A newly discovered fossil from Mongolia made headlines this week, as the nightmare version of modern-day swans: it has a bill — with teeth. It has feet — with claws. And it has flipper-like arms — with extra claws. This turkey-sized dinosaur, dubbed Halszkaraptor escuilliei, waddled the Earth more than 70 million years ago, where it probably terrified all the prehistoric fish that darted past those clawed feet.
Called a “murder swan” by Ed Yong at The Atlantic, the odd-looking fossil was described this week in the journal Nature. But it’s not the weirdest-looking dinosaur to emerge from the Earth.
Here are a few highlights from the fossil record to add to this nightmare menagerie.
The murder-swan is a reminder that modern-day birds are dinosaurs. They are descendants of small, hollow-boned dinos that ran around on two legs. One such ancient relative is Beibeilong sinensis, a 90-million-year-old dinosaur fetus discovered in China and nicknamed “Baby Louie.” Part of the Oviraptorosaur family of dinosaurs, the fetus would have grown into a birdlike creature that strutted around on stilt-like legs and tore at its food with a toothless beak.
With a short tail displaying a fan of feathers, it probably would look “like some kind of crazy turkey on steroids,” paleontologist Pete Makovicky told The Verge in May. Modern-day turkeys roaming in packs and circling dead cats are alarming enough, but this prehistoric version probably would have grown as large as its giant relative Gigantoraptor, which was 26 feet long and 16 feet tall. That’s one massive turkey.
This 70-million-year-old dinosaur’s smile was scarier than its bite. Based on an eight-inch chunk of its jawbone and a few loose teeth discovered in France, paleontologists estimate that this toothy dinosaur grew to 16 feet long, and had massive, scissor-like chompers that sharpened themselves as the dino chewed. But these pearly whites probably weren’t for meat-eating; instead, researchers suspect that this dinosaur used its giant teeth to shear through fibrous leaves that other dinosaurs turned their noses up at.
Described as a “chicken from hell” by National Geographic’s Christine Dell’Amore, this Oviraptorosaur was discovered in the Hell Creek Formation of North and South Dakota. It had a tall, bony crest on its head and stretched about 11 feet long. Like fellow Oviraptorosaur Baby Louie, it strutted around on two legs and and sported a toothless beak with ridged chewing surfaces. The team of paleontologists who first described A. wyliei, led by Matthew Lamanna at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, don’t know what this hellish chicken ate. But they did find the bones of small creatures and the shells of ancient mollusks next to one of the dinosaur’s skeletons, right where its belly would have been — a hint of what might have been on the menu for this 66-million-year-old feathered dinosaur.
Borealopelta markmitchelli (not Spike)
Accidentally discovered by a Canadian miner in 2011, this 110-million-year-old dinosaur was so well-preserved that it looked like it was sleeping. After 7,000 hours of painstaking conservation, paleontologists revealed that this creature was massive, covered in spikes — and a vegetarian. It stretched 18 feet long and probably weighed about 2,800 pounds. But despite its fearsome appearance, Michael Greshko at National Geographic called it “the rhinoceros of its day, a grumpy herbivore that largely kept to itself.”
With this family tree, is it any wonder that modern-day geese can be so terrifying?