How the ankylosaur got its tail club

Ankylosaur tail clubs are odd structures, odder than they are usually given credit for. They represent substantial modifications to two different skeletal systems – the endoskeleton, in the form of the caudal vertebrae, and the dermal skeleton, in the form of the caudal osteoderms. The centra of the caudal vertebrae lengthen but stay robust, and the neural arches undergo huge changes, such that the prezygapophyses, postzygapophyses, and neural spine become a robust, V-shaped structure on the top of the centrum, and which creates a tightly interlocking vertebral series with almost no flexibility. We call this the handle of the tail club. The osteoderms at the tip of the tail smush together and two of them become huge: although the tail club knob is small in some species, there are colossal knobs exceeding 60 cm in width. The ankylosaur tail club represents one of the most extreme modifications to the tail in terrestrial tetrapods.

Look at that thing. That is a weird thing.

(This is UALVP 47273, a really nice club that I studied for my MSc work on tail club biomechanics.)

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Know Your Ankylosaurs: Everybody’s in this Together Edition

So with all of those posts about ankylosaur taxonomy over the last few weeks, what have we learned about the evolution of this group? Over the course of my PhD research, I was able to identify a bunch of new characters that seemed useful for understanding ankylosaur phylogenetic relationships, including characters related to the cranial ornamentation, pelvis, and osteoderms. Although ornamentation and osteoderms can be tricky, they can still yield useful information if you’re careful about how you construct the characters.

Here’s a sampling of some of the new characters from the supplementary file that goes along with the paper. Long live rainbow ankylosaur skulls. Continue reading

Know Your Ankylosaurs: North American Odds and Ends Edition

I’ve covered many of the North American ankylosaurs in my previous papers and blog posts. In 2013, I argued that what we thought was Euoplocephalus was more likely 4 taxaAnodontosaurus, Dyoplosaurus, Scolosaurus, and Euoplocephalus proper. Then in 2014 we described a newankylosaurid, Ziapelta, from New Mexico. There are a few other taxa that had previously been proposed to be ankylosaurids, so let’s take a look at them here.

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Know Your Ankylosaurs: Gondwana Edition

Last time, I talked about the ankylosaurids of China, and today we’re talking about Gondwanan ankylosaurs. Gondwana basically refers to the continents of today’s southern hemisphere; when the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart, it split into two large continents – Laurasia in the north, and Gondwana in the south. Gondwana includes South America, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica, and, somewhat nonintuitively, India (India kind of beelined into Asia from Australia and that’s why we have the Himalayas). Almost all of the ankylosaurs we know about are from the Laurasian continents, which means that the few found in Gondwana are phylogenetically and biogeographically interesting: do they represent southern branches of the ankylosaur family tree, or new migrations into Gondwana from Laurasia? Let’s take a closer look:

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