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Study finds first evidence of a dinosaur with a respiratory infection

A new study found the first evidence of a dinosaur with what appears to have been a respiratory infection. The dinosaur was a diplodocid or “long neck” dinosaur, similar to brontosaurus. The research, published in Scientific Reports, helps us to understand the diseases that infected dinosaurs.

The dinosaur nick-named “Dolly” was found in Montana and dates back about 150 million years to the Jurassic. Cary Woodruff, along with colleagues from the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum of Malta Montana, examined vertebrae from the dinosaur’s neck. The research revealed anomalies, including protrusions that probably would have penetrated the neck air sacs in life. The air sacs are part of Dolly’s complex dinosaur respiratory system. CT imaging suggests that the anomalies are probably a response to a respiratory 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,” 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.”

The research suggests that Dolly might have suffered from a fungal infection, such as aspergillosis, which infects the respiratory systems of modern birds and reptiles. Aspergillosis can lead to bone infections like those found on Dolly. This is also the first case of such an infection found on a dinosaur fossil.    

“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,” Woodruff said.

If Dolly was infected with an aspergillosis-like illness, she probably suffered flu-like symptoms – coughing, fever, trouble breathing and weight loss. Eventually the infection might have led to her death. 

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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