New bony, spiky species of dinosaur found in Utah

Life reconstruction of Akainacephalus johnsoni. Image credit Andrey Atuchin Denver Museum of Nature & Science

A life reconstruction of the newly discovered Cretaceous Period armored dinosaur Akainacephalus johnsoni, which lived 76 million years ago in Utah, surrounded by the crocodilian Denazinosuchus is seen in this image provided July 19, 2018.

The catch? It lived on the lost continent known as Laramidia.

The largely complete skeleton was 76 million years old, about five-metres long, had four legs, spiked armour and a bony, club-like tail.

The species was dubbed Akainacephalus johnsoni to recognize Randy Johnson, a retired chemist and museum volunteer who spent hundreds of hours painstakingly freeing the skull from rock and debris.

"It is extremely fascinating and important for the science of paleontology that we can read so much information from the fossil record, allowing us to better understand extinct organisms and the ecosystems they were a part of", Wiersma said in the statement.

"Now that I'm a museum volunteer, I'm getting the opportunity to work on a large variety of fossils and consult with top palaeontologists - it's like a dream second career". "I couldn't believe it when they told me they are naming the ankylosaur after me, a once-in-a-lifetime honor", he said.

The fossil, found in 2008, is the "most complete skeleton" of an ankylosaurid dinosaur found in the southwestern US, the statement added.

The paleontologists found a great number of A. johnsoni's remains - so many that after the researchers covered the finds in plaster jackets and brought them to the lab, it took almost four years for preparators to remove the fossils from the surrounding rock and debris.

Preserved elements and skeletal reconstructions of Akainacephalus johnsoni  a composite showing all holotype skeletal material of Akainacephalus johnsoni anatomically arranged in dorsal view  cartoon illustrating a full body reconstruction for A
'Really remarkable species': New armoured dinosaur discovered in southern Utah

Fossils must be delicately cleaned and repaired before researchers can even begin studying them, and discoveries can only be broadcast to the public once a peer-reviewed academic journal publishes a study on the finding. The spikes and cones found on the skull of Akainacephalus resemble those of its ankylosaurid cousin, the New Mexican Nodocephelausaurus kirtlandensis, but that's about it. Eventually, the sea shrank and the two parts combined to form what is now known as North America.

But even though these two beasts were both found in the U.S. Southwest, they appear to be more closely related to Asian ankylosaurs, including Saichania and Tarchia, than to other North American ankylosaurs, such as Ankylosaurus and Euoplocephalus - ankylosaurs that have flat skull armor, the researchers said.

Wiersma said the geographic distribution of the late Cretaceous ankylosaurids throughout the western interior of the United States is the result of several geologically brief intervals of lower sea level, exposing a shallow land bridge.

Akainacephalus would have roamed the southern part of Laramidia, which once stretched from the Arctic Circle to the Gulf of Mexico.

Their American counterparts had a smooth boned armour instead.

This lowering of sea levels exposed the Beringian land bridge, allowing dinosaurs and other animals to move between Asia and North America.

The fossil unveiled Thursday at the Natural History Museum of Utah was first discovered in 2008 in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a rich dinosaur repository in southern Utah. The spot where the fossil was found remains within the monument's boundaries, though areas that are now outside the boundaries also have fossil potential, Irmis said.

Skeleton of the new armoured dinosaur as represented by preserved bones.

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