Some incredible dinosaur fossils have turned up recently, like a bog-pickled brain and a feathered tail. Now, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) has unveiled a new species of ankylosaur, based on an almost complete skeleton and some preserved soft tissue that doesn't normally fossilize. Meet Zuul crurivastator, "Destroyer of Shins."
Before we get to the specifics, that name needs some explaining. Pop culture geeks will probably recognize "Zuul" as the name of the Terror Dog from the 1984 film Ghostbusters, and that's no coincidence. According to the scientists, the head of the dinosaur looks a lot like the movie monster, since "both have a broad, rounded snout, gnarly forehead, and two sets of horns behind the eyes."
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The second part of the name translates to "Destroyer of Shins", since the heavy club on the end of its tail was probably used to fend off any predators unwise enough to try to make a meal of the creature. But no matter how hardy they may have been in life, the animals don't hold up so well against the punishment of time, and ankylosaur fossils – let alone ones as complete as Zuul – are pretty rare finds.
That makes the specimen quite special for a few reasons. Not only is it one of the most complete skeletons ever found of this type of dinosaur, it's also the first time the skull and the club on the tail have been found as part of the same skeleton. That completeness is made even more impressive thanks to the full suit of armor the skeleton is wearing, which, since it's actually part of the skin, tends to fall off as the animal decomposes.
Other soft tissues have also been unusually well-preserved, including sections of skin and horn tips with evidence of the keratin protein that makes up human fingernails. The researchers expect that more skin samples will turn up, after the belly and hips of the skeleton are carefully dug out of a 15-tonne block of stone, which could take a few more years. For now, the creature is described mostly from the skull and tail.
Zuul was dug out of the Judith River Formation in Montana, and it dates back about 75 million years. The skull and tail will be on display soon at the Royal Ontario Museum, while the researchers plan to keep looking for more skin impressions and use molecular palaeontology techniques to study the soft tissues.
The new species was described in a research paper published in Royal Society Open Source. The skeleton can be seen in the video below.
Source: Royal Ontario Museum