Five years ago, there wasn’t much one could say about Deinocheirus—but thanks to some amazing new discoveries, we can finally start connecting the dots and exposing the secrets of this enigmatic creature.
1. For Over Four Decades, It Was a Cryptic Mystery Dino.
Our story begins at the height of the Cold War. While exploring Mongolia in 1965, a Soviet team stumbled upon two massive and sinister-looking fossilized arms. At eight feet long each (!), these clearly came from an animal of frightening proportions—a beast which was promptly given the name Deinocheirus, or “terrible hand.”
But, in retrospect, perhaps it should’ve been called “terrible tease,” because the rest of Deinocheirus’ skeleton was missing! For years, those awesome appendages (and their shoulder girdles) were like the tantalizing trailer of a movie that was never released. With bated breath, dino enthusiasts hoped that Deinocheirus’ elusive body would eventually emerge. Finally, decent specimens started popping up in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
2. Deinocheirus is the Largest-Known “Ostrich Dino.”
Ornithomimids, or “ostrich dinosaurs” (as they’re sometimes colloquially called), were a group of bipedal omnivores which roamed North America and Asia during the Cretaceous period (145.5 to 65.5 million years ago). By default, the most famous species is Gallimimus, an animal that regularly zips into Universal Pictures’ Jurassic Park series.
3. It Would have Led a Relatively Slow-Moving Lifestyle.
Gallimimus and other ornithomimids are usually imagined as reptilian speed demons, but the 35-foot-long Deinocheirus utterly dwarfs its kin. To support its plus-sized physique, the dinosaur’s pelvis and hind legs are unusually thick by ornithomimid standards, indicating that Deinocheirus was more adept at lumbering than sprinting.
4. Deinocheirus Had a Fishy Diet.
Though its jaws and beak seem custom-made for handling veggies, plants weren’t Deinocheirus’ only option: some mashed-up fish remains (scales, bones, etc.) were found inside one specimen’s stomach.
5. It Had a Feathery Tuft at the Tip of its Tail.
Here’s a fun word: pygostyle, which, in Greek, means “rump pillar.” These are fused bony clumps on the ends of modern bird tails that are designed to support feathers. Interestingly, Deinocheirus had a small one, which was probably topped in a small, feathery fan.
6. Surprisingly, Deinocheirus Had a Sail on Its Back.
It’s an accessory nobody saw coming! Though sail-backed dinosaurs are nothing new, no other ornithomimid is known to have sported anything even remotely akin to the huge, hump-like ornament that gave Deinocheirus its distinctive profile.
7. Its Forelimbs Belonged to a Class of Their Own.
Danny Cicchetti, Wikimedia Commons
8. Perhaps Deinocheirus Waded for Food Like an Oversized Waterfowl.
Did this off-beat dino frequent waterways? It’s been hypothesized that Deinocheirus’ wide, blunt toe claws would have helped prevent its feet from sinking into muddy riverbanks and, accordingly, the animal might have collected aquatic weeds and unlucky fish from the water’s edge.
9. Apparently, a Few Specimens Became Tyrannosaur Chow.
Bite marks (presumably) belonging to Tarbosaurus bataar—a carnivore so similar to T. rex that some believe it should be reclassified as a species of Tyrannosaurus—are clearly visible on a few Deinocheirus bone fragments.
10. Some Priceless Deinocheirus Material Was Poached and Nearly Lost.
When Canadian paleontologist Phil Currie came upon an incredibly rare Deinocheirus specimen in 2009, he soon realized that somebody else had gotten to it first. The site was in shambles, with trampled fossils strewn about haphazardly and even a bit of money tucked away beneath a nearby stone. Sadly AWOL were—among other things—this Deinocheirus’ skull and feet. However, word of Currie’s find soon got out, and before long, the scientist was contacted by a European collector who’d acquired some very intriguing fossils that, lo and behold, turned out to be the missing pieces in question.