This Late Cretaceous armored dinosaur is known from an amazingly preserved specimen that shows fossilized skin tissue.
A 75-million-year-old species of armored ankylosaurid dinosaur was named in May 2017. The new species, Zuul crurivastator, was discovered in the Judith River Formation of Montana, USA and described by paleontologists Victoria Arbour and David Evans.
Ankylosaurids were armored from stem to stern, fat-bellied quadrupeds typically covered in cobble-shaped bones embedded in the skin, as well as spikes. Ankylosaurids have broad smiles and horns behind the ears, a look that reminded the authors of Zuul, the demigod villain from Ghostbusters. At the end of the tail, ankylosaurids have a swollen bony club. This club is usually regarded as a weapon, and the species name, crurivastator, translates to “shin destroyer.”
Ankylosaurids were low browsing herbivores that mostly lived in North America and Asia during the Late Cretaceous. They lived in a variety of environments from lush temperate forests to oases. Tyrannosaurs and other large predatory dinosaurs preyed on these animals and they relied on their armor, rather than speed, to protect them. Detailed analysis of the tails show that they could have been swung with great force acting like a sledge hammer and offering further defense against predation.
Skull of Zuul. Brian Boyle / Royal Ontario Museum
Artist’s reconstruction of Zuul crurivastator. Fabrizio De Rossi
Artist’s rendition of Zuul’s head. Danielle Dufault / Royal Ontario MuseumThe only known specimen of Zuul is almost completely preserved, and one of the best ankylosaur specimens ever found. The preservation of the specimen is exquisite, even preserving skin tissue. The tail is especially noteworthy, as small pebbly scales cover the tail club, and the nearby spikes preserve the keratin sheath that covered them in life. The whole animal would measure about 6 meters (20 feet) long with the highest point on its back just under 1.5 meters (4.5 feet) high. Zuul is differentiated from other ankylosaurids by details of the armor.
In addition to tyrannosaurs, Zuul lived alongside feathered “raptor” dinosaurs, ostrich mimics, horned dinosaurs, and duckbills. They lived in a temperate forested environment with numerous rivers and swamps, resembling the modern coastal plains of Georgia and the Carolinas in the USA. Zuul is most closely related to Dyoplosaurus and Scolosaurus, both from Alberta.
Although the Late Cretaceous rocks of Montana have been scientifically explored for more than a century, the discovery of Zuul shows that new species are still being discovered and reaffirms that Montana has some of the most productive dinosaur localities in the world.
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