The genus name Zaraapelta is a combination of the Mongolian and Greek works for ‘hedgehog’ and ‘shield’ in reference to its spiky appearance.
The species name nomadis honors the Mongolian company Nomadic Expeditions, which has facilitated paleontological fieldwork in the Gobi Desert for almost two decades.
Zaraapelta nomadis’ skull that is missing the front of the snout was uncovered from the Upper Cretaceous Baruungoyot Formation of Mongolia in 2000.
Like some of the other ankylosaurs from the Gobi Desert, the top of its skull was bumpy and spiky. At the back of its skull there are distinctive horns with a prominent ridge along the top.
Now, the skull is part of the collections of the Mongolian Paleontological Center in Ulaanbaatar.
“The elaborate and distinctive ornamentation on the skulls of Zaraapelta nomadis and other Mongolian ankylosaurs may have evolved as a way to show off to members of the opposite sex,” said Dr Victoria Arbour of the University of Alberta, who is the lead author of a study published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.
In addition to naming the new ankylosaur Zaraapelta nomadis, this study also re-examined previously named ankylosaurs from Mongolia and found support for resurrecting a species that had been discarded by earlier studies.
“Sometimes, researchers might determine that two species names represent only one actual species, in which case the name that was created first has priority. This was the case for an ankylosaur called Tarchia kielanae, which was eventually thought to be the same kind of ankylosaur as Tarchia gigantean,” Dr Arbour said.
“But new information from recent dinosaur discoveries, including this study, suggests that Tarchia kielanae might be a separate species after all, so the name has been brought back into use.”