Sauropelta was named in 1970 based on fossil material from Wyoming and Montana. This material was collected by the American Museum of Natural History during the 1930s, and by the Yale Peabody Museum during the 1960s. In 1984 paleontologist Kenneth Carpenter restudied this and other material, along with fossil footprints referred to Sauropelta, which led to an accurate reconstruction of the skeleton and armor. This makes Sauropelta one of the best understood of all the ankylosaurs, or ‘armored dinosaurs’.
Sauropelta’s impressive armor consisted of a dense mosaic of bony plates over the back, hips, and tail, a row of triangular projections along the flanks of the body, and large pointed spines on the neck. The largest of these spines was originally thought to have come from the tail, like the tail spikes of a Stegosaurus. However, it actually belonged to the neck and helped protect this delicate part of the anatomy. Sauropelta’ bony ‘suit of armor’ was embedded into its skin to provide effective protection.
Most Sauropelta remains come from the Cloverly Formation in North America. This rock formation formed during the Early Cretaceous, about 108 million years ago. At this time, Sauropelta lived on the floodplains around rivers, where it browsed for low vegetation. The Cloverly Formation outcrops today in modern day Wyoming and Montana.