Check back here daily for the latest oddball stories that just may give you a chuckle or leave you scratching your head.
New dinosaur looks like odd mix of duck, croc, ostrich, swan
WASHINGTON — With a bill like a duck but teeth like a croc's, a swanlike neck and killer claws, a new dinosaur species uncovered by scientists looks like something Dr. Seuss could have dreamed up.
It also had flippers like a penguin, and while it walked like an ostrich it could also swim. That's the first time swimming ability has been shown for a two-legged, meat-eating dinosaur.
The tiny creature, only about 18 inches (45 centimeters) tall, roamed 75 million years ago in what is now Mongolia. Its full curled-up skeleton was found in a sandstone rock.
"It's such a peculiar animal," said Dennis Voeten, a paleontology researcher at Palacky University in the Czech Republic. "It combines different parts we knew from other groups into this one small animal."
In a study released Wednesday by the journal Nature , Voeten and coauthors named it Halszkaraptor escuilliei (HAHL-shka-rap-tor ES-key-lay-ee) or "Halszka" after the late Polish paleontologist Halszka Osmolska.
Paleontologist Kristi Curry Rogers of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, who didn't participate in the study, called it "a pretty crazy chimera: a swan neck and dinosaur body, but with a mouthful of tiny teeth and hands and feet that look like they might be good for swimming."
Its mashup body let it run and hunt on the ground and fish in fresh water, said study co-author Paul Tafforeau. He's a paleontologist at the ESRF , known as the European Synchrotron in Grenoble, France, a powerful X-ray generator where numerous tests were made on the fossil.
Lead author Andrea Cau, a paleontologist at the Geological Museum Capellini in Bologna, Italy, said he was at first highly suspicious about the fossil's authenticity, both because of its appearance and the fact that the rock containing the skeleton had been smuggled out of Mongolia and left in a private collector's hands.
"I asked myself, 'Is this a real, natural skeleton, or an artifact, a chimera? If this is a fake, how could I demonstrate it?'" Cau said in an email. "Assuming it was a fake instead of starting assuming that the fossil is genuine was the most appropriate way to start the investigation of such a bizarre fossil."
So researchers used the Synchrotron to create three-dimensional images of the fossil, which showed the creature was indeed a single animal and not a concoction built up from several sources. For example, an arm hidden in the rock perfectly matched the visible left arm, and lines indicating growth matched up across the bones.
Even though the creature wasn't dreamed up by Dr. Seuss, it got a blessing from a Dr. Sues.
Hans Sues, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian Institution who wasn't part of the research, praised the work and said it "shows again how amazingly diverse dinosaurs were."
Fat squirrel steals pricey goods left out for delivery folks
MAPLEWOOD, N.J. — An obese squirrel was caught on video stealing gourmet chocolate and lip balm that a family leaves outside as a holiday treat for delivery people.
Michele Boudreaux, of Maplewood, New Jersey, said on her blog she provides candy, snacks, tissues, hand warmers and other goodies on her doorstep every year. She's never had any issues before, but this year, her basket was raided within hours of being set outside her home.
The thief seemed to be targeting the priciest stuff, including about 25 squares of Ghirardelli chocolate, she said.
The family set up a surveillance camera to see what was going on and spotted the overweight varmint standing on a step stool, digging through the stash Tuesday.
"I mean, this squirrel is so obese — a jolly ol' chap — he must be prepping for a decade of winters," Boudreaux wrote.
Her husband tried to chase the squirrel to see where it was hoarding all the treats, but it made a clean getaway.
Boudreaux said she stumbled upon the thieving rodent in the act Wednesday, and recorded it taking more chocolate and a Carmex lip balm.
Her family has devised the perfect solution to the problem.
"We now have our chocolate in a jar that requires opposable thumbs," she wrote.
The shenanigans "brought my family so much joy," she said.
She also put a bowl of treats out for the squirrel Thursday, full of walnuts, popcorn and pumpkin seeds. The rotund rodent showed his pickiness yet again.
"He threw all the seeds out on the porch and ate all the other stuff," she said.
Squirrels are seemingly trying to ruin the holiday spirit all over New Jersey this season. Officials in the town of Sea Girt were puzzled last week when wires to the town's Christmas tree and display were found torn. Workers repaired the damage so the tree could be lit on Friday.
Police kept watch over the display and on Saturday posted a photo on Facebook of the culprit — a squirrel.
Police said the naughty rodent was "charged with criminal mischief and released on bail."
Better watch out: Santa makes 'naughty' comment to shopper
BANGOR, Maine — The police in Bangor, Maine, say they've gotten a complaint about a department store "bad Santa" who apparently wasn't working there.
Police posted on Facebook on Thursday that a woman walking around the store with her daughter recently was approached by a man dressed as Santa, who handed out a candy cane.
A short time later, they ran into him again and he said, "Good girls get candy, naughty girls get jewelry."
The woman complained to a store manager, but was told they didn't have a Santa on the payroll or in the store. They looked around and couldn't find him.
Police are advising him to do the right thing: "Put yourself on the naughty list and stop by to speak to us."
Bigfoot sculpture erected where some search for creature
WHITEHALL, N.Y. — A nearly 12-foot-tall sculpture of Bigfoot has been erected in an upstate New York town where some say the legendary creature stalks the woods.
Paul Thompson told The Post-Star of Glens Falls that he got the idea for the statue after meeting people looking for Bigfoot around Whitehall, New York, located on the Vermont border between the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains.
Thompson paid a local artist for an 11-foot-8-inch-high, half-ton steel sculpture that depicts Bigfoot in full stride. He placed the sculpture in front of his business, the Vermont Marble, Granite, Slate & Soapstone Co.
Bigfoot's head is covered with a large red-and-white Santa Claus hat.
Thompson says people driving by have pulled over to get a better look at the towering ape-like figure since its unveiling Saturday.
Information from: The Post-Star, http://www.poststar.com
Maine police: Bouncing roll of duct tape leads to 911 call
BANGOR, Maine — Police in Bangor, Maine, say a reported intruder turned out to be a roll of duct tape.
Officers responded to a call from a woman who heard noises from her basement and reported that her dog was barking aggressively at the noise.
Police said it turns out a "thump-thump-thump" sound the woman heard was a roll of duct tape that fell off a shelf and bounced down the stairs.
Sgt. Tim Cotton wrote on Facebook that the woman had already investigated before the first officer arrived. The officer felt that the woman could've held her own until police arrived because she was "from Maine, had a dog, and a roll of duct tape."
Retired justice 'so disappointed' to be kept off jury
BOSTON (AP) — She was impartial enough to serve as a justice on the highest court in Massachusetts, but apparently that wasn't enough for Geraldine Hines to be named a juror in a murder trial.
The 70-year-old Hines, who retired from the Supreme Judicial Court in August, said she was "so disappointed" when the prosecutor rejected her as a juror Wednesday.
Hines tells The Boston Globe , "I've been waiting my whole life to be a juror in a criminal case."
After questioning from defense attorneys and Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Mark Lee, Lee used one of his challenges to keep Hines off the jury. He apologized outside of court.
The case involves two gang members involved in a gunfight at a festival in Boston in 2014 that took the life of an innocent bystander.
Information from: The Boston Globe, http://www.bostonglobe.com
Postal Service probes glue-like substance found on mailboxes
PATERSON, N.J. — Some residents in a New Jersey city have noticed a glue-like substance on mailboxes is preventing their letters from going down the chute.
The U.S. Postal Service says what's happening in Paterson is often a method used by thieves to try to snatch envelopes containing cash or checks.
Postal inspector Greg Kliemisch tells The Record the agency has launched an investigation. He declined to say how many incidents have been reported in the city.
Information from: The Record (Woodland Park, N.J.), http://www.northjersey.com
Woman claims surgeon talked on cellphone during operation
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — A suburban New York City woman has sued a doctor, claiming he used his cellphone to take a language test while operating on her.
The Journal News reports 70-year-old Mary Edwards, of Port Chester, filed a lawsuit Monday in state Supreme Court against Dr. Eric Fishman and his employer, Westmed Medical Group. The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages.
Fishman performed surgery on Edwards to fix varicose veins twice in 2017. According to the lawsuit, Edwards claims Fishman had a conversation in Spanish on his cellphone during the second outpatient procedure.
Edwards' attorney says his client was terrified for the rest of the operation. Edwards claims Fishman later explained he was taking a Spanish proficiency test during the surgery.
A Westmed spokeswoman said the company doesn't comment on pending litigation.
Information from: The Journal News, http://www.lohud.com
Zippy's back! Town's elf on a shelf has been returned
DEERFIELD, N.H. — A New Hampshire town is happy to report that its beloved elf on a shelf has been returned, more than a day after he vanished.
The Deerfield Rescue Squad posted on Facebook on Wednesday morning that Zippy the elf is a little wet, but safe. It featured photos of him carried by a police officer and parked in a car.
The rescue says "Our Holiday Magic is back."
Deerfield Rescue Squad EMS captain Cindy McHugh says a town resident was getting ready for work when he saw that Zippy was on his doorstep. He called police.
McHugh said the town isn't interested in pursuing the matter further, and just wants Zippy back for the children.
The mannequin in a red onesie, cap, mittens and slippers makes appearances around town.
Judge to decide if raccoons deserve protection from cruelty
PITTSBURGH — A Pennsylvania judge will decide whether raccoons are protected animals or vermin meant to be disposed.
Allegheny County officials say 68-year-old William Killgallon has been charged with felony animal cruelty after Pittsburgh police say he admitted to drowning trapped raccoons in a barrel. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports Killgallon's attorney argued Tuesday that his client should not have been charged in the first place.
He argues raccoon are vermin that are not protected under an animal cruelty law.
Deputy District Attorney Jennifer DiGiovanni disagreed, saying "a raccoon is very different from a cockroach." DiGiovanni contends animals like raccoons should be killed humanely, not drowned in a barrel.
The judge says he will issue a decision if the two sides can't reach an agreement.
Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com
Secret Santa couple pays off $10K in layaway orders in Maine
SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Representatives for a Maine Toys R Us store say a husband and wife stopped in to pay off $10,000 in layaway orders for other families.
WGME-TV reports the couple is local and desired to remain anonymous when making the payment at the South Portland store. Store manager Jay Roes says the money is enough to pay off the balance on about 100 layaway accounts. The gift will help make Christmas more affordable for dozens of families in the area.
The total layaway balance at the store remains around $25,000.
Information from: WGME-TV, http://www.wgme.com
Police: Woman drove with transit sign sticking out of car
SOUTH HACKENSACK, N.J. — Police in New Jersey say a woman was drunk when she continued driving with a mass transit sign sticking out of the roof of her car.
The 52-year-old was pulled over Saturday on Route 46 in South Hackensack when police noticed something odd. Police say the woman had a New Jersey Transit sign protruding through the roof of her car.
Police say the woman didn't even know the sign was there.
South Hackensack police say the sign got stuck in the vehicle when the driver was in Secaucus before she was pulled over.
The woman has been charged with driving while intoxicated and careless driving.
Sharks in Italy get into Christmas spirit with creche
ROME — Christmastime Nativity scenes usually feature donkeys, cows and sheep. That could help explain the interest generated when divers mounted a creche in the shark tank of the aquarium in the Italian Adriatic city of Cattolica.
The sharks who call the Cattolica Aquarium home — a 3-meter (10-foot) -long sand tiger shark named Brigitte and her fellow tank-mates, closely inspected the work this week as divers installed the ceramic tiled Nativity scene on an underwater column. At one point Brigitte got too close and was poked to stay away.
With its 3,000 sea creatures representing 400 species, the Cattolica is the largest aquarium on the Adriatic.
Italy is famous for its "presepe," the hand-crafted Nativity scenes that often take over entire Italian living rooms at Christmastime.
Cops: Woman parks in police chief's spot while smoking pot
NORTHPORT, N.Y. — Authorities say a woman arriving at a Long Island court to answer a marijuana possession summons was smoking pot when she parked her vehicle in the local police chief's spot.
Newsday reports that the 26-year-old woman had been ticketed in May for unlawful possession of marijuana. Police say she was arriving for her court appearance in Northport on Monday night when she cut off an unmarked police car in the parking lot while talking on her cellphone.
Police say she then pulled into the parking spot clearly marked as reserved for the village's police chief, Bill Ricca. He says when the officers asked the woman to roll down her window, pot smoke billowed out.
Police issued the woman another appearance ticket for unlawful possession of marijuana. She was also ticketed for using her cellphone while driving.
Information from: Newsday, http://www.newsday.com
Delta flight makes emergency bathroom stop in Montana
BILLINGS, Mont. — A Delta flight from New York City to Seattle had to make a stop in Billings after the plane's toilets stopped working and passengers couldn't hold it any longer.
The Billings Gazette reports that the direct flight diverted hundreds of miles south on Saturday to make the emergency bathroom stop.
Delta says that upon landing in Billings, the plane had to taxi to a cargo area because a gate was not available. Delta says ground crews rolled a stairway to the airplane so passengers could "disembark to find relief of built-up pressures."
A flight from New York City to Seattle can take about six hours.
Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com
Cow blamed for byproduct spill at Colorado well site
DURANGO, Colo. — A cow is being blamed for a byproduct spill at a Colorado well site.
The spill occurred Nov. 21 at Texas-based XTO Energy's well pad southeast of Durango.
The Herald reports that a company representative did not return calls for comment, but XTO's report to the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission says the spill happened when a cow inadvertently opened a valve.
Christi Zeller, executive director of the Energy Council, says she has never heard of such a thing. She says she looks at almost all the spill reports every year.
The company said about 420 gallons of "produced water" pooled on site.
Produced water refers to the wastewater byproduct of oil and gas production, which can contain high concentrations of hydrocarbons and carry negative environmental impacts.
Information from: Durango Herald, http://www.durangoherald.com
'Big as my head': Hawaii woman seeks record for huge avocado
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii — A Hawaii woman is waiting to hear back from Guinness World Records to find out if the massive avocado she snagged is the world's largest.
Pamela Wang of the Big Island found the 5-pound (2.3-kilogram) avocado Sunday on a walk, the West Hawaii Today newspaper reported .
"I see avocados every day, and I pick up avocados every day, but this one ... it was hard to miss," Wang said. "It was as big as my head."
She met up with friends and showed them the enormous avocado. Wang's friends began making inquiries online, uncovering information that indicated that the avocado might just be the largest on record.
Wang submitted an application to Guinness and expects to hear back within two months. She had Ken Love, executive director of Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers, witness the avocado's weighing. Guinness requires an expert to be present.
"I've seen (avocados) longer and I've seen them fatter, but not both," said Love, who verified the fruit's weight at 5.23 pounds. "I think people have other ones that they don't weigh, but I think this one, it was way up there."
Elizabeth Montoya, assistant public relations manager of Guinness World Records America Inc., wrote that the company doesn't have a category for the largest avocado. It does, however, have one for the heaviest.
Guinness verified in January 2009 an avocado submitted by Gabriel Ramirez Nahim of Caracas, Venezuela, which weighed 4 pounds, 13.2 ounces, Montoya said.
Wang said she found the avocado under a tree that hangs over a street. Anything overhanging or dropped outside a private property line is free for anyone to claim.
Information from: West Hawaii Today, http://www.westhawaiitoday.com
Man accused of illegally catching tuna, dumping it in woods
GLOUCESTER, Mass. — A Massachusetts man has been accused of catching a tuna out of season and then dumping its headless 400-pound carcass in the woods.
The Gloucester Daily Times reports that 40-year-old Harold Wentworth on Monday pleaded not guilty to state charges including improper disposal of waste and expelling trash or litter from a motor vehicle.
Federal fisheries regulators say they have also served him with an enforcement action for allegedly illegally harvesting tuna out of season.
Authorities say they have video of Wentworth landing the bluefin tuna in Rockport on Oct. 20, 15 days after the close of the initial fall season. It was hauled out of the woods in Gloucester by a tow truck on Oct. 24.
Wentworth's attorney did not respond to requests for comment.
Information from: Gloucester (Mass.) Daily Times, http://www.gloucestertimes.com
Police: DUI suspect dances on car, flees on kid's scooter
RENO, Nev. — Police say a Nevada woman was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving after she drove down a highway the wrong way, danced atop her SUV and attempted to flee from officers on a kid's scooter.
Police in the city of Sparks answered a call Saturday for a wrong-way driver and found 27-year-old Sabra Bewley's Jeep Cherokee some 20 yards up a hill off a highway.
Officers said Bewley was acting erratically and dancing on top of the Cherokee before attempting to get away on a kid's scooter.
Police detained Bewley and took her to a hospital before she was booked into the Washoe County jail.
She was arrested on suspicion of possession of a controlled substance, trafficking MDMA, destruction of property and resisting arrest.
Oregon fugitive arrested at Texas university using alias
MEDFORD, Ore. — An Oregon fugitive recently arrested at the University of Texas, Arlington, has a history of using aliases and supplied a fake identity to enroll in a graduate program there, authorities said.
Daniel Charles Ray Hanson, 42, is jailed in Fort Worth, Texas, on a felony charge of tampering with a government document and has previously gone by aliases including Skylar Michael Gregory Joyner, Skylar Michael Dal Porto and Michael Gregory Joyner, the Mail Tribune reported Monday.
It wasn't clear if Hanson had retained an attorney. Authorities didn't return calls from the Mail Tribune.
The newspaper obtained a 28-page report from University of Texas police detailing a monthslong investigation into Hanson's activities and identity that involved fingerprint experts and law enforcement agencies in Oregon, Texas and California. Some of the report was redacted.
During the Texas investigation, authorities realized Hanson was wanted on a 2001 forgery warrant in Oregon over falsifying his birth date so he could enroll in a local high school. He pretended to be a 17-year-old homeless boy when he was already in his 20s and had graduated in 1994.
He was enrolled at the University of Texas, Arlington's School of Social Work under the name Skylar Michael Gregory Joyner. In January, the school's Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services authorized a tuition waiver under the false ID, granting him a tuition waiver that totaled $14,588 for fall 2016 and spring 2017 semesters.
An angry outburst in April led five professors and another student to file more than 30 pages of complaints against him, and school administrators decided to remove him from the doctoral program. As part of that process, administrators asked the university police to perform a background check.
University police gathered Hanson's fingerprint cards from police agencies in Oregon, and Medford police interviewed Hanson's father to confirm his identity.
A warrant for his arrest was issued May 11 by Texas authorities after a trained fingerprint examiner confirmed they matched the others. By then, Hanson had left his apartment.
He was arrested in October in Atlanta, the newspaper said.
Oregon court records show Hanson was convicted of felony arson and misdemeanor reckless endangering in a 1995 case for setting fires and damaging property at a Salem dormitory for the Tokyo International University of America, which is affiliated with Willamette University.
Hanson had a full-ride scholarship to Willamette that year, previous news reports show.
Information from: Mail Tribune, http://www.mailtribune.com/