A new ankylosaur discovery finally allows science to make the Dinosaur-Ghost Busters connection

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Introduction:

A very talented artist's rendition of the newly-discovered ankylosaur, Zuul crurivastator
Figure 1: A very talented artist’s rendition of the newly-discovered ankylosaur, Zuul crurivastator.  Something about the look on this thing’s face makes me like to imagine that this dino just finished saying “they call me Green Chocolate, baby.”  Credit: Danielle Dufault / Royal Ontario Museum.

A new species of ankylosaur (Figure 1) has been discovered in Northern Montana, USA.  The fossilized remains of this dinosaur are particularly well preserved and relatable to 1980s pop culture.  Luckily, modern scientists have a good sense of humor and the freedom to be creative while naming new genera.

Background:

Ankylosaurs were quadrupedal, armored, tank-like dinosaurs (Figure 2) that lived during the Cretaceous Period, about 68-66 million years ago.  They likely ate a varied diet of soft, non-fibrous plants and lived simple lives, while keeping to their own business.  However, if provoked, ankylosaurs defended themselves with a weapon that sets them apart from other dinosaurs: a nasty club-like tail.

The club-like tail of ankylosaurs was formed from a modified vertebra.  This modification turned the last vertebra into a large mass of bone that could be swung with enough force to break the bones of other dinosaurs without suffering damage itself (Arbour and Snively, 2009).

the ankylosaur Euoplocephalus tutus
Figure 2: the ankylosaur Euoplocephalus tutus.  This dinosaur weighed up to two tonnes and was about 23 feet (7 m) long.  Credit: Nobu Tamura. License: CC3.0.

The new species:

The new ankylosaur species was discovered in the Judith River Formation in northern Montana, USA.  And this is a great discovery, since it is the first ankylosaur skeleton ever found that has an entire head (Arbour and Evans, 2017).

And the head is important.  It was this well-preserved head that researchers noticed resembled a character from 1984’s cult classic, Ghost Busters (Figure 3).  So, no doubt inspired by the shenanigans of three disgraced psychology professors, the new species was named Zuul crurivastator.  Zuul, of course, refers to the demon-dog form of the demigod that possessed Sigourney Weaver’s character, Dana Barrett.  And crurivastotor is Latin for “destroyer of shins.”  Crurivastotor refers to the fact that, due to the squat stature of ankylosaurs, the massive tail-club typically smashed into other dinosaurs’ shins.

A photograph of the well-preserved, complete skull of the Zuul crurivastator specimen (left) and a screen capture of the inspirational demigod in dog form from Ghost Busters (1984)
Figure 3: A photograph of the well-preserved, complete skull of the Zuul crurivastator specimen (left) and a screen capture of the inspirational demigod in dog form from Ghost Busters (1984) on the right.

Conclusion:

Ankylosaurs were like giant lizard-cow-tank things that had wrecking balls attached to their butts.  Thankfully, science inspires the decorum and good humor to reference pop culture when it’s appropriate.

If you don’t like the fact that it is now easier to mention the Ghost Busters while taking about dinosaurs, you should leave this planet.  Go back to Uranus (here is a custom map in t-shirt form, if required).

References:

Arbour, V. M., & Snively, E. (2009). Finite element analyses of ankylosaurid dinosaur tail club impacts. The Anatomical Record, 292(9), 1412-1426. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ar.20987/full

Arbour, V. M., & Evans, D. C. (2017). A new ankylosaurine dinosaur from the Judith River Formation of Montana, USA, based on an exceptional skeleton with soft tissue preservation. Royal Society Open Science, 4(5), 161086. http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/4/5/161086

Jared Peters

Jared Peters

Jared Peters, PhD, is a geoscientist who specialises in marine sedimentology, marine palaeoglaciology and climate change.
Jared Peters
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Jared Peters, PhD, is a geoscientist who specialises in marine sedimentology, marine palaeoglaciology and climate change.