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Meet the 'chicken from hell' 2.0: a newly discovered dinosaur


There is a dinosaur known as the chicken from hell. You will be stunned when I tell you that is not the scientific name. It was huge - weighed more than 600 pounds. It looked like a bird with a beak and claws and feathers and tail feathers. And this, the chicken from hell that scientists already knew about - this is what Ph.D. student Kyle Atkins-Weltman thought he was studying a few years ago. Well, it turns out he had discovered a new species - a new birdlike dino. And as he writes in the journal PLOS One, that has implications for our understanding of dinosaurs around the time of their extinction. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, Kyle Atkins-Weltman.

KYLE ATKINS-WELTMAN: Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

KELLY: So you're sitting there. You're studying these bones - these chicken-from-hell bones. What was your first inkling that what you were studying was not what you thought it was?

ATKINS-WELTMAN: The real thing that kind of got me positive was - I would call her the world's leading expert on dinosaur bone histology - Dr. Holly Ballard. When I sent these bones off because we thought it was - obviously, based on size, it was way smaller, so we figured it was just a juvenile. And so Dr. Ballard says, are you sure this is a juvenile? Because if I wasn't told that, I would tell you these were from a nearly adult individual of an animal. And that's when it really hit me. This wasn't Anzu at all. This was a new species.

KELLY: Anzu, this is the scientific name for the chicken from hell.

ATKINS-WELTMAN: The chicken from hell is Anzu wyliei. For this new one it is Eoneophron infernalis or infernalis.

KELLY: And what did it look like? It had feathers and looked like a bird too - just a lot smaller?

ATKINS-WELTMAN: What we do know is it probably would have resembled Anzu in most ways in terms of overall body shape and kind of design, so to speak. It would have had a fully feathered body with, like - complete with wings and, like, a fan-like set of tail feathers. It had, you know, kind of long, lanky, but well-muscled legs. It would have had a toothless beak.

But based on the fact that these two were living in the same place at the same time, they almost certainly would have had, at the very least, slightly different skulls. Because they would have had to have been kind of utilizing different resources in their environment in order to kind of live alongside each other and not competing for all the same resources.

KELLY: So let me fast-forward to the moment. It's confirmed. This is a whole new thing. This is a dinosaur that we didn't know about. What is that like to realize I just discovered a new species of dinosaur?

ATKINS-WELTMAN: It is a feeling like nothing else I've ever felt. I feel very proud of my discovery. But just like with everything else in life, it's a really fine balance of being proud but also remaining humble.

KELLY: I understand that this might have implications for our understanding of the era of dinosaurs on Earth overall. In a few sentences, can you tell me, like, what? What are the implications?

ATKINS-WELTMAN: This is particularly interesting because it adds another bit to the puzzle of this idea that, like, oh, dinosaurs were already on their way out before the asteroid impact occurred because people see this apparent decline in diversity of dinosaur species between about 10 million years before the extinction up to that final last kind of 100 meters of the race, so to speak. So before this paper, you might have thought there was a decline in this group of dinosaurs and their diversity, but it turns out not at all. They were remaining quite stable, and they were doing quite fine.


ATKINS-WELTMAN: So it might just be that we're not looking in the right places, or we're not looking in the right way. That is biasing our kind of interpretation of this, and it's not actually a signal of decline. So that's a pretty big deal.

KELLY: Kyle Atkins-Weltman - he is a Ph.D. student in paleoecology at Oklahoma State University. Thank you, and congrats.


(SOUNDBITE OF JAMES BROWN'S "THE CHICKEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.