Spiky-headed dinosaur with menacing tail ate only plants

History Museum of Utah shows the heavily ornamented skull of an ankylosaur a squat plant-eater that was covered in bony armor from its spiky head to its clubbed tail before its unveiling at the museum in Salt Lake Cit

History Museum of Utah shows the heavily ornamented skull of an ankylosaur a squat plant-eater that was covered in bony armor from its spiky head to its clubbed tail before its unveiling at the museum in Salt Lake Cit

Casts of the Akainacephalus johnsoni fossil are now on public display at the Natural History of Museum of Utah in Salt Lake City. The species name of the dinosaur honors museum volunteer Randy Johnson, who prepared the skull.

A study about the find was published in the journal PeerJ on Thursday in conjunction with the announcement of the exhibit.

Although parts of the roughly 16-foot-long (4.8 meters), spiky-headed dinosaur are missing, the scientists did manage to uncover a complete skull, pieces of bony armor, vertebrae and limb bones, as well as an nearly perfectly preserved tail and tail club.

This discovery shows that ankylosaurids were more diverse in their physical characteristics than palaeontologists thought.

Johnsoni, which measured between 13 and 16 feet long, added its thorny crown to its already formidable natural defense. It is the most complete skeleton of this type of armored dinosaur ever found in the southwestern United States. It was a four-legged, armor-studded plant-eater with a menacing club at the end of its tail. But this well-preserved fossil revealed a surprising detail. It wasn't until about 77 million years ago that they started showing up in North America, according to the fossil record. This one had pronounced spiky, bony armor covering the skull and snout, closely related to Asian ankylosaurids that lived 125 million years ago.

But even though these two beasts were both found in the U.S. Southwest, they appear to be more closely related to Asian ankylosaurs, including Saichania and Tarchia, than to other North American ankylosaurs, such as Ankylosaurus and Euoplocephalus - ankylosaurs that have flat skull armor, the researchers said.

History Museum of Utah shows field crew members excavating the tail club of an ankylosaur a squat plant-eater that was covered in bony armor from its spiky head to its clubbed tail in the Grand Staircase Escalante Nation

Wiersma said that the Akainacephalus likely crossed the Beringian land bridge that connected Asia with North America when sea levels were low enough to expose the crossing. Eventually, the sea shrank and the two parts combined to form what is now known as North America. The western and eastern portions of the continent were isolated.

The catch? It lived on the lost continent known as Laramidia.

Akainacephalus would have roamed the southern part of Laramidia, which once stretched from the Arctic Circle to the Gulf of Mexico.

Paleontologists believe the animals migrated to North America several times over the eons when lowered sea levels allowed them to cross a land bridge. This also accounts for the the Asian ankylosaurid dinosaurs moving into North America. The spot where the fossil was found remains within the monument's boundaries, though areas that are now outside the boundaries also have fossil potential, Irmis said.

The new armored dinosaur, an ankylosaurid, was discovered in the Kaiparowits formation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, located in Kane County, southern Utah.

Besides the revelation of a new dinosaur, there's more in store he said. "A major long-term goal of our work in southern Utah is to try and understand why the species in GSENM differ from relatives of the same geologic age found in other parts of Laramidia".

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