Happy birthday, Dynamosaurus!

Today marks the auspicious anniversary of one of the most significant dinosaurs ever described: Dynamosaurus imperiosus! Surely one of the greatest and most fearful of all of the predatory dinosaurs, it stomped through the Maastrichtian of Wyoming and other parts of western North America. Dynamosaurus is noteworthy for its diagnostic dermal plates, which ran in transverse rows down its body and which formed a large knob of bone at the end of the tail. The function of these plates are still hotly debated, but they certainly gave Dynamosaurus a unique look among theropods.

I kid, of course, but I think Dynamosaurus deserves a mention on its more famous relative’s naming day as well. Tyrannosaurus, Dynamosaurus, and Albertosaurus were all named by Osborn in 1905 and although Tyrannosaurus and Albertosaurus have proven to be distinct from each other, Dynamosaurus turned out to be a junior synonym of Tyrannosaurus. If Tyrannosaurus hadn’t appeared first in the publication, good ol’ T. rex might not be the household name it is today and we might all stand and gape at Sue or Scotty or Stan the Dynamosaurus. The distinctive osteoderms are probably Ankylosaurus osteoderms, although I haven’t attempted to track down the specimens myself or any papers that discuss their identity, so I suppose they could also be Maastrichtian nodosaurid osteoderms. Updated 2 October 2015: Last year when I fired this off quickly I completely forgot that the Dynamosaurus osteoderms are figured in Ken Carpenter’s 2004 Ankylosaurus paper!

Anyway, happy birthday, Dynamosaurus. I still like you, even if you never existed.

Osborn HF. 1905. Tyrannosaurus and other Cretaceous carnivorous dinosaurs. Bulletin of the AMNH 21: 259-265.

Osborn HF. 1906. Tyrannosaurus, Upper Cretaceous carnivorous dinosaur (second communication). Bulletin of the AMNH 22:281-296.


Who-oplocephalus: Is Euoplocephalus ‘real’?

The holotype of Euoplocephalus isn’t very complete, as holotypes go. So, one of the first things I had to figure out for this project was whether or not the holotype of Euoplocephalus had any diagnostic features. Euoplocephalus was certainly unique when it was named – no other dinosaurs had the pattern of flat, polygonal plates on the skull like CMN 0210 has, and Lambe wasn’t even entirely sure what the cervical half ring was (he suggested it might have been the back of a frill or crest).

Here it is again: CMN 0210, holotype of Euoplocephalus tutus.

A lot of times, features that are unique or diagnostic to a species when it is named are later found to be present in other closely related dinosaur species. There’s a great term for this – character obsolescence (Wilson and Upchurch 2003). Anodontosaurus, named by Sternberg in 1929, had similar flat polygonal plates on the skull. And although Ankylosaurus was named in 1908, a skull was not known for some time – but it too has flat polygonal plates on the skull. So, this pattern isn’t necessarily a diagnostic or unique feature for Euoplocephalus.

Paul Penkalski looked at variation of skulls referred to Euoplocephalus in 2001, and noted that there were a couple of different morphologies represented by cervical half rings. Is the cervical half ring of CMN 0210 unique? Luckily for me, the University of Alberta has an excellent ankylosaur specimen called UALVP 31. Collected by GF Sternberg in 1921 and described by Gilmore in 1923, the skull has been on display in our paleontology museumfor several decades.

And here’s UALVP 31’s skull on display, plus the tail club UALVP 16247.

But more than the skull was collected – the cervical half rings, part of the hips and leg, a scapula, and other bits and pieces had been collected but never prepared! So, I dug out the half rings and other pieces and got to work.

Hop in the wayback machine, here’s a picture from 2007, my first year at the U of A, working on the cervical half rings of UALVP 31.

Preparing the material took a couple of years, because I did it in bits and snags around my research and other projects. I had help from several of my fellow grad students and technicians – Robin Sissons did the scapula, Mike Burns and Kristina Barclay helped with the pelvis, and Ian Macdonald and Clive Coy assisted with some of the trickier parts like the poorly-preserved second cervical half ring.

You guys, opening up old jackets is hard! Anyway, this is Mike and Robin in 2008 being awesome weirdos.

In 2009, I decided to supervise two high school students in the University of Alberta’s WISEST Summer Research Program. WISEST (Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology) is an awesome organization that organizes conferences for junior high and high school students, and supports grad students, postdocs, and early career professionals on campus. Their Summer Research Program places high school students into university labs for about 6 weeks during the summer, and by the end the students produce and present a poster discussing what they’ve been up to. In 2009 I was joined by Carmen Chornell and Idel Riemer, who were enthusiastic and excellent fossil preparators! Together we completed preparing the UALVP 31 pelvis, as well as other small bits.

Carmen works away on the pelvis and leg…

…while Idel puts the finishing touches on some osteoderms.

The UALVP 31 cervical half ring turned out pretty neat, but I needed more information to figure out if the half ring of CMN 0210 was unique. I visited lots of museums to see what the half rings of other “Euoplocephalus” specimens looked like, and to see the half rings of other species of ankylosaurs. Thankfully, it seems that the half ring of CMN 0210 is diagnostic, so Euoplocephalus is a real taxon after all. The first cervical half ring has 6 tall, keeled osteoderms, and each pair has a distinct morphology. The middle (medial) pair are tall, with a centrally located apex to the keel. The lateral pair also have a keel, but it’s kind of sigmoidal (or, S-shaped). The distal pair, which cover the tips of the band, are flange-shaped. Some specimens, like UALVP 31, are missing the distal osteoderms – these don’t seem to fuse on as tightly, so it’s possible that they are more easily broken off before fossilization. The half ring of UALVP 31 shares the same morphology as CMN 0210, and so UALVP 31 was one of the few specimens that I could confidently refer to Euoplocephalus for a long time (another being AMNH 5406). UALVP 31 was the only one of these that had a complete skull.

On the left, CMN 0210, in the middle is UALVP 31, and on the right is AMNH 5406.

In the next post, I’ll talk about figuring out variation in the cranial ornamentation in Euoplocephalus skulls.


Arbour VM, Currie PJ. 2013. Euoplocephalus tutus and the diversity of ankylosaurid dinosaurs in the Late Cretaceous of Alberta, Canada, and Montana, USA. PLOS ONE 8: e62421.

Brown B. 1908. The Ankylosauridae, a new family of armored dinosaurs from the Upper Cretaceous. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 24:187–201.

Gilmore CW. 1923. A new species of Corythosaurus with notes on other Belly River Dinosauria. Canadian Field Naturalist 37: 1–9.

Lambe LM. 1902. New genera and species from the Belly River Series (mid-Cretaceous). Geological Survey of Canada Contributions to Canadian Palaeontology 3: 25–81.

Lambe LM. 1910. Note on the parietal crest of Centrosaurus apertus and a proposed new generic name for Stereocephalus tutus. Ottawa Naturalist 14: 149–151.

Penkalski P. 2001. Variation in specimens referred to Euoplocephalus tutus. In: Carpenter K (ed.) The Armored Dinosaurs. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 363-385.

Wilson JA, Upchurch P. 2003. A revision of Titanosaurus Lydekker (Dinosauria – Sauropoda), the first dinosaur genus with a “Gondwanan” distribution. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 1:125-160.

5 Questions for Phil Bell

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s interview with Caleb, here’s an interview with Phil Bell of the Pipestone Creek Dinosaur Initiative. Phil is a former Currie Lab member who completed his PhD last spring, focusing on the Mongolian and North American hadrosaur Saurolophus. He recently published a paper on skin impressions in Saurolophus. Thanks to David Lloyd of the Tyrrell Museum for the great photos of work at the Dragon’s Tomb in 2010! Continue reading

You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose…and you can definitely pick your ankylosaur’s nose.

Say hello to Euoplocephalus, the best known ankylosaur you’ve never heard of. Besides Pinacosaurus from Mongolia and China, there are more specimens referred to Euoplocephalus than to any other ankylosaurid, and it is certainly the most well represented ankylosaurid from North America. Yet Euoplocephalus often gets overlooked because its younger cousin is THAT ankylosaur, the one that starred at the World’s Fair and was in Jurassic Park III and Clash of the Dinosaurs and Dinosaur Revolution and gets all the cool toys and, you know, is the namesake of the group. You know, Ankylosaurus. Well, hopefully you’ll be hearing more from me about Euoplocephalus over the coming months. Today we’ll be picking its nose. Continue reading

Ankylosaur tail pathologies.

My most recent paper with my coauthor and supervisor Phil Currie appeared online at Historical Biology this week. It is the last of the chapters from my MSc on ankylosaur tail club biomechanics (although I am still working on ankylosaurs, the focus is now on the phylogenetic relationships within the ankylosaurids and their biogeography). However, it contains very little about the biomechanics of tail clubs…

Most of my MSc thesis used a lot of math and fancy-dancy computer modeling to look at whether it is biologically feasible for ankylosaurids to have used their tail clubs for forceful impacts (and therefore as offensive or defensive weapons). But another way to look for evidence of behaviour is to look for injuries, which can sometimes, if you’re lucky, give you clues about some of the more dramatic moments in an animal’s life. So as I was looking at specimens for my MSc (and into my PhD), I always kept an eye open for anything unusual or abnormal that could be a pathology. Continue reading

Congratulations Phil Bell!

Some congratulations are in order for my fellow grad student Phil Bell, who successfully defended his PhD thesis today!

Phil’s thesis is titled “Systematics and palaeobiology of the crested hadrosaurine Saurolophus, from Canada and Mongolia.” He’s been working for the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum (previously the River of Death and Discovery Dinosaur Museum) since last fall.

You can read more about his work on Saurolophus in these papers; I’m sure there will be several more to come:

Bell PR, Evans DC. 2010. Revision of the status of Saurolophus (Hadrosauridae) from California, USA. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 47:1417-1426.

Bell PR. 2011. Redescription of the skull of Saurolophus osborni Brown 1912 (Ornithischia: Hadrosauridae). Cretaceous Research 32:30-44.

Bell PR. In press. Cranial osteology and ontogeny of Saurolophus angustirostris from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia with comments on Saurolophus osborni from Canada. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.

I like ankylosaur butts, and I cannot lie.

Yes, I seem to have this recurring fascination for the derrière of these dinosaurs. In 2009 I published a paper (with my fellow grad students Mike Burns and Robin Sissons) on Dyoplosaurus, in which we argued that the pelvis (specifically, the sacral ribs) is different than that of Euoplocephalus. I reconstructed the muscles of the tail and pelvis in my 2009 PLoS ONE paper on tail clubbing. Twice now I have spent significant portions of my summer preparing the pelvis of two different ankylosaur specimens. And now this month I have another paper (again with Mike Burns and my supervisor Phil Currie) on the ankylosaur pelvis, this time on the armour of the pelvic region.

The lovely behind of Aletopelta, from my visit to the San Diego Natural History Museum in 2009. It is an excellent museum, you should check it out!

It has been recognized for a long time now that some ankylosaurs were doing really weird things with the armour over their pelvis. In some taxa, the osteoderms fuse together to form a carapace-like shield over the hips. Previously, the presence or absence of this shield has been used in phylogenetic analyses to examine whether or not a third group of ankylosaurs, the Polacanthidae, is a valid taxon (in addition to the Nodosauridae and Ankylosauridae). However, it is not just the presence or absence of the pelvic shield, but the way that the pelvic shield is constructed, that may be important.

In this paper I and my coauthors propose a revised way of looking at the pelvic shield that breaks shields up into three categories: 1. fused, rosette pattern, 2. fused, uniform-sized polygons, and 3. not fused. “But Victoria, if the osteoderms aren’t fused, then why call it a pelvic shield?” you may ask. Well, after looking at the AMNH’s Sauropelta and the BMNH’s Euoplocephalus, I noticed that although the osteoderms of the pelvis weren’t coossified, there also weren’t any transverse bands segmenting the body in that region (see image below of BMNH R5161, the holotype of Scolosaurus discussed in this post). Although the osteoderms aren’t fused together, they still form a continuous shield over the pelvis.

The always exciting headless, clubless, BMNH R5161, modified from Nopsca’s 1928 paper and as seen in Arbour et al. 2011.

More interesting, though, is what happens when we look at the other two categories – rosettes vs. uniform polygons – in a stratigraphic and geographic context. Rosettes are restricted to the Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous, whereas uniform polygons are primarily Upper Cretaceous. Uniform polygon shields are only found in North America (with the possible exception of Antarctopelta…which is from Antarctica). We did not run a phylogenetic analysis for this paper, but I plan to incorporate this data into subsequent analyses stemming from my PhD thesis on the phylogenetic relationships and biogeography of the Ankylosauridae. I will be very interested to see if any clades show up that reflect these stratigraphic and geographic patterns.

Here’s the paper! (behind a paywall, unfortunately…):

Arbour VM, Burns ME, Currie PJ. 2011. A review of pelvic shield morphology in ankylosaurs (Dinosauria: Ornithischia). Journal of Paleontology 85:298-302.

More papers about ankylosaur pelves!

Arbour VM, Burns ME, Sissons RL. 2009. A redescription of the ankylosaurid dinosaur Dyoplosaurus acutosquameus Parks, 1924 (Ornithischia: Ankylosauria) and a revision of the genus. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 29:1117–1135.

Arbour VM. 2009. Estimating impact forces of tail club strikes by ankylosaurid dinosaurs. PLoS ONE 4: e6738.