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May 10, 2017

New dinosaur species named in honor of Ghostbusters monster

A newly-identified species of ankylosaur sporting a horned face and a spiked, club-like tail has been named in honor of Zuul, the monstrous demigod featured in the 1984 movie Ghostbusters, according to new research published this week in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Take one look at the new species, officially named Zuul crurivastator, and it’s easy to see why the paleontologists who discovered it chose to name it after the fictional beast: it bears a striking resemblance to the entity that possessed Sigourney Weaver’s character Dana Barrett in the film.

“We couldn’t resist,” Dr. Victoria Arbour, a postdoctoral fellow at the Royal Ontario Museum and the University of Toronto and one of the researchers who discovered the new species, told USA Today. In fact, they even brought in Dan Aykroyd, who played Ray Stanz in the movie, to introduce the creature and discuss its similarities to Zuul in a short video.

“We are so honored that the Royal Ontario Museum would accord the name of this magnificent creature with the appellation that we called our terror god in the movie,” Aykroid said.

The new species was discovered in Hill County, Montana and is believed to be approximately 75 million years old, the Museum explained on its website. Its entire body was covered in scales and it was about 20 feet long with a roughly 10-foot tail, according to Los Angeles Times reports.

Specimen could provide new insight into ankylosaur evolution

In addition to the novelty of its name and its resemblance to a well-known movie monster, Zuul crurivastator is important because it could provide scientists with new insight into precisely how diverse these creatures were shortly before the end of the dinosaurs’ era, the Times noted.

Zuul crurivastator had a spiked, club-like tail and a pair of horns behind its eyes, Dr. Arbour told the newspaper. It weighed about 5,500 pounds or about the same as a white rhinoceros, and even though it looked menacing, the study authors believe that it was most likely a herbivore. Also, it does not appear as though the new ankylosaur species was a servant of the forces of evil.

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Those spikes look like they'd hurt. (Credit: Danielle Dufault / Royal Ontario Museum)

Dr. Arbour said that the specimen was discovered by accident, while she and her colleagues were in the process of excavating another dinosaur. Typically, complete ankylosaur fossils are difficult to find, she said, but in this case, they found not just the creature’s body but a complete skull and its entire tail as well – and all of the fossils were said to have been well preserved.

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Detail of the dinosaur's tail (Credit: Danielle Dufault / Royal Ontario Museum)

In fact, as the researchers told the Times, they were even able to discover soft tissue, including scales and sheaths for the spikes, that were likely preserved when the dinosaur was buried under sediment shortly after its demise. Not only that, but the spikes were held together in their original position, which Dr. Arbour said gave her team a good idea of what the creature looked like.

Andrew Farke of the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in California, who was not a part of the team that discovered Zuul crurivastator, called the find “just incredible,” telling USA Today, “This is really going to be a keystone for understanding the evolution of this group of ankylosaurs in North America.”

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Image credit: Danielle Dufault / Royal Ontario Museum