Giant Turkey-Like Dinosaur Found in Utah

April 7, 2006

Fossil hunters in Utah have uncovered a new species of birdlike, meat- eating dinosaur that researchers compare to a giant, flightless turkey.

Having lived some 75 million years ago, the two-legged dinosaur was twice the size of related species found in Canada and the northern United States, say fossil experts at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

The find shows that a group of dinosaurs called oviraptors roamed much farther south than previously thought, they add.

Oviraptors had simple feathers, winglike arms, powerful legs, long claws, and powerful, toothless beaks for shearing through food.

Researchers made the find in a remote, mountainous region in the southwestern U.S. that's fast gaining a reputation as an untapped "dinosaur graveyard" full of unusual species.

Only fragments of the animal were discovered—a fearsomely clawed hand and foot. But the dinosaur probably stood seven feet (two meters) tall and ran as fast as an ostrich, according to paleontologists Lindsay Zanno and Scott Sampson.

Named Hagryphus giganteus ("giant four-footed, birdlike god of the western desert"), the new species is described in the current issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Zanno, from the University of Utah's geology department, says Hagryphus likely resembled a closely related oviraptor from Asia that has been likened to an enormous turkey.

"We don't know if Hagryphus would have had a feather fan on the back of its tail [characteristic of turkeys], but its close cousins did, so it's possible," she said.

Built for Speed

"The animal seems to be built for speed," Zanno said, adding that the species could probably run as fast as 30 miles an hour (48 kilometers an hour).

Experts suggest oviraptors used their speed to chase prey or evade bigger, predatory dinosaurs.

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