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New find suggests ankylosaur’s tail clubs were for bashing each other

The evolution of this weapon may have had little to do with threats from predators.

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Enlarge / The tail clubs of ankylosaur species seem to have been used to bash each other rather than predators. (credit: Henry Sharpe)

New research indicates that the tail clubs on huge armored dinosaurs known as ankylosaurs may have evolved to whack each other rather than deter hungry predators. This is a complete shift from what was previously believed.

Prior to the paper published today in Biology Letters, most scientists looked upon the dinosaur’s tail club, a substantial bony protrusion comprised of two oval-shaped knobs, primarily as a defense against predation. The team behind the new paper argues that this is not necessarily the case. To make their case, they focus on years of ankylosaur research, analysis of the fossil record, and data from an exceptionally well-preserved specimen named Zuul crurivastator.

Zuul’s name, in fact, embraces that previous idea. While “Zuul” references the creature in the original Ghostbusters, the two Latin words that make up its species name are crus (shin or shank) and vastator (destroyer). Hence, the destroyer of shins: a direct reference to where the dinosaur’s club may have struck injured approaching tyrannosaurs or other theropods.

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