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Columbia Pictures // Ghostbusters Wikia

Newly Discovered Dinosaur Named After Monster From 'Ghostbusters'

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Columbia Pictures // Ghostbusters Wikia

The last time a newly discovered species of club-tailed dinosaur wandered the Earth was 75 million years ago. But when researchers at Canada’s Royal Ontario Museum saw the fossil, their minds went to 1980s science fiction. As the Los Angeles Times reports, Zuul crurivastator is named after the ferocious demigod from Ghostbusters (1984).

Z. crurivastator shares a few characteristics with the movie villain, as the researchers lay out in their new study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science. It has four legs, a snub nose, and horns that flare from its crown and face. The second half of its name means "destroyer of shins," a nod to the bony weapon it carried on the end of its tail. Z. crurivastator has this characteristic in common with the rest of the Ankylosaurus genus.

Unlike Zuul, this dinosaur didn’t hang out inside refrigerators and on top of skyscrapers. The 5500-pound herbivore spent its days grazing the landscape and clubbing predators in what is today the badlands of northern Montana. A fossil-hunting company came across its remains while excavating another dinosaur in 2014. After hitting its tail with a bulldozer, they dug further and discovered an intact skull. The specimen is the most complete North American Ankylosaurus fossil on record.

After the bones were turned over to the Royal Ontario Museum, scientists made another exciting discovery: Portions of the soft tissue had been preserved for millions of years, possibly due to the sediment that surrounded it. Paleontologists plan to test the scales and sheath around its spiky armor for molecular traces of keratin. The analysis could lead to revelations about the color and makeup of dinosaur skin.

[h/t Los Angeles Times]

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The T. Rex Fossil That Caused a Scientific Controversy
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iStock

In the early 2000s, a team of paleontologists inadvertently set the stage for a years-long scientific saga after they excavated a well-preserved partial Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton from Montana's Hell Creek formation. While transporting the bones, the scientists were forced to break a femur. Pieces from inside the thigh bone fell out, and these fragments were sent to Mary Schweitzer, a paleontologist at North Carolina State University, for dissection and analysis.

Under a microscope, Schweitzer thought she could make out what appeared to be cells and tiny blood vessels inside the pieces, similar to those commonly discovered inside fresh bone. Further analysis revealed what appeared to be animal proteins, which sent Schweitzer reeling. Could she have just discovered soft tissue inside dinosaur leg bone many millions of years old, found in ancient sediments laid down during the Cretaceous period? Or was the soft stuff simply a substance known as biofilm, which would have been formed by microbes after the bone had already fossilized?

Following a seemingly endless series of debates, studies, and papers, Schweitzer's hunch was proven correct. That said, this contentious conclusion wasn't made overnight. To hear the whole saga—and learn what it means for science—watch the recent episode of Stated Clearly below, which was first spotted by website Earth Archives.

[h/t Earth Archives]

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Courtesy of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Drumheller, Canada
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The Exquisitely Preserved ‘Mona Lisa of Dinosaurs’ Has Been Named
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Courtesy of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Drumheller, Canada

Experts say the spectacularly well-preserved nodosaur now on display at Canada's Royal Tyrrell Museum (RTM) represents a new species—a hulking, armored beast that was not too proud to hide when predators were on the prowl. The research team described this "dinosaur equivalent of a tank" in the most recent issue of the journal Current Biology.

The nodosaur's massive remains were uncovered by miners in Alberta in 2011 in what was a seabed about 110 million years ago, when the creature died. The enormous block of stone and fossil was transferred to the museum, where technician Mark Mitchell set about freeing the specimen from its final resting place.

A researcher with a small pick prepares a dinosaur specimen.

The task took Mitchell more than five years and 7000 hours. Every one of them was worth it: The results are breathtaking.

Closeup of a nodosaur fossil.

"This nodosaur is truly remarkable in that it is completely covered in preserved scaly skin, yet is also preserved in three dimensions, retaining the original shape of the animal. The result is that the animal looks almost the same today as it did back in the Early Cretaceous," museum scientist Caleb Brown said in a statement. "If you just squint your eyes a bit, you could almost believe it was sleeping. ... It will go down in science history as one of the most beautiful and best preserved dinosaur specimens—the Mona Lisa of dinosaurs."

While Mitchell chipped away at the stone tomb, Brown and his colleagues began trying to identify the animal inside. They knew it was a member of the stocky, heavily armored nodosaur family, but they couldn't figure out which one.

Eventually they realized why—it's not a species or genus anyone has ever seen before. Even so, the incredible quality of the museum's specimen made it possible for them to reconstruct what it might have looked like in life.

Chemical analysis of the nodosaur's scales and horn sheaths indicated the presence of a reddish-gold pigment called pheomelanin. In people, pheomelanin is what gives redheads their coppery locks and lends our lips and nipples their pinkish color. In nodosaurs, it probably turned them orange.

Some parts of them, at least. The researchers realized that their specimen, a herbivore, most likely had a pale belly, like a squirrel, and darker coloration on its back. This color patterning is called countershading. It's used to help animals blend into their surroundings and hide from predators.

That's right: Apparently the dinosaur's massive punk spikes and tough hide were not enough to keep it safe. It needed camouflage, too.

"Strong predation on a massive, heavily armored dinosaur illustrates just how dangerous the dinosaur predators of the Cretaceous must have been," Brown said.

The team named their new species Borealopelta markmitchelli. The genus name is a combination of "borealis" (Latin for "northern") and "pelta" (Greek for "shield'"). The species name is a tribute to Mitchell, the scientists write, for his "patient and skilled" revealing of their pride and joy.

All images courtesy of the Royal Tyrell Museum.

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