A PhD student bought dinosaur fossils online for a class project and ended up discovering and naming a new species, dubbed the “Pharoah’s dawn chicken from hell.”
Oklahoma State University Centre for Health Sciences student Kyle Atkins-Weltman was studying a small collection of foot and leg bone fossils. The bones were believed to belong to a juvenile Anzu wyliei – described as a “chicken from hell” when it was discovered in 2014.
But the bones were not of a juvenile, but a different species entirely.
Atkins-Weltman named the new dinosaur Eoneophron infernalis, which translates to “Pharaoh’s dawn chicken from hell.” It is described in a new paper published in the journal PLOS ONE.
The animal’s name borrows from the description of Anzu and honours the researcher’s late beloved pet, Pharoah – a Nile monitor lizard.
“It was a very bird-like dinosaur. It had a toothless beak and relatively short tail. It’s hard to tell its diet because of the toothless beak,” Atkins-Weltman says. “It definitely had feathers. It was covered in feathers and had wings.”
Estimates suggest Eoneophron was about 70 kg and stood a metre tall at the hip.
The fossils were found in the Hell Creek Formation in the northern United States. The area is famous for its Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops horridus specimens, as well as many other dinosaur, mammal and plant finds.
Hell Creek was laid down right at the end of the Cretaceous period (145–66 million years ago), just before an asteroid spelled the end of the “Age of Dinosaurs.”
E. infernalis is closely related to the larger A. wyliei which could reach 200–300 kg. Both animals are part of the Caenagnathidae family. They are oviraptorosoaurs – a group of dinosaurs characterised by long, slender limbs and toothless beaks.
“It was really thrilling. Based on the work and research I do, I never thought I would be someone to discover a new dinosaur species,” Atkins-Weltman says.