In what sounds like a bizarre mishmash of Spielberg movies with a little Disney cartoon and classic Western thrown in, paleontologists digging in the Montana badlands have discovered a scary new feathered dinosaur with a pirate’s hook for a claw. Toss in the fact that the fossils were found in Hell Creek and you’ve got the makings of one convoluted nightmare. Which studio will jump on this one first?
“The alvarezsaurids were a very strange group of small theropod dinosaurs, characterized by a seemingly bizarre set of features including very long legs, a long snout filled with tiny teeth, a body covered in sleek primitive feathers, and their most famous feature: a huge thumb claw at the end of extremely short but powerful arms.”
The Dickinson Museum Center in Dickinson, North Dakota, announced the findings of Dr. Denver Fowler, curator of the center’s Badlands Dinosaur Museum, which are published in the journal Cretaceous Research) . On a dig in the Hell Creek Formation – a treasure trove of dinosaur fossils -- near Jordan, Montana, Fowler and his team discovered a new species of Alvarezsauridae, a family of small, long-legged therapods once thought to be the earliest known flightless birds. They were set apart from other therapods by the thumb claws on their upper limbs. That distinctive feature is what told Fowler than he had discovered a new species in the family -- three of the hand claws found in Hell’s Creek showed the growth from juvenile to adult and all had a more curved hook than ever seen before. How curved were the claws of the Trierarchuncus prairiensis?
“Trierarchuncus refers to the 'trierarch', a seafaring ship's captain (Greek), and 'uncus' meaning hook (Latin), which combined form “Captain Hook” in reference to the hook-handed pirate from Peter Pan. The species name prairiensis means 'of the prairie', referring to the gentle plains of eastern Montana (in particular the American Prairie Reserve) where the new material was discovered. The combination therefore means “Captain Hook of the Prairie”.”
While the hook fossils are stored at multiple museums, the Dickinson Museum Center is home to an incredible model of the Trierarchuncus prairiensis by Boban Filipović, a paleontologist and artist from Serbia.
If there’s one, there are sure to be more of these 66 million-year-old Captain Hook dinosaurs in the Hell’s Creek Formation. The real question is, how soon will these pirates of the Jurassic badlands appear in their own movie? Can Chris Pratt get past the hooks to whisper in their ears? Do they even have ears?