Zuul from 'Ghostbusters', a grotesque and demonic dog-like thing, has inspired its own subreddits, memes, and once, a heavy metal band. Now the Gatekeeper of Gozer is a muse once again: scientists from the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto have named their newest species of dinosaur after her.
Zuul crurivastator is a 75-million-year old plant-eater. This Zuul is an entirely new species of Ankylosaurid, or armoured dinosaur. When the research team determined that the dinosaur represented a new species, they started throwing around possible names.
"I half-jokingly said it looks like Zuul [from Ghostbusters]," said the lead author on this study, Victoria Arbour, a PhD fellow at the ROM and University of Toronto, and an all-around expert on armoured dinosaurs. "The name just stuck."
Zuul's skeleton was nearly complete when it was excavated in 2014 from the Judith River Formation of Montana, site of some of the first North American dino discoveries. This was a godsend to scientists like Arbour: from the skeleton, she found that Zuul's three-metre-long tail was covered in many rows of large, sharp, bony spikes. (It will eventually be put on display at the ROM, although there's no date set for that yet.)
Arbour said that the tail spikes are common in all Ankylosaurs, but it's not often seen in dinos found in North America. That's because most Ankylosaurs found here are preserved in ancient river and stream deposits, and skeletons would have been picked apart by scavengers or strewn about by the water. It's also "surprisingly rare" to find complete skulls, said Arbour. "Sometimes you get forehead and part of a snout, but it's great to have a beautiful, complete skull."
As for why Zuul was so well-preserved, Arbour said it might have been quickly buried after it died, barring scavengers from eating it, and moving water from pulling the skeleton apart.
This quick preservation could lead to a major scientific breakthrough for Arbour and her team. Zuul was found with intact soft tissues, like scales. Discovering soft tissue in 75-million-year-old animals is something to be excited about, because that's the stuff that actually can disappear without a trace.
Zuul's soft tissue could allow scientists to hopefully find ancient proteins, and clues about early life, Arbour said. "We'll be looking for keratin or other proteins we haven't even thought of before." It could help scientists understand more about what the world was like at the "twilight of the dinosaurs," she said, when these animals were on the countdown to extinction.
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