The fossilised remains of a bizarre, bird-like dinosaur, which has been nicknamed the “chicken from hell” by scientists, have been unearthed in the U.S.

The 66-million-year-old feathered beast would have resembled a beefed-up emu with a long neck, a metre-long tail, a tall crest on its head, and long, sharp claws at the end of its forelimbs.

It stood 1.5 metres high at the hip and measured more than three metres from beak to tail. Researchers believe that it lived on ancient floodplains and fed on plants, small animals and possibly eggs. An adult weighed up to 300kg.

Researchers extracted the remains of several skeletons from mudstone in the Hell Creek formation in North and South Dakota, where fossil hunters have previously excavated bones from Tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops.

Over the past decade they have recovered three partial skeletons of the animal but until now had not recognised it as a new genus and species of a mysterious family of dinosaur called Caenagnathidae. The fossils are being kept at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.

Scientists working on the remains coined the “chicken from hell” moniker, which later influenced their choice of its more formal name, Anzu wyliei. Anzu is the name of a giant bird-like demon from ancient Sumerian mythology, and Wyliei comes from Wylie J. Tuttle, the son of a donor who funds research at the museum.

The animal belongs to a group called the oviraptorosaurs, which are mostly known from fossils discovered in central and east Asia but the remains provide the first detailed picture of them in north America.

“For almost 100 years, the presence of oviraptorosaurs in North America was only known from a few bits of skeleton, and the details of their appearance and biology remained a mystery,” said Hans-Dieter Sues, curator of vertebrate palaeontology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. “With the discovery of A. wyliei, we finally have the fossil evidence to show what this species looked like and how it is related to other dinosaurs.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014

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