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Introducing Zuul crurivastator- destroyer of shins, wellspring of science

May 13, 2017

This week, lab postdoc Victoria Arbour and I unveiled a new species of armored dinosaur, Zuul crurivastator, based on an almost complete and remarkably well-preserved skeleton from the Judith River Formation of Montana.  The research describing the new skeleton, identifying Zuul as a new species, and placing it in the family tree of armored dinosaurs was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science (http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/4/5/161086) and is open access.

zuul-drawing

Artistic life reconstruction of Zuul crurivastator by Danielle Dufault

The new paper was led by Victoria, a globally recognized expert on ankylosaurs, who recently joined the ROM Palaeo team on an NSERC postdoctal fellowship. It was a fantastic experience working with Victoria on the paper – who also deserves big credit for coming up with the awesome name for our new dino. I learned a lot about ankylosaurs from her during this project. We have both really enjoyed working with our amazing palaeo-artist Danielle Dufault, who created the vivid life reconstructions of Zuul for the website, well as the whole behinds-the-scenes Zuul team.  This paper marks the beginning of a larger scientific project on this amazing skeleton and its associated fossils.

The name Zuul is based on similarities between the beautifully preserved skull of our fossil and the terror-dog monster from the 1984 blockbuster film Ghostbusters – both have a broad, rounded snout, gnarly forehead, and two sets of horns behind the eyes. The species name, crurivastator, translates to “Destroyer of Shins”, in reference to its menacing tail, which ends in a massive club-which may have been used to defend itself from predatory dinosaurs or compete with other members of its species.

The research announced today is just the first phase of a larger project focusing on Zuul and its world. The soft tissues are particularly exciting, and we will be conducting research testing for the preservation of biomolecules.  In addition, the 75 million year old river channel deposit that produced Zuul’s skeleton also produced a wide range of well-preserved fossils of other plants and animals living alongside Zuul. These fossils include complete turtles, a crocodile, bones of duck-billed dinosaurs, ostrich dinosaurs, and horned dinosaurs, plus plants, clams, snails and more. We are also conducting research reconstructing Zuul’s palaeoenvironment with geologist Federico Fanti (University of Bologna, Italy), as well as precisely dating the age of the fossil deposit based on volcanic ash deposits with colleagues from the University of Toronto.

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The well-preserved and complete tail of the Zuul crurivastator holotype

The rock strata where Zuul was collected are also extensively exposed in southern Alberta, about 50 km to the north, where they are called the Oldman Formation. These rocks have been the focus of a long-term collaborative ROM field project (with Dr. Michael Ryan, CMNH), the Southern Alberta Dinosaur Project, where we have systematically collected thousands of specimens with carefully recorded temporal and environmental context. We can therefore place Zuul and its associated fossils precisely within this framework. In fact, our team is currently digging up a tyrannosaur and a duckbilled dinosaur from the same stream channel complex expressed in Alberta. Within this bigger scientific dataset, Zuul contributes to a much larger understanding of how dinosaur diversity and evolution are related to environmental changes leading up the end-Cretaceous extinction event, which occurred less than 10 million years after Zuul lived.

The Royal Ontario Museum is very excited about Zuul, and there is much more to come, so stay tuned.

Citation: Arbour, V. and D. C. Evans. 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: 161086

Zuul Portrait Final

More about Zuul

Read the Open Access paper:   http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/4/5/161086

Learn more about Zuul on the ROM website

Read the Press Release

Follow Dr. Victoria Arbour (@VictoriaArbour) and see her blog

Join the Conversation: #DinoZuul @ROMToronto, @ROMPalaeo, @DavidEvans_ROM @VictoriaArbour

Research on Zuul was support by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada

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