Spiky-headed dinosaur with menacing tail ate only plants

Extensive skeletal remains, including complete skull, were found in Utah

With its head and snout covered in bony armour shaped like cones and pyramids, a spiky tank-like dinosaur unearthed in southern Utah was not just another pretty face.

Scientists have announced the discovery of fossils of a dinosaur named Akainacephalus johnsoni that lived 76 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period. It was a four-legged, armour-studded animal with a menacing club at the end of its tail but ate only plants.

It was a member of a dinosaur group called ankylosaurs, among the most heavily armoured animals ever on the earth.

The unique shape and arrangement of its head and snout armour may be its most intriguing trait, the researchers said, giving clues about the Asian ancestry of some of the ankylosaurs that roamed western North America near the end of the dinosaur era.

“Someone once told me that Akainacephalus, and ankylosaurs in general, were quite ugly and had a face only a mother could love. I must say that I wholeheartedly disagree. These are quite extraordinary and beautiful animals,” said palaeontologist Jelle Wiersma of James Cook University in Australia.

Akainacephalus was a medium-sized ankylosaur, about 16 feet long, with a short boxy head covered in bony armour and a beak and small teeth for cropping vegetation, said palaeontologist Randall Irmis of the Natural History Museum of Utah and the University of Utah.

It had a short neck and wide torso, walked on four short stout legs, and may have whacked predators with its bony tail club. It inhabited a warm, humid environment .

The extensive skeletal remains, including a complete skull, were excavated in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The research was published in the scientific journal PeerJ.

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