As they seem to do every week, scientists unveiled yet another new type of dinosaur on Wednesday -- this one discovered in 2011 by a joint team of diggers from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science and the State Museum of Pennsylvania.
The new dino is called Ziapelta sanjuanensis and it warranted the creation of a new genus of armored dinosaurs, or ankylosaurs. Other types of akylosaurs have been unearthed in the U.S., Canada and throughout Asia, but the fossils found in New Mexico showed Ziapelta to be distinct from any other previously discovered specimens -- differentiated by armored plates on the specimen's skull and uniquely shaped horns.
The team that discovered the new dinosaur was lead by paleontologist Robert M. Sullivan, and the details of the discovery were recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.
"It's a rare thing to actually find a new species," Sullivan told the Albuquerque Journal. "When we found the skull, we were impressed with how well it was preserved."
Sullivan said the dinosaur gets its name, Ziapelta sanjuanensis, from the Zia sun symbol featured on the state flag of New Mexico, the Latin word "pelta" meaning small shield, and San Juan County.
Ziapelta dates to the late Cretaceous period, with this particular fossil found to be some 73 million years old, which makes it older than most other ankylosaurs found in nearby Utah. Its closest relatives are from Alberta, Canada, which clarifies the evolutionary picture just as much at it confuses things.
"Bob Sullivan, who discovered the specimen, showed us pictures, and we were really excited by both its familiarity and its distinctiveness -- we were pretty sure right away we were dealing with a new species that was closely related to the ankylosaurs we find in Alberta," said University of Alberta paleontologist Victoria Arbour.
So why are Ziapelta's closest brothers and sisters not the ones buried next door, but dinos from Canada, which originally traveled from Asia? The only way to find out is to keep digging. For now, researchers are happy to have found a new dinosaur, enriching the always evolving evolutionary storyline.