New skeletal remains excavated in Mongolia of an ankylosaurid, an armoured herbivore that lived sometime between 84 and 72 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period, suggests that the dinosaur was adapted to digging.
Yuong-Nam Lee at Seoul National University in South Korea and his colleagues collected the ankylosaurid remains – belonging to an individual that was more than 6 metres long – from the Gobi desert in Mongolia.
Ankylosaurids were bulky quadrupeds with short and powerful limbs. They had an armoured body with wedge-shaped bony protrusions in their skin known as osteoderms, as well as a tail club.
“Articulated body skeletons of armoured dinosaurs are quite rare,” says Lee. To date, only four individuals with fairly complete body skeletons have been discovered. “For this reason, little is known about these magnificent animals,” says Lee. “The nearly complete skeleton that we have studied provides valuable information about their evolution and behaviour.”
The bones of the ankylosaurid show that it had heavily built forelimbs and forefeet suited for digging.
The fusion of several vertebrae and ribs may have helped keep the dinosaur’s trunk rigid, stabilising the body while it dug using its forelimbs.
“These armoured dinosaurs, especially the Asian species, lived in arid to semiarid environments. They may have been able to dig out roots for food, and dig wells to reach subsurface water as modern African elephants do today,” says Lee.
Digging dinosaurs are relatively rare, although some small dinosaurs are known to have dug burrows.
The ankylosaurid specimen was excavated in 2008, as part of 700 vertebrate fossils the team collected over a five-year field trip.
“Because of limited human resources, it takes a lot of time and effort to identify, classify and study these specimens,” says Lee.
Journal reference: Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-83568-4
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