Scientists have fleshed out a little-known dinosaur: a giant ornithomimosaur, Deinocheirus mirificus, meaning “terrible hands that look peculiar.” This species had previously been identified just from fossilized forelimbs found in Mongolia’s Gobi desert in the 1960s. Having found the rest of the dinosaur, scientists have a new description for it: goofy and weird. And this supposedly ruined their gruesome reputation.
It was 16 feet tall and 36 feet long, weighing seven tons, with a duckbill on its head and a hump-like sail on its back. Throw in those killer claws, tufts of feathers here and there, and no teeth, because it actually ate like a giant vacuum cleaner.
Deinocheirus mirificus is certainly an ornithomimosaurs member, which is a group of dinosaurs that hazily resembled modern ostriches, as was theorized when its arms were discovered. However, it was by far the largest with host of features that haven’t been seen in its cousins.
“Deinocheirus turned out to be one the weirdest dinosaurs beyond our imagination,” study lead author Yuong-Nam Lee, director of the Geological Museum in Daejeon, South Korea, said in an email. And yes, he said, “it’s pretty goofy.”
Originally Lee’s team couldn’t find the dinosaur’s skull, but a tip from another researcher led them to recover it from the private market in Germany.
The dinosaur that lived around Mongolia about 70 million years ago, had a large, toothless muzzle that flared out like a duck’s bill. Its curved spine probably formed a sail-like fin, and its feet were strangely broad. These flat-bottomed toes may have helped the dinosaur forage for food in aquatic areas by keeping it from sinking into mud. Since its bill seems similar to an herbivore’s and its stomach contents appears to contain fossilized fish, the researchers believe that Deinocheirus mirificus was omnivorous. Fossilised fish remains were found in what appeared to be the stomach contents of one of the skeletons.
A description of the dinosaur from an international team led by Dr. Yuong-Nam Lee appears in the journal Nature: “The discovery of the original specimen almost half a century ago suggested that this was an unusual dinosaur, but did not prepare us for how distinctive Deinocheirus is – a true cautionary tale in predicting body forms from partial skeletons,” they wrote.