It’s yet another scorching summer day, but Murmillo is finding relief by wading placidly in the murky shallows of a lake. A slight ripple in the surface catches her eye, but no matter, it’s probably just a fish or a turtle or—a gargantuan alligatoroid that explodes from the water and engulfs her entire head and neck in its murderous jaws!
But the alligatoroid didn’t reckon on the array of spikes adorning those very same body parts, spikes which are every bit as solid as they are pointy, spikes which are now stabbing into its mouth as it attempts to bite down on Murmillo, who will have none of this dastardly and malodorous sneak assault. She bucks and turns her head furiously, lacerating the tissue of the alligatoroid’s palate and chipping several of its teeth. Her would-be killer hastily releases its grip and turns away in defeat, but Murmillo isn’t finished yet. As the alligatoroid slinks off into deeper water, she bids it an unfond adieu by walloping it on the back with her trusty tail club. Murmillo then departs the lake, but to her annoyance, the rancid stench from the reptile’s mouth continues to linger about her . . .
Zuul crurivastator was discovered quite by chance in 2014 during an excavation of a Gorgosaurus specimen in the Judith River Formation of Montana when the former’s tail club was uncovered a mere ten metres away from the latter’s disarticulated remains. It would eventually prove to be the most complete North American ankylosaurid to date and one of the largest at an estimated six metres in length and 2,500 kg/2.5 metric tons in weight. Only Ankylosaurus itself and possibly Tarchia from Asia are known to have exceeded it in size.
Here we have the very first toy of Zuul, released in 2022 as part of the Dino Dana subline by Safari Ltd. It’s a relatively small one at just under 17 cm in length from the tip of its wide nose to the squared off end of its formidable tail club. Right off the bat (no pun intended) it scores highly in my book for not having a shade of brown as its main colour like so many other ankylosaur toys. Instead, it is a nice pine green, with dark airbushing on the back and pea soup green for the underbelly. The light brown osteoderms also have dark airbrushing and the same light brown is used for the claws and the markings on the head. The eyes are straight black and the inside of the mouth is dark purple. While the colours do not appear to be quite as sharp or as meticulously applied as on Wild Safari dinosaurs like the Albertosaurus or the Patagotitan, they still all go together rather well. This toy looks very much like the terrific artwork by Danielle Dufault.
Murmillo, as I’ve fittingly named my Zuul, is posed with her head slightly lowered and turned to the right, her limbs planted, and her long tail swinging to the right. Whereas most ankylosaurids are known from largely incomplete remains, a considerable chunk of Zuul‘s armour was found intact, with the osteoderms preserved in their original positions. We therefore know for a fact that the animal possessed a particularly formidable-looking arrangement of pointed spikes over its neck and shoulders, and rows of flatter, more blade-like spikes jutting out from its hips and running down the length of its tail to its large, rather asymmetrically-shaped club. Whoever sculpted Murmillo has done an impressive job of rendering all those features, along with countless ossicles covering the skin in between the osteoderms. The larger osteoderms are covered with grooves and the club has a faint knobby texture.
On that note, while it’s long been a given that ankylosaurids used their clubs to defend themselves against tyrannosaurids, close examination of the Zuul specimen has revealed that some of the spikes along its side were damaged and then re-healed while the individual was alive. This indicates that ankylosaurids primarily employed their tails in battles against each, probably for mating rights or territory or favourite feeding grounds. Must’ve made for quite a noisy row!
The limbs on Murmillo are pretty typical for an ankylosaurid: short and stout with osteoderms protecting her forearms and thighs. Her front feet have five digits with claws on the inner three and her hind ones have three digits all with claws. Zuul‘s actual limbs were not recovered, however, it is reasonable to assume that they were much like those of other ankylosaurids. Her unarmoured belly has a ribbed texture with lots of tiny round scales.
Zuul‘s head, which again is second in size only to Ankylosaurus‘, was discovered fully intact and beautifully preserved. It can be distinguished from other North American ankylosaurids by way of the armoured tiles covering the top of its head, which are hexagonal and rough and overlapping as opposed to flattened. It also had pointed upper horns growing from the back of the skull. Despite her small size, Murmillo does a decent job of representing these key features. This animal’s unusual name came about when ankylosaur expert Dr. Victoria Arbour observed that its skull resembled Zuul, the terror dog minion of Gozer from the 1984 classic Ghostbusters. Her colleague Dr. David Evans reached out to the film’s star and co-writer Dan Aykroyd, who also happens to be a dinosaur enthusiast. Not surprisingly, Aykroyd was delighted by the proposal and fully endorsed it. The species name crurivastator appropriately means “shin destroyer.” Incidentally, Arbour previously bestowed Z names on two other ankylosaurs: Zaraapelta and Ziapelta. Zuul for its part currently holds the distinction of being the very last dinosaur of the alphabet (with Aardonyx being the first).
Overall, the Safari Zuul is a pleasing, well-researched, and fun toy, one I know for a fact that Arbour was very pleased to see. It is available online wherever Safari dinosaurs are sold.