‘Kind of a bizarre one:’ New dinosaur part penguin, part duck, part swan

It had feathers and looked as if it were part penguin, part duck and part swan. It was between the size of a chicken and a turkey and ate the same sorts of things in the same sorts of places as a heron.

But it was a dinosaur.

“This is kind of a bizarre one,” said University of Alberta paleontologist Philip Currie, who introduced his new feathered friend Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Halszkaraptor escuilliei (let’s call it Halzie) is a member of the same dinosaur family as the famous raptors from “Jurassic Park,” but wouldn’t have been chasing any human-sized prey through the wetlands and swamps of the late Cretaceous era.

“This guy is a lot smaller and a lot more birdlike,” said Currie.

But it’s Halzie’s anatomy, not its movie possibilities, that make it so interesting.

Like all members of the dinosaur raptor family, Halzie stood upright on its hind legs with a foot featuring a long, elevated claw, but leaned forward like a short-tailed bird.

Its neck was huge — about half of its total length.

“It would be a perfect neck for an animal that was wading in the water and, if something went by, it would strike with its sharp little beak,” Currie said.

Halzie’s short little arms seemed to be adapted to swimming, with flat, thin-walled bones and hands with an elongated outside finger, much like those seen in the feet of other aquatic dinosaurs.

“It sure looks like it’s a swimming appendage of some kind,” said Currie. “It’s certainly doing something different.

“We have other dinosaurs that are adapted to living in the water, but they tend to look more like crocodiles.”

Halszkaraptor originally hails from a site in Mongolia that Currie and his colleagues had been excavating for years. But that’s not where they found it.

It had been poached from its original bed and a French colleague spotted the dinosaur in a warehouse in Europe, where it was waiting to be shipped to a retail outlet. That colleague alerted Currie.

He had the fossil, encased in one solid block, examined minutely using a high-energy synchrotron beam. That was mostly to ensure the poachers hadn’t altered it, but revealed all kinds of details that wouldn’t have normally been apparent.

It turned out, for example, that Halzie had 112 teeth — “amazing for such a small animal.”

It all paints an increasingly detailed picture of Earth’s remarkable biodiversity during Halzie’s day, between 70 million and 75 million years ago.

“By late Cretaceous times, the environments weren’t that dissimilar to modern environments,” Currie said.

“The diversity on (Halzie’s) site is quite amazing. A lot of it would be quite similar to an ecosystem today, in terms of numbers of species. The only difference is — in addition to the fish, the turtles, the snakes, the lizards, the mammals, the birds — you had dinosaurs.”

The bone beds of Mongolia and Alberta account for about 10 per cent of all the world’s known dinosaurs, a remarkable variety. But Currie said there’s no reason to believe that dinosaurs — who lived everywhere on Earth in hundreds of different environments — weren’t equally varied across the rest of the planet.

“What it says loud and clear is that if we had this kind of dinosaur diversity everywhere in the world, we probably know less than one per cent of one per cent of all the dinosaurs,” he said.

“We’re always going to be finding new dinosaurs. It’s quite staggering.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, reported 323 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)
‘We’re in a danger zone,’ says Hinshaw

The province’s top doctor says “we’re in a danger zone” when it… Continue reading

Mayor Tara Veer pleads with the premier Tuesday to review the decision to move to a consolidated EMS dispatch system, which will be moved to three centres across the province. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
‘Issue of life and death’: mayors plead with government to halt consolidated EMS dispatch

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer calls on premier to overturn consolidated EMS dispatch decision

A $2.3-billion expansion of Alberta’s natural gas transportation system has been approved. “This should provide significant benefits — and we need every little bit of economic boost we can get,” says Reg Warkentin, policy adviser for the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce. (Flickr photo)
Red Deer-area to benefit from $2.3 billion gas pipeline expansion project

Project will add 344 km of new pipeline between RMH and Grande Prairie

Dustin Snider was elected the new board president for Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Earl’s Restaurant manager re-elected Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce president

Dustin Snider has been re-elected president of the Red Deer & Distict… Continue reading

Red Deer singer Kayla Williams hopes listeners fed up with the pandemic are comforted by her new song, Stealing from My Youth, which is digitally available for streaming on Friday. (Contributed photo).
Red Deer singer summarizes universal pandemic feelings in a new single

Kayla Williams releases ‘Stealing From My Youth’ on Friday

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw warms up before Game 1 of the baseball World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Kershaw, LA stars shine, Dodgers top Rays 8-3 in WS opener

Kershaw, LA stars shine, Dodgers top Rays 8-3 in WS opener

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford leaps over a challenge by PSG's Presnel Kimpembe during the Champions League group H soccer match between Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United at the Parc des Princes in Paris, France, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Man United wins again at PSG; Messi scores in Barca rout

Man United wins again at PSG; Messi scores in Barca rout

Hamilton Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis, right, hugs captain Kyle Bekker following their victory in the Canadian Premier League soccer final against the Calgary Cavalry in Calgary, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. Under Smyrniotis, Forge FC has been the class of the Canadian Premier League. The two-time champions from Hamilton look to mark their internationally this week as they open CONCACAF League play in El Salvador. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis’ influence on Canadian soccer continues to grow

Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis’ influence on Canadian soccer continues to grow

Players' sticks are shown during a World Hockey Championships game in Moscow, Russia on Thursday, May 12, 2016. A senior hockey team in a small city in southern Manitoba has changed its name following a push against the use of Indigenous names and caricatures as mascots. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Ivan Sekretarev
Manitoba senior hockey team changes Indigenous name to Bombers

Manitoba senior hockey team changes Indigenous name to Bombers

Jason Kokrak tees off during the final round of the CJ Cup golf tournament at Shadow Creek Golf Course Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in North Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Long drive champ Berkshire looking to compete in tournaments

Long drive champ Berkshire looking to compete in tournaments

The Los Angeles Dodgers line up during during the national anthem and a fly over before Game 1 of the baseball World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Pandemic World Series draws smallest crowd in over century

Pandemic World Series draws smallest crowd in over century

Keegan Messing performs in the Gala at the 2020 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in Mississauga, Ont., on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Messing dedicating his Skate America performance to grounded Canadian teammates

Messing dedicating his Skate America performance to grounded Canadian teammates

Most Read