Hell’s ‘chicken’: The Carnegie unveils a fierce bird-like dinosaur

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The pantheon of really strange dinosaurs just got a little stranger. Last week, the world got its first look at a creature that lived 66 million years ago.

Anzu wyliei is a dinosaur that looks like a tall chicken, with long neck, beak and crested head. Its name comes from a lion-headed bird demon in Mesopotamian mythology. If it were around today, no one would ever ask why this “chicken” wanted to cross the road.

Informally named the “giant chicken from hell” by the three paleontologists who published a paper about it last week in PLOS ONE, an online scientific journal, Anzu wyliei was 11 feet long, almost 6 feet tall and weighed up to 660 pounds. Despite its fearsome looks, it ate plants primarily and lacked the teeth to devour anything beyond small lizards.

Matt Lamanna, assistant curator of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, is one of the scientists who devoted nearly nine years to researching the creature that arrived at the end of the Cretaceous Period, the last great epoch of the dinosaurs. His partners on the project work at the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Utah.

One look at the fossilized skeleton on display at the Carnegie museum and it’s clear why Anzu wyliei, which lived in North Dakota and elsewhere, is considered a distant relative of modern birds.

Before the creature faced extinction with the rest of the dinosaurs, it was the frequent prey of its bad-tempered cousin, Tyrannosaurus rex. 

The most fearsome carnivore that ever lived most likely had a hankering for something that not only looked like chicken, but tasted like it, too.

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