Borealopelta vs Ankylosaurus: Who Would Win in a Prehistoric Showdown?

In the ancient world of the dinosaurs, two remarkable members of the Thyreophora group — a clade characterized by their armored bodies — stand out: the Borealopelta and the Ankylosaurus. The Borealopelta, discovered in the Lower Cretaceous deposits of Alberta, Canada, is notable for its incredibly well-preserved fossil providing insights into its life over 110 million years ago. On the other hand, the Ankylosaurus roamed the Earth much later, in the Late Cretaceous, and its fossils suggest it was among the last of the non-avian dinosaurs living in what is now North America.

Though these two dinosaurs were separated by millions of years, they shared similar characteristics being part of the armored dinosaurs known as ankylosaurs. The Borealopelta’s preserved remains show it had a heavy armor and even possible camouflage, suggesting a life adapted for defense. Compared to the Borealopelta, the Ankylosaurus is recognized for its massive size and a club-like tail, which served as a potent defensive weapon. Despite the time that separated them, both dinosaurs’ evolution was shaped by the need to protect themselves from predators, and their physical makeup reveals a fascinating story of survival in the Mesozoic era.

Key Takeaways

  • The Borealopelta and Ankylosaurus were armored dinosaurs with significant differences in their defensive adaptations.
  • Both had herbivorous diets and shared a necessity for defense mechanisms against predators of their respective eras.
  • Their physical characteristics reflect the evolutionary pressures of their environments, shaping them into the powerful and enigmatic creatures known from the fossil record.


The Borealopelta and the Ankylosaurus represent two distinct members of the armored dinosaur category, Thyreophora, with unique features and historical significance. Let’s explore the differences and similarities in a structured comparison.

Comparison Table

Feature Borealopelta Ankylosaurus
Time Period Lower Cretaceous Late Cretaceous
Location Alberta, Canada Western North America
Diet Herbivorous Herbivorous
Family Nodosauridae Ankylosauridae
Species Borealopelta markmitchelli Ankylosaurus magniventris
Body Structure Heavily armored with spines Heavily armored with bony club on tail
Preservation Fossil noted for its well-preserved state Fossils provide details on armor and structure
Discovery 2017 by Caleb Brown et al. 1908 by Barnum Brown
Notable Features Armored nodules and spines covered in keratin sheaths Armored with osteoderms, featuring a distinctive tail club
Size Medium-sized Large, among the last of the non-avian dinosaurs

Both species are armored, plant-eating dinosaurs; the Borealopelta is a nodosaurid while the Ankylosaurus is classified under Ankylosauridae. The Borealopelta roamed in the regions now known as Alberta, Canada during the Lower Cretaceous period. In contrast, the Ankylosaurus lived in western North America towards the very end of the Cretaceous Period, representing some of the last non-avian dinosaurs.

The Borealopelta stands out for its exceptionally well-preserved fossil discovered in oil sands which provides valuable insight into its dermal armor, and is a relatively recent find described by scientists. On the other hand, the Ankylosaurus, described much earlier, is noted for its characteristic tail club and dense, bony armor. Their distinctive body structures reflect adaptations to their respective environments and lifestyles within the broader group of armored dinosaurs.

Physical Characteristics

Borealopelta, discovered in Alberta, Canada, is renowned for its exceptional state of fossilization that includes not only bones but also armour and soft tissues. The scales and skin of Borealopelta have been preserved, providing insight into its potential for camouflage. It showcased a variety of armor, with osteoderms—bony deposits forming scales, plates, and other structures—covering its body. This nodosaur was enveloped in a sheath of keratin, and there is evidence to suggest that its armor could have served as a deterrent to predators.

The fossilized remains of Borealopelta indicate the presence of large shoulder spines. Additionally, the exquisite preservation allowed for the detection of melanin, hinting at the creature’s coloration patterns which may have played a role in its ability to camouflage in its environment.

On the other hand, Ankylosaurus, a member of the Ankylosauria clade, was a large, quadrupedal dinosaur characterized by massive limbs and a body covered in armor. Ankylosaurus was different from Borealopelta in that it had a broader array of defensive features, including large, knob-like spikes and plates along its back, and a distinctive club at the end of its tail used for protection against predators.

Both dinosaurs evolved with significant armor, but Ankylosaurus, appearing later in the evolutionary timeline, had a more elaborate and specialized form of body protection. The shape of the body of Ankylosaurus was also adapted for its defensive lifestyle, with a wide, low-slung stature and a neck that was protected by a thick, bone-laden hide.

Diet and Hunting

Borealopelta and Ankylosaurus, both hailing from the ankylosaur family, were strictly herbivorous dinosaurs. Their diet predominantly consisted of low-lying vegetation because their heavy builds and short legs limited their reach. They likely consumed a variety of prehistoric plants, including ferns that were abundant during their respective eras.

Borealopelta’s last meal, preserved with its fossil, provides concrete evidence that these dinosaurs fed on ferns, cycads, and conifers, directly reflecting the vegetation of the Lower Cretaceous period. This discovery allows paleontologists to understand not just the food choices but also the seasonal availability of certain plants, hinting at a diet that varied with the growing season.

Borealopelta Ankylosaurus
Diet Ferns, cycads, conifers Ferns, angiosperms
Era Lower Cretaceous Late Cretaceous
Hunting Non-predatory, foraging Non-predatory, foraging

Ankylosaurus, existing later in the Late Cretaceous period, consumed ferns and angiosperms, plants that had become more widespread by their time. Unlike mammals, neither Borealopelta nor Ankylosaurus hunted; they were dedicated plant-eaters with dietary habits more akin to a modern deer foraging for food across the forest floor.

While neither dinosaur had to hunt, their ability to digest tough plant materials was crucial. They may have had complex gut systems to break down the cellulose-rich foliage, a challenging process for many herbivores. Although famous for their armor, these dinosaurs’ primary defense was not against prey but predators. Their tail clubs could deliver powerful blows, but these were weapons of defense, not tools for hunting.

Both species lived in different periods and environments, but their plant-eating ways were a testament to the successful survival of large herbivores in a world dominated by massive predators.

Defense Mechanisms

Borealopelta and Ankylosaurus were both armored dinosaurs, shares a notable trait: they were heavily fortified with natural defense mechanisms. Borealopelta, a species of nodosaur, possessed a massive shield along its back that consisted of plates and osteoderms, which acted as a form of protection. Specific details about its defenses can be found in the Borealopelta Wikipedia page.

The Ankylosaurus took bodily armor to another level. As part of the Ankylosauria clade, it not only had bony plates embedded in its skin but also boasted large horns at the back of its head and a club at the tail, which it could wield to deliver powerful blows. This was in addition to its overall robust **body **structure which was designed for defense. The Ankylosauria and their specific armor features are further explained on the Ankylosauria Wikipedia page.

Feature Borealopelta Ankylosaurus
Armor Type Plates and osteoderms Bony plates, horns, and a clubbed tail
Group Nodosaur Ankylosaur
Tail No club Clubbed, used as a defensive weapon
Head Likely had small horns or bumps Horns and a broader skull for protection

Both dinosaurs’ spines and armor served as protection against predators, with the Ankylosaurus having additional offensive capabilities with its tail club. Despite the different families they belong to, Borealopelta and Ankylosaurus reflect the evolutionary peak of herbivorous dinosaur defense mechanisms. The armor of Ankylosauridae is detailed in their respective family page.

Intelligence and Social Behavior

Borealopelta markmitchelli and Ankylosaurus, both members of the ankylosaur family, have left a limited record regarding their intelligence and social behavior. Most of what is known or hypothesized about these extinct species comes from fossil interpretations and comparisons to modern reptiles.

Borealopelta markmitchelli

Borealopelta is known from a single, well-preserved specimen, which does not provide explicit insights into its intelligence level or social structures. Paleontologists can infer that, like many dinosaurs, Borealopelta likely possessed basic instincts necessary for survival, such as foraging for food and responding to predators.


In contrast, more is known about Ankylosaurus due to a greater number of fossil finds. Although direct evidence of social behavior is lacking, its brain structure suggests it had the intelligence typical of ankylosaurids, possibly used for processing sensory information and decision-making.

  • Social Interactions: Both species may have engaged in some form of socializing, but evidence is scarce. If similar to other dinosaurs, they could have had territory or herding instincts.
  • Intelligence: Neither dinosaur is celebrated for a high degree of intelligence. Their brain-to-body ratio, a rough measure of brainpower, was not exceptional.

While both Borealopelta markmitchelli and Ankylosaurus lived in what is now North America during different periods (Early Cretaceous for Borealopelta and Late Cretaceous for Ankylosaurus), their fossil records do not provide conclusive data on their intelligence and social behavior. They were, however, successful species within their environments, suggesting a level of behavioral adaptability.

Key Factors

Physical Characteristics: The Borealopelta was a heavily armored dinosaur, known for its exceptional preservation discovered by Shawn Funk in 2011. Unlike Borealopelta, which was a nodosaurid, Ankylosaurus belongs to a closely related but distinct group of armored dinosaurs known as ankylosaurids. Both shared the common feature of body armor but differed in the specific layout and morphology of their osteoderms.

Age and Preservation: The fossilized remains of Borealopelta date back to the Lower Cretaceous and are housed at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology. In contrast, Ankylosaurus lived later, in the very end of the Cretaceous period. The state of preservation of Borealopelta is astonishing, with skin and even stomach contents fossilized, offering valuable insight into its last meal which suggests a predominantly terrestrial diet potentially including ferns, found by paleontologists Caleb Brown and Donald Henderson.

Discovery and Research: Borealopelta’s discovery within an oil sands mine highlights the intersection of industrial work and paleontology. Technicians such as Mark Mitchell, who spent years preparing the specimen, and paleontologists including Victoria Arbour, have contributed significantly to understanding these species. Peer-reviewed research, supported by organizations like the National Geographic Society, adds to the robust knowledge on these dinosaurs.

Environmental Context: Analysis of the charcoal alongside the Borealopelta fossil indicates the proximity of ancient wildfires, possibly influencing its habitat. On the other hand, evidence for Ankylosaurus’ ecology and health is derived from the few fossils found, limiting understanding. Newer techniques in paleontological research are unveiling details of the best-preserved dinosaur specimens, shedding light on their life and times.

Importance of Coloration: Studies such as one published in PeerJ by Arbour and Brown suggest Borealopelta exhibited countershading, a form of camouflage, indicating predation pressure even for these armored giants. On the other hand, the coloration of Ankylosaurus is not well-known due to less complete fossil records.

Who Would Win?

In a hypothetical match-up between Borealopelta and Ankylosaurus, various factors must be considered:

  • Defense: Both dinosaurs possessed significant armor. Borealopelta had a formidable array of armor plates with preserved keratin sheaths and skin, indicative of a strong defensive capability. Ankylosaurus, on the other hand, was not just armored but equipped with a massive tail club that could deliver powerful blows.

  • Size and Mobility: Ankylosaurus was larger, potentially giving it an advantage in strength. However, researchers have noted that Borealopelta’s preservation suggests it could have had camouflage, possibly giving it an edge in avoiding detection and predation.

  • Combat Style: The nodosaurid Borealopelta lacked the tail club found in ankylosaurids like Ankylosaurus. This club was a formidable weapon against predators, possibly giving Ankylosaurus an upper hand in combat scenarios.

  • Predation Pressure: Borealopelta lived in an environment where it had to defend against formidable predators. Its armor’s preservation indicates its effectiveness. Ankylosaurus was one of the last non-avian dinosaurs, facing predators such as the Tyrannosaurus rex. Its robust armor and tail club suggest it was well-equipped to survive this threat.

In summary, while Borealopelta demonstrated exceptional defense mechanisms, Ankylosaurus’s additional offensive arsenal, such as the tail club, may have given it an extra advantage in a direct confrontation. However, given their differences in size, habitat, and temporal range, a true comparison is speculative.

Frequently Asked Questions

This section answers common queries pertaining to the defensive adaptations, geological periods, fossil preservation, size and weight differences, museum exhibits, and evidence of predator-prey interactions concerning Borealopelta and Ankylosaurus.

What adaptations did Borealopelta have for defense compared to Ankylosaurus?

Borealopelta was armored with osteoderms covering its body, which served as a formidable defensive feature against predators. Its details of preservation reveal that it also had keratin sheaths and skin overlaying the bony plates. On the other hand, Ankylosaurus, known for its massive tail club and body armor, represents one of evolution’s peak armor designs, which differed significantly from Borealopelta by having a more comprehensive bony structure and clubbed tail for defense.

In which geological period did Borealopelta and Ankylosaurus exist?

Borealopelta belonged to the Early Cretaceous period and roamed the earth approximately 110 million years ago. In contrast, Ankylosaurus lived much later, during the Late Cretaceous period, about 68-66 million years ago, marking it among the last of the non-avian dinosaurs before the mass extinction.

How does the preservation of the Borealopelta specimen compare to that of other dinosaur fossils?

The Borealopelta specimen is considered one of the best-preserved nodosaurids, with intact skin impressions and possible remnants of its original coloration. This level of preservation is exceptional among dinosaur fossils, providing detailed insights into its appearance and biology in contrast to other less well-preserved discoveries.

What size and weight differences are there between Borealopelta and Ankylosaurus?

Borealopelta was a large armored dinosaur; however, Ankylosaurus was significantly larger and heavier. Ankylosaurus could reach lengths of up to 6 meters and weigh up to 8 tons, dwarfing the Borealopelta, which was closer to 5.5 meters in length and weighed about 1.3 tons.

Which museums house Borealopelta and Ankylosaurus fossils?

Fossils of Borealopelta are displayed at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, Canada. As for Ankylosaurus, its fossils are a part of several museum collections, including the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

What evidence is there of predator-prey interactions involving Borealopelta and Ankylosaurus?

While direct evidence of specific predator-prey interactions for Borealopelta is limited, the dinosaur’s armor suggests it was well-equipped to defend against contemporary predators. For Ankylosaurus, there is also a lack of direct evidence, but its heavy armor and tail club imply it faced significant threats from predators of its time in what is now North America.

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