Story at a glance:
- The oldest known fossil of an ankylosaur was found in Africa, specifically Morocco.
- Its defensive spikes are fused to the skeleton, a first.
- The fossil was so unusual, researchers thought it was fake or altered until they did further tests.
The oldest known fossil of an ankylosaur, a group of dinosaur species that resembled turtles with spikes covering their backs and which were equipped with armored balls attached to their tails, has been found in the Middle Atlas mountains in Morocco.
The spiked dinosaur, researchers say, is an unprecedented find in the animal kingdom — or, as Susannah Maidment, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, says, “It’s totally, totally weird,” The Guardian reported.
That’s because its defensive spikes are fused to the skeleton, BBC reported.
“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,” Maidment told The Guardian.
When researchers were acquired the fossil from a collector for an undisclosed sum, they initially thought it was a new species of stegosaur they have been investigating in the region since 2019.
However, thin portions of the fossil show a unique fiber ornamentation only found on ankylosaurs, The Guardian reported.
The weird spiky bones were so odd that scientists also believed that the fossil might have been a fake until they ran a CT scanner to see if the bones were altered or authentic.
The fossil is from the mid-Jurassic, about 168 million years ago, which makes it official that ankylosaurs existed back then.
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