Monster movie fans and those raised on cartoons like The Land Before Time get to re-learn prehistory along with the grade schoolers as the classic dinosaurs are being continually debunked in a feathered fury of new evidence. A far cry from the slouchy, elephant-skinned depictions of yesteryear, these new lizard-birds sprint onto the fossil record with poise, balance and killer weaponry, and they do it all with a feathery flair. For those who have not had a dino-style update since the semi-aquatic tail-dragger formerly known as Brontosaurus became the high-tailed and tough Apatosaurus, news of these new feathered dinosaurs will come as quite a treat.
Take Tyrannosaurus rex for example. Old-school depictions of the beast were of an upright, Godzilla-like creature that stood like a tripod with its hind legs and tail, and had a head which sat atop its neck in a humanoid fashion. As the most publicized dinosaur of all time the official speculations into his posture and lifestyle changed a number of times throughout the years. Not long ago it was widely believed his large head and small arms made it impossible for him to be the rampaging hunter he was fancied to be in film, and even this idea has been since debunked. We now know T. rex had a more horizontal stance much like a bird, making him far more fast and agile, and was likely a formidable hunter snatching up prey in his massive jaws. Scientists also believe he might have feathers for at least part of his life, much like his recently discovered cousin.
Measuring roughly 11 feet long and five feet tall at the hip, the little Anzu wyliei dinosaur is like a big chicken-lizard – or maybe a small chicken-lizard, depending on the scale. Confronting a man-sized predator-bird today would certainly be intimidating, but considering A. wyliei lived alongside creatures on a much more grandiose scale, such as his massive cuz, the 13-meter-long T. rex, Anzu wyliei was a bit puny for his time.
Identified from three partial skeletons which came together to nearly complete one whole feathered fury, this new dinosaur species had a bird-like head and toothless beak that debunked the face of classics like Dink, the Little Dinosaur. This was an exciting and highly anticipated discovery for researchers as it provided the final clues to piece together A. wyliei‘s feathery appearance and that of its dino relatives. It belongs to the group known as Oviraptorosauria, which have been found in Asia, but had only been uncovered in bits and pieces in North America until now.
Though paleontologists have jokingly dubbed Anzu the “Chicken From Hell,” its name is actually derived from a mythological winged monster from Mesopotamia. This seems more appropriate when you consider the dinosaur weighed around 500 pounds and had a full standing height of up to 10 feet. Plumed and poultry-like maybe, but it also had killer claws and a jaw that was capable of crunching bone.
The Anzu fossils were discovered in three separate digs in North Dakota and South Dakota. Tyler Lyson, a Smithsonian scientist and a post-doctorate at the Natural History Museum, made one of those discoveries as a teenager, when he spotted the bones on his uncle’s North Dakota ranch. Back in Anzu‘s time around 66 million years ago, that ranch was part of a subtropical paradise that stretched across what we refer to today as Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas.
The Gigantoraptor, Anzu‘s largest known cousin oviraptorosaur, was a sizable predator weighing in at 1.5 tons. Although others in the group were as small as turkeys, this feathery flock were far more than fearsome chickens.
Visitors yearning to see the feathered fury that has debunked the classic image of prehistory can visit the Carnegie Museum’s “Dinosaurs in Their Time” exhibit. There you can see a fully articulated replica of the A. wiliei skeleton, along with artists depiction of the animal as it might have looked with all its fluffy feathers.
By Mimi Mudd