A newly identified spiked armored dinosaur that was found in Morocco is nothing like anything experts have ever seen before. This new species, which has been named Spicomellus afer, is the first ankylosaur that’s ever been found in Africa (they have previously been found in northern counties like the United States, Canada, and Europe). It is also the oldest ankylosaur that’s ever been discovered, dating back between 167 and 163 million years ago.
Furthermore, the spikes that stuck out of its ribs have never been seen before in any other vertebrate living or extinct. The spikes lined the sides of the dinosaur and were fused to its rib bones.
Ankylosaurs were small armored, herbivorous dinosaurs that had broad, wide bodies and short legs. They are well known for their bony armor and plates – some were flat while others were in the shape of spikes – and some species also had a big bony club located at the end of their tail.
Dr. Susannah Maidment, who is a dinosaur researcher at the National History Museum and an expert in armored dinosaurs, explained their armor in further detail, “They had transverse rows of armor, meaning that the armor extends from the midline of their body out to the sides.” Additionally, their armor was embedded into their skin which is how the researchers knew that the spikes on this new species were fused to its bones.
Unfortunately, the remains are in such small pieces that the researchers are having a hard time trying to determine what the Spicomellus afer looked like when it was alive although they do have some ideas as explained by Dr. Maidment, “If you think of animals like crocodiles which have bony scutes embedded in the skin, it is probable that the flatter part of the osteoderm would have been covered in some sort of skin,” adding, “Then the spikes that are projecting are kind of just a horn core and would probably have been covered in a keratinous sheath, like the horn of a cow.”
Interestingly, the Spicomellus afer was discovered at the same site where the oldest known stegosaur named Adratiklit boulahfa was previously found. As for what will happen now that the remains have been studied and identified, the researchers are currently working with Moroccan institutes and scientists. They hope that a new museum will be built in Morocco where this species as well as other prehistoric remains can eventually be put on display for the public to view. (Pictures of some of the Spicomellus afer bones, including the spikes, can be seen here.)
The study was published in Nature Ecology & Evolution where it can be read in full.