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Copyright 2007

Field Notes

Name Means: "Small-shield lizard"
Length: 4 feet 4 inches (1.3 m)
Diet: Herbivore (Plant-Eater)
Time: Early Jurassic
Location: Arizona, USA

Scutellosaurus is one of the earliest representatives of the armored dinosaurs (the thyreophorans) that would later include giants as Stegosaurus and Ankylosaurus. However, compared to some of its later relatives, Scutellosaurus was small and lightly armored. Along its back and extending onto the base of the tail were rows of small bony "shields" embedded in the skin. Some of these shields were flat, while others were pitched, like little roofs. The largest shields formed two rows that ran along the middle of the back.

Spread across the back, the shields formed a protective armored layer that would have defended the animal from attacks by such meat-eating dinosaurs as Dilophosaurus, with which it shared its early Jurassic world. Scutellosaurus would also have been reasonably fleet of foot and therefore able to escape predators by weaving its way through tangled undergrowth.

Scutellosaurus fossils are found in the Kayenta Formation of Arizona. These rocks were deposited by periodic floods that spilled over river banks, but there are also the remains of sand dunes in the area, indicating that Scutellosaurus probably lived in an arid or semi-arid environment. The ancestors of Scutellosaurus were bipedal. This feature is reflected in Scutellosaurus in its well-developed hind legs. However, the increased weight of the long body resulting from the armored shield would have forced Scutellosaurus onto all fours for most of the time. It seems likely that it could still have rocked back onto its hind legs to make a speedy getaway or to reach up and gather the higher plants that it fed on. The long tail, which made up about half its total body length, would have helped it to maintain its balance during such maneuvers.

The teeth of Scutellosaurus were leaf-shaped and had serrated edges. These would have been used to snip off leaves, but the lack of wear on the teeth indicates that this dinosaur did not chew its food before swallowing it.

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