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Missing link? on the feathered dinosaur “Anzu wyliei” the “chicken from hell”

Fair use, to illustrate article's context.
Fair use, to illustrate article's context.
Missing link? On the feathered dinosaur “Anzu wyliei” the “chicken from hell”

Science news is afoot with headlines such as:

Smithsonian: “Feathered Dinosaur, Anzu wyliei

Earth Sky, “New Chicken from Hell feathered dinosaur found in Dakotas”

Australian Broadcasting Corp., “‘Chicken from Hell’ skeleton sheds light on 250kg feathered dinosaur Anzu wyliei”

Bypass the oddity of references to chicken and hell, in these mere examples of relevant headlines, and note the reference to feathers.

Let us go directly to the source of the reporting on the find which is PLOS One which published the open access and peer reviewed paper titled A New Large-Bodied Oviraptorosaurian Theropod Dinosaur from the Latest Cretaceous of Western North America by Matthew C. Lamanna (Section of Vertebrate Paleontology, Carnegie Museum of Natural History), Hans-Dieter Sues (Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution), Emma R. Schachner (Department of Biology, University of Utah) and Tyler R. Lyson (Department of Vertebrate Zoology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution).

Of the few references to feathers within the paper, one comes from the explanation of its name, which leads to references to “chicken from hell”:

“The genus name is for Anzu, a feathered demon in ancient Mesopotamian (Sumerian and Akkadian) mythology, and alludes to the distinctive appearance of this large, presumably feathered dinosaur. The species name is for Mr. Wylie J. Tuttle, grandson of Mr. and Mrs. Lee B. Foster, in recognition of Mr. and Mrs. Foster's generous support of the scientific research and collections activities at Carnegie Museum of Natural History.” [emphasis added for emphasis]

The reference to feathers that is relevant to the actual fossil is as follows. There is an elucidating statement which reads:

“The oviraptorosaurian theropod dinosaur clade Caenagnathidae has long been enigmatic due to the incomplete nature of nearly all described fossils…Oviraptorosauria is a clade of maniraptoran theropod dinosaurs with peculiar craniomandibular specializations…”

This leads to the statement:

“Most if not all oviraptorosaurs were feathered, as evidenced by direct preservation [2], [8], [9], possible quill knobs on the ulna [10], or pygostyle-like terminal caudal vertebrae [11]–[14].”

And here comes the reportedly evidence of feathers on Anzu:

if, as in caudipterygids (the only oviraptorosaurs for which forelimb integument has been extensively preserved [2], [9], [26]), manual digit II of caenagnathids supported quill feathers…” [emphasis added for emphasis]

That is a big IF.

And that’s all folks!

1) It is categorized as an oviraptorosaur, 2) “Most if not all oviraptorosaurs were feathered,” 3) IF it supported quill feathers then it supported quill feathers and yet, 4) the evidence, the fossil, has no feathers.

Anzu is referred to in hellish terms due to its being some 7 feet tall, 11 feet long, 500 pounds.

How does a featherless dinosaur end up with feathers? Mutation? Environmental pressures? Time'did'it?

No, no, no! Rather, you call an illustrator and have them paint in the feathers which the fossil does not have and then you write popular level science journalistic articles, blog posts and news stories about the feathered dinosaur.

Another example of this is Gigantoraptor which was imaginatively illustrated in models and paintings yet, the actual evidence tells a different story:

“Gigantoraptor had long arms, bird-like legs, a toothless jaw, and probably a beak. There are NO CLEAR SIGNS AS TO WHETHER IT WAS FEATHERED. However, judging from its close affinity to other dinosaurs known to have been feathered, Xing Xu of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing SPECULATES that it was.”

—David Cyranoski, “Giant bird-like dinosaur found - Chinese researchers unearth a surprising find,” Nature News, June 13, 2007 AD republished by BioEd Online - Biology Teacher Resources from Baylor College of Medicine


For more such examples, see:

Scientific Cenobites, part 3 of 9

Atheism and Archaeopteryx

Atheist and Darwinian Science and Story Telling, part 8 of 9


This makes it the latest of examples of poor “research” leading to viral erroneous reporting.

Note the following as examples of this and yes, emphasis added for emphasis:

“‘It was a giant raptor, but with a chicken-like head and PRESUMABLY feathers. The animal stood about 10 feet tall, so it would be scary as well as absurd to encounter,’ says University of Utah biology postdoctoral fellow Emma Schachner, a co-author of a new study of the dinosaur.”

—Cristen Tilley, “'Chicken from Hell' skeleton sheds light on 250kg feathered dinosaur Anzu wyliei,” Australian Broadcasting Corp., March 2014 AD

“Many of these [“primitive relatives of oviraptorids”] are also represented by complete skulls or skeletons, some of which preserve fossilized feathers [FYI “dino fuzz” does not amount to feathers]…‘It was a giant raptor, but with a chicken-like head and PRESUMABLY feathers. The animal stood about 11 feet tall, so it would be scary as well as absurd to encounter,’ Dr Schachner said.”

—Enrico de Lazaro, “Anzu wyliei: New Bird-like Dinosaur Discovered,” Sci News, March 19, 2014 AD

“What did A. wyliei look like?... a large flightless bird, with feathers on its arms and tail”

—Kathryn Sabella, “Feathered Dinosaur, Anzu wyliei,” Smithsonian news desk, March 19, 2014 AD

“A newly discovered dinosaur species that paleontologists have dubbed the "chicken from hell" is among the largest feathered dinosaurs ever found in North America…a fan of tail feathers…Though THE TEAM DIDN'T FIND DIRECT EVIDENCE OF FEATHERS, the species was so closely related to birds that it was very LIKELY covered in feathers that looked identical to those of modern birds. No one knows why the dino needed feathers…”

—Christine Dell'Amore, “New "Chicken From Hell" Dinosaur Discovered - The 66-million-year-old feathered dino resembled a giant, demonic bird,” National Geographic news, March 19, 2014 AD

“was PROBABLY covered in feathers…”

—Colin Gleeson, “New ‘chicken from hell’ dinosaur identified,” Irish Times blog, March 20, 2014 AD

“a new feathered dinosaur species…it resembled an ostrich with its feathered body…feathered arms and tail…Anzu wyliei, SHOWN HERE IN AN ARTIST’S ILLUSTRATION, was a feathered dinosaur…”

—“New Chicken from Hell feathered dinosaur found in Dakotas,” EarthSky, March 25, 2014 AD

“Some 66 million years ago, a feathered dinosaur…”

—“The 'Anzu wyliei' species looks like a cross between a chicken and a ...

Smithsonian (blog)‎ - Mar 19, 2014

“Anzu wyliei is a member of a group of feathered dinosaurs...”

—“Beware of Anzu wyliei: This chicken (dinosaur) could have eaten you for breakfast,” Tech Times, March 20, 2014 AD

feathered body…”

—“Monster Chicken Dinosaurs Were Real,” WebProNews‎, April 7, 2014 AD

“with the beak and feathers of a bird...”

—“Newest find for Burpee Museum of Natural History is ‘parrot on steroids’,” Freeport Journal-Standard, April 7, 2014 AD

“this feathered beast lived...”

—“‘Chicken from hell’ dinosaur discovered,” CW39 NewsFix‎, April 5, 2014 AD

“The creatures had beaks, skinny legs, giant feet, and LIKELY feathered arms, resembling a modern bird…”

—Paca Thomas, “The Chicken From Hell - A dinosaur has never had an apter nickname,”Slate Magazine‎, March 21, 2014 AD

FYI modern birds do not have “likely” feathers but have actual, real life and not imaginary feathers.

“The Anzu Wyliei is a creature that sports features from that of a bird and...It was about the size of a small car and had claws and feathers ...”

—“Scientists discover new species of dinosaur,” The Daily Titan, March 26, 2014 AD

“With its feathered and clawed arms...”

—“The dinosaur ‘chicken from hell’,” Science News‎, March 19, 2014 AD

“The tall crest and Almost Certain presence of feathers...”

—“RECENTLY IN SCIENCE: Direct Evidence Of The Big Bang And The Hell Chicken,” xoJane‎, March 27, 2014 AD

And these are merely just a few examples.

So scientists from the Section of Vertebrate Paleontology, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, the Department of Biology, University of Utah, the Department of Vertebrate Zoology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution do not claim that they found fossilized feathers on Anzu. But that’s okay, 'cause a prepubescent kid with an internet connection in mommy’s basement can type the words “feathered dinosaur” and make it go viral!


Footnotes from the PLOS One article as cited in the quotations above. Keep in mind that just as with Anzu, Gigantoraptor, etc. reference to feathers does not mean that the fossil included feathers:

2. Ji Q, Currie PJ, Norell MA, Ji S-A (1998) Two feathered dinosaurs from northeastern China. Nature 393: 753–761

8. Zhou Z-H, Wang X-L, Zhang F-C, Xu X (2000) Important features of Caudipteryx – evidence from two nearly complete new specimens. Vertebrata PalAsiatica 38: 242–254.

9. Xu X, Zheng X, You H (2010) Exceptional dinosaur fossils show ontogenetic development of early feathers. Nature 464: 1338–1341.

10. Kurzanov SM (1982) Structural characteristics of the fore limbs of Avimimus. Paleontological Journal 1982: 108–112.

11. Barsbold R, Currie PJ, Myhrvold NP, Osmólska H, Tsogtbaatar K, et al. (2000) A pygostyle from a non-avian theropod. Nature 403: 155–156.

14. Persons WS IV, Currie PJ, Norell MA (In press) Oviraptorosaur tail forms and functions. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.

26. Zhou Z-H, Wang X-L (2000) A new species of Caudipteryx from the Yixian Formation of Liaoning, northeast China. Vertebrata PalAsiatica 38: 111–127.


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