WASHINGTON – Nearly 50 years ago, scientists
found bones of two large, powerful dinosaur arms in
Mongolia and figured they had discovered a
fearsome critter with killer claws.
Now scientists have found the rest of the dinosaur
and have new descriptions for it: goofy and weird.
The beast probably lumbered along on two legs like
a cross between TV dinosaur Barney and Jar Jar
Binks of Star Wars fame. 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 — and try not to snicker.
And if that’s not enough, it ate like a giant vacuum
That’s Deinocheirus mirificus (DY’-noh’-KY-ruhs
mur-IHF’-ee-kuhs), which means “terrible hands
that look peculiar.” It is newly reimagined after a full
skeleton was found in Mongolia and described in a
paper released Wednesday by the journal Nature.
Some 70 million years old, it’s an ancestral relative
of the modern ostrich and belongs to the dinosaur
family often called ostrich dinosaurs.
“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.
When scientists in 1965 found the first forearm
bones — nearly 8 feet long — many of them
envisioned “a creature that would strike terror in
people,” said University of Maryland dinosaur
expert Thomas Holtz Jr, who wasn’t part of the
study. “Now it’s a creature that would strike
And yes, he said, “it’s pretty goofy.”
The find is tremendous but is a cautionary tale
about jumping to conclusions without enough
evidence, said University of Chicago dinosaur
expert Paul Sereno, who wasn’t part of the
It also reminds us that evolution isn’t always what
we think, Sereno said.
“This is evolution in a dinosaur — not a mammal —
world,” Sereno said in email. “The starting point is a
two-legged animal looking somewhat like a fuzzy-
feathered ostrich. Now you want to get really big
and suck up lots of soft vegetation. In the end you
look like a goofy Michelin ostrich with fuzz and a
tail — not a cow.”
Lee figures the tilted wide hips and massive feet
show that Deinocheirus was a slow mover and
probably grew so big to escape from being regularly
feasted on by bigger dinosaurs.
It had a beak that could eat plants, but it also had a
massive tongue that created suction for vacuuming
up food from the bottoms of streams, lakes and
ponds, Lee wrote.
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.
Some kids will soon adopt this dinosaur as their
favorite, Holtz said, “and those are kids with a
sense of humor.”