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By Wilson, Niki | Natural History, November 2017 | Go to article overview

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Wilson, Niki, Natural History


Borealopelta markmitchelli was a heavily armored, spiny, planteating ankylosaur that stretched 5.5 meters long, weighed over 1,300 kilograms, and lived in the early Cretaceous Period, about 110 million years ago. Its fossil was found in 2011 at an oil-sands mine in northeastern Alberta, Canada. The species was named for the technician who spent over five years cleaning and preparing it for study. The conditions under which B. markmitchelli fossilized were incredibly rare, resulting in remarkable three-dimensional preservation of soft tissues, including the skin. A study of the skin has led to an unexpected discovery about the dinosaur's coloration.

An international team of scientists, including paleontologist Caleb Brown of the Royal Tyrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, Alberta, used mass spectroscopy to look for chemical signatures of pigment in the organic films that covered the dinosaur's scales and other parts of its skin. Chemicals indicating a reddishbrown pigment were prominent on the back of the dinosaur but disappeared towards its sides and belly. This pigmentation pattern is consistent with a type of protective coloration called countershading, designed to break up the outline of an animal's body and make it more difficult for predators to detect. …

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