The pulmonary disease infecting this diplodocine dinosaur, nicknamed ‘Dolly,’ would not been externally evident, but the probable pneumonia-like outward symptoms would have included coughing, labored breathing, nasal discharge, fever, and weight loss among others. It is the first known case of an avian-style pulmonary infectious disease in a non-avian dinosaur.
Dolly is an immature dinosaur that lived approximately 150 million years ago (Late Jurassic epoch).
It represents an undescribed species of Diplodocus, a genus of large, long-necked herbivorous sauropod dinosaurs.
Its fossilized remains were originally collected in 1990 from the Morrison Formation of southwest Montana, the United States.
They consist of a complete skull with the first seven associated and articulated cervical vertebrae (bones from the neck).
In the new study, Dr. Cary Woodruff of the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum and his colleagues examined three of the cervical vertebrae and identified never-before-seen abnormal bony protrusions that had an unusual shape and texture.
The protrusions were located in an area of each bone where they would have been penetrated by air-filled sacs.
These air sacs would have ultimately connected to Dolly’s lungs and formed part of the dinosaur’s complex respiratory system.
CT imaging of the irregular protrusions revealed that they were made of abnormal bone that most likely formed in response to an infection.
“Given the likely symptoms this animal suffered from, holding these infected bones in your hands, you can’t help but feel sorry for Dolly,” Dr. Woodruff said.
“We’ve all experienced these same symptoms — coughing, trouble breathing, a fever, etc. — and here’s a 150-million-year-old dinosaur that likely felt as miserable as we all do when we’re sick.”
Based on the location of abnormal bony protrusions, the paleontologists suggest that they formed in response to a respiratory infection, which ultimately spread into these neck vertebrae via the air sacs and caused the irregular bone growths.
They speculate that this respiratory infection could have been caused by a fungal infection similar to aspergillosis, a common respiratory illness that affects birds and reptiles today and can lead to bone infections.
“This fossil infection in Dolly not only helps us trace the evolutionary history of respiratory-related diseases back in time, but gives us a better understanding of what kinds of diseases dinosaurs were susceptible to,” Dr. Woodruff said.
The researchers suggest that if Dolly had been infected with an aspergillosis-like respiratory infection, it likely experienced flu or pneumonia-like symptoms such as weight loss, coughing, fever, and breathing difficulties.
“As aspergillosis can be fatal in birds if untreated, a potentially similar infection in Dolly could have ultimately caused the death of the animal,” they said.
The team’s paper appears in the journal Scientific Reports.
D.C. Woodruff et al. 2022. The first occurrence of an avian-style respiratory infection in a non-avian dinosaur. Sci Rep 12, 1954; doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-05761-3
Source link: https://www.sci.news/paleontology/dinosaur-respiratory-infection-10543.html