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Bizarre new dinosaur

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.

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 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.

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.



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