Dinosaurs Dieseases

Hello and welcome to the natural history podcast. Today, we are looking dieseases, injury and illness for they are as old as life. When we think of prehistoric life we always envision them 

 running, flying, scuttling with no problems at all. However it is something they had to deal with, something we have to deal. And yet, we don’t seem to acknowledge in our natural history. 

Unless you are a professional. In which case you spend years of your life dedicated to the study, written a few papers and now call your self a Paleopattholigst. The correct term for the study of ancient diseases. And there-in lays the problem, we have two extremes. Either you know loads, or nothing at all. So let me try to bridge that gap between the two. 

 I like the idea of a t-rex on crutches, but lets be honest. If a dinosaur caught a diseases it had to live with it or succumb to it. And generally speaking the Dinosaurs where a healthy bunch. In the fossil record, we don’t see many afflictions upon dinosaurs, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t fall ill. Ultimately we only have whats left to study, so the softs bit that decay, would probably tell us a wealth of information, but we can only work off whats left, which is usually bones. 

What is most remarkable is that a lot of the diseases we face today as humans,  where also being suffered by the dinosaurs. Arthritis being one, and yes I know arthritis isn’t a disease, but when it becomes septic, it is. 70 millions years a go, there was a Hadrosaur. A plant eating dinosaur that, had a ducks bill, who we are going to call in this narrative Horatio. During Horatio’s life his elbow became infected with septic arthritis. The joint eventually fused the bone together, so this poor old Horatio the Hadrosaur would have had one gimpy arm. In which they would have limbed along with. aww. It is also quite liklely that Horatio had a few benign tumours. Which are basically harmless lumps. Young children get the same affliction today from an over active immune system. We do see cancer in other dinosaurs, so unfortunately even though there is no evidence for it in Hadrosaurs, Horatio is also going to contract cancer. So he is going to be covered a few lumps, both lethal and non-lethal. 

So now imagine Horatio is soldiering on, with his gimpy leg, covers in tumours and he is wandering around in his herd. Chewing on a few juicy pine needles when a mosquito comes along and takes a bite. Horatio now has Malaria. This is not going to be a good week for him. As a few days later, he starts to feel ill. In humans we suffer from head aches, fevers, comas and vomating. We know dinosaurs did vomit, as it has been found. It mostly comprises of bones and shells. The crunchy bits left over from dinner. So our Hadrosaur is having all the normal symptoms of malaria and now going to start chundering. And if it is coming out of one end, well… Coprolites are the name. They too have been found fossilsed. 

So poor old Horatio has been having a rotten time, limbing along in pain. With lots of tumours all over him, contracting malaria and then laying down under a pine tree. With no dignity left what so ever. The sweet kiss of death is not far away for him. Unfortunately that kiss is going to be coming from a tyrannosaurs rex called Sue, who is waiting in the periphery. On a quick side note t-rex translates as the king of dinosaurs. Remember that. 

Now Sue, (a real t-rex by the way) had had bit of a hard life too. She has an ancient form of 

 tri-cho-mon-ad  gal-lin-ae, 

a parasite that found in garden birds today. It causes swelling of the neck and then eventual starvation, through lack of appetite. However today Sue is very hungry, as she has been suffer from a bout of gout. That’s the the king of dinosaurs, is suffering from the disease of kings. 

Very poetic I feel. You couldn’t make it up. However this about of gout was genetic and not caused by a diet rich in red meat. 

So Sue has been laying around for a few days in the pine forest suffering from her bout gout, not able to move very much. but today she has recovered and is feeling very hungry. So off she goes hunting and has stumbled across Horatio. Who is by now having a very undignified end, with it exiting both ends. 

Sue grateful for a good meal tucks in. Only she contracts malaria from Horatio, either from a local mosquito or by eating malaria riddle meat. Which ever is more scientifically correct. But it doesn’t end well either for Sue, as she too meet the same undignified end in a few days too, succumbing from malaria. 

I end it like this, as there is a hypothesis that malaria and other such diseases are what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. I feel this isn’t a very water tight theory, but it is interesting and a good hypothesis to chew over. 

And there we go, Horatio with his gimpy arm, has septic arthritis, malaria, and riddled with tumours. Cancerous or not, that is up to you. 

Sue, she suffered  from 

tri-cho-mon-ad  gal-lin-ae,

Gout and then caught malaria. 

Fortunately for them are now both resting in piece… thing couldn’t get much worse for them. Unless the malaria riddled mostquoto was found fossilised in a nugget of amber by a team of 2019. which has been examined and found to be containing the evidence for ancient malaria. Also the blood of one of our victims. Funding is now being sourced in a bid to try and resurrect a true living dinosaur. 

Only joking. To a degree. A mostquot was found in amber, which did have a stain of malaria which is 100 million years old. 

So that’s all for today. All of the diseases I mentioned have been discovered in dinosaurs and the two character are based in truth. Horatio really did have septic arthritis and Hadrosaurs are prone to tumours.  Sue, a real t-rex in the U.S, did suffer from gout and tri-cho-mon-ad Gal-lin-ae. 

Catching Malaria was a distinct possibility for both, as evidence form the Amber drowned mosquito suggest. There really wasn’t much more I could have subjected our character to apart from cataracts and pneumonia.

And that is where we will end it and thank you for listening to the natural history podcast.

Oh! not to forget. They both probably had dandruff.

Reference / further reading

Published: 10 February 2020
Suggested Case of Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis in a Cretaceous dinosaur Bruce M. Rothschild1, Darren Tanke3 , Frank Rühli4, Ariel Pokhojaev5, & Hila May5,6


Septic arthirisu

 Rothschild, BM; Tanke D; Carpenter K (1997). “Tyrannosaurs suffered from gout”. Nature. 387 (6631): 357. doi:10.1038/387357a0. PMID 9163417.

Malaria fossil
What Fossils Reveal About the Protozoa Progenitors, Geographic Provinces, and Early Hosts of Malarial Organisms .
George Poinar, Jr.
American Entomologist, Volume 62, Issue 1, Spring 2016, Pages 22–25, https://doi.org/10.1093/ae/tmw006
Published: 11 March 2016

American Entomologist, Volume 62, Issue 1, Spring 2016, Pages 22–25, https://doi.org/10.1093/ae/tmw006
Published: 11 March 2016
Dandruff dinos

PLoS One. 2009; 4(9): e7288.
Published online 2009 Sep 30. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0007288. 19789646Common Avian Infection Plagued the Tyrant DinosaursEwan D. S. Wolff, 1 ,  Steven W. Salisbury, 2 , 3 ,  John R. Horner, 4 and David J. Varricchio 5
Dennis Marinus Hansen, Editor

Published by Naturalhistorypodcast

I'm passonate about natural history, an interested that as sparked at university whilst studying it for a few modules. Now I want to introduce as many people as possible to this exciting world.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: