Paleontologists Identify Anzu wyliei, a/k/a The Chicken From Hell
By Lenny Pierce on March 24, 2014
Not scared of chickens, you say? Well how about a 10 ft. tall, 11 ft. long chicken that boasts 5 inch claws and weighs in at 500 lbs.? Meet Anzu Wyliei, the super bird from the Late Cretaceous that even professional paleontologists are calling “The Chicken From Hell”.
The classification of the Hell Chicken has been a long time coming. The bones were originally found over 10 years ago in the Dakotas by amateur fossil hunters. Unfortunately, they sat around at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh for years until paleontologist Matt Lamanna took an interest in them. Eventually he determined that what ever the beast was, it must be related to the Asian oviraptors, but much bigger.
A. wyliei had a massive head crest, similar to a modern day cassowary, which may have been brightly colored. (Maggie Starbard / NPR)
The structure of A. wyliei’s skull gives a few clues to how it ate. While it has no teeth for tearing food apart, it looks like it achieved the same effect by creating a slicing motion between its upper and lower jaws. A special hinge like structure where the jaws meet could have allowed the lower jaw to slide against the upper jaw and cut food into smaller pieces. Scientists suspect that A. wyliei was omnivorous, feeding largely on vegetation but occasionally on small mammals and eggs it came across as well.
One of the 5 in claws that would have protruded ominously from the hell chicken’s forelimbs. (Maggie Starbard / NPR)
A. wyliei was probably pretty fast, too. On its baseball bat-sized thigh bone are formations where massive leg muscles would have attached. “This would have been a really big, massive drumstick,” Smithsonian scientist Hans-Dieter Sues said. Sues also noted that the shin bone is actually longer than the thigh bone. “That’s always a dead giveaway for an animal that can run really fast,” Sues said.
Scientists suspect the hell chickens were heavily feathered and may have put on colorful displays to compliment their ridiculous head pieces. For more on early feather coloration, check out the color burst that happened in dino feathers 150 million years ago.