By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - It was more of a leg buster, but scientists have named a spiky, tank-like dinosaur that wielded a sledge-hammer tail after the fanciful beast Zuul from the blockbuster film "Ghostbusters" that menaced Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and friends.
The scientists on Tuesday described fossils unearthed in the northern Montana badlands of the four-legged, plant-eating dinosaur called Zuul crurivastator that was about 20 feet (6 meters) long, weighed 2-1/2 tons and lived 75 million years ago.
Zuul belonged to a group of Cretaceous Period dinosaurs called ankylosaurs that were among the most heavily armored land animals ever. They were clad in bony armor from the snout to the end of the tail, often with spikes and a tail club that could be used to smash the legs of predators like the Tyrannosaurus rex cousin Gorgosaurus that lived alongside Zuul.
Zuul is one of the most complete and best-preserved ankylosaur ever found, including rare soft tissue, paleontologist Victoria Arbour of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto said. Its fossils included skin impressions and keratinous sheaths on the tail spikes.
In the 1984 movie, Zuul (pronounced ZOOL) was described as an ancient Near East demigod and appeared as a big, horned, vaguely dog-like monster with glowing red eyes, possessing Sigourney Weaver's body.
The dinosaur's name was inspired by its skull similarities to the head of the "Ghostbusters" monster, Royal Ontario Museum paleontologist David Evans said.
"The skull of the new dinosaur has a short, rounded snout, gnarly forehead, and two sets of horns projecting backwards from behind the eyes, just like Zuul," Evans said.
Aykroyd, the Ontario-born "Ghostbusters" star and co-writer, appeared in a video released by the museum alongside the dinosaur's skull, holding a photo of the movie beast.
"We're so honored that the Royal Ontario Museum would accord the name of this magnificent creature with the appellation that we called our 'terror dog' in the movie, and that is Zuul, Z-U-U-L," Aykroyd said.
The dinosaur's tail, about 10 feet (3 meters) long, was an intimidating defensive weapon.
"The menacing, spiked tail of Zuul is by far the coolest part of the animal," Evans said. "It has a wicked series of large spikes at the base of the tail, then a series of elongated, peaked spines that run the length of the tail club, and it ends in a massive, expanded club."
The research was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)