A Ph.D. student who discovered a new species of dinosaur several years ago has officially published his findings and given the creature a name.
Kyle Atkins-Weltman, who is studying anatomy and vertebrate paleontology at Oklahoma State University, was examining a set of dinosaur fossils identified as Anzu wyliei for a school project when he noticed the bones seemed unusually small for the species. He told The Washington Post that he then sent the bones to Holly Woodward, a professor of anatomy and paleontology at OSU, who examined them and reported they did not belong to any known species of dinosaur.
“It took me at least maybe two or three days to really wrap my head around that because it was just so serendipitous,” Atkins-Weltman told The Washington Post. “It started out not with a ‘Eureka,’ but with a ‘Hmm, that’s odd.’”
Atkins-Weltman named this new species Eoneophron infernalis, meaning “Pharaoh’s dawn chicken from hell,” according to the research paper announcing the finding, which was published last week in collaboration with Woodward and others.
E. infernalis’ bones were originally labeled as belonging to Anzu wyliei, a dinosaur nicknamed the “chicken from hell,” and were found in the Hell Creek Formation, which covers parts of Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota. The bones were very similar to other Anzu specimen found in the formation, but Atkins-Weltman noticed several differences.
Most notably, E. infernalis was much shorter and lighter, likely standing at just around 3 feet tall and weighing 160 pounds, The Washington Post reports. There may have been other differences between the species, but the Eoneophron skeleton is incomplete — only a partial right hind leg was found.
Like Anzu, E. infernalis was an oviraptorosaur, meaning both had feathery bodies, short tails and toothless beaks with bony crests. Oviraptorosaurs are distant relatives of other theropod dinosaurs like the T-rex and Utahraptor.
According to the published findings, the discovery expands paleontologists’ understanding of the diversity of oviraptorosaurs prior to the mass extinction of dinosaurs in the late Cretaceous period.
The past year has seen a number of new findings in paleontology, and some were similar to Atkins-Weltman’s. Another student helped discover a species of tyrannosaur in February 2023, Montana State University reported, and a different beaked dinosaur was discovered in Utah in June, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Utah is an especially productive place for the field of paleontology. The Natural History Museum of Utah says that’s thanks to the state’s dry weather and exposed rock, which have preserved many fossils and made them easier to discover.
Atkins-Weltman told The Washington Post he’s loved dinosaurs and reptiles as long as he can remember — as a child, looking at pictures of them would even stop his crying — and he looks forward to continued research in the field.
“This is what I want to do with the rest of my life,” he told News On 6.