Knowing so little about dinosaurs puts paleontologists at a disadvantage, but with advances in science their work has been getting easier. Some of those new techniques were employed to redesignate a dinosaur whose fossilized remains were found in Chile.
Originally thought to be a type of Stegosaurus because of its unusual tail which bore some similarities to the thagomizer of the Stegosaurus we’re all familiar with. This dino didn’t have spikes though, it had a slashing tail. Alex Vargas, a paleontologist from the University of Chile described the animal in a study in the journal Nature.
One of those new techniques used was DNA analysis. After Vargas and his team examined the pieces of the skull and did five different DNA analyses, they concluded it was a rare southern hemisphere member of the tank-like ankylosaur family of dinosaurs. The “stegouros” name stuck though. Not to be confused with the more well-known “stegosaurus”.
Stegouros had seven pairs of ‘blades’ laid out sideways like the slicing weapons used by the ancient Aztecs. Vargas even said that the tail was so weird that kid’s books on prehistoric animals need to be updated to include it, because “it just looks crazy.”
Vargas’ team went down a rabbit hole because of the strange combination of features the animal possessed. A bird-like snout, armored plates, and a sword-like tail. Stegouros measured about six feet from tip to tail and stood about thigh-high. The evidence suggests that it was an herbivore, and the position the remains were found in appeared as if it had been caught in something like quicksand.
Likely an adult based on the fusion of the bones, Stegouros lived between 72 and 75 million years ago. Like the more famous Ankylosaurus and Stegosaurus the tail would have probably been used as a defense against predators.
Macalester College biologist Kristi Curry Rogers, who wasn’t part of the study, said, “We’re just scratching the surface when it comes to a comprehensive understanding of dinosaur diversity.” Looking at millions of years of diversity through the lens of a few rare snapshots can lead to many false starts when it comes to cataloging all the various dinosaur species designs.
These kinds of discoveries illustrate how little we know about the prehistoric world. For millions of years, the earth was ruled by dinosaurs and another megafauna that we have precious little knowledge about. Scattered points of light across the dozens to hundreds of myr of time that came before us are all that we have.
From these small clusters of data, scientists do their best to expand human knowledge, but the fact of the matter is the real depth of knowledge will never be known. We don’t even have a comprehensive knowledge of all the created wonders in the world we live in today. Even our own bodies are only understood at a macro level. The microscopic flora that lives in our gut is only now being studied.
Never should we stop expanding the knowledge we posses, but we should always do so recognizing our own limitations.