Watch this amazing new armed dinosaur found in Utah

    Abdulaziz Sobh

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    They are calling this newly discovered dinosaur a "thorny head," and it is changing what we know about American ankylosaurs, the heavily armed herbivores that had the misfortune to live alongside the rex tyrannosaurus during the Upper Cretaceous.

    Here is Akainacephalus johnsoni, a new species, and genus of ankylosaur dinosaurs. It is considered the most complete Upper Cretaceous ankylosaurus ever found in Utah, or throughout the southwestern United States, for that matter. Unlike other American ankylosaurs that lived at the same time, this dinosaur, in particular, had thorns and cones on the head and snout, hence its name, which translates to "spiny head." The second half of his name, johnsoni, honors Randy Johnson, a museum volunteer who helped prepare his skull. The details of this remarkable new creature were published today in the scientific journal PeerJ.

    The fossilized remains of Akainacephalus johnsoni were discovered at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in south-central Utah. Their bones were buried in 76-million-year-old rocks of the Kaiparowits Formation, a geological layer composed of sedimentary rocks deposited by rivers and streams.

    Working in this desert terrain, paleontologists at the Utah Museum of Natural History and the University of Utah were able to extract several bones, including an immaculately preserved full skull, bone armor (including neck rings and barbed plates), several vertebrae, forelimb, several bones of the hind limb, and an almost complete tail with the iconic ankylosaurus club still attached. In all, it took almost four years for paleontologists to assemble and completely prepare the bones for analysis.

    Akainacephalus johnsoni had a medium build, measuring 13 to 16 feet (4-5 m) long and approximately 3.5 feet high (1.5 m) in the hips. His four legs were placed directly under his body. Like other ankylosaur dinosaurs, this creature was built for defense; It presented a formidable armor from head to tail, including bony plates called osteoderms. His head was adorned with a crown of thorns and horns, and the tip of his tail was equipped with a large bony club, which he probably used to protect predators. In fact, as suggested by its tank appearance, A. johnsoni needed these extreme defenses to survive the brutal conditions of the Upper Cretaceous of North America. This herbivore would have been in regular contact with his contemporary Tyrannosaurus rex, among other predators.

    This discovery shows that ankylosaurs were more diverse in their physical characteristics than paleontologists thought. These dinosaurs originated in Asia between 125 million and 100 million years ago, but there are no signs of them in the fossil record of North America until about 77 million years ago. The spines and cones found in the skull of Akainacephalus resemble those of their ankylosane cousin, the New Mexico Nodocephelausaurus kirtlandensis, but that is all. Other North American ankylosaurs, such as Ankylosaurus, Euoplocephalus, and Ziapelta, had smooth bone armor in the skull.

    The authors of the new study, Jelle P. Wiersma of the Utah Museum of Natural History and Randall B. Irmis of the University of Utah, suspect that Akainacephalus and the New Mexican Nodocephelausaurus are more closely related to some Asian ankylosaurs. One working hypothesis is that there were two separate groups of ankylosurid dinosaurs in North America during this time and that the second wave of migration from Asia, probably through a land bridge, made this possible.

    Excitingly, the fossil molds of Akainacephalus johnsoni are now on public display at the Utah Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City. If you are in the area, take a look and leave us a review of the exhibition below.