Finite element analyses of ankylosaurid dinosaur tail club impacts

Victoria M. Arbour, Eric Snively

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Ankylosaurid dinosaurs have modified distal caudal vertebrae (the handle) and large terminal caudal osteoderms (the knob) that together form a tail club. Three-dimensional digital models of four tail clubs referred to Euoplocephalus tutus were created from computed tomography scans of fossil specimens. We propose to use finite element modeling to examine the distribution of stress in simulated tail club impacts in order to determine the biological feasibility of hypothesized tail clubbing behavior. Results show that peak stresses were artificially high at the rigid constraint. The data suggest that tail clubs with small and average-sized knobs were unlikely to fail during forceful impacts, but large clubs may have been at risk of fracture cranial to the knob. The modified handle vertebrae were capable of supporting the weight of even very large knobs. Long prezygapophyses and neural spines in the handle vertebrae helped distribute stress evenly along the handle. We conclude that tail swinging-behavior may have been possible in Euoplocephalus, but more sophisticated models incorporating flexible constraints are needed to support this hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1412-1426
Number of pages15
JournalAnatomical Record
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Ankylosauria
  • Biomechanics
  • Euoplocephalus
  • Finite element analysis
  • Functional morphology
  • Palaeobiology


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