This dinosaur found in Chile had a battle ax for a tail

It’s not everyday that you find a dinosaur that defended itself against predators with a very unique weapon. In a published study Wedne...

It’s not everyday that you find a dinosaur that defended itself against predators with a very unique weapon.

In a published study Wednesday nature, Chilean researchers have announced the discovery of a new species of ankylosaurus, a family of dinosaurs known for their heavy armor, native to subantarctic Chile. The animal, which they named Stegouros elengassen, offers new clues to the origin of these tank-like dinosaurs – and features a bizarre club-shaped bony tail that was wielded by Aztec warriors.

“It lacks most of the traits we would expect from an ankylosaurus and has a completely different tail weapon which shows that something very idiosyncratic is going on here in South America,” said Alexander Vargas, professor at the University of Chile and co-author. on the study.

A diverse collection of ankylosaurs once roamed Laurasia, the northern supercontinent that once contained North America and Asia in large numbers. Even in a group of animals renowned for their inventive approach to defense, the ankylosaur family stands out. Separating from their closest relatives, the Stegosaurs, in the mid-Jurassic, the ankylosaurs developed skins covered with bone deposits called osteoderms, which formed armor lattices that shatter teeth. The most famous ankylosaur species evolved tail clubs that break shins like the masses of ancient warriors.

But their relatives on the southern continent of Gondwana – now South America and Antarctica – are less well studied, Dr Vargas said. As these are believed to include the early members of the group, the origins and early development of the family have been a lingering mystery.

In February 2018, a team of paleontologists from the University of Texas stumbled upon a set of bones in the icy, wind-blown valley of Río Las Chinas, at the southern tip of Chile. Despite its off-putting nature, the site is a beacon for paleontologists: Dr Vargas has spent the last decade there working with researchers including Marcelo Leppe of the Chilean Antarctic Institute, dating rocks and searching for fossil hotspots.

There were only five days left in the field season when paleontologists in Texas alerted Dr Vargas and Dr Leppe to the discovery. Working at night in very cold conditions, they carried the block of fossils downhill to the campsite. One person sprained his ankle and another broke his rib. A lot of people have come close to hypothermia.

But what came out of the block was worth it. The preparation revealed an unusually complete ankylosaur: 80% of a skeleton, including a largely articulated rear half, as well as vertebrae, shoulders, forelimbs and pieces of the skull.

In life, Stegouros would have been around six feet long, with a proportionately large head, slender limbs, and an odd short tail, terminated in seven pairs of flattened bony osteoderms that form a single structure.

This tail gun – which Dr. Vargas likened to a macuahuitl, the obsidian-studded bladed mace of Mesoamerican warriors – seems to have evolved independently from other ankylosaurs. The earliest northern ankylosaurs did not have tail clubs, and more recent ones developed them through the evolution of stiffened vertebrae, forming the “handle” of the blunt tail club.

But Stegouros’ tail club is stiffened by osteoderms merging on the vertebrae, forming the distinctive wedge shape. The fused osteoderms may have been covered with sharp sheaths of keratin, the material that covers the horns and claws, said James Kirkland, a state paleontologist with the Utah Geological Survey who was not involved in the study. A tail stroke would have been like “being hit in the shins by a hatchet,” he said.

Victoria Arbor, curator of paleontology at the Royal British Columbia Museum of Canada, said the tail looked like those from Giant extinct armadillos called glyptodonts. “This is another interesting example of the evolution of bony tail weapons, which have evolved only a few times but appear to have evolved many times in ankylosaurs,” she said.

Analyzing anatomical data, Dr Vargas and his colleagues concluded that Stegouros was closely related to southern ankylosaurs found in Antarctica and Australia.

After the final separation of Laurasia and Gondwana in the late Jurassic, said Dr Vargas, the two northern and southern ankylosaurs followed different evolutionary trajectories, suggesting the possibility that an entire lineage of weird ankylosaurs from Gondwana waiting to be discovered.

Dr Kirkland agrees that Stegouros is closely related to the Antarctic Antarctopelta and suggests that it could even be the same animal. But it’s possible that Gondwana was home to several lineages of ankylosaurs, some more closely related to Norse animals. “It’s not often that a new ‘family’ of dinosaurs is discovered,” said Dr Kirkland. “The record for armored dinosaurs in the southern hemisphere has been pretty poor and this beast hints at what we’ve been missing.”

Stegouros also represents a breakthrough for Chilean paleontology, said Dr Vargas. Paleontologists discuss and debate how to make their field less dependent on North American and European institutions. The article, edited by Chilean paleontologists and published in Nature, a leading journal, was funded by Chilean grants rather than outside institutions.

“It’s very rare for Chilean science,” said Dr Vargas. ” And that’s just the beginning. In terms of academic achievement, Chile’s fossil record is extremely important. “

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Newsrust - US Top News: This dinosaur found in Chile had a battle ax for a tail
This dinosaur found in Chile had a battle ax for a tail
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