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Unusual New Dinosaur Species Featured Armor Unlike Anything Seen Before

The exciting discovery was made in Morocco's Middle Atlas Mountains, at the same location where researchers from the Natural History Museum (NHM) previously discovered the world's oldest stegosaur, which was previously thought to be over 100 million years old.

Scientists at the National Museum of Natural History (NHM) and the University of Birmingham named the new species Spicomellus afer after Dr. Susannah Maidment, who is also an honorary senior lecturer at the University of Birmingham. Spicomellus means "collar of spikes" and afer means "of Africa."

After previously discovering stegosaurs at the same location, we speculated that the specimen might be a piece of one of these dinosaurs. However, upon closer examination, we discovered that the fossil was unlike anything we had ever seen before."

The specimen is so out of the ordinary that the researchers were initially concerned that it might be a forgery. CT scanning confirmed that it was a genuine specimen, and a cross section taken from the base of the specimen revealed a cross hatch pattern in the bone that was only found in ankylosaurs, confirming the specimen's identity.

Dr. Maidment goes on to say that ankylosaurs had armored spikes that were usually embedded in their skin rather than fused to their bones. There are a series of spikes attached to the rib in this specimen, which must have protruded above the skin, which was likely covered by a layer of something like keratin."

"It is completely unprecedented in the animal kingdom and unlike anything else that has ever happened before."

The ankylosaurs were a diverse group of armored dinosaurs that were related to the more well-known stegosaurs in their evolutionary history. Their presence was documented throughout the Cretaceous period, but there is little evidence of them prior to that, making this new fossil not only the first of its kind to be discovered in Africa, but also the earliest example of the group to be discovered anywhere else in the world.

The new discovery is thought to have been made around 168 million years ago, during the Middle Jurassic period. It has contributed to closing an important gap in our understanding of dinosaur evolution, and it suggests that ankylosaurs may have had a widespread distribution around the world.

The discovery also calls into question a previously held belief that ankylosaurs outcompeted stegosaurs, resulting in their extinction as a result of their superior strength. But this new discovery indicates that the two groups coexisted for more than 20 million years, and that the extinction of the stegosaurs may have occurred for a variety of different reasons.

Currently, the fossil that led to the description of this new species is housed in the Natural History Museum's collections, where it will be the subject of ongoing research.

Dr. Maidment concludes, "Morocco appears to be a treasure trove of dinosaur discoveries, with some real gems among them." We have described the world's oldest stegosaur as well as the world's oldest ankylosaur, all from a single fossil site.

"When the circumstances permit, we hope to return to Morocco and collaborate with our colleagues at the University of Fez to assist them in the establishment of a vertebrate paleontology lab so that additional discoveries in Morocco can be studied."

Natural Ecology and Evolution published a study titled "Bizarre dermal armour suggests the first African ankylosaur" in which the authors hypothesized that the first African ankylosaur existed.

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