Featured News New insights unearthed with newly-discovered armoured dinosaur

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Fri, 20 Jul 2018

New insights unearthed with newly-discovered armoured dinosaur

Dinosaur
The Akainacephalus dinosaur. Image: Andrey Atuchin and Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

A James Cook University scientist has helped discover the first complete skeleton of a new species of dinosaur – a 76 million-year-old five-metre long beast with spiked armour and a bony, club-like tail.

Jelle Wiersma is a PhD candidate at JCU and lead author of the paper in the journal PeerJ describing and naming the newly-discovered dinosaur. He said it’s an exciting moment in his career.

“It’s always exciting to name a new fossil, but it’s equally exciting if the fossils also provide additional insights into the bigger picture of its life, such as its diet or aspects of its behaviour or the environment it lived in, and that’s the case here,” he said.

Ankylosaurids are a group of four-legged, herbivorous, armoured dinosaurs with imposing, bony tail clubs (see images, below). The fossils of a new genus and species of an ankylosaurid dinosaur —Akainacephalus johnsoni —were unearthed from the Kaiparowits Formation, a geologic rock formation of Late Cretaceous age in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, southern Utah, USA.

The scientists said the discovery reveals new details about the diversity and evolution of the group of dinosaurs. The dinosaur was expected to look like other ankylosaurid dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous Period of North America and having smooth bony armour on the skull. But the new research suggests just the opposite and that the defining features of Akainacephalus - specifically the spiky, bony armour covering the skull and snout - align more closely with Asian ankylosaurids.

Mr Wiersma said the geographic distribution of Late Cretaceous ankylosaurids throughout the Western Interior was the result of several geologically brief intervals of lowered sea levels that allowed Asian ankylosaurid dinosaurs to immigrate to North America, resulting in the presence of two separate groups of ankylosaurid dinosaurs.

Akainacephalus was announced today in the open access scientific journal PeerJ and unveiled as an exhibit in the Past Worlds Gallery of the Natural History Museum of Utah at the Rio Tinto Centre in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The genus name is derived from the Greek words akaina, which means ‘thorn’ or ‘spike’, and cephalus, meaning ‘head.’  The species epithet johnsoni honours Randy Johnson, a dedicated museum volunteer who skilfully prepared its skull.

Images, videos, background  here.

Please credit as marked - Note re image credits for illustration of the intact dinosaur - Andrey Atuchin and Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

The head shot of the ankylosaur (with the black background) is only credited to Andrey Atuchin.

Contacts

Jelle Wiersma
E: jelle.wiersma@my.jcu.edu.au

Patti Carpenter
Director of Public Relations, University of Utah, USA.
P: 801-585-6369
E:pcarpenter@nhmu.utah.edu

Randall Irmis
Paleontology Curator - Natural History Museum of Utah
P: 801 585 0561
E: irmis@nhmu.utah.edu