I saw a post up at Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs today – did you know Ankylosaurus could fly? The original Sinclair World’s Fair Ankylosaurus was being lifted by crane from the Houston Museum of Natural History as the museum undergoes expansion and renovations.
This got me thinking about a talk I gave for the Alberta Palaeontological Society annual meeting last March: “My ankylosaur is a big dumb tank! Ankylosaur reconstructions in the scientific literature and popular media.” I talked about why ankylosaurs are reconstructed in certain ways, both accurate and inaccurate. Darren Naish at Tetrapod Zoology has been talking about memes in palaeontological illustration, and how certain wacky reconstructions and poses pop up again and again. I think this is perhaps especially well illustrated by several ankylosaur taxa and today I’d like to talk about Ankylosaurus.
Brown 1908. The Ankylosauridae, a new family of armored dinosaurs from the upper Cretaceous. AMNH Bulletin 24:187-201.
Oh, Ankylosaurus. The namesake of the Ankylosauria and Ankylosauridae. One of the most popular ankylosaurs. And yet Ankylosaurus is not particularly well known in terms of skeletal material – some skulls, a tail club, and miscellaneous postcranial bits. Barnum Brown’s 1908 description included the pictured reconstruction of the armour. At the time Brown did not know that Ankylosaurus had a tail club, so he reconstructed it with a more Stegosaurus-like tail. The armour is shown as pretty uniform across the body, mostly because Brown didn’t have a lot to work with and little to compare Ankylosaurus to.
Enter the World’s Fair dinosaurs by Sinclair, including Ankylosaurus. We have a replica (cast? Model? Does anyone know?) at the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton (along with a Sinclair Corythosaurus), which I think is pretty rad. Note the strange, pustulated tail club back there, dragging on the ground. Boo. There’s really no reason for the tail club to be portrayed as a lumpy, gross thing – the only known tail club of Ankylosaurus actually has a very smooth texture! The World’s Fair Ankylosaurus (along with the Zallinger mural at the Peabody Museum) would define how Ankylosaurus is drawn and modeled for a very long time – I have a pink Ankylosaurus eraser from an elementary school book fair that is clearly modeled on this fellow, for example.
Walking with Dinosaurs included an Ankylosaurus in the final episode, Death of a Dyanasty, back in 1999. There’s that lumpy tail club again! Again, we see the influences of Brown and the Sinclair World’s Fair Ankylosaurus. A couple of Ankylosaurus make an appearance in Jurassic Park 3 (briefly, as they float down the river after escaping the Pteranodon aviary), and holy smokes are they ever strange.
(From the delightfully thorough Dinosaur Toy Blog.)
In 2004, Ken Carpenter published a wonderful, long, detailed revision of Ankylosaurus in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, and offered a new armour reconstruction. If you’ve got the Carnegie series Ankylosaurus toy, you’ll be familiar with this new interpretation – they clearly drew much of their inspiration and information from Carpenter’s new reconstruction. There are a few minor points I could quibble about, but overall it’s a good reconstruction of the armour, and a big change from the uniform spiky Ankylosaurus. And the tail club isn’t horrible!
The most recent TV Ankylosaurus I know of was in Clash of the Dinosaurs. Say what you will about the show, but I thought the ankylosaur segment was pretty good. I had the opportunity to do a bit of advising for that segment, and it was a lot of fun to work with the producers to try to get Ankylosaurus just right. They did a great job on the head, and the body is almost like a little bit of a mix between the Brown/World’s Fair Ankylosaurus and the Carpenter Ankylosaurus. And the tail club was not gross! Hooray and success!
It is a less well-known fact that Ankylosaurus looked quite dapper in a hat.