110 million-year-old dinosaurs spiky armor may have been status symbol

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  • The exceptionally preserved armored dinosaur fossil was discovered by a miner in northern Alberta, Canada 
  • The bone plates closer to its tail were covered in a thin crust of keratin, the same material found in human skin
  • But the keratin on its two protruding shoulder spikes was much thicker, making up a third of the spikes’ length
  • This pattern is also observed in animals with horns and antlers, who use these ornaments to send signals to each other and defend themselves from attackers

Cecile Borkhataria For Dailymail.com

and
Tim Collins For Mailonline

In May, a dinosaur fossil so well preserved that it looked like a statue was unveiled at a museum in Canada.

The 110 million-year-old nodosaur fossil, dubbed the ‘four legged tank’ was discovered by a miner in northern Alberta, Canada.

The armored plant-eater is the best preserved fossil of its kind ever found, and now researchers say that its skin patterns and spines may have been a status symbol for the dinosaur, helping it to attract mates and ward off challengers.

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The 110 million-year-old nodosaur fossil, dubbed the 'four legged tank' was discovered by a miner in northern Alberta, Canada. The armored plant-eater is the best preserved fossil of its kind ever found, and now researchers say that its skin patterns and spines may have been a status symbol for the dinosaur, helping it to attract mates and ward off challengers

The 110 million-year-old nodosaur fossil, dubbed the 'four legged tank' was discovered by a miner in northern Alberta, Canada. The armored plant-eater is the best preserved fossil of its kind ever found, and now researchers say that its skin patterns and spines may have been a status symbol for the dinosaur, helping it to attract mates and ward off challengers

The 110 million-year-old nodosaur fossil, dubbed the ‘four legged tank’ was discovered by a miner in northern Alberta, Canada. The armored plant-eater is the best preserved fossil of its kind ever found, and now researchers say that its skin patterns and spines may have been a status symbol for the dinosaur, helping it to attract mates and ward off challengers

According to National Geographic, the dinosaur 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 is a newfound species of nodosaur called Borealopelta markmitchelli, which lived midway through the Cretaceous period, between 110 million and 112 million years ago.

It had two 20-inch-long spikes which protruded from its shoulders.

The creature was around 18 feet (five meters) long on average, and weighed up to 3,000 pounds (1,300 kilograms).

When the fossil was sent to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, researchers spent the next six years working on uncovering the beast within the 2,500-pound (1,100 kilogram) lump of earth.

WHY DID THE DINOSAUR EVOLVE ARMORED PLATING?

An artist's impression of what Borealopelta markmitchelli may have looked like. Armored dinosaurs like Borealopelta had bone plate sheaths, crowned by tissue made in part of keratin. Keratin, the same material that makes up the outer layer of human skin, is rarely preserved in fossils, so this made the fossil an exceptional find 

An artist's impression of what Borealopelta markmitchelli may have looked like. Armored dinosaurs like Borealopelta had bone plate sheaths, crowned by tissue made in part of keratin. Keratin, the same material that makes up the outer layer of human skin, is rarely preserved in fossils, so this made the fossil an exceptional find 

An artist’s impression of what Borealopelta markmitchelli may have looked like. Armored dinosaurs like Borealopelta had bone plate sheaths, crowned by tissue made in part of keratin. Keratin, the same material that makes up the outer layer of human skin, is rarely preserved in fossils, so this made the fossil an exceptional find

The skin patterns and spines of a 110-million-year-old, exceptionally preserved dinosaur called Borealopelta markmitchelli, may have served as a status symbol for the dinosaur, helping it to attract mates and ward off challengers.

Armored dinosaurs like Borealopelta had bone plate sheaths, crowned by tissue made in part of keratin.

Keratin, the same material that makes up the outer layer of human skin, is rarely preserved in fossils.

But keratin remained preserved in this fossil, allowing Dr Caleb Brown, a paleontologist at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Canada, to measure the keratin caps and bone plates of the animal.

He discovered that the bone plates closer to the tail were covered with a thin crust of keratin, but the keratin on its two protruding shoulder spikes was thicker, making up a third of the spikes’ length.

Keratin also coated spikes on the dinosaur’s neck, and the taller the bone plate, the thicker the keratin coat.

Dr Brown says that this pattern is also observed in animals with horns and antlers, who use these ornaments to send signals to each other and defend themselves from attackers.

According to the museum, it is the best preserved armored dinosaur in the world, including skin and armor, and is complete from the snout to hips.

It took over 7,000 hours to prepare the specimen for research and display.

Vertebrate paleontologist Dr Caleb Brown of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Canada, who worked on uncovering the fossil, told Nature News that the dinosaurs armor has the same growth pattern as antelope horns, and other structures for mating displays and defense.

‘The might have been billboards, basically to advertise for the animal,’ said Dr Brown, who discussed his findings at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology annual meeting in Calgary, Canada.

Armored dinosaurs like Borealopelta had bone plate sheaths, crowned by tissue made in part of keratin.

Keratin, the same material that makes up the outer layer of human skin, is rarely preserved in fossils.

Armored dinosaurs like Borealopelta had bone plate sheaths, crowned by tissue made in part of keratin. Keratin, the same material that makes up the outer layer of human skin, is rarely preserved in fossils. The bone plates closer to the tail were covered with a thin crust of keratin, but the keratin on its two protruding spikes was thicker

Armored dinosaurs like Borealopelta had bone plate sheaths, crowned by tissue made in part of keratin. Keratin, the same material that makes up the outer layer of human skin, is rarely preserved in fossils. The bone plates closer to the tail were covered with a thin crust of keratin, but the keratin on its two protruding spikes was thicker

Armored dinosaurs like Borealopelta had bone plate sheaths, crowned by tissue made in part of keratin. Keratin, the same material that makes up the outer layer of human skin, is rarely preserved in fossils. The bone plates closer to the tail were covered with a thin crust of keratin, but the keratin on its two protruding spikes was thicker

But keratin remained preserved in this fossil, allowing Dr Brown to measure the keratin caps and bone plates of the animal.

He discovered that the bone plates closer to the tail were covered with a thin crust of keratin, but the keratin on its two protruding shoulder spikes was thicker, making up a third of the spikes’ length.

Keratin also coated spikes on the dinosaur’s neck, and the taller the bone plate, the thicker the keratin coat.

Dr Brown says that this pattern is also observed in animals with horns and antlers, who use these ornaments to send signals to each other and defend themselves from attackers.

It took over 7,000 hours to prepare the dinosaur specimen for research and display

It took over 7,000 hours to prepare the dinosaur specimen for research and display

Keratin, the same material that makes up the outer layer of human skin, is rarely preserved in fossils. But keratin remained preserved in this fossil, allowing researchers to measure the keratin caps and bone plates of the animal

Keratin, the same material that makes up the outer layer of human skin, is rarely preserved in fossils. But keratin remained preserved in this fossil, allowing researchers to measure the keratin caps and bone plates of the animal

When the fossil was sent to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, researchers spent the next six years working on uncovering the beast within the 2,500-pound (1,100 kilogram) lump of earth

Dr Brown also notes that the most elaborate decorations are near the front of the dinosaur’s body, just like animals with horns and antlers.

According to the study, all of this information suggests that the dinosaur evolved these spikes to facilitate social communication, warning potential rivals or attracting mates, or both.

However, because there is only one specimen of the species, researchers cannot say with certainty that the armor patterns were used to attract mates, and other well-preserved fossils need to be analyzed to confirm this.

HOW THE DINOSAUR FOSSIL WAS FOUND

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

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 armored 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 armor in exquisite detail.

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