Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Ancient sea reptile with gammy jaw suggests dinosaurs got arthritis too

Date:
May 15, 2012
Source:
University of Bristol
Summary:
Imagine having arthritis in your jaw bones ... if they're over 2 meters long! A new study has found signs of a degenerative condition similar to human arthritis in the jaw of a pliosaur, an ancient sea reptile that lived 150 million years ago. Such a disease has never been described before in fossilized Jurassic reptiles.

This is Dr. Judyth Sassoon of the University of Bristol, UK with the lower jaw of the Westbury pliosaur.
Credit: Simon Powell

Imagine having arthritis in your jaw bones ... if they're over 2 meters long! A new study by scientists at the University of Bristol has found signs of a degenerative condition similar to human arthritis in the jaw of a pliosaur, an ancient sea reptile that lived 150 million years ago. Such a disease has never been described before in fossilized Jurassic reptiles.

Related Articles


The Bristol scientists studied a giant specimen of the pliosaur Pliosaurus dating from the Upper Jurassic. Found in Westbury, Wiltshire, it has been kept since its discovery in the collections of the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery.

The 8 metre long pliosaur was a terrifying creature with a large, crocodile-like head, a short neck, whale-like body and four powerful flippers to propel it through water in pursuit of prey.

With its huge jaws and 20 cm long teeth, it would have been capable of ripping most other marine reptiles or dinosaurs to pieces, but this particular individual was the unfortunate victim of an arthritis-like disease.

University of Bristol scientist, Dr Judyth Sassoon, was fascinated by the specimen when she saw it in the museum's collections and studied it for her MSc research project.

She soon noticed that it had the signs of a degenerative condition similar to human arthritis, that had eroded its left jaw joint, displacing the lower jaw to one side. This animal evidently lived with a crooked jaw for many years, because there are marks on the bone of the lower jaw where the teeth from the upper jaw impacted on the bone during feeding. Clearly the animal was still able to hunt in spite of its unfortunate condition.

There are several signs on the skeleton to suggest that the animal could have been an old female who had developed the condition as part of the aging process. The pliosaur's large size, and the fused skull bones, suggest maturity. It is identified, very tentatively, as possibly female because its skull crest is quite low -- presumed males had a higher crest.

Dr Judyth Sassoon said: "In the same way that aging humans develop arthritic hips, this old lady developed an arthritic jaw, and survived with her disability for some time. But an unhealed fracture on the jaw indicates that at some time the jaw weakened and eventually broke. With a broken jaw, the pliosaur would not have been able to feed and that final accident probably led to her demise."

Pliosaurs were probably pursuit or ambush predators, feeding on fish, squid and other marine reptiles but would also have been capable of scavenging. They were at the top of their food chains, so there would not have been any predators to take advantage of an aging, disabled pliosaur -- except for another pliosaur.

Professor Mike Benton, a collaborator on the project, said: "You can see these kinds of deformities in living animals, such as crocodiles or sperm whales and these animals can survive for years as long as they are still able to feed. But it must be painful. Remember that the fictional whale, Moby Dick from Herman Melville's novel, was supposed to have had a crooked jaw!"

The pliosaur from Westbury is an amazing example of how the study of disease (palaeopathologies) in fossil animals can help us to reconstruct an extinct animal's life history and behavior and to show that even a Jurassic killer could succumb to the diseases of old age.

The research was published May 16 in the palaeontological journal, Palaeontology.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Bristol. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Bristol. "Ancient sea reptile with gammy jaw suggests dinosaurs got arthritis too." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 May 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120515203019.htm>.
University of Bristol. (2012, May 15). Ancient sea reptile with gammy jaw suggests dinosaurs got arthritis too. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 6, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120515203019.htm
University of Bristol. "Ancient sea reptile with gammy jaw suggests dinosaurs got arthritis too." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120515203019.htm (accessed March 6, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Fossils & Ruins News

Friday, March 6, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

What An Ancient Jawbone Could Tell Us About Human Evolution

What An Ancient Jawbone Could Tell Us About Human Evolution

Newsy (Mar. 5, 2015) A 2.8 million-year-old jawbone could represent the most ancient member of our genus ever discovered. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ringling Bros. Eliminating Elephant Acts

Ringling Bros. Eliminating Elephant Acts

AP (Mar. 5, 2015) The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is ending its iconic elephant acts. The circus&apos; parent company, Feld Entertainment, told the AP exclusively that the acts will be phased out by 2018 over growing public concern about the animals. (March 5) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Billionaire Paul Allen and Team Find Sunken Japanese Warship Off Philippines

Billionaire Paul Allen and Team Find Sunken Japanese Warship Off Philippines

Reuters - News Video Online (Mar. 4, 2015) A team led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen finds a sunken Japanese World War 2 warship off the coast of the Philippines. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Long-Lost Ship Found? Microsoft Co-Founder Uncovers Wreckage

Long-Lost Ship Found? Microsoft Co-Founder Uncovers Wreckage

Newsy (Mar. 4, 2015) Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen says he has discovered the wreckage of the battleship Musashi in the central Philippines. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins