A sturdy and stocky armored dinosaur with “distinctive” plating was discovered in southwestern China and scientists believe this new species to be the earliest well-preserved armored dinosaur found in China so far.

“From the plated stegosaurus to the tank-like ankylosaurus, armored 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 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,” reported an evaluation of the research published in the journal eLife.

“More early fossils could help to fill in gaps about armored dinosaur biology and evolution.”

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Dubbed Yuxisarus kopchicki, the medium-size dinosaur was covered in sharp spines and was sturdier and stockier than its immediate relatives, according to eLife, which added that the new species demonstrates “a rapid diversification and distribution of armored dinosaurs across the northern hemisphere early in their evolutionary history.”

The dinosaur’s heavy build and distinctive armor “hints” at previously unrealized diversity in the history of the armored dinosaurs, according to the research.

Scientists found a partial skull, parts of the animal’s spine, legs and some plating in the Yunnan province.

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Utah state paleontologist Jim Kirkland, who works for the Utah Geological Survey, said specimens of armored dinosaurs like the ankylosaurus have been unearthed in Utah and elsewhere in the country.

“I was lucky enough to discover the first Jurassic ankylosaurus in North America in 1989,” Kirkland said, adding it was found in Rabbit Valley in Colorado near the Utah border.

“Really ornate teeth” of an ankylosaurus were found in the St. George area and other specimens are waiting to be unearthed in the Morrison Formation in the area of the newly designated Utah Raptor State Park, Kirkland added.