‘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.”

Just Posted

WATCH: Finishing touches being put on Servus Arena

The finishing touches are being put on Red Deer’s newest arena. The… Continue reading

Suspect in police chase in court

RCMP opened fire twice while trying to arrest suspects in vehicle chase in October

New temporary beds will immediately help Red Deer homeless

The 20 new temporary beds approved for Safe Harbour’s warming centre cannot… Continue reading

Red Deer RCMP are seeking man posing as a police officer

Suspect is large, in his 30s, with red hair and beard

Update: “Someone knows something” – police

Motorist dies near Ponoka after loose tire collides with vehicle near Ponoka

Red Deer police seize rifles and shotguns from storage locker

A man and a woman facing nearly 200 charges after 29 firearms seized last month

Notley criticizes MLA who fired staffer after sex harassment complaint

Notley says if Jason Nixon was her house leader he’d be out of a job immediately.

Red Deer needs to find a solution to syringe debris: city manager

City will consider the problem during the 2018 operating budget talks

WestJet Christmas video turns children’s wishes into reality

This year’s annual video took a new spin on the 12 days of Christmas

VIDEO: Replay Red Deer Dec. 10

Watch news highlights from Red Deer and Central Alberta

VIDEO: B.C. to end geographic area rent increases, close fixed-term lease loopholes

Both clauses allowed landlords to raise rents above the max annual allowable rent increase

UPDATE: Train hits hydro pole, causes outage near Deltaport

No injuries reported but traffic in and out of Deltaport is blocked

A Red Deer daycare coordinator wins provincial award of excellence

Nicole Morrell is a coordinator at Johnstone Daycare

Holiday shopping season picking up in Red Deer

With 18 shopping days left until Christmas, Red Deer businesses are cautiously… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month