It's tough being a villainous demigod in a blockbuster film; everyone hates you and you're almost certainly going to die at the end. But if the film is loved enough, maybe you'll get a dinosaur named after you. That's what has happened to Zuul, the horned dogbeast from Ghostbusters.
Zuul Crurivastator roamed what is now Montana 75 million years ago, towards the end of the dinosaurs' great reign. Like other Ankylosaurs, it had a wide, flat body and a long tail. Although an estimated 6 meters (20 feet) long and weighing 2.5 tonnes (2.8 tons), the highest point on its back would still have been lower than an average human.
Zuul Crurivastator was discovered and named in Royal Society Open Science by Dr Victoria Arbour of the Royal Ontario Museum, who noted its resemblance to the gatekeeper demigod. “Once we put it out there we couldn't not name it that,” Arbour told CBC.
The second part of the name means “destroyer of shins” because, like other ankylosaurids, Zuul possessed a tail covered in bony plates capable of doing great damage to anything low to the ground. Fearsome as this probably was to predators, a diet of ferns and shrubs seems a poor preparation for possessing Sigourney Weaver, a task which has defeated other celluloid monsters.
Even were it not for its catchy name, Z. Cruvivastator would have been a significant find, as the specimen Arbour used to identify the new species is one of the most complete ankylosaurids known. It is one of the few cases where the skull and tail club of the same individual have both been found. The conditions in the Judith River Formation that preserved Zuul were so good we even have the keratin that made up many of the tail spikes and some of the soft tissues along the body. The find was made when a skid loader being used to dig out a tyrannosaur skeleton bumped into part of the largely buried tail club.
Although Zuul's head and tail have been removed and prepared by Arbour and her colleagues, the parts in between are still encased in a 15-tonne (17-ton) rock, and will take years to extract. The survival of soft tissue makes this a particularly important and delicate task, since there is a possibility of extracting proteins and organic molecules from what has survived, something that would transform our knowledge of ankylosaurs.
The Royal Ontario Museum has gone to great efforts to promote their discovery, including offering the video below and the opportunity online to perform a headspin with Zuul's skull worthy of The Exorcist. Those in Toronto will have the opportunity to view the real thing.