'Unprecedented' dinosaur fossil with 'totally weird' spikes found in Africa

·2 min read

The ankylosaur species of dinosaur is best known for its armored spikes but, before now, remnants have only been discovered in North America. Fossil hunters found a unique type of ankylosaur that derives from the Middle Atlas mountains in Morocco – giving Africa its first ankylosaur.

According to the researchers who examined the dinosaur for a peer-reviewed journal article in Nature Ecology and Evolution, remains of the newly discovered animal are believed to be the first to have defensive spikes that are fused to the skeleton -– a feature never seen on a dinosaur before.

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"It’s totally, totally weird," Dr. Susannah Maidment, a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in London and one of the nine authors on the journal article, told The Guardian. "Normally when we see armor in stegosaurus and ankylosaurs, the dermal armor is embedded in the skin, not attached to the skeleton. In this case, it’s not only in contact with the skeleton, it’s fused to the ribs."

Spicomellus fossils show a series of spikes fused to a rib.
Spicomellus fossils show a series of spikes fused to a rib.

The fossil, which researchers at the Natural History Museum obtained from a private collector for an undisclosed sum, dates all the way back to the middle Jurassic – around 168 million years ago – meaning it was likely one of the earlier ankylosaurs to walk the Earth.

Maidment named the dinosaur Spicomellus, which means "collar of spikes" and "of Africa." The name ankylosaurs means “stiff lizard” and the species were large, herbivorous relatives of the stegosaurs.

"At first we thought the specimen could be part of a stegosaur, having previously found them at the same location," Maidment said in a press release from the Natural History Museum. "But on closer inspection, we realized the fossil was unlike anything we had ever seen.

"It is completely unprecedented and unlike anything else in the animal kingdom."

The new discovery also means that the relationship between the ankylosaurs and stegosaurs were different than initially studied, since both could've co-existed for more than 20 million years. Previous reports, according to the Natural History Museum, suggested the ankylosaurs led to the extinction of the stegosaurs.

Their discovery on Morocco, too, suggests there could be more fossils to be found.

"This is the first ankylosaur from Africa, and it's also from a really, really, early time period," Maidment told BBC News. "Ankylosaurs are extremely well known from the northern continents, from North America and Asia particularly. But they're extremely poorly known from the southern continents."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Completely unprecedented' spikey dinosaur fossil discovered in Africa

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