ALBERTA

'Zaraapelta' Dinosaur Resembled Hedgehog With A Flamboyant Face

10/28/2014 01:40 EDT | Updated 12/28/2014 05:59 EST
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EDMONTON - An old dinosaur has been given a new name.

A new species of ankylosaur was discovered in the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia in 2000 by a team led by University of Alberta researcher Philip Currie.

A zoological journal published a paper by Currie and others this week that names the creature Zaraapelta nomadis.

Zaraapelta is a combination of Mongolian and Greek works meaning "hedgehog" and "shield." Nomadis was added to honour Nomadic Expeditions, the Mongolian company that has aided dinosaur digs in the region for almost two decades.

Like other ankylosaurs, Zaraapelta was an armoured plant-eater with a gigantic club for a tail. But it was more spectacular than most, with distinctive horns and an elaborate pattern of bumps and grooves behind its eyes.

Victoria Arbour, a University of Alberta expert in ankylosaurs who has been tracking their family tree, helped write the paper that announced Zaraapelta in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

She said it's believed other kinds of dinosaurs, such as crested hadrosaurs or ceratopsians with horns and frills, once used their ornaments during sexual displays.

And ankylosaurs may have too.

Arbour thinks Zaraapelta, along with a couple of other flashy ankylosaurs called Saichania and Tarchia, may have evolved with elaborate embellishments to attract their mates.

"Bone requires a lot of nutrients and metabolic energy to create, and so that investment needs to pay off in some way," she said in a news release.

"Maybe ankylosaurs had this bumpy ornamentation for protection, but another good explanation is that the horns and bumps on their skulls showed that they were a good mate to choose, in the same way that male peacocks use their tail feathers."

The discovered Zaraapelta skull is part of a collection at the Mongolian Paleontologist Center.