This species belongs to a group of four-legged herbivorous armored dinosaurs called ankylosaurids (family Ankylosauridae) that lived in Asia and western North America during the Late Cretaceous epoch (100-66 million years ago).
The dinosaur was named "johnsoni" after the Natural History Museum volunteer who prepared its skull for exhibition in Utah.
The arrangement of the dinosaur's bony armor - which features small cones and pyramids - was the key giveaway that it is more closely related to Asian species (such as Saichania and Tarchia) than to other North American species of its time (including Ankylosaurus and Euoplocephalus).
The species' name was given in honour of Randy Johnson, a dedicated museum volunteer who spent hundreds of hours preparing the fossil's skull by separating it from surrounding rock and debris.
The features of a new species of armoured dinosaur discovered in the U.S. align more closely with its Asian ancestors, says a new study.
The genus name is derived from the Greek words akaina, which means "thorn" or "spike", and cephalus, meaning "head", Mr Wiersma said.
"A reasonable hypothesis would be that ankylosaurids from Utah are related to those found elsewhere in western North America, so we were really surprised to discover that Akainacephalus was so closely related to species from Asia", remarked Randall Irmis, co-author of the study.
A dinosaur that was covered in bony armour from its spiky head to its clubbed tail has been unveiled at a museum in Utah.
Fossils must be delicately cleaned and repaired before researchers can even begin studying them, and discoveries can only be broadcast to the public once a peer-reviewed academic journal publishes a study on the finding.
"The geographic distribution of Late Cretaceous ankylosaurids throughout the Western Interior was the result of several geologically brief intervals of lowered sea level that allowed Asian ankylosaurid dinosaurs to immigrate to North America several times during the Late Cretaceous, resulting in the presence of two separate groups of ankylosaurid dinosaurs", Wiersma said.
Asian ankylosaurids had more pronounced spikes covering their skulls than the smooth boned armour of their American counterparts. The bones took nearly four years to prepare.
The area would have been on the southern part of the "lost continent" of Laramidia - an island that stretched from Alaska to Mexico before the two parts of North America formed to make one continent.
"Ankylosaurid dinosaurs evolved initially in Asia and migrated over to North America during low sea levels and then the Bering Strait becomes exposed", he said."It is extremely fascinating and important for the science of paleontology that we can read so much information from the fossil record, allowing us to better understand extinct organisms and the ecosystems they were a part of", says Wiersma.
Paleontologists made this discovery in southern Utah.