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Armored Dinosaur Pictures and Profiles

Armored Dinosaur Pictures and Profiles

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Meet the Armored Dinosaurs of the Mesozoic Era

Talarurus. Andrey Atuchin

Ankylosaurs and nodosaurs--the armored dinosaurs--were the most well-defended herbivores of the later Mesozoic Era. On the following slides, you'll find pictures and detailed profiles of over 40 armored dinosaurs, ranging from A (Acanthopholis) to Z (Zhongyuansaurus).

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Acanthopholis

Acanthopholis. Eduardo Camarga

Name: Acanthopholis (Greek for "spiny scales"); pronounced ah-can-THOFF-oh-liss

Habitat: Woodlands of western Europe

Historical Period: Middle Cretaceous (110-100 million years ago)

Size and Weight: About 13 feet long and 800 pounds

Diet: Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics: Thick, oval-shaped armor; pointed beak

Acanthopholis was a typical example of a nodosaur, a family of ankylosaur dinosaurs characterized by their low-slung profiles and tough coats of armor (in the case of Acanthopholis, this formidable plating was assembled out of oval structures called "scutes.") Where its turtle-like shell stopped, Acanthopholis sprouted dangerous-looking spikes from its neck, shoulder and tail, which presumably helped protect it from the bigger Cretaceous carnivores that tried to turn it into a quick snack. Like other nodosaurs, however, Acanthopholis lacked the lethal tail club that characterized its ankylosaur relatives.

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Aletopelta

Aletopelta. Eduardo Camarga

Name: Aletopelta (Greek for "wandering shield"); pronounced ah-LEE-toe-PELL-ta

Habitat: Woodlands of southern North America

Historical Period: Late Cretaceous (80-70 million years ago)

Size and Weight: About 20 feet long and one ton

Diet: Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics: Low-slung body; spikes on shoulders; clubbed tail

There's an interesting story behind the name Aletopelta, Greek for "wandering shield": although this dinosaur lived in late Cretaceous Mexico, its remains were discovered in modern-day California, the result of continental drift over tens of millions of years. We know that Aletopelta was a true ankylosaur thanks to its thick armor plating (including two dangerous-looking spikes jutting up from its shoulders) and clubbed tail, but otherwise, this low-slung herbivore resembled a nodosaur, a sleeker, more lightly built, and (if possible) even slower subfamily of the ankylosaurs.

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Animantarx

Animantarx. Wikimedia Commons

Name: Animantarx (Greek for "living fortress"); pronounced AN-ih-MAN-tarks

Habitat: Woodlands of North America

Historical Period: Middle-Late Cretaceous (100-90 million years ago)

Size and Weight: About 10 feet long and 1,000 pounds

Diet: Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics: Low-slung posture; horns and spikes along back

True to its name-Greek for "living fortress"-Animantarx was an unusually spiky nodosaur (a subfamily of the ankylosaurs, or armored dinosaurs, which lacked clubbed tails) that lived in middle Cretaceous North America and seems to have been closely related to both Edmontonia and Pawpawsaurus. What's most interesting about this dinosaur, though, is the way it was discovered: it has long been known that fossil bones are slightly radioactive, and an enterprising scientist used radiation-detecting equipment to dredge up the bones of Animantarx, sight unseen, from a Utah fossil bed.

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Ankylosaurus

Ankylosaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Ankylosaurus was one of the biggest armored dinosaurs of the Mesozoic Era, attaining a length of 30 feet from head to tail and weighing in the neighborhood of five tons-almost as much as a stripped-down Sherman Tank from World War II.

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Anodontosaurus

The tail club of Anodontosaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name: Anodontosaurus (Greek for "toothless lizard"); pronounced ANN-oh-DON-toe-SORE-us

Habitat: Woodlands of North America

Historical Period: Late Jurassic (75-65 million years ago)

Size and Weight: About 20 feet long and two tons

Diet: Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics: Squat torso; heavy armor; large tail club

Anodontosaurus, the "toothless lizard," has a tangled taxonomic history. This dinosaur was named in 1928 by Charles M. Sternberg, on the basis of a fossil specimen missing its teeth (Sternberg theorized that this ankylosaur chewed its food with something he called "trituration plates"), and almost half a century later it was "synonymized" with a species of Euoplocephalus, E. tutus. More recently, though, a re-analysis of the type fossils prompted paleontologists to revert Anodontosaurus back to genus status. Like the better-known Euoplocephalus, the two-ton Anodontosaurus was characterized by its almost comical level of body armor, along with a lethal, hatchet-like club on the end of its tail.

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Antarctopelta

Antarctopelta. Alain Beneteau

Name: Antarctopelta (Greek for "Antarctic shield"); pronounced ant-ARK-toe-PELL-tah

Habitat: Woodlands of Antarctica

Historical Period: Middle Cretaceous (100-95 million years ago)

Size and Weight: About 13 feet long; weight unknown

Diet: Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics: Squat, armored body; large teeth

The "type fossil" of the ankylosaur (armored dinosaur) Antarctopelta was dug up on Antarctica's James Ross Island in 1986, but it wasn't until 20 years later that this genus was named and identified. Antarctopelta is one of a handful of dinosaurs (and the first ankylosaur) known to have lived in Antarctica during the Cretaceous period (another being the two-legged theropod Cryolophosaurus), but this wasn't because of the harsh climate: 100 million years ago, Antarctica was a lush, humid, densely forested land mass, not the icebox it is today. Rather, as you can imagine, the frigid conditions on this vast continent don't exactly lend themselves to fossil hunting.

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Dracopelta

Dracopelta. Getty Images

Name: Dracopelta (Greek for "dragon shield"); pronounced DRAY-coe-PELL-tah

Habitat: Woodlands of western Europe

Historical Period: Late Jurassic (150 million years ago)

Size and Weight: About six feet long and 200-300 pounds

Diet: Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics: Moderate size; armor plating on back; quadrupedal posture; small brain

One of the earliest known ankylosaurs, or armored dinosaurs, Dracopelta roamed the woodlands of western Europe during the late Jurassic period, tens of millions of years before its more famous descendants like Ankylosaurus and Euoplocephalus of late Cretaceous North America and Eurasia. As you might expect in such a "basal" ankylosaur, Dracopelta wasn't much to look at, only about three feet long from head to tail and covered in rudimentary armor along its head, neck, back, and tail. Also, like all ankylosaurs, Dracopelta was relatively slow and clumsy; it probably flopped on its stomach and curled into a tight, armored ball when threatened by predators, and its brain-to-body-mass ratio indicates that it wasn't especially bright.

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Dyoplosaurus

Dyoplosaurus. Skyenimals

Name: Dyoplosaurus (Greek for "double-armored lizard"); pronounced DIE-oh-ploe-SORE-us

Habitat: Woodlands of North America

Historical Period: Late Cretaceous (80-75 million years ago)

Size and Weight: About 15 feet long and one ton

Diet: Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics: Low-slung build; heavy armor; clubbed tail

Dyoplosaurus is one of those dinosaurs that has faded in and out of history. When this ankylosaur was discovered, in 1924, it was given its name (Greek for "well-armored lizard") by paleontologist William Parks. Almost half a century later, in 1971, another scientist determined that the remains of Dyoplosaurus were indistinguishable from those of the better-known Euoplocephalus, causing the former name to pretty much disappear. But fast-forward another 40 years, to 2011, and Dyoplosaurus was resurrected: yet another analysis concluded that certain features of this ankylosaur (such as its distinctive club tail) merited its own genus assignation after all.

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Edmontonia

Edmontonia. FOX

Paleontologists speculate that the 20-foot-long, three-ton Edmontonia may have been capable of producing loud honking sounds, which would make it the armored SUV of late Cretaceous North America.

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Euoplocephalus

The clubbed tail of Euoplocephalus. Wikimedia Commons

Euoplocephalus is the best-represented armored dinosaur of North America, thanks to its numerous fossil remains. Because these fossils have been unearthed individually, rather than in groups, it's believed that this ankylosaur was a solitary browser.

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Europelta

Europelta. Andrey Atuchin

Name: Europelta (Greek for "European shield"); pronounced YOUR-oh-PELL-tah

Habitat: Woodlands of western Europe

Historical Period: Middle Cretaceous (110-100 million years ago)

Size and Weight: About 15 feet long and two tons

Diet: Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics: Squat build; knobby armor along the back

Closely related to ankylosaurs (and often classified under that umbrella), nodosaurs were squat, four-legged dinosaurs covered with knobby, nearly impenetrable armor, but lacked the tail clubs that their ankylosaur cousins wielded with such catastrophic effect. The importance of the recently discovered Europelta, from Spain, is that it's the earliest identified nodosaur in the fossil record, dating to the middle Cretaceous period (about 110 to 100 million years ago). The discovery of Europelta also confirms that European nodosaurs differed anatomically from their North American counterparts, probably because many of them were stranded for millions of years on isolated islands dotting the western European continent.

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Gargoyleosaurus

Gargoyleosaurus. North American Museum of Ancient Life

Name: Gargoyleosaurus (Greek for "gargoyle lizard"); pronounced GAR-goil-oh-SORE-us

Habitat: Woodlands of North America

Historical Period: Late Jurassic (155-145 million years ago)

Size and Weight: About 10 feet long and one ton

Diet: Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics: Ground-hugging build; bony plates on back

As the earliest steel-plated wagon was to a Sherman tank, so Gargoyleosaurus was to the later (and more famous) Ankylosaurus-a distant ancestor that began experimenting with body armor during the late Jurassic period, tens of millions of years before its more formidable descendant. As far as paleontologists can tell, Gargoyleosaurus was the first true ankylosaur, a type of herbivorous dinosaur typified by its squat, ground-hugging build and plated armor. The whole point of ankylosaurs, of course, was to present as unappetizing a prospect as possible to ravenous predators--who had to flip these plant-eaters on their backs if they wanted to inflict a mortal wound.

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Gastonia

Gastonia. North American Museum of Ancient Life

Name: Gastonia ("Gaston's lizard," after paleontologist Rob Gaston); pronounced gas-TOE-nee-ah

Habitat: Woodlands of North America

Historical Period: Early Cretaceous (125 million years ago)

Size and Weight: About 15 feet long and one ton

Diet: Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics: Low-slung body; quadrupedal posture; paired spines on back and shoulders

One of the earliest known ankylosaurs (armored dinosaurs), Gastonia's claim to fame is that its remains were discovered in the same quarry as those of Utahraptor--the largest, and fiercest, of all the North American raptors. We can't know for sure, but it seems likely that Gastonia figured occasionally on Utahraptor's dinner menu, which would explain its need for elaborate back armor and shoulder spikes. (The only way Utahraptor could have made a meal of Gastonia would have been to flip it onto its back and bite into its soft belly, which wouldn't have been an easy task, even for a 1,500-pound raptor that hasn't eaten in three days.)

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Gobisaurus

The partial skull of Gobisaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name: Gobisaurus (Greek for "Gobi Desert lizard"); pronounced GO-bee-SORE-us

Habitat: Plains of central Asia

Historical Period: Late Cretaceous (100-90 million years ago)

Size and Weight: About 20 feet long and 1-2 tons

Diet: Plans

Distinguishing Characteristics: Low-slung build; thick armor

Considering how many raptors and dino-birds prowled central Asia during the late Cretaceous period, you can understand why ankylosaurs like Gobisaurus evolved their thick body armor during the course of the Cretaceous period. Discovered in 1960, during a joint Russian and Chinese paleontological expedition to the Gobi Desert, Gobisaurus was an unusually large armored dinosaur (to judge by its 18-inch-long skull), and it seems to have been closely related to Shamosaurus. One of its contemporaries was the three-ton theropod Chilantaisaurus, with which it probably had a predator/prey relationship.

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Hoplitosaurus

Hoplitosaurus. Getty Images

Name: Hoplitosaurus (Greek for "Hoplite lizard"); pronounced HOP-lie-toe-SORE-us

Habitat: Woodlands of North America

Historical Period: Early Cretaceous (130-125 million years ago)

Size and Weight: About 10 feet long and half a ton

Diet: Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics: Low-slung torso; thick armor

Discovered in South Dakota in 1898, and named four years later, Hoplitosaurus is one of those dinosaurs that lingers on the fringes of the official record books. At first, Hoplitosaurus was classified as a species of Stegosaurus, but then paleontologists realized they were dealing with a different beast altogether: an early ankylosaur, or armored dinosaur. The trouble is, a convincing case has yet to be made that Hoplitosaurus wasn't really a species (or specimen) of Polacanthus, a contemporaneous ankylosaur from western Europe. Today, it just barely retains genus status, a situation that may change pending future fossil discoveries.

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Hungarosaurus

Hungarosaurus. Government of Hungary

Name: Hungarosaurus (Greek for "Hungarian lizard"); pronounced HUNG-ah-roe-SORE-us

Habitat: Floodplains of central Europe

Historical Period: Late Cretaceous (85 million years ago)

Size and Weight: About 12 feet long and 1,000 pounds

Diet: Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics: Low-slung torso; thick armor

Ankylosaurs-armored dinosaurs-are most often associated with North America and Asia, but some important species lived midway between, in Europe. To date, Hungarosaurus is the best-attested ankylosaur of Europe, represented by the remains of four huddled-together individuals (it's uncertain whether Hungarosaurus was a social dinosaur, or if these individuals happened to wash up in the same place after drowning in a flash flood). Technically a nodosaur, and thus lacking a clubbed tail, Hungarosaurus was a medium-sized plant eater characterized by its thick, almost impenetrable, body armor-and would thus not have been the first dinner choice of the hungry raptors and tyrannosaurs of its Hungarian ecosystem.

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Hylaeosaurus

An early depiction of Hylaeosaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name: Hylaeosaurus (Greek for "forest lizard"); pronounced HIGH-lay-oh-SORE-us

Habitat: Woodlands of western Europe

Historical Period: Early Cretaceous (135 million years ago)

Size and Weight: About 20 feet long and 1,000-2,000 pounds

Diet: Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics: Spines on shoulders; armored back

We know much more about Hylaeosaurus' place in paleontological history than we do about how this dinosaur actually lived, or even what it looked like. This early Cretaceous ankylosaur was named by the pioneering naturalist Gideon Mantell in 1833, and almost a decade later, it was one of the handful of ancient reptiles (the other two were Iguanodon and Megalosaurus) to which Richard Owen assigned the new name "dinosaur." Oddly enough, the fossil of Hylaeosaurus is still exactly as Mantell found it-encased in a block of limestone, at the London Museum of Natural History. Perhaps out of respect for the first generation of paleontologists, no one has taken the trouble to actually prepare the fossil specimen, which (for what it's worth) seems to have been left by a dinosaur closely related to Polacanthus.

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Liaoningosaurus

Liaoningosaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name: Liaoningosaurus (Greek for "Liaoning lizard"); pronounced LEE-ow-NING-oh-SORE-us

Habitat: Woodlands of Asia

Historical Period: Early Cretaceous (125-120 million years ago)

Size and Weight: Unknown for adult; juvenile measured two feet from head to tail

Diet: Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics: Small size; clawed hands and feet; light armor on the belly

China's Liaoning fossil beds are famous for their profusion of small, feathered dinosaurs, but occasionally they deliver the equivalent of a paleontological curveball. A good example is Liaoningosaurus, an early Cretaceous armored dinosaur that seems to have existed very near the ancient split between ankylosaurs and nodosaurs. Even more remarkably, the "type fossil" of Liaoningosaurus is a two-foot-long juvenile with armor plating along its belly as well as its back. Belly armor is virtually unknown in adult nodosaurs and ankylosaurs, but it's possible that juveniles had and gradually shed this feature, since they were more vulnerable to being flipped over by hungry predators.

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Minmi

Minmi. Wikimedia Commons

The armored dinosaurs of the late Cretaceous period had a worldwide distribution. Minmi was an especially small and especially small-brained ankylosaur of Australia, about as smart (and as difficult to attack) as a fire hydrant.

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Minotaurasaurus

Minotaurasaurus. Nobu Tamura

Name: Minotaurasaurus (Greek for "Minotaur lizard"); pronounced MIN-oh-TORE-ah-SORE-us

Habitat: Plains of central Asia

Historical Period: Late Cretaceous (80 million years ago)

Size and Weight: About 12 feet long and half a ton

Diet: Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics: Large, ornate skull with horns and bumps

A faint whiff of disrepute hangs around Minotaurosaurus, which was announced as a new genus of ankylosaur (armored dinosaur) in 2009. This late Cretaceous plant eater is represented by a single, spectacular skull, which many paleontologists believe actually belonged to a specimen of another Asian ankylosaur, Saichania. Since we don't know much about how the skulls of ankylosaurs changed as they aged, and hence which fossil specimens belong to which genera, this is a far from uncommon situation in the dinosaur world.

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Nodosaurus

Nodosaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name: Nodosaurus (Greek for "knobby lizard"); pronounced NO-doe-SORE-us

Habitat: Woodlands of North America

Historical Period: Middle Cretaceous (110-100 million years ago)

Size and Weight: About 15 feet long and one ton

Diet: Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics: Tough, scaly plates on back; stubby legs; lack of tail club

For a dinosaur that has given its name to an entire prehistoric famil-the nodosaurs, which were closely related to the ankylosaurs, or armored dinosaurs-not a whole lot is known about Nodosaurus. To date, no complete fossil of this armor-plated herbivore has been discovered, though Nodosaurus has a very distinguished pedigree, having been named by the famous paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh way back in 1889. (This is not an uncommon situation; to cite just three examples, we also don't know a whole lot about Pliosaurus, Plesiosaurus, Hadrosaurus, which lent their names to the pliosaurus, plesiosaurs, and hadrosaurs.)

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Oohkotokia

The tail club of Oohkotokia. Wikimedia Commons

Name: Oohkotokia (Blackfoot for "large stone"); pronounced OOH-oh-coe-TOE-kee-ah

Habitat: Woodlands of North America

Historical Period: Late Cretaceous (75 million years ago)

Size and Weight: About 20 feet long and 2-3 tons

Diet: Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics: Low-slung build; armor plating

Discovered in 1986 in Montana's Two Medicine Formation, but only formally named in 2013, Oohkoto