OSU Student Names New Dino Species - 405 Magazine

OSU Student Names New Dino Species

Kyle Atkins-Weltman unearths the ancient "Chicken From Hell".

A depiction of the dino species discovered by Kyle Atkins-Weltman nicknamed the "Chicken From Hell".

A depiction of the dino species discovered by Kyle Atkins-Weltman nicknamed the "Chicken From Hell".

Kyle Atkins-Weltman, a student at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, has achieved a rare accomplishment, as he joins the select group of individuals who have had the honor of naming a new dinosaur.

“Some have said that this was a school project,” Kyle Atkins-Weltman said. “However, this was for my master’s thesis. It was all very serendipitous, but it resulted in a great piece of work.”

Currently pursuing a Ph.D. in anatomy and vertebrate paleontology at Oklahoma State University, he collaborated in 2014 on a study involving a collection of foot and leg bone fossils. They were initially believed to belong to a juvenile Anzu wyliei, dubbed the “chicken from hell,” until histology examinations revealed that the specimens were not juvenile Anzu, but a distinct species within the caenagnathid dinosaur family.

Atkins-Weltman named the discovery Eoneophron infernalis, which translates to “Pharaoh’s dawn chicken from hell,” and pays homage to his cherished pet Pharaoh, a Nile monitor lizard. Eoneophron, estimated to weigh between 150 to 160 pounds and measure about 3 feet tall at the hip, possessed bird-like characteristics, sporting a toothless beak, a relatively abbreviated tail and unmistakable feathered features. Kyle Atkins-Weltman’s work was published in 2021 in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE.

“[The team] realized his thing was a new species,” Atkins-Weltman said. “But the international code of zoological nomenclature prohibits the naming of a new species in a publication like a master’s thesis. So, we took information out of a chapter of the master’s thesis and made it into a professional publication, added more detail and put a name to this thing.”

While Atkins-Weltman had performed numerous digs in the area known as “Hell Creek,” the bones acquired for the discovery were acquired commercially from an area in Mead Country, South Dakota. 

“We didn’t realize it was a new species until Dr. Ballard did the histology,” Atkins-Weltman said.

Dr. Holly Woodward Ballard’s expertise in paleohistology proved invaluable. Through meticulous paleohistological analysis, the team conclusively identified the fossils as belonging to a mature specimen of a previously unidentified caenagnathid dinosaur.

Atkins-Weltman’s aspirations for his doctoral work are actually different from his master’s work that led to this new discovery. “What I wanted to do for my doctorate was too ambitious for my master’s,” Atkins-Weltman said. “I’m really interested in biomechanics and paleoecology, specifically at the end of the Cretaceous. [This new discovery] was something that needed to be done, and I was there to do it. So I did it, and I’m very glad that I did, but I don’t think much of that will be like most of my work in the future.”

Surprisingly, discoveries of new species are not few and far between. “We’re discovering new dinosaurs all the time,” Atkins-Weltman said. “There’s usually a new species named every couple of weeks. But with formations like Hill Creek, which has been excavated since the days of Barton Brown in the late 19th century, the number of new species you see starts to drop off rapidly because people have been exploring there for over 100 years.”

As Atkins-Weltman embarks on his doctoral studies and aspirations in biomechanics and paleoecology, his contribution to the field serves as a testament to the enduring pursuit of knowledge and the possibilities that lie ahead in scientific exploration. With his commitment to further exploration and discovery, he exemplifies the spirit of inquiry that drives the scientific community forward, promising continued advancements and revelations in paleontology and beyond.

“New stuff is being discovered all the time,” Kyle Atkins-Weltman said. “We’re always learning more — not just about dinosaurs, but also prehistoric life and evolution. My biggest hope is that this will inspire potential and future researchers.”

Interested in more about the work students are up to at Oklahoma State University? Check out this story about OSU students exploring the future of fashion couture.