When your head is the size of small car, a head cold – with its associated sniffles, sneezes and coughs – is something that needs to be taken care of right away. But … what if you’re a dinosaur living 150 million years before over-the-rock cold remedies? If you’ve stayed up at night wondering if prehistoric creatures got respiratory infections (is it just me?), a new study reveals fossils that say ‘yes’ and show what the consequences might have been. A separate study reveals that pterosaurs vomited regularly … but not because of a stomach bug. Aren’t you grateful this didn’t come out until AFTER the Jurassic Park movies?
“An infection like this has never been found in any dinosaur, so it gives us an exciting window into the past. Millions of years ago, before the invention of vaccines and Lemsip, they suffered the same gross symptoms we’ve all felt.”
Dr. D. Cary Woodruff, Director of Paleontology at the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum in Montana, was lead author of a study published in the journal Scientific Reports which examined 150-million-year-old fossils of a Diplodocus – a long-necked, long-tailed sauropod which roamed mid-western North America during the late Jurassic era. Woodruff is a vertebrate paleontologist and noticed that these fossils consisted of the dinosaur’s skull and the first seven neck vertebrae, which contained air sacs connected to the lungs and respiratory system in a way similar to modern birds. We know birds can get respiratory infections, but this is the first time lesions were found on dinosaur vertebrae which looked those caused by infections rather than tumors.
“Though Dolly’s bone lesions wouldn’t have been obvious to an ancient observer, she likely had a fever, cough, labored breathing and nasal discharge, the scientists suggest. It’s not clear whether the infection was bacterial, viral or fungal, or whether it is what killed Dolly.”
Science News reports that the team named their dinosaur ‘Dolly’ and Dolly’s neighbors and relatives would have known she was suffering a respiratory infection, possibly caused by the fungus Aspergillus which can in turn lead to bone infections.” While she may have had nasal discharge, they’re not sure if she held her head in a hole and barfed. However …
A separate study reveals that pterosaurs -- the actual flying reptiles of the dinosaur age – were regular vomiters … but not because of illness. And although it was from something they ate, it was because, like modern owls, they regurgitated pellets of undigestible food, and some of those fossilized pellets were found in modern China from a Kunpengopterus sinensis, a pterosaur species that lived between 199 million and 146 million years ago. The research, published recently in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, gives insight into the stomachs of pterosaurs, which are rarely found in fossils.
Shunxing Jiang, a paleontologist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and an author on the study, tells The New York Times these pellets show these pterosaurs ate large fish, which went first into an acid-filled stomach for digestion, then to a second where the bones and scales were turning into pellets, and finally back out again in a prehistoric belch of vomit. This two-stage stomach system lives on today in owls, other birds and some crocodiles – today’s dinosaurs. More research is needed on its benefits, drawbacks and why it isn’t seen much today.
Barfing pterosaurs, sniffling sauropods … the Jurassic era sounds like today’s doctor’s waiting room.