'Really remarkable species': New armoured dinosaur discovered in southern Utah
24 July, 2018, 07:11
Scientists say the species of ankylosaur was a squat plant-eater that roamed southern Utah on four legs about 76 million years ago.
The remains of the ancient animal were discovered in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Kane County of Southern Utah.
At the same time, the eccentric armored dinosaur has been unveiled as a new exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Utah in Salt Lake City and will be housed by the institution's Past Worlds Gallery starting today. While the species was expected to look like other North American Late Cretaceous ankylosaurid dinosaurs, with smooth bony armor on the skull, the researchers' findings indicate that this species' defining features align more closely with Asian ankylosaurids - mainly due to it having more pronounced spikes on the skull. The "johnsoni' honors Randy Johnson, a volunteer at the museum who helped prepare the specimen - the whole painstaking process took nearly four years to complete".
The armoured dinosaurs, known as ankylosaurids, resembled an Asian species with protective spiky armour covering the skull and snout.
"This is a really remarkable species", declared Jelle Wiersma who is a doctoral candidate in geosciences at Australia's James Cook University and a co-author of the study announcing the discovery. Dubbed Akainacephalus johnsoni, the dino is helping reveal the complicated evolutionary history of the club-tailed, bone-plated reptiles.
The fossil, found in 2008, is the "most complete skeleton" of an ankylosaurid dinosaur found in the southwestern US, the statement added.
Skeleton of the new armoured dinosaur as represented by preserved bones.
Nicknamed "thorny head", the Akainacephalus johnsoni belongs to the armored ankylosaur family of dinosaurs, which have been found in southwestern United States.
Johnsoni, which measured between 13 and 16 feet long, added its thorny crown to its already formidable natural defense. This resulted in two distinct lineages in North America of club-tailed ankylosaurs. North American ankylosaurids have flatter armour on their bodies. Now their remains are found in different parts of the Earth. This herbivore would have come into regular contact with its contemporary Tyrannosaurus rex, among other predators.
The lowered sea levels recorded at the time facilitated the dinosaurs' crossing from Asia to North America some 77 million years ago, when ankylosaurs first appeared in the region's fossil record, explains Wiersma.
The area would have been on the southern part of the "lost continent" of Laramidia, an island stretching from Alaska to Mexico before the two parts of North America merged to make one continent. Lower sea levels exposed the Beringian land bridge and allowed dinosaurs and other animals to move between Asia and North America, which led to the presence of two separate groups of ankylosaurid dinosaurs.
"It is extremely fascinating and important for the science of paleontology that we can read so much information from the fossil record, allowing us to better understand extinct organisms and the ecosystems they were a part of", said Wiersma.
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