Fossils can reveal a huge number of secrets, and some of them are pretty bizarre–such as the recent discovery of the first-ever recorded tumorous facial growth on a dinosaur. The creature in question is a dwarf dinosaur, Telmatosaurus transsylvanicus, a duck-billed hadrosaur who lived in Transylvania’s Valley of the Dinosaurs between 69 and 67 million years ago.
The lumpy, non-cancerous growth is known to afflict the jaws modern day mammals, including humans, as well as reptiles, but has never before been recorded in animal fossils. When the fossil was first uncovered in the Hateg Country Dinosaurs Geopark in Romania over a decade ago, researchers could clearly see that there was some kind of facial deformity, but were unclear as to the reason why.
However, a recent, renewed investigation of the fossil by a team of international researchers determined the cause of the deformity, a discovery that one of the researchers described as a “wonderful surprise.”
Kate Acheson, a PhD student at the University of Southampton explained in a statement
This discovery is the first ever described in the fossil record and the first to be thoroughly documented in a dwarf dinosaur. Telmatosaurus is known to be close to the root of the duck-billed dinosaur family tree, and the presence of such a deformity early in their evolution provides us with further evidence that the duck-billed dinosaurs were more prone to tumours than other dinosaurs.
Not only that, but, as Dr Bruce Rothschild, from the Northeast Ohio Medical University and a worldwide expert in palaeopathology said:
The discovery of an ameloblastoma in a duck-billed dinosaur documents that we have more in common with dinosaurs than previously realised. We get the same neoplasias.
As for the diminutive dinosaur, researchers don’t believe the tumor caused him any pain, but with the remains they have–two lower jaws–they can determine that the creature died before reaching adulthood. It’s not possible to determine exactly what caused the Telmatosaurus’s premature death, but researcher Dr Zoltán Csiki-Sava posits:
We know from modern examples that predators often attack a member of the herd that looks a little different or is even slightly disabled by a disease. The tumour in this dinosaur had not developed to its full extent at the moment it died, but it could have indirectly contributed to its early demise