Armored Dinosaur Pictures and Profiles

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Meet the Armored Dinosaurs of the Mesozoic Era

talarurus
Talarurus. Andrey Atuchin

Ankylosaurs and nodosaurs--the armored dinosaurs--were the most well-defended herbivores of the later Mesozoic Era. On the following slides, you'll find pictures and detailed profiles of over 40 armored dinosaurs, ranging from A (Acanthopholis) to Z (Zhongyuansaurus).

02
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Acanthopholis

acanthopholis
Acanthopholis. Eduardo Camarga

Name:

Acanthopholis (Greek for "spiny scales"); pronounced ah-can-THOFF-oh-liss

Habitat:

Woodlands of western Europe

Historical Period:

Middle Cretaceous (110-100 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 13 feet long and 800 pounds

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Thick, oval-shaped armor; pointed beak

 

Acanthopholis was a typical example of a nodosaur, a family of ankylosaur dinosaurs characterized by their low-slung profiles and tough coats of armor (in the case of Acanthopholis, this formidable plating was assembled out of oval structures called "scutes.") Where its turtle-like shell stopped, Acanthopholis sprouted dangerous-looking spikes from its neck, shoulder and tail, which presumably helped protect it from the bigger Cretaceous carnivores that tried to turn it into a quick snack. Like other nodosaurs, however, Acanthopholis lacked the lethal tail club that characterized its ankylosaur relatives.

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Aletopelta

aletopelta
Aletopelta. Eduardo Camarga

Name:

Aletopelta (Greek for "wandering shield"); pronounced ah-LEE-toe-PELL-ta

Habitat:

Woodlands of southern North America

Historical Period:

Late Cretaceous (80-70 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 20 feet long and one ton

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Low-slung body; spikes on shoulders; clubbed tail

 

There's an interesting story behind the name Aletopelta, Greek for "wandering shield": although this dinosaur lived in late Cretaceous Mexico, its remains were discovered in modern-day California, the result of continental drift over tens of millions of years. We know that Aletopelta was a true ankylosaur thanks to its thick armor plating (including two dangerous-looking spikes jutting up from its shoulders) and clubbed tail, but otherwise this low-slung herbivore resembled a nodosaur, a sleeker, more lightly built, and (if possible) even slower subfamily of the ankylosaurs.

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Animantarx

animantarx
Animantarx. Wikimedia Commons

Name:

Animantarx (Greek for "living fortress"); pronounced AN-ih-MAN-tarks

Habitat:

Woodlands of North America

Historical Period:

Middle-Late Cretaceous (100-90 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 10 feet long and 1,000 pounds

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Low-slung posture; horns and spikes along back

 

True to its name--Greek for "living fortress"--Animantarx was an unusually spiky nodosaur (a subfamily of the ankylosaurs, or armored dinosaurs, which lacked clubbed tails) that lived in middle Cretaceous North America and seems to have been closely related to both Edmontonia and Pawpawsaurus. What's most interesting about this dinosaur, though, is the way it was discovered: it has long been known that fossil bones are slightly radioactive, and an enterprising scientist used radiation-detecting equipment to dredge up the bones of Animantarx, sight unseen, from a Utah fossil bed!

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Ankylosaurus

ankylosaurus
Ankylosaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Ankylosaurus was one of the biggest armored dinosaurs of the Mesozoic Era, attaining a length of 30 feet from head to tail and weighing in the neighborhood of five tons--almost as much as a stripped-down Sherman Tank from World War II! See 10 Facts About Ankylosaurus

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Anodontosaurus

anodontosaurus
The tail club of Anodontosaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name

Anodontosaurus (Greek for "toothless lizard"); pronounced ANN-oh-DON-toe-SORE-us

Habitat

Woodlands of North America

Historical Period

Late Jurassic (75-65 million years ago)

Size and Weight

About 20 feet long and two tons

Diet

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics

Squat torso; heavy armor; large tail club

 

Anodontosaurus, the "toothless lizard," has a tangled taxonomic history. This dinosaur was named in 1928 by Charles M. Sternberg, on the basis of a fossil specimen missing its teeth (Sternberg theorized that this ankylosaur chewed its food with something he called "trituration plates"), and almost half a century later it was "synonymized" with a species of Euoplocephalus, E. tutus. More recently, though, a re-analysis of the type fossils prompted paleontologists to revert Anodontosaurus back to genus status. Like the better-known Euoplocephalus, the two-ton Anodontosaurus was characterized by its almost comical level of body armor, along with a lethal, hatchet-like club on the end of its tail.

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Antarctopelta

antarctopelta
Antarctopelta. Alain Beneteau

Name:

Antarctopelta (Greek for "Antarctic shield"); pronounced ant-ARK-toe-PELL-tah

Habitat:

Woodlands of Antarctica

Historical Period:

Middle Cretaceous (100-95 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 13 feet long; weight unknown

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Squat, armored body; large teeth

 

The "type fossil" of the ankylosaur (armored dinosaur) Antarctopelta was dug up on Antarctica's James Ross Island in 1986, but it wasn’t until 20 years later that this genus was named and identified. Antarctopelta is one of a handful of dinosaurs (and the first ankylosaur) known to have lived in Antarctica during the Cretaceous period (another being the two-legged theropod Cryolophosaurus), but this wasn’t because of the harsh climate: 100 million years ago, Antarctica was a lush, humid, densely forested land mass, not the icebox it is today. Rather, as you can imagine, the frigid conditions on this vast continent don't exactly lend themselves to fossil hunting!

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Crichtonsaurus

crichtonsaurus
Crichtonsaurus. Flickr

Name:

Antarctopelta (Greek for "Antarctic shield"); pronounced ant-ARK-toe-PELL-tah

Habitat:

Woodlands of Antarctica

Historical Period:

Middle Cretaceous (100-95 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 13 feet long; weight unknown

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Squat, armored body; large teeth

 

The "type fossil" of the ankylosaur (armored dinosaur) Antarctopelta was dug up on Antarctica's James Ross Island in 1986, but it wasn’t until 20 years later that this genus was named and identified. Antarctopelta is one of a handful of dinosaurs (and the first ankylosaur) known to have lived in Antarctica during the Cretaceous period (another being the two-legged theropod Cryolophosaurus), but this wasn’t because of the harsh climate: 100 million years ago, Antarctica was a lush, humid, densely forested land mass, not the icebox it is today. Rather, as you can imagine, the frigid conditions on this vast continent don't exactly lend themselves to fossil hunting!

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Dracopelta

dracopelta
Dracopelta. Getty Images

Name:

Dracopelta (Greek for "dragon shield"); pronounced DRAY-coe-PELL-tah

Habitat:

Woodlands of western Europe

Historical Period:

Late Jurassic (150 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About six feet long and 200-300 pounds

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Moderate size; armor plating on back; quadrupedal posture; small brain

 

One of the earliest known ankylosaurs, or armored dinosaurs, Dracopelta roamed the woodlands of western Europe during the late Jurassic period, tens of millions of years before its more famous descendants like Ankylosaurus and Euoplocephalus of late Cretaceous North America and Eurasia. As you might expect in such a "basal" ankylosaur, Dracopelta wasn't much to look at, only about three feet long from head to tail and covered in rudimentary armor along its head, neck, back and tail. Also, like all ankylosaurs, Dracopelta was relatively slow and clumsy; it probably flopped on its stomach and curled into a tight, armored ball when threatened by predators, and its brain-to-body-mass ratio indicates that it wasn't especially bright.

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Dyoplosaurus

dyoplosaurus
Dyoplosaurus. Skyenimals

Name

Dyoplosaurus (Greek for "double-armored lizard"); pronounced DIE-oh-ploe-SORE-us

Habitat

Woodlands of North America

Historical Period

Late Cretaceous (80-75 million years ago)

Size and Weight

About 15 feet long and one ton

Diet

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics

Low-slung build; heavy armor; clubbed tail

 

Dyoplosaurus is one of those dinosaurs that has, literally, faded in and out of history. When this ankylosaur was discovered, in 1924, it was given its name (Greek for "well-armored lizard") by paleontologist William Parks. Almost half a century later, in 1971, another scientist determined that the remains of Dyoplosaurus were indistinguishable from those of the better-known Euoplocephalus, causing the former name to pretty much disappear. But fast-forward another 40 years, to 2011, and Dyoplosaurus was resurrected: yet another analysis concluded that certain features of this ankylosaur (such as its distinctive club tail) merited its own genus assignation after all!

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Edmontonia

edmontonia
Edmontonia. FOX

Paleontologists speculate that the 20-foot-long, three-ton Edmontonia may have been capable of producing loud honking sounds, which would make it the armored SUV of late Cretaceous North America. See an in-depth profile of Edmontonia

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Euoplocephalus

euoplocephalus
The clubbed tail of Euoplocephalus. Wikimedia Commons

Euoplocephalus is the best-represented armored dinosaur of North America, thanks to its numerous fossil remains. Because these fossils have been unearthed individually, rather than in groups, it's believed that this ankylosaur was a solitary browser. See an in-depth profile of Euoplocephalus

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Europelta

europelta
Europelta. Andrey Atuchin

Name

Europelta (Greek for "European shield"); pronounced YOUR-oh-PELL-tah

Habitat

Woodlands of western Europe

Historical Period

Middle Cretaceous (110-100 million years ago)

Size and Weight

About 15 feet long and two tons

Diet

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics

Squat build; knobby armor along back

 

Closely related to ankylosaurs (and often classified under that umbrella), nodosaurs were squat, four-legged dinosaurs covered with knobby, nearly impenetrable armor, but lacked the tail clubs that their ankylosaur cousins wielded with such catastrophic effect. The importance of the recently discovered Europelta, from Spain, is that it's the earliest identified nodosaur in the fossil record, dating to the middle Cretaceous period (about 110 to 100 million years ago). The discovery of Europelta also confirms that European nodosaurs differed anatomically from their North American counterparts, probably because many of them were stranded for millions of years on isolated islands dotting the western European continent.

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Gargoyleosaurus

gargoyleosaurus
Gargoyleosaurus. North American Museum of Ancient Life

Name:

Gargoyleosaurus (Greek for "gargoyle lizard"); pronounced GAR-goil-oh-SORE-us

Habitat:

Woodlands of North America

Historical Period:

Late Jurassic (155-145 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 10 feet long and one ton

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Ground-hugging build; bony plates on back

 

As the earliest steel-plated wagon was to a Sherman tank, so Gargoyleosaurus was to the later (and more famous) Ankylosaurus--a distant ancestor that began experimenting with body armor during the late Jurassic period, tens of millions of years before its more formidable descendant. As far as paleontologists can tell, Gargoyleosaurus was the first true ankylosaur, a type of herbivorous dinosaur typified by its squat, ground-hugging build and plated armor. The whole point of ankylosaurs, of course, was to present as unappetizing a prospect as possible to ravenous predators--who had to flip these plant-eaters on their backs if they wanted to inflict a mortal wound.

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Gastonia

gastonia
Gastonia. North American Museum of Ancient Life

Name:

Gastonia ("Gaston's lizard," after paleontologist Rob Gaston); pronounced gas-TOE-nee-ah

Habitat:

Woodlands of North America

Historical Period:

Early Cretaceous (125 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 15 feet long and one ton

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Low-slung body; quadrupedal posture; paired spines on back and shoulders

 

One of the earliest known ankylosaurs (armored dinosaurs), Gastonia's claim to fame is that its remains were discovered in the same quarry as those of Utahraptor--the largest, and fiercest, of all the North American raptors. We can’t know for sure, but it seems likely that Gastonia figured occasionally on Utahraptor's dinner menu, which would explain its need for elaborate back armor and shoulder spikes. (The only way Utahraptor could have made a meal of Gastonia would have been to flip it onto its back and bite into its soft belly, which wouldn't have been an easy task, even for a 1,500-pound raptor that hasn't eaten in three days!)

While Gastonia isn't nearly as well known as other armored dinosaurs--like Ankylosaurus or even Euoplocephalus--it does seem to have been unusually abundant. Paleontologists have unearthed numerous Gastonia specimens from the Cedar Rapids Formation in Utah; there are about 10 extant skulls and five reasonably complete individuals. For years after its discovery in the late 1990's, there was only one identified species of Gastonia, G. burgei, but a second, G. lorriemcwhinneyae, was erected in 2016 following a discovery in Ruby Ranch.

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Gobisaurus

gobisaurus
The partial skull of Gobisaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name

Gobisaurus (Greek for "Gobi Desert lizard"); pronounced GO-bee-SORE-us

Habitat

Plains of central Asia

Historical Period

Late Cretaceous (100-90 million years ago)

Size and Weight

About 20 feet long and 1-2 tons

Diet

Plans

Distinguishing Characteristics

Low-slung build; thick armor

 

Considering how many raptors and dino-birds prowled central Asia during the late Cretaceous period, you can understand why ankylosaurs like Gobisaurus evolved their thick body armor during the course of the Cretaceous period. Discovered in 1960, during a joint Russian and Chinese paleontological expedition to the Gobi Desert, Gobisaurus was an unusually large armored dinosaur (to judge by its 18-inch-long skull), and it seems to have been closely related to Shamosaurus. One of its contemporaries was the three-ton theropod Chilantaisaurus, with which it probably had a predator/prey relationship.

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Hoplitosaurus

hoplitosaurus
Hoplitosaurus. Getty Images

Name

Hoplitosaurus (Greek for "Hoplite lizard"); pronounced HOP-lie-toe-SORE-us

Habitat

Woodlands of North America

Historical Period

Early Cretaceous (130-125 million years ago)

Size and Weight

About 10 feet long and half a ton

Diet

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics

Low-slung torso; thick armor

 

Discovered in South Dakota in 1898, and named four years later, Hoplitosaurus is one of those dinosaurs that lingers on the fringes of the official record books. At first Hoplitosaurus was classified as a species of Stegosaurus, but then paleontologists realized they were dealing with a different beast altogether: an early ankylosaur, or armored dinosaur. The trouble is, a convincing case has yet to be made that Hoplitosaurus wasn't really a species (or specimen) of Polacanthus, a contemporaneous ankylosaur from western Europe. Today, it just barely retains genus status, a situation that may change pending future fossil discoveries.

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Hungarosaurus

hungarosaurus
Hungarosaurus. Government of Hungary

Name

Hungarosaurus (Greek for "Hungarian lizard"); pronounced HUNG-ah-roe-SORE-us

Habitat

Floodplains of central Europe

Historical Period

Late Cretaceous (85 million years ago)

Size and Weight

About 12 feet long and 1,000 pounds

Diet

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics

Low-slung torso; thick armor

 

Ankylosaurs--armored dinosaurs--are most often associated with North America and Asia, but some important species lived midway between, in Europe. To date, Hungarosaurus is the best-attested ankylosaur of Europe, represented by the remains of four huddled-together individuals (it's uncertain whether Hungarosaurus was a social dinosaur, or if these individuals happened to wash up in the same place after drowning in a flash flood). Technically a nodosaur, and thus lacking a clubbed tail, Hungarosaurus was a medium-sized plant eater characterized by its thick, almost impenetrable, body armor--and would thus not have been the first dinner choice of the hungry raptors and tyrannosaurs of its Hungarian ecosystem!

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Hylaeosaurus

hylaeosaurus
An early depiction of Hylaeosaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name:

Hylaeosaurus (Greek for "forest lizard"); pronounced HIGH-lay-oh-SORE-us

Habitat:

Woodlands of western Europe

Historical Period:

Early Cretaceous (135 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 20 feet long and 1,000-2,000 pounds

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Spines on shoulders; armored back

 

We know much more about Hylaeosaurus' place in paleontological history than we do about how this dinosaur actually lived, or even what it looked like. This early Cretaceous ankylosaur was named by the pioneering naturalist Gideon Mantell in 1833, and almost a decade later, it was one of the handful of ancient reptiles (the other two were Iguanodon and Megalosaurus) to which Richard Owen assigned the new name "dinosaur." Oddly enough, the fossil of Hylaeosaurus is still exactly as Mantell found it--encased in a block of limestone, at the London Museum of Natural History. Perhaps out of respect for the first generation of paleontologists, no one has taken the trouble to actually prepare the fossil specimen, which (for what it's worth) seems to have been left by a dinosaur closely related to Polacanthus.

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Liaoningosaurus

liaoningosaurus
Liaoningosaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name

Liaoningosaurus (Greek for "Liaoning lizard"); pronounced LEE-ow-NING-oh-SORE-us

Habitat

Woodlands of Asia

Historical Period

Early Cretaceous (125-120 million years ago)

Size and Weight

Unknown for adult; juvenile measured two feet from head to tail

Diet

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics

Small size; clawed hands and feet; light armor on belly

 

China's Liaoning fossil beds are famous for their profusion of small, feathered dinosaurs, but occasionally they deliver the equivalent of a paleontological curveball. A good example is Liaoningosaurus, an early Cretaceous armored dinosaur that seems to have existed very near the ancient split between ankylosaurs and nodosaurs. Even more remarkably, the "type fossil" of Liaoningosaurus is a two-foot-long juvenile with armor plating along its belly as well as its back. Belly armor is virtually unknown in adult nodosaurs and ankylosaurs, but it's possible that juveniles had and gradually shed this feature, since they were more vulnerable to being flipped over by hungry predators.

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Minmi

minmi
Minmi. Wikimedia Commons

The armored dinosaurs of the late Cretaceous period has a worldwide distribution. Minmi was an especially small and especially small-brained ankylosaur of Australia, about as smart (and as difficult to attack) as a fire hydrant. See an in-depth profile of Minmi

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Minotaurasaurus

minotaurasaurus
Minotaurasaurus. Nobu Tamura

Name:

Minotaurasaurus (Greek for "Minotaur lizard"); pronounced MIN-oh-TORE-ah-SORE-us

Habitat:

Plains of central Asia

Historical Period:

Late Cretaceous (80 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 12 feet long and half a ton

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Large, ornate skull with horns and bumps

 

A faint whiff of disreputability hangs around Minotaurosaurus, which was announced as a new genus of ankylosaur (armored dinosaur) in 2009. This late Cretaceous plant eater is represented by a single, spectacular skull, which many paleontologists believe actually belonged to a specimen of another Asian ankylosaur, Saichania. Since we don't know much about how the skulls of ankylosaurs changed as they aged, and hence which fossil specimens belong to which genera, this is a far from uncommon situation in the dinosaur world.

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Nodosaurus

nodosaurus
Nodosaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name:

Nodosaurus (Greek for "knobby lizard"); pronounced NO-doe-SORE-us

Habitat:

Woodlands of North America

Historical Period:

Middle Cretaceous (110-100 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 15 feet long and one ton

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Tough, scaly plates on back; stubby legs; lack of tail club

 

For a dinosaur that has given its name to an entire prehistoric family--the nodosaurs, which were closely related to the ankylosaurs, or armored dinosaurs--not a whole lot is known about Nodosaurus. To date, no complete fossil of this armor-plated herbivore has been discovered, though Nodosaurus has a very distinguished pedigree, having been named by the famous paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh way back in 1889. (This is not an uncommon situation; to cite just three examples, we also don't know a whole lot about  Pliosaurus, Plesiosaurus, Hadrosaurus, which lent their names to the pliosaurus, plesiosaurs and hadrosaurs.)

Unlike their ankylosaur cousins, nodosaurs in general (and Nodosaurus in particular) lacked clubs on the ends of their tails; as far as defensive maneuvers go, this dinosaur was probably limited to flopping on its stomach and daring any hungry tyrannosaurs to try to flip it over and rip it into its soft belly. As with all armored dinosaurs, including Ankylosaurus, the short, stubby legs of Nodosaurus (and its presumed cold-blooded metabolism) would not have made it particularly speedy; one can imagine a herd of poky Nodosaurus stampeding at a poky five miles per hour!

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Oohkotokia

oohkotokia
The tail club of Oohkotokia. Wikimedia Commons

Name

Oohkotokia (Blackfoot for "large stone"); pronounced OOH-oh-coe-TOE-kee-ah

Habitat

Woodlands of North America

Historical Period

Late Cretaceous (75 million years ago)

Size and Weight

About 20 feet long and 2-3 tons

Diet

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics

Low-slung build; armor plating

 

Discovered in 1986 in Montana's Two Medicine Formation, but only formally named in 2013, Oohkotokia ("large stone" in the indigenous Blackfoot language) was an armored dinosaur closely related to Euoplocephalus and Dyoplosaurus. Not everyone agrees that Oohkotokia merits its own genus; one recent examination of its fragmented remains has concluded that it was a specimen, or species, of an even more obscure genus of ankylosaur, Scolosaurus. (Perhaps some of the controversy can be traced to the fact that Oohkotokia's species name, horneri, honors the rabble-rousing paleontologist Jack Horner.)

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Palaeoscincus

palaeoscincus
Palaeoscincus. Getty Images

Name

Palaeoscincus (Greek for "ancient skink"); pronounced PAL-ay-oh-SKINK-us

Habitat

Woodlands of North America

Historical Period

Late Cretaceous (75-70 million years ago)

Size and Weight

Undisclosed

Diet

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics

Low-slung build; thick, knobby armor

 

The early American paleontologist Joseph Leidy loved to name new dinosaurs based only on their teeth, often with unfortunate results years down the road. A good example of his over-eagerness is Palaeoscincus, the "ancient skink," a dubious genus of ankylosaur, or armored dinosaur, that didn't survive much beyond the early 19th century. Oddly enough, before it was superseded by better-attested genera like Euoplocephalus and Edmontonia, Palaeoscincus was one of the best-known armored dinosaurs, accumulating no less than seven separate species and commemorated in various books and toys for children.

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Panoplosaurus

panoplosaurus
Panoplosaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name:

Panoplosaurus (Greek for "well-armored lizard"); pronounced PAN-oh-ploe-SORE-us

Habitat:

Woodlands of North America

Historical Period:

Late Cretaceous (70 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 25 feet long and three tons

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Stocky build; tough coat of armor

 

Panoplosaurus was a typical nodosaur, a family of armored dinosaurs included under the ankylosaur umbrella: basically, this plant-eater looked like a huge paperweight, with its small head, short legs and tail sprouting out of a stocky, well-armored trunk. Like others of its kind, Panoplosaurus would have been virtually immune to predation by the hungry raptors and tyrannosaurs populating late Cretaceous North America; the only way these carnivores could hope to get a quick meal was by somehow tipping this heavy, ponderous, none-too-bright creature onto its back and digging into its soft belly. (By the way, the closest relative of Panopolosaurus was the better-known armored dinosaur Edmontonia.)

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Peloroplites

peloroplites
Peloroplites. Wikimedia Commons

Name

Peloroplites (Greek for "monstrous Hoplite"); pronounced PELL-or-OP-lih-teez

Habitat

Woodlands of North America

Historical Period

Middle Cretaceous (100 million years ago)

Size and Weight

About 18 feet long and 2-3 tons

Diet

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics

Large size; low-slung build; thick, knobby armor

 

Technically a nodosaur rather than an ankylosaur--meaning that it lacked a bony club at the end of its tail--Peloroplites was one of the largest armored dinosaurs of the middle Cretaceous period, almost 20 feet from head to tail and weighing as much as three tons. Discovered in Utah in 2008, this plant-eater's name honors the ancient Greek Hoplites, the heavily armored soldiers depicted in the movie 300 (another ankylosaur, Hoplitosaurus, also shares this distinction). Peloroplites shared the same territory as Cedarpelta and Animantarx, and seems to have specialized in eating especially tough vegetation.

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Pinacosaurus

pinacosaurus
Pinacosaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name:

Pinacosaurus (Greek for "plank lizard"); pronounced PIN-ack-oh-SORE-us

Habitat:

Woodlands of central Asia

Historical Period:

Late Cretaceous (80 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 15 feet long and one ton

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Long skull; clubbed tail

 

Considering how many fossils have been discovered of this medium-sized, late Cretaceous ankylosaur, Pinacosaurus doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves--at least not compared to its more famous North American cousins, Ankylosaurus and Euoplocephalus. This central Asian armored dinosaur pretty much adhered to the basic ankylosaur body plan--blunt head, low-slung trunk, and clubbed tail--except for one odd anatomical detail, the as-yet-unexplained holes in its skull behind its nostrils.

The "type fossil" of Pinacosaurus was discovered in the 1920's, on one of the numerous expeditions to inner Mongolia sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History. Because so many remains have been found in such close proximity--including the bones of juveniles that were apparently huddling together at the time of their death--paleontologists speculate that Pinacosaurus may have roamed the central Asian plains in herds. This would have afforded some protection from predators, as would the fact that the only way a tyrannosaur or raptor could have killed this dinosaur was by flipping it over onto its armored back and digging into its soft belly.

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Polacanthus

polacanthus
Polacanthus. Wikimedia Commons

Name:

Polacanthus (Greek for "many spikes"); pronounced POE-la-CAN-thuss

Habitat:

Woodlands of Western Europe

Historical Period:

Early-Middle Cretaceous (130-110 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 12 feet long and one ton

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Small head; sharp spikes lining neck, back and tail

 

One of the most primitive nodosaurs (a family of armored dinosaurs included under the ankylosaur umbrella), Polacanthus is also one of the earliest known: the "type fossil" of this spiked plant-eater, minus the head, was discovered in England in the mid-19th century. Considering its relatively modest size, compared to other ankylosaurs, Polacanthus sported some impressive armament, including bony plates lining its back and a series of sharp spikes running from the back of its neck all the way to its tail (which lacked a club, as did the tails of all nodosaurs). However, Polacanthus wasn't quite as impressively arrayed as the most impenetrable ankylosaurs of them all, the North American Ankylosaurus and Euoplocephalus.

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Saichania

saichania
Saichania. Wikimedia Commons

Name:

Saichania (Chinese for "beautiful"); pronounced SIE-chan-EE-ah

Habitat:

Woodlands of Asia

Historical Period:

Late Cretaceous (80-70 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 20 feet long and 2-3 tons

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Crescent-shaped armor on neck; thick forelimbs

 

As ankylosaurs (armored dinosaurs) go, Saichania wasn't any better- or worse-looking than a dozen or so other genera. It earned its name (Chinese for "beautiful") because of the pristine condition of its bones: paleontologists have found two complete skulls and one almost-complete skeleton, making Saichania one of the best-preserved ankylosaurs in the fossil record (better preserved even than the signature genus of the breed, Ankylosaurus).

The relatively evolved Saichania had a few distinctive features, including crescent-shaped armor plates around its neck, unusually thick forelimbs, a tough palate (the upper part of its mouth, important for chewing tough vegetation) and complicated nasal passages in its skull (which may be explained by the fact that Saichania lived in a very hot, dry climate and needed a way to retain moisture).

31
of 44

Sarcolestes

sarcolestes
The jawbone of Sarcolestes. Wikimedia Commons

Name:

Sarcolestes (Greek for "flesh thief"); pronounced SAR-co-LESS-tease

Habitat:

Woodlands of Western Europe

Historical Period:

Middle Jurassic (165-160 years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 10 feet long and 500-1,000 pounds

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Small teeth; primitive armor

 

Sarcolestes is one of the most spectacularly misnamed of all dinosaurs: the moniker of this proto-ankylosaur means "flesh thief," and was bestowed by nineteenth-century paleontologists who thought they had unearthed the incomplete fossil of a carnivorous theropod. (Actually, "incomplete" may be an understatement: all we know of this poky herbivore has been extrapolated from part of a jawbone.) Still, Sarcolestes is important for being one of the earliest armored dinosaurs yet discovered, dating to the late Jurassic period, about 160 million years ago. It isn't technically classified as an ankylosaur, but paleontologists believe if may have been ancestral to that spiky breed.

32
of 44

Sauropelta

sauropelta
Sauropelta. Wikimedia Commons

Name:

Sauropelta (Greek for "lizard shield"); pronounced SORE-oh-PELT-ah

Habitat:

Woodlands of North America

Historical Period:

Middle Cretaceous (120-110 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 15 feet long and 1-2 tons

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Long tail; sharp spikes on shoulders

 

Paleontologists know more about Sauropelta than about any other genus of nodosaur (a family of armored dinosaurs included under the ankylosaur umbrella), thanks to the discovery of several complete skeletons in the western U.S. Like its fellow nodosaurs, Sauropelta lacked a club on the end of its tail, but otherwise it was fairly well armored, with tough, bony plates lining its back and four prominent spikes on either shoulder (three short and one long). Since Sauropelta lived in the same time and place as large theropods and raptors like Utahraptor, it's a safe bet that this nodosaur evolved its spikes as a way to deter predators and avoid becoming a quick lunch.

Like many other famous dinosaurs, Sauropelta was named by Barnum Brown of the American Museum of Natural History, based on a "type fossil" discovered in Montana' Cloverly Formation. (Confusingly, Brown later referred to his find, informally, as "Peltosaurus," a name that could never have stuck anyway, since it was already assigned to a much smaller prehistoric lizard.) A few decades later, the fossils of Sauropelta were reexamined by John H. Ostrom, who identified this dinosaur as a nodosaur closely related to the more obscure Silvisaurus and Pawpawsaurus.

33
of 44

Scelidosaurus

scelidosaurus
Scelidosaurus. H. Kyoht Luterman

Dating from early Jurassic Europe, the small, primitive Scelidosaurus spawned a mighty race; this armored dinosaur is believed to have been ancestral not only to ankylosaurs, but to stegosaurs as well. See an in-depth profile of Scelidosaurus

34
of 44

Scolosaurus

scolosaurus
The type specimen of Scolosaurus (Wikimedia Commons).

Name

Scolosaurus (Greek for "pointed stake lizard"); pronounced SCO-low-SORE-us

Habitat

Floodplains of North America

Historical Period

Late Cretaceous (75 million years ago)

Size and Weight

About 20 feet long and 2-3 tons

Diet

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics

Low-slung posture; armor plating; clubbed tail

 

From a distance of 75 million years, it can be hard to distinguish one armored dinosaur from another. Scolosaurus had the misfortune of living in a time and place (late Cretaceous Alberta, Canada) that was rife with ankylosaurs, which in 1971 prompted a frustrated paleontologist to "synonymize" three species: Anodontosaurus lambei, Dyoplosaurus acutosquameus and Scolosaurus cutleri all wound up being assigned to the better-known Euoplocephalus. However, a recent reexamination of the evidence by Canadian researchers concludes that not only do Dyoplosaurus and Scolosaurus deserve their own genus designation, but the latter should rightly take precedence over Euoplocephalus.

35
of 44

Scutellosaurus

Scutellosaurus
Scutellosaurus. H. Kyoht Luterman

Although its hind limbs were longer than its forelimbs, paleontologists believe Scutellosaurus was ambidextrous, posture-wise: it probably stayed on all fours while eating, but was capable of breaking into a two-legged gait when escaping predators. See an in-depth profile of Scutellosaurus

36
of 44

Shamosaurus

shamosaurus
Shamosaurus. London Natural History Museum

Name

Shamosaurus ("Shamo lizard," after the Mongolian name for the Gobi Desert); pronounced SHAM-oh-SORE-us

Habitat

Plains of central Asia

Historical Period

Middle Cretaceous (110-100 million years ago)

Size and Weight

About 20 feet long and 1-2 tons

Diet

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics

Low-slung build; armor plating

 

Along with the better-known Gobisaurus, Shamosaurus is one of the earliest identified ankylosaurs, or armored dinosaurs--captured at a crucial juncture in geologic time (the middle Cretaceous period) when ornithischian plant-eaters needed to evolve some form of defense against vicious raptors and tyrannosaurs. (Confusingly, Shamosaurus and Gobisaurus have essentially the same name; "shamo" is the Mongolian name for the Gobi Desert.) Not a whole lot is known about this armored dinosaur, a situation that will hopefully improve with further fossil discoveries.

37
of 44

Struthiosaurus

struthiosaurus
Struthiosaurus. Getty Images

Name:

Struthiosaurus (Greek for "ostrich lizard"); pronounced STREW-thee-oh-SORE-uus

Habitat:

Woodlands of western Europe

Historical Period:

Late Cretaceous (70-65 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About six feet long and 500 pounds

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Small size; armored plating; spikes on shoulders

 

It's a common theme in evolution that animals restricted to small islands tend to grow to small sizes, so as not to overconsume local resources. This seems to have been the case with Struthiosaurus, a six-foot-long, 500-pound nodosaur (a subfamily of ankylosaurs) that looked positively puny compared to giant contemporaries like Ankylosaurus and Euoplocephalus. Judging by its scattered fossil remains, Struthiosaurus lived on small islands bordering the present-day Mediterranean Sea, which must also have been populated by miniature tyrannosaurs or raptors--or else why would this nodosaur have needed such thick armor?

38
of 44

Talarurus

talarurus
Talarurus. Andrey Atuchin

Name:

Talarurus (Greek for "wicker tail"); pronounced TAH-la-ROO-russ

Habitat:

Floodplains of central Asia

Historical Period:

Late Cretaceous (95-90 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 20 feet long and one ton

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Low-slung body; armor plating; clubbed tail

 

Ankylosaurs were some of the last dinosaurs standing before the K/T Extinction 65 million years ago, but Talarurus was one of the earliest members of the breed, dating to about 30 million years before the dinosaurs went kaput. Talarurus wasn't huge by the standards of later ankylosaurs like Ankylosaurus and Euoplocephalus, but it still would have been a tough nut to crack for the average tyrannosaur or raptor, a low-slung, heavily armored plant eater with a clubbed, swinging tail (this dinosaur's name, Greek for "wicker tail," derives from the wicker-like tendons that stiffened its tail and helped make it such a deadly weapon).

39
of 44

Taohelong

taohelong
Taohelong. Getty Images

Name

Taohelong (Chinese for "Tao River dragon"); pronounced tao-heh-LONG

Habitat

Woodlands of Asia

Historical Period

Early Cretaceous (120-110 million years ago)

Size and Weight

Undisclosed

Diet

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics

Armor plating; quadrupedal posture; low-slung torso

 

As a rule, any dinosaur that lived in western Europe during the Cretaceous period had its counterpart somewhere in Asia (and often in North America as well). The importance of Taohelong, announced in 2013, is that it's the first identified "polacanthine" ankylosaur from Asia, meaning this armored dinosaur was a close relative of the better-known Polacanthus of Europe. Technically, Taohelong was a nodosaur rather than an ankylosaur, and lived at a time when these armored plant-eaters had yet to evolve the giant sizes (and impressively knobby ornamentation) of their late Cretaceous descendants.

40
of 44

Tarchia

tarchia
Tarchia. Gondwana Studios

The 25-foot-long, two-ton Tarchia didn't receive its name (Chinese for "brainy") because it was smarter than other armored dinosaurs, but because its head was slightly bigger (though it may well have housed a slightly larger-than-normal brain). See an in-depth profile of Tarchia

41
of 44

Tatankacephalus

tatankacephalus
Tatankacephalus. Bill Parsons

Name:

Tatankacephalus (Greek for "buffalo head"); pronounced tah-TANK-ah-SEFF-ah-luss

Habitat:

Woodlands of North America

Historical Period:

Middle Cretaceous (110 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 10 feet long and 1,000 pounds

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Broad, flat skull; armored trunk; quadrupedal posture

 

No, Tatankacephalus had nothing to do with armored tanks; this name is actually Greek for "buffalo head" (and it had nothing to do with buffalos, either!) Based on an analysis of its skull, Tatankacephalus appears to have been a relatively small, low-slung ankylosaur of the middle Cretaceous period, less imposing (and if possible, even less bright) than its descendants (such as Ankylosaurus and Euoplocephalus) that lived tens of millions of years later. This armored dinosaur was unearthed from the same fossil deposits that yielded another early North American ankylosaur, Sauropelta.

42
of 44

Tianchisaurus

tianchisaurus
Tianchisaurus. Frank DeNota

Name:

Tianchisaurus (Chinese/Greek for "heavenly pool lizard"); pronounced tee-AHN-chee-SORE-us

Habitat:

Woodlands of Asia

Historical Period:

Middle Jurassic (170-165 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 10 feet long and half a ton

Diet:

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Low-slung body; large head and clubbed tail

 

Tianchisaurus is notable for two reasons: first, this is the oldest identified ankylosaur in the fossil record, dating to the middle Jurassic period (a sparse stretch of time when it comes to dinosaur fossils of any kind). Second, and perhaps more interesting, the famous paleontologist Dong Zhiming initially named this dinosaur Jurassosaurus, both because he was surprised to discover a middle Jurassic ankylosaur and because his expedition had been partially funded by Jurassic Park director Steven Spielberg. Dong later changed the genus name to Tianchisaurus, but retained the species name Nedegoapeferima, which honors the cast of Jurassic Park (Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello).

43
of 44

Tianzhenosaurus

tianzhenosaurus
Tianzhenosaurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name

Tianzhenosaurus ("Tianzhen lizard"); pronounced tee-AHN-zhen-oh-SORE-us

Habitat

Woodlands of Asia

Historical Period

Late Cretaceous (80-70 million years ago)

Size and Weight

About 13 feet long and one ton

Diet

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics

Moderate size; quadrupedal posture; relatively long legs

 

For whatever reason, the armored dinosaurs discovered in China tend to be better-preserved than their counterparts in North America. Witness Tianzhenosaurus, which is represented by a nearly complete skeleton discovered in the Huiquanpu Formation in Shanxi Province, including a spectacularly detailed skull. Some paleontologists suspect that Tianzhenosaurus is really a specimen of another well-preserved Chinese ankylosaur of the late Cretaceous period, Saichania ("beautiful"), and at least one study has placed it as a sister genus to the contemporary Pinacosaurus.

44
of 44

Zhongyuansaurus

zhongyuansaurus
Zhongyuansaurus. Hong Kong Science Museum

Name

Zhongyuansaurus ("Zhongyuan lizard"); pronounced ZHONG-you-ann-SORE-us

Habitat

Woodlands of Asia

Historical Period

Early Cretaceous (130-125 million years ago)

Size and Weight

Undisclosed

Diet

Plants

Distinguishing Characteristics

Low-slung build; armor plating; lack of tail club

 

During the early Cretaceous period, about 130 million years ago, the very first armored dinosaurs began to evolve from their ornithischian forebears--and they gradually split into two groups, nodosaurs (small sizes, narrow heads, lack of tail clubs) and ankylosaurs (larger sizes, more rounded heads, lethal tail clubs). The importance of Zhongyuansaurus is that it's the most basal ankylosaur yet identified in the fossil record, so primitive, indeed, that it even lacked the tail club that would otherwise be de rigueur for classification under the ankylosaur umbrella. (Logically enough, Zhongyuansaurus was first described as an early nodosaur, albeit one with a fair number of ankylosaur characteristics.)

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Strauss, Bob. "Armored Dinosaur Pictures and Profiles." ThoughtCo, Mar. 19, 2017, thoughtco.com/armored-dinosaur-pictures-and-profiles-4043317. Strauss, Bob. (2017, March 19). Armored Dinosaur Pictures and Profiles. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/armored-dinosaur-pictures-and-profiles-4043317 Strauss, Bob. "Armored Dinosaur Pictures and Profiles." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/armored-dinosaur-pictures-and-profiles-4043317 (accessed February 23, 2018).