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Armored dinosaurs called ankylosaurs may have used sledgehammer-like tail sticks against each other in conflict, as well as fending off predators like Tyrannosaurus rex.
The well-preserved fossil of an ankylosaur, a plant-eating dinosaur that lived 76 million years ago, is changing the way scientists understand armored dinosaurs and how they used their tail clubs.
Examination of the fossil revealed spikes on the sides of the dinosaur that smashed and healed while the animal was still alive. The researchers believe the injuries were caused by another Ankylosaurus colliding with the Tyrannosaurus tail club.
The study was published Tuesday in the journal Biology Letters.
Ankylosaurus wore bony plates of different sizes and shapes across its body. Along the sides of its body, these plates acted as large spikes. Scientists also believe that ankylosaurs could use their weapon-like tails to assert social dominance, establish their territory or even while fighting for mates.
Ankylosaurs used their tails to fight against each other similar to how animals like deer and antelope use their antlers and antlers to fight each other today.
The fossil is of a member of a certain species of ankylosaur known by its taxonomic name, Zuul cruivastator. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because researchers borrowed Zul’s name from a monster in the 1984 movie “Ghostbusters.”
The dinosaur’s full name means “Zul, destroyer of legs,” given that Ankylosaurus’ tail-stick is believed to have been the enemy of tyrannosaurs and other predators that walked upright on its hind legs.
These tails are up to 10 feet (3 m) long, with rows of sharp spikes on either side. The tip of the tail was fortified with bony skeletons, creating a club that could swing with the force of a sledgehammer.
The skull and tail were the first pieces of the fossil to turn up in 2017 from a dig site in northern Montana’s Judith River Formation, and paleontologists have worked for years to unearth the rest of the fossil from 35,000 pounds of sandstone. The fossil is so well preserved that remnants of the skin and bony armor on the back and sides of the dinosaur still remain, giving it a lifelike appearance.
This particular Ankylosaurus appears to have been considerably flabby by the end of its life, with the ridges near the hips and sides missing. After suffering these injuries, the bones heal in a more severe form.
Due to the location of the carcass, the researchers do not believe the injuries were caused by a predator attack. Instead, the pattern appears to be the result of receiving a heavy blow from the tail club of another Ankylosaurus.
“I’ve been interested in how ankylosaurs used their tail clubs for years, and this is a really exciting new piece of the puzzle,” said lead study author Dr Victoria Arbor, Curator of Paleontology at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, Canada. , in the current situation.
“We know that ankylosaurs could use their tail sticks to deliver very powerful blows to the opponent, but most people thought they used their tail sticks to fight off predators. Alternatively, ankylosaurs like Zul may have fought each other.”
Arbour proposed the hypothesis that ankylosaurs may have engaged in their behavior years ago, but fossil evidence of injuries was needed—and ankylosaur fossils are scarce.
The exceptional Zuul crurivastator fossil helped fill in that knowledge gap.
“The fact that the skin and armor are preserved in place is like a quick snapshot of how Zulu looked when it was alive. As it stands, study co-author Dr David Evans, Temerty Chair and Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, said.
The fossil of Zuol is now preserved in the Vertebrate Fossil Collection at the Royal Ontario Museum.
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