): This reconstruction shows the skull of Anzu wyliei, including its large toothless beak, which suggests that the species may have been omnivorous. The new species was identified by a team of Smithsonian scientists in collaboration with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and University of Utah from three partial skeletons collected from the Hell Creek Formation, providing detailed evidence of North American oviraptorosaurs for the first time. Credit: James Di Loreto, Smithsonian Institution