A carnivorous dinosaur from Arizona suffered from "record-breaking pain," according to a new study that looked at the animal's remains.
The dinosaur, Dilophosaurus wetherilli, lived about 193 million years ago and shows evidence of having survived the largest number of broken forelimb bones in any known meat-eating dino. The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.
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"It is not possible to determine with certainty the number of traumatic events that this plethora of pathological features represents," co-authors Phil Senter of Fayetteville State University and Sara Juengst of Appalachian State University wrote. "It is possible that the entire array of fractures and punctures is the result of a single, high-energy encounter."
For example, the authors say the dinosaur's fractures may have occurred when the animal was smashed into a tree or rock face during a fight. It also had puncture wounds that may have been inflicted by its foe's claws during the same encounter. The authors say it's at least certain the animal survived its traumatic encounter since they could detect a high level of healing at its wound sites.
Senter and Juengst analyzed the remains of the dinosaur, which once measured about 20 feet long and weighed around 1100 pounds. The fossils were found in the Arizona's Kayenta Formation that is spread across the Colorado Plateau.
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The researchers believe signs of healing indicate the dinosaur "survived for months and possibly years after its ailments began, but its right third finger was permanently deformed and lacked the capability" of flexing.
Some of the deformities might have been due to a condition known as "developmental osteodysplasia," which afflicts some modern birds. This is an abnormality in the way that bone develops. The affliction, combined with one or more traumatic events, could explain what happened to the victim.
The scientists suspect that life was incredibly challenging for the dinosaur, after the bone problems occurred.
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"During the healing period the ailments in their early states must have severely compromised the use of the forelimbs in prey capture," the authors explained. "The survival of the animal despite these ailments therefore suggests a prolonged period of fasting or subsisting on prey small enough to be dispatched with the mouth and/or feet alone or with the use of only one forelimb."
They added, "It is also a testament to the hardiness of an animal that doubtlessly experienced an agonizingly long duration (or durations) of high degrees of pain in multiple locations."
The study underscores the need to reexamine specimens that could reveal important information about the evolution of current maladies, and may, as for this dino, provide a very rare glimpse into what life was like for certain long-gone animals.