An armored dinosaur named after the “Ghostbusters” monster used its massive, club-like tail to fight its peers, a new study suggests.
While it was long believed that the ankylosaurus Zuul crurivastator used its appendages to fend off predators like T. rex, evidence now suggests it took the fight to its own species as well.
Scientists from the Royal Ontario Museum, the Royal British Columbia Museum and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science have found signs on a particular Zuul fossil that the spines on its sides had been broken and re-healed.
These injuries are believed to have been caused by being hit by the tail of another Zuul, suggesting that they fought for social and territorial dominance – and even had a “rutting” season for a mate.
Dr Victoria Arbor, lead author of the study, published in Biology Letters, described the findings as a “really exciting new piece of the puzzle” about how the herbivore lived 76 million years ago.
“We know that ankylosaurs could deliver very powerful blows to their opponents with their tail clubs,” she said.
“But most people think they were fighting predators with tail clubs. Instead, ankylosaurs like Zuul may have been fighting each other.”
Affectionately named after the demonic hound-like minion from 1984’s Ghostbusters, Zuul features Sigourney Weaver’s character Dana Barrett.
When its skull and three-meter-long tail were first discovered by paleontologists in northern Montana as part of the Royal Ontario Museum’s vertebrate fossil collection, its main body was encased in 35,000 pounds of sandstone.
After years of work, most of the dinosaur’s skin and bony armor have been preserved, allowing people to see what it looked like in life.
While its bony plates varied in shape and size, the scientists noticed that many of the spikes near the hips on both sides were missing their tips — the bone and horny sheath had fused into a blunter shape.
The pattern of these injuries is more consistent with the result of some form of combat or jousting than with an aggressive predator, similar to the way deer spar with their antlers today.