From the plated Stegosaurus to the tank-like Ankylosaurus, armoured dinosaurs are some of the most extraordinary creatures to have roamed the earth. Fossils from this group are abundant from the Late Jurassic period, 155 million years ago, up until the end of the age of the dinosaurs. However, only a few fossils exist from the early part of the Jurassic, making it difficult to understand how these fantastic beasts came to be. More early fossils could help to fill in gaps about armoured dinosaur biology and evolution.
Yao et al. describe the anatomy of a new armoured dinosaur, baptized Yuxisaurus, which was found in rocks of Early Jurassic age in southwestern China. Covered in sharp spines, this medium-sized animal was much sturdier and stockier than its immediate relatives, suggesting that the ancestors of Stegosaurus and Ankylosaurus had a wider variety of body forms than once thought. Its presence in China also shows that armoured dinosaurs spread across the world early in their history. Yuxisaurus could help researchers to understand how million years of evolution produced the armoured species we are more familiar with today. As more fossils may emerge from the rocks of southwestern China, it could become possible to further piece together early dinosaur evolution.