Talarurus plicatospineus (“wicker tail”) was one of the best-armored members of Ankylosauridae, dinosaurs noted for their wide bodies, bony plate-like armor and tail clubs. Talururus was a low browsing, plant-eating animal of the Late Cretaceous, living roughly 89 to 99 million years ago. With a deep, wide rib cage and heavyset legs, Talarurus kept low to the ground, using its thick back plates for defense and its bony tail for offense. In a family of armored dinosaurs, Talururus was one of the most heavily armored ankylosaurs. Like other anklyosauria, however, it also had an extremely small brain for its body size—a lot of brawn, not much brain.
Talarurus was discovered by Evgeny A. Maleev, a Russian paleontologist, from a 1948-1949 Russian expedition and announced and named by him in a 1952 article, “A new ankylosaur from the Upper Cretaceous of Mongolia,” in a Russian science journal, Doklady Akademii Nauk SSSR .
Talarurus is known from two mostly complete fossil skeletons from Mongolia, one of which is reassembled and on view in the Moscow Paleontological Institute. These fossil remains tell paleontologists that the dinosaurs probably had large tongues, browsed vegetation no more than a meter off the ground, walked around two k.p.h., ran at no more than 10 k.p.h., and had body masses of around 3,500 kg.
Attaining heights of a little less than one meter and lengths of up to seven meters, Talarurus had small, triangular heads (one fossil skull is only 22 cm in length) with folded nasal cavities (setting it apart from similar nodosaurs). Their heads were covered by small bone plates of various shapes to minimize exposed skin. The heads featured massive, protruding spikes on cheeks and on top. This armor continued along its body in a series of bony plates topped with short spikes, and a tail ending in two large and two small bones.
The four massive bones at the end of its long tail formed a thick, round club the animal could swing, Maleev theorized, with great and damaging force in an arc possibly as wide as 100 degrees. Such a heavy tail required strong tendons; evidence of these tendons running through the bony tail in the fossil specimens gave rise to the dinosaur’s name, “basket tail” or “wicker tail.” Maleev asserted that the animal’s strong tail muscles allowed it to swing the tail freely; combined with its low, squat legs that allowed it to turn its body quickly, it would have been a challenging adversary for a carnivorous dinosaur.
The bony armor along its back is thought to have been attached to its skin by strong muscle and tendon connections, rather than to have developed as part of its skeleton. It probably withstood attack by claw or jaw by squatting down, allowing its attacker to expend energy trying to get past the bony plates before rising, swiveling and swinging its tail. Its four toes on each of its two rear feet set it apart from many other ankylosaurids, giving it much-needed traction to move its massive body, either to browse for plants or to fight other dinosaurs.
The specific taxonomy of Talarurus is Dinosauria, Ornithischia, Genasauria, Thyreophora, Ankylosauromorpha, Ankylosauria, Ankylosauridae, Talarurus.