Covered with his head and his snout with bone armor in the shape of cones and pyramids, a spiky, tank-like dinosaur found in southern Utah was not just another pretty face.
Scientists announced on Thursday the discovery of fossils of a dinosaur named Akainacephalus johnsoni (pronounced uh-KEE-nuh-SEFF-uh-). JON-son-eye), which lived 76 million years ago in the Cretaceous. It was a four-legged, armor-studded herbivore with a menacing club at the end of its tail.
It was a member of a dinosaur group called Ankylosaurs (Ang-KILE-uh-SAWRS), among the most heavily armored animals ever on Earth – and for good reason, considering the robbers living at that time.
The unique shape and arrangement of its head and muzzle armor could be its most interesting feature, the researchers hinted at the Asian descent of some of the Ankylosaurs grazing in western North America toward the end of the dinosaur era.
"Someone once said that Akainacephalus and Ankylosaurians were generally quite ugly and had a face that only a mother could love – I have to say that I wholeheartedly disagree with them – they are quite extraordinary and beautiful animals," said the paleontologist Jelle Wiersma from James Cook University in Australia.
Akainacephalus was a medium sized Ankylosaur, about 16 feet long, with a short, boxy head covered with bone armor and a beak, small teeth for planting, said paleontologist Randall Irmis of the Natural History Museum of Utah and the University of Utah.
It had a short neck and a wide torso, walked on four short, sturdy legs and perhaps had predators beaten with its bony tail-beater. It lived in a warm, humid environment, similar to the Bayous in southern Louisiana, with slow-flowing streams and rivers and associated marshes.
The extensive skeletal remains, including a full skull, were unearthed in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument] Akainacephalus, as well as a cousin named Nodocephalosaurus (NOH-do-SEF-a-lo-SOR-us), who lived a few million years ago New Mexico lived and had prickly headgear similar to the Asian members of this dinosaur group. Other related North American dinosaurs, such as Ankylosaurus, had relatively flat armor that covered their heads.
This indicates that Akainacephalus and Nodocephalosaurus were close relatives of Asian ankylosaurs and that several emigration events from this group occurred from Asia to North America late in the Cretaceous, the researchers said. This resulted in two different lines in North America of club-tailed Ankylosaurians.