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What Did the Ankylosaurus Look Like Before It Got This Club Tail?

Illustration for article titled What Did the Ankylosaurus Look Like Before It Got This Club Tail?

Ankylosaurs are common features on documentaries or animated films about dinosaurs. Their armored body and club-like tail make them easy to identify. But how did that tail actually evolve? Evolutionary biologists show us the “first draft” of a popular dinosaur.

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We see a lot of the familiar ankylosaur, and we know it by the knob at the end of its tail. In popular depictions, it uses its tail like a club, which paleontologists agree is how the original dinosaurs probably used it. What we rarely notice, or see in early depictions, is the fact that the “tail” has changed in more ways than one. It’s not a swinging rope with a club at the end—it’s more of a hammer with a stiff handle. The vertebrae have been fused together.

Victoria Arbour, a researcher at North Carolina State University, has rounded up fossils of ankylosaurus and found that the “handle” came first, and the head of the hammer came second. The fused vertebrae came first, so at one point, early “drafts” of the ankylosaur just had weird, stiff tails.

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Illustration for article titled What Did the Ankylosaurus Look Like Before It Got This Club Tail?

Before that, the dinosaur was just a roly-poly armored tank with a regular curling tail. Below, we have a timeline of ankylosaur evolution.

Illustration for article titled What Did the Ankylosaurus Look Like Before It Got This Club Tail?

Just as a note—I have seen a lot of press releases announcing new discoveries, but none of them had a title this good. They put it out under the heading, “Tail as Old as Time.” Well done, guys.

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[Source: Ankylosaurid dinosaur tail clubs evolved through stepwise acquisition of key features]

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UnitedShoes

Thanks to the Disney movie, that paper title is starting to make me picture a version of Beauty and the Beast in which dinosaurs form the basis of all the transformations of the Beast’s household.

I’m okay with this mental image (especially if the appropriate dinosaur castle servants have their feathers intact. Feathered oviraptor cooks and plumed Utahraptor guards in period-appropriate dress would be fantastic).