The first occurrence of an avian-style respiratory infection in a non-avian dinosaur

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Other than repaired fractures, osteoarthritis, and periosteal reaction, the vertebrate fossil record has limited evidence of non-osseous diseases. This difficulty in paleontological diagnoses stems from (1) the inability to conduct medical testing, (2) soft-tissue pathologic structures are less likely to be preserved, and (3) many osseous lesions are not diagnostically specific. However, here reported for the first time is an avian-style respiratory disorder in a non-avian dinosaur. This sauropod presents irregular bony pathologic structures stemming from the pneumatic features in the cervical vertebrae. As sauropods show well-understood osteological correlates indicating that respiratory tissues were incorporated into the post-cranial skeleton, and thus likely had an ‘avian-style’ form of respiration, it is most parsimonious to identify these pathologic structures as stemming from a respiratory infection. Although several extant avian infections produce comparable symptoms, the most parsimonious is airsacculitis with associated osteomyelitis. From actinobacterial to fungal in origin, airsacculitis is an extremely prevalent respiratory disorder in birds today. While we cannot pinpoint the specific infectious agent that caused the airsacculitis, this diagnosis establishes the first fossil record of this disease. Additionally, it allows us increased insight into the medical disorders of dinosaurs from a phylogenetic perspective and understanding what maladies plagued the “fearfully great lizards”.




Woodruff, D. C., Wolff, E. D. S., Wedel, M. J., Dennison, S., & Witmer, L. M. (2022). The first occurrence of an avian-style respiratory infection in a non-avian dinosaur. Scientific Reports, 12(1).

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