In my previous post, I spoke at length about what badass detectives of prehistory paleontologists are, given the relative scarcity of dinosaur fossils. I pointed out that we don’t actually have complete skeletons of the majority of dinosaurs, and that what you see when you go to the museum actually just represents the best efforts of 100+ years of intelligent, hard-working scientists.
Why did I do that? Out of some cruel impulse? Because I wanted to destroy your childhood? No, we’ve had Michael Bay on that for quite some time now and he’s more than up to the task.
I point this out because Ankylosaurus, more than any other dinosaur that I’ll be drawing from this book (I may have skipped ahead and looked, I’m bad at delaying gratification) is the poster boy for this phenomenon. I mean, it’s Ankylosaurus. Everybody knows Ankylosaurus. He’s like, a Tier 2 famous dinosaur. I can walk into a room and start talking about Ankylosaurus and people won’t call the police. Surely, we’ve got a skeleton of this thing, right? There’s some pretty specialized stuff going on with this dude. How else would they know how to make the toy molds?
We don’t have a skeleton of Ankylosaurus. We have a skull, some ribs, some of the scutes (bumps in the armor), and the tail club, the material coming from I think a handful of specimens in total. So what gives? How are we able to reimagine this intense-looking armored dinosaur and act like we know what’s up?
Well, lucky for us, we’ve got much more complete remains of a dinosaur that appears to be very closely related to Ankylosaurus, Euoplocephalus. Yes, that’s really its name. You kind of get used to these things after a while. Anyway, from Euoplocephalus we’ve got nearly complete skeletons and a lot of material dating from a span of several million years, which is actually a pretty long time for any one dinosaur to stick around in the fossil record. There are enough differences in age, structure, and location to confidently separate the two animals into two distinct genera, but in the similarities we’re (and by we I mean actual paleontologists, I’m just sitting at a computer right now) able to have a pretty solid idea of what Ankylosaurus looked like from head to toe.
This is of course, barring any discovery like I talked about in the last post, where they finally find a complete Ankylosaurus skeleton and realize that they’ve had the head on backwards and that it had fangs and a fifth leg, but like I said, paleontologists love it when this happens, because they’re men of science and not pouty teenagers. (At least these days, in the 1800s it was a different story).
So, you might be asking, why does Ankylosaurus get the press, and not Euoplocephalus, considering that we’ve got much more material and are doing much less guesswork? Great question. Science has to pass its information to us down a conduit of popular culture, children’s books, news articles, and TV, and in the process things like “more complete skeletal remains” get tossed in favor of things like “This word is not scary for me to look at or try to pronounce”. Ankylosaurus also has the advantage of being the bigger animal. Based on comparing its bones to the skeleton of Euoplocephalus, whose size we know absolutely, it appears that Ankylosaurus was notably bigger, estimated at 26-30 feet long. And in America, we like things big, like explosions in a Michael Bay movie. So Ankylosaurus gets to be the type species and poster boy for the entire family of armored dinosaurs, despite a relatively scant amount of fossil evidence.
Good for him.
Sidenote: Looking at it now, I overworked this art until it begged for mercy. I think I was just excited that I didn’t have a deadline and wasn’t sure when to stop. But the weirdest thing about drawing this Ankylosaurus was the strange case of déjà vu I started experiencing. I was drawing the scutes and had this vague sense that I’d done this a billion times before, drawn this particular shape over and over again in my past. I’ll be honest, it’s an annoying shape to draw. A raised rectangle with a pointy, curved projection sticking out of the middle of it, so you have to draw the square, draw the cone, then erase the back of the square. Don’t get me wrong, drawing is fun and shapes are fun. Drawing is all about stacking shapes and erasing things and lines that you needed one minute have to be taken out behind the shed in the next. What was annoying about it was doing it 100 times. And that’s where the vague sense of déjà vu was coming from, I somehow remembered being intimately familiar with the precise version of annoyance that comes from having to draw triangles coming out of squares over and over again. Finally I realized that Ankylosaurus basically has the exact same ARMOR AS THE SHREDDER.
If you’re not sure who The Shredder is, just wait a couple weeks for Teenage Alien Ninja Humanoids to come out. He may or may not be in the movie. Michael Bay.