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Well-preserved Canadian fossil reveals dinosaur armor like no other

By Brooks Hays
An artistic rendering showcases the tank-like appearance of the newly discovered dinosaur species <em>Borealopelta markmitchelli</em>. Photo by Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology/Drumheller
An artistic rendering showcases the tank-like appearance of the newly discovered dinosaur species Borealopelta markmitchelli. Photo by Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology/Drumheller

Aug. 3 (UPI) -- One of the most well-preserved dinosaur fossils ever recovered has revealed a set of scales unlike any sported by armored dinosaurs.

The newly discovered dinosaur species, Borealopelta markmitchelli, was the Humvee of the Cretaceous period. Despite the tank-like species' impressive size, the dinosaur's scales also served as camouflage, suggesting it hid to avoid predation.

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Spectral analysis of the 110-million-year-old herbivore's scales revealed the presence of pigmentation. The dinosaur was darker on top and lighter on the bottom, a camouflage strategy known as countershading.

"Color patterns can be used for sexual display, thermoregulation, communication and many other reasons," researcher Jakob Vinther told BBC. "But, today, countershading is used for camouflage and we think that the new species had this type of pigment pattern to help it to hide from predators."

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If the species was discovered, its heavy armor would have made it difficult to wound. However, the stout stature of Borealopelta markmitchelli would have made it hard for the herbivore flee.

Scientists were able to study the armor's 3D structure thanks to the fossil's superb condition.

"Normally when we find a dinosaur we find bits and pieces of skeletons, and occasionally soft issue," Caleb Brown at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, told New Scientist. "In this case we have all the skin preserved in the front half of body -- so it actually looks like it looked back in the Cretaceous."

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The fossil -- believed to be Alberta's oldest -- was originally discovered by a shovel operator six years ago. It's now on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology.

Researchers described the new species this week in the journal Current Biology.

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