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New Giant Armoured Dinosaur Used Camouflage To Protect From Predators

S u m m a r y :
A dinosaur with heavy armour used camouflage to play hide-and-seek from predators. The newly-discovered species is described in a paper published in the journal Current Biology.

An Accidental Discovery

The new species of armoured dinosaur is from the nodosaur family, and has been named Borealopelta markmitchelli. It was spotted in Alberta, Canada, as a 5.5-metre-long, well-preserved body with fully-armoured skin; it walked the Earth 110 million years ago.

B. markmitchelli is currently on view at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology. Its discovery was made accidentally back in 2011 by a mining machine operator, Shawn Funk, who noticed something weird in the rocks at Albertas Suncor Millennium Mine. When the museum was informed of the unusual presence, they dug further, and found the armoured dinosaur in the rocks.

Pictures of the Borealopelta markmitchelli specimen. Top: anterodorsolateral view; bottom: anterodorsal view. Scale bar, 10 cm. Photo credits: The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Drumheller, Canada.

Skin Camouflage Against Enemies

In spite of its huge size (and heavy weight at 1,300 kg) and extensive armour, it apparently used camouflage to hide from predators. The investigators reached to this conclusion after examining the skin of the dinosaur: it displayed countershading, a characteristic whereby the underside of the animal is of a lighter tone than its back.

The pigmentation pattern was deciphered using organic compounds into its scales, thereby revealing a reddish-brown skin with countershading across the body.

An artist’s impression of the camouflaging dinosaur. Notice its belly of a lighter tone than its back. Photo credits: The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Drumheller, Canada.

If Armoured & Huge, Why the Need for Camouflage?

Our huge and heavy dinosaur had enemies in its meat-eating counterparts. If such an imposing dinosaur had predators, just imagine how dangerous the latter were! The huge animal faced such terrible pressure from them that it had to take to camouflage to remain alive!

“Strong predation on a massive, heavily-armored dinosaur illustrates just how dangerous the dinosaur predators of the Cretaceous must have been,” says Caleb Brown from the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

Removing Rock from Dinosaur

Museum technician Mark Mitchell worked on the specimen, and meticulously removed rock from it—hardwork that led to the unveiling of the unique, fossilised dinosaur, and ultimately to the naming of the dinosaur in honour of the researcher.

According to the team of investigators, this is the most well-preserved armoured dinosaur ever to be found.

“This nodosaur is truly remarkable in that it is completely covered in preserved scaly skin, yet is also preserved in three dimensions, retaining the original shape of the animal,” says Brown. “The result is that the animal looks almost the same today as it did back in the Early Cretaceous. You don’t need to use much imagination to reconstruct it; if you just squint your eyes a bit, you could almost believe it was sleeping… It will go down in science history as one of the most beautiful and best preserved dinosaur specimens — the Mona Lisa of dinosaurs.”

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