The skeleton of a 110-million-year-old ankylosaur discovered in China is set to provide scientists with new information on the evolutionary history of the extinct animals.
The ankylosaurus was a large, four-legged, reptilian dinosaur with an armoured shell covering its body. This species of dinosaur is known to have existed from the early Jurassic era to the end of the Cretaceous period.
The study, entitled A New Basal Ankylosaurid (Dinosauria: Ornithischia) from the Lower Cretaceous Jiufotang Formation of Liaoning Province, China is published in the journal PLOS One.
The dinosaur has been named Chuanqilong chaoyangensis. Chuanqilong translates into the Chinese for "Legendary Dragon" and chaoyangensis is the area in which it was discovered.
The fossil, which was found in a quarry by farmers in Liaoning province, measures about 14.7 feet (4.5m) in length and is thought to be that of a young dinosaur.
Previous ankylosaurus remains have led scientists to believe that they grow to 35 feet (10.7m) in length. Some ankylosaurs have a large, bony club at the end of their tail, although in this specimen it appears to be absent, a further indication that this fossil is an early evolutionary example of the species.
However, as this specimen was not yet fully grown, researchers have speculated that if it had been able to grow to adulthood, it could have become one of the largest ankylosaurs of its subset of the species.
This new discovery has revealed to researchers that these dinosaurs may have developed to a large size early on in their evolution.
"Many dinosaurs got to large sizes in the Early and Late Cretaceous," lead study author Fenglu Han told Live Science. "This might be related to environmental changes — they could get more food. Additionally, large body sizes could help them defend against predators."
C. chaoyangensis is the fourth species of ankylosaur to be found in Liaoning which has suggested to researchers that there was once a high diversity of dinosaurs living in the area.
Remains of ankylosaurs were first found in Antarctica and have been found in every continent since, except Africa. These dinosaurs belong to the Thyreophora group, which also houses the stegosaurus, famous for its armoured plates and spikes.