An exceptionally preserved dinosaur fossil has officially been identified as a new species of dinosaur. Researchers found that even with its armor-like exterior, it may have also used camouflage as a means of evading predators.
Perhaps one of the most stunning finds in recent paleontology is the accidental discovery of exquisitely preserved fossils of an armored dinosaur in an oil sands mine in Alberta, Canada in 2011.
After more than 7,000 hours of hard work at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, the fossil has been identified as a new species of dinosaur now named Borealopelta markmitchelli after Mark Mitchell, the man who painstakingly put in the hours to free the fossil from the surrounding stone.
Apart from its striking features, researchers now find that even with its full armor-like exterior, the Borealopelta markmitchelli may also have used camouflage to evade large predators.
Camouflage In A Megaherbivore
Yes, despite its intimidating structure, this nodosaurid ankylosaur was actually a herbivore that's much larger than many modern terrestrial mammals at 18 feet (5.5 meters) and 2,800 pounds (1,300 kilograms).
In a new study published in the journal Current Biology, researchers found potential hints of the dinosaur's coloration. Pheomelanin found on most of the dinosaur's body and a lack of it on its underbelly suggests that B. markmitchelli may have had a reddish-brown back with a lighter underbelly.
While many animals have this two-tone coloration to regulate body temperature, it's also possible that the coloration is used as a form of camouflage called countershading where the two-toned coloration makes them less visible to predators.
What's surprising about this find is the fact that such a large, armored animal still had to resort to camouflage to avoid predators, suggesting a serious pressure for the B. markmitchelli to avoid the meat-eating predators of the Cretaceous period.
"Strong predation on a massive, heavily-armored dinosaur illustrates just how dangerous the dinosaur predators of the Cretaceous must have been," said Caleb Brown of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, lead author of the study.
Not So Colorful?
Despite this amazing find, other scientists question whether the pigments that suggest the two-tone coloration were indeed a part of the dinosaur's chemistry or if it is simply the remains of bacterial film that grew to cover the remains of the dead dinosaur.
According to Alison Moyer of Drexel University, there are still issues regarding the conclusion about predator-prey relationships with regard to this find. In fact, previous studies have evidently suggested that the chemicals found on the fossil are naturally occurring components of marine sediments.
"There are endless possibilities that aren't considered that would be more parsimonious than jumping to this countershading," said Moyer.
Despite the debate, there is no denying that this fossil find is truly an exceptional one. Fortunately, the fossils are stored in a museum where they can be accessed for future research.