By now we’ve come to expect some degree of bizarreness when paleontologists dig up fossils. We learn about all kinds of crazy animals that existed way back when, like small tyrannosaurs that thrived in the Arctic or giant platypuses or ancient, armored fish. Still, I have to say that the discovery of what scientists are calling “the chicken from hell” just might be the weirdest of all.
This chicken isn’t going to fit in a coop. It’s not going to lay eggs for you. But on the upside, it would scare the crap out of any hungry wolves or foxes. This dinosaur, Anzu wyliei, looks like a chicken that stumbled into a toxic swamp or overdosed on growth hormones until it grew to about 500 pounds. Add a dinosaur tail, a head crest, and T-Rex limbs with massive claws and you’re starting to get the picture.
It’s long been known that dinosaurs and birds are related, and share many matching features. Two-legged dino-birds were common in the Jurassic and Cretaceous ages. Pterodactyls, or pterosaurs, aren’t actually considered the first birds — they walked on four legs and didn’t have feathers. Birds evolved from theropods. Many scientists think small, raptor-like dinosaurs evolved feathers to stay warm and also possibly to attract potential mates. Then, over time, evolution produced flying birds. Maybe. There are some competing theories about the dino-bird evolution, but certain kinds of dinosaurs such as raptors were especially bird-like, particularly the feather-covered Oviraptor.
Scientists found three “hell chicken” specimens at the Hell Creek geological formation, so this being is quite literally a chicken from Hell. The Hell Creek formation is a gold mine for dinosaur fossils, and those fossils provide some interesting clues about this strange beast. For instance, it doesn’t have teeth. Instead, its jaw is hinged and can slide back and forth across its food, like rats do. It was omnivorous, eating plants as well as small animals and eggs. Because its shin bones are longer than its thigh bones, it would have been a frighteningly fast runner.
Maybe it’s time for a Jurassic Farm or Jurassic Aviary film? A hell chicken/pterodactyl fight scene would be awesome.