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Monday, 4 December 2017

110 million-year-old 'four legged tank' dinosaur, so well preserved it looks like a statue, used its spiky armour to flirt as well as fight

  • Known as a nodosaur, the massive plant-eater is the best preserved fossils of its kind ever found
  • The 110 million year old dinosaur has imposing spikes on the armour plating toward the front of its body
  • Experts believe the exaggerated spines along its neck and shoulders were likely used to attract a mate
  • The effect, also useful for intimidating rivals, would have been amplified by sheaths of surrounding flesh

  • Is the best preserved fossil of its kind ever found - and now scientists are unravelling new secrets about the mysterious nodosaur.
    The dinosaur, whose fossils look just like a statue, was first discovered in 2011 by miners in Fort McMurray, Alberta. 
    Usually just the bones and teeth of a dinosaur are found preserved, but the creature's rapid undersea burial 110 million years ago perfectly kept its skin and bones in tact.
    A new study has revealed that the imposing spikes on the armour plating 110 million year old 'four legged tank' dinosaur were also used for romance.
    Researchers have revealed the incredible rhino-sized creature, described as 'the Mona Lisa of dinosaurs', has exaggerated spines along its neck and shoulders which were likely used to attract a mate.
    The effect, also useful for intimidating rivals, would have been amplified by surrounding flesh, still visible thanks to the creature's incredibly conserved remains.

    At first glance it may appear to be a fearsome fighter, but imposing spikes on the armour plating of the perfectly preserved 'four legged tank' dinosaur were also used for romance. Researchers revealed the incredible rhino-sized creature, described as 'the Mona Lisa of dinosaurs', has exaggerated spines along its neck and shoulders which were likely used to attract a mate
    At first glance it may appear to be a fearsome fighter, but imposing spikes on the armour plating of the perfectly preserved 'four legged tank' dinosaur were also used for romance. Researchers revealed the incredible rhino-sized creature, described as 'the Mona Lisa of dinosaurs', has exaggerated spines along its neck and shoulders which were likely used to attract a mate

    The discovery was made by experts from the Royal Tyrrell Museum where the creature, scientific name Borealopelta markmitchelli, is on display. 
    Scientists have been examining the spectacular remains since it was officially unveiled in May, to learn more about how it lived.
    They found that the dinosaur’s armour plates change shape over its body, with the spiny protrusions towards the front of the bulky creature's body growing noticeably larger and more prominent. 
    Its imposing shoulder spines have been compared by experts to the horns of a bull.
    They also uncovered fossilised sheaths made of the protein keratin surrounding the armour plates, which would have added to their bulk and length. 
    Speaking to National Geographic, Dr Caleb Brown, a researcher at the museum, said: 'For most of these elaborate structures in living animals—tail feathers in birds, coloration in lizards, horns in mammals—the driving [evolutionary] force is generally sexual selection.
    'That doesn't preclude its function in defense or species recognition.' 
    Borealopelta markmitchelli is by no means alone in the animal kingdom for using multipurpose protrusions for both love and war.

    LOVE AND WAR IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM

    From deer to elephants, many creatures use horns, antlers and other anatomical lumps and bumps as both defensive weapons, and to display their social status.
    When studying the purpose of such objects, scientists look for structures that grow to exaggerated sizes as an animal matures sexually. 
    With B. markmitchelli, studying this growth is impossible as the fossilised remains are one of a kind, and no immature bones have been found which they could compare to the adult specimen.
    Instead, researchers made the finding by measuring each of the fossil’s 172 armour plates and examining their distribution across its body.

    The imposing herbivore, called a nodosaur, measured 18 feet in length and weighted nearly 3,000 pounds. Researchers suspect it initially fossilised whole, but when it was found in 2011, only the front half, from the snout to the hips, was recovered
    The imposing herbivore, called a nodosaur, measured 18 feet in length and weighted nearly 3,000 pounds. Researchers suspect it initially fossilised whole, but when it was found in 2011, only the front half, from the snout to the hips, was recovered

    Scientists previously used chemical analysis of organic compounds in the scales to infer the dinosaur's pigmentation pattern, which suggest it had reddish brown knobbly skin (artist's impression)
    Scientists previously used chemical analysis of organic compounds in the scales to infer the dinosaur's pigmentation pattern, which suggest it had reddish brown knobbly skin (artist's impression)
    The effect, also useful for intimidating rivals, would have been amplified by surrounding sheaths of flesh, still visible thanks to the creature's incredibly conserved remains. This graphic shows a comparison of the size of the bony core and keratinous sheath of the large shoulder spine to modern mammals and lizards
    The effect, also useful for intimidating rivals, would have been amplified by surrounding sheaths of flesh, still visible thanks to the creature's incredibly conserved remains. This graphic shows a comparison of the size of the bony core and keratinous sheath of the large shoulder spine to modern mammals and lizards
    From deer to elephants, many creatures use horns, antlers and other anatomical lumps and bumps as both defensive weapons, and to display their social status.
    When studying the purpose of such objects, scientists look for structures that grow to exaggerated sizes as an animal matures sexually. 
    With B. markmitchelli, studying this growth is impossible as the fossilised remains are one of a kind, and no immature bones have been found which they could compare to the adult specimen.

    HOW THE DINOSAUR FOSSIL WAS FOUND

    The armoured plant-eater is the best preserved fossil of its kind ever found, according to reports in National Geographic.
    It was found by Shawn Funk, when he was digging at the Suncor Millenium Mine near Fort McMurray in northern Alberta, Canada, on March 21, 2011.
    He hit something which seemed out of place from the surrounding rock, and decided to take a closer look.
    The fossil he uncovered was sent to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology.
    They spent the next six years working on uncovering the beast within the 2,500-pound (1,100 kilogram) lump of earth.
    After all that hard work, the finished result is now ready to be unveiled.
    The researchers believe that the dinosaur lumbered through what is now western Canada, until a flooded river swept it into open sea.
    But the dinosaur's undersea burial preserved its armour in exquisite detail. 

    The fossil was found by Shawn Funk when he was digging at the Millenium Mine near Fort McMurray in northern Alberta, Canada, on March 21, 2011
    The fossil was found by Shawn Funk when he was digging at the Millenium Mine near Fort McMurray in northern Alberta, Canada, on March 21, 2011
    Instead, Dr Brown made the finding by measuring each of the fossil’s 172 armour plates, which are believed to represent roughly two-thirds of the plates it would have had while still alive.
    Scientists believe that when the dinosaur died, it fell into a river and was swept out to sea, where it sank on its back to the ocean floor.
    At that time, its stomping ground of Alberta, Canada, was as warm as south Florida is today, and rivers and oceans likely spread far further inland than they do now.
    '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,' said Dr Brown at the time it was unveiled.

    The dinosaur employed a shielding technique known as counter-shading, which is also used by many modern-day animals. This means that parts of the creature that would normally be in shadow, like its underside (pictured) were lighter in colour and those exposed to the light were dark
    The dinosaur employed a shielding technique known as counter-shading, which is also used by many modern-day animals. This means that parts of the creature that would normally be in shadow, like its underside (pictured) were lighter in colour and those exposed to the light were dark
    The amazing preservation of the specimen made it possible for researchers to document the pattern and shape of scales and armour across its body (pictured)Chemical analysis showed that the dinosaur would have had reddish brown knobbly skin and countershading (artist's impression pictured), a common method of defence in the animal kingdom
    The amazing preservation of the specimen made it possible for researchers to document the pattern and shape of scales and armour across its body (pictured)
    'The result is that the animal looks almost the same today as it did back in the Early Cretaceous.
    'You don't need to use much imagination to reconstruct it; if you just squint your eyes a bit, you could almost believe it was sleeping.'
    The fossil is a newfound species of nodosaur, which lived midway through the Cretaceous period, between 110 million and 112 million years ago.
    The Cretaceous was a time when giant theropods, meat-eating dinosaurs that stood on two legs, roamed the Earth.
    Although the king of them all, Tyrannosaurus rex, lived millions of years after Borealopelta, the armoured dinosaur may have been hunted by some of its formidable ancestors. 

    THE 'FOUR LEGGED TANK' THAT WAS STILL HUNTED

    The fossil is a newfound species of nodosaur, which lived midway through the Cretaceous period, between 110 million and 112 million years ago. 
    The nodosaur is a type of ankylosaur often overshadowed by its famous cousins in the subgroup Ankylosauridae.
    Unlike its cousins, nodosaurs had no shin-splitting tail clubs, but they too wielded thorny armour to deter predators. 
    The 18-foot-long, nearly 3,000-pound behemoth was the rhinoceros of its day, a grumpy herbivore that largely kept to itself. 

    The  heavily armoured dinosaur used camouflage to hide from predators, despite being built like a 'four-legged tank' (artist's impression)
    The  heavily armoured dinosaur used camouflage to hide from predators, despite being built like a 'four-legged tank' (artist's impression)
    However, it it was attacked, the nodosaur had two 20-inch-long spikes jutting out of its shoulders like a misplaced pair of bull's horns.
    The specimen was so well preserved, researchers were even able to determine the colour of its scaly skin was a reddish brown - and say it had something of a 'troubled past'. 
    By studying its skin, researchers found that this plant-eater, though covered in armor and resembling a walking tank, likely faced a significant threat from meat-eating dinosaurs.
    The heavily armoured dinosaur used red and white camouflage to hide from predators, and employed a shielding technique known as counter-shading, which is also used by many modern-day animals.

    Chemical analysis of organic compounds in its scales also reveal that the dinosaur's skin would have been reddish brown.
    Chemical analysis of organic compounds in its scales also reveal that the dinosaur's skin would have been reddish brown.
    This would have allowed it to better blend into its surroundings and evade its enemies, experts say, suggesting it was preyed on by larger dinosaurs.
    Countershading, a common method of defence in the animal kingdom, means the top of the creature was darker than its underside.
    The findings come as surprise, however, because Borealopelta's size far exceeds that of countershaded animals alive today.
    It suggests the dinosaur was hunted by enough pressure meat-eating dinosaurs that evolution favoured concealment over confrontation as a means of survival.
    But most contemporary animals that have countershading - think deer, zebras or armadillos - are much smaller and more vulnerable as prey, signalling that this nodosaur faced a real struggle to survive. 

    They include Acrocanthosaurus, a 38ft (11.5m) long monster weighing six tonnes.
    The creature was found by Shawn Funk, when he was digging at the Millenium Mine near Fort McMurray in northern Alberta, Canada, on March 21, 2011.
    He hit something which seemed out of place from the surrounding rock, and decided to take a closer look.
    The fossil he uncovered was sent to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. 

    Researchers at the museum have now studied and named the beast Borealopelta markmitchelli, after  technician Mark Mitchell who was one of a team who spent more than 7,000 hours painstakingly uncovering the creature
    Researchers at the museum have now studied and named the beast Borealopelta markmitchelli, after technician Mark Mitchell who was one of a team who spent more than 7,000 hours painstakingly uncovering the creature
    They spent the next six years working on uncovering the beast within the 2,500-pound (1,100 kg) lump of earth.
    According to the museum, it is the best preserved armoured dinosaur in the world, including skin and armour, and is complete from the snout to hips. 
    The creatures were around 18 feet (five metres) long on average, and weighted up to 3,000 pounds (1,300 kg).
    It featured two 20-inch-long spikes which protruded from its shoulders.  
    The dinosaur's undersea burial preserved its armour in exquisite detail.
    The fossilised remains of this particular specimen are so well preserved that remnants of skin still cover bumpy armour plates along the dinosaur's skull.
    As Michael Greshko wrote for National Geographic, such level of preservation 'is a rare as winning the lottery.' 
    'The more I look at it, the more mind-boggling it becomes. 

    The researchers believe that the this armored plant-eater lumbered through what is now western Canada, until a flooded river swept it into open sea.
    The researchers believe that the this armored plant-eater lumbered through what is now western Canada, until a flooded river swept it into open sea.
    It took over 7,000 hours to prepare this specimen for research and display (pictured), museum staff sayThe fossilised remains of this particular specimen are so well preserved that remnants of skin still cover bumpy armour plates along the dinosaur's skull (pictured).

    The fossilised remains of this particular specimen are so well preserved that remnants of skin still cover bumpy armour plates along the dinosaur's skull (left). It took over 7,000 hours to prepare this specimen for research and display (right), museum staff say

    'Fossilized remnants of skin still cover the bumpy armor plates dotting the animal's skull. 
    'Its right forefoot lies by its side, its five digits splayed upward. 
    'I can count the scales on its sole. '

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