How dinosaur named after Ghostbusters monster went into battle

An armoured dinosaur named after a monster from Ghostbusters battled its peers using its enormous clubbed tail, new research suggests.

While it has long been assumed that the ankylosaur Zuul crurivastator used its appendage to ward off predators like Tyrannosaurus Rex, evidence now implies it also took the fight to its own species.

Scientists from the Royal Ontario Museum, Royal BC Museum, and North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences uncovered signs on an exceptional Zuul fossil that the spikes on its flanks had been broken and rehealed.

The injuries are believed to have come from a strike by another Zuul's tail, suggesting they battled for social and territorial dominance - or even engaged in a "rutting" season for mates.

Dr Victoria Arbour - lead author of the study, published in Biology Letters - described the findings as a "really exciting new piece of the puzzle" regarding how the 76-million-year-old herbivore lived.

"We know that ankylosaurs could use their tail clubs to deliver very strong blows to an opponent," she said.

"But most people thought they were using their tail clubs to fight predators. Instead, ankylosaurs like Zuul may have been fighting each other."

The story of Zuul

Zuul is affectionately named after the demonic hound-like minion from 1984's Ghostbusters, in which it possessed Sigourney Weaver's character Dana Barrett.

Part of the Royal Ontario Museum's vertebrate fossil collection, its main body was encased in 35,000 pounds of sandstone when its skull and three-metre-long tail were first uncovered by palaeontologists in northern Montana.

After years of work, most of the dinosaur's skin and bony armour were revealed to have been preserved, giving a remarkable view of what it looked like in life.

While its bony plates were of different shapes and sizes, scientists noticed a number of spikes near the hips on both sides were missing their tips - and the bone and horny sheath had healed into a blunter shape.

The pattern of these injuries is more consistent with being the result of some form of combat or jousting, rather than caused by an attacking predator, similar to how deer use their antlers for sparring today.