A new armored dinosaur species has been discovered by paleontologists in Utah, and they have been calling it "thorny head" due to the spikes and cones on its head and snout.
The 76-million-year-old armored dinosaur fossil, which once lived on the lost continent of Laramidia, is now on display at the National History Museum of Utah in Salt Lake City.
Meet 'Thorny Head': The Akainacephalus Johnsoni
The new armored dinosaur, an ankylosaurid, was discovered in the Kaiparowits formation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, located in Kane County, southern Utah. It has been named Akainacephalus johnsoni, with its first name meaning "thorny head" and its second name honoring Randy Johnson, a museum volunteer who helped prepare the dinosaur's skull.
In the excavation of the fossil, paleontologists from the University of Utah and the Natural History Museum of Utah were able to retrieve a very well preserved skull of the armored dinosaur, along with bony armor in the form of spiked plates and neck rings, several vertebrae, limb bones, and an almost complete tail with the iconic ankylosaur club still connected to it.
The Akainacephalus johnsoni was 13 feet to 16 feet long and about 3.5 feet tall. Like other ankylosaurids, it was built for defense, which allowed it to survive against predators in the late Cretaceous period such as the Tyrannosaurus rex.
Two Ankylosaurids In North America
Ankylosaurid dinosaurs are herbivores that are known for their body armor and tail clubs, and their fossils have been found in North America before. However, the ankylosaurids associated with North America have smooth bony armor on their skulls, but the Akainacephalus johnsoni had spiky, bony armor on its skull and snout, resembling the Asian ankylosaurids that lived 125 million years ago.
The discovery of Akainacephalus johnsoni led to the conclusion that there were at least two immigration events that happened in the late Cretaceous period.
When sea levels reached some of the highest levels in the history of the Earth, the North American continent was essentially split into two. The west was known as Laramidia, while the east was known as Appalachia. Sea levels lowered briefly in some occasions though, allowing dinosaurs, including Asian ankylosaurids, to traverse the Beringian land bridge to North America.
"It is extremely fascinating and important for the science of paleontology that we can read so much information from the fossil record, allowing us to better understand extinct organisms and the ecosystems they were a part of," said Jelle Wiersma, lead author of the study on Akainacephalus johnsoni.