Saturday August 12, 2017

This armoured and spiky dinosaur still had to hide from predators

Artist's reconstruction of the new armoured nodosaur.  The red coloration on top, and light coloured belly is an example of simple countershading camouflage

Artist's reconstruction of the new armoured nodosaur. The red coloration on top, and light coloured belly is an example of simple countershading camouflage (Julius Csotonyi/Courtesy of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Drumheller)

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It weighed a tonne and a half, was five meters long, was covered in thick, bony armour and spikes, and still it had to hide from the terrifying predators of its time.  A new dinosaur discovered in Alberta, and unveiled at the Royal Tyrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, Alberta, is so well preserved that the scientists who've been studying it have been able to tell that it had a kind of camouflage common in much smaller and more vulnerable prey species today.  

Armoured scales

Armoured scales from the nodosaur fossil. (Current Biology - Cell Press)

The camouflage pattern, called countershading, means the animal is dark on top, and light on the bottom, and helps disguise its silhouette from the vision of predators.  However, countershading is uncommon in animals that aren't vulnerable to predators - like elephants and rhinos.  According to Dr. Caleb Brown, the Betsy Nicholls postdoctoral fellow at the museum, finding countershading in an animal this big, and this heavily armoured, indicates just how ferocious the predators of the early Cretaceous - 110 million years ago - really were.

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