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The Best-Preserved Fossil of Its Kind

In March of 2011, miners using heavy equipment in Alberta found a dinosaur. But this was not just any fossil. A nodosaur had been swept out to sea millions years ago and was preserved better than any other nodosaur before. The front half of the animal was recovered in a state that doesn't even have to be reconstructed. Its soft tissue, armor, and even individual scales of its skin were fossilized as well as its bones.

The remarkable fossil is a newfound species (and genus) of nodosaur, a type of ankylosaur often overshadowed by its cereal box–famous cousins in the subgroup Ankylosauridae. Unlike ankylosaurs, nodosaurs had no shin-splitting tail clubs, but they too wielded thorny armor to deter predators. As it lumbered across the landscape between 110 million and 112 million years ago, almost midway through the Cretaceous period, the 18-foot-long, nearly 3,000-pound behemoth was the rhinoceros of its day, a grumpy herbivore that largely kept to itself. And if something did come calling—perhaps the fearsome Acrocanthosaurus—the nodosaur had just the trick: two 20-inch-long spikes jutting out of its shoulders like a misplaced pair of bull’s horns.

Removing such a large intact specimen was no easy task, and the fossil broke in half as it was removed from the rock around it. But six years later, we are able to see the nodosaur, and further research may reveal what color it was and even what it ate for its last meal. Read the story, and see lots of pictures at National Geographic. -via Digg

(Image credit: Robert Clark/National Geographic)

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