Many of us have broken bones in our bodies at one time or another, and when this happens a healing process begins. The same was true of animals in the past, and has been well documented in all groups of dinosaurs. But how can we study and understand the healing process?
A new study published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology uses high-resolution computed tomography (CT) imaging to guide sampling of bone lesions in the vertebrae of a hadrosaur (“duck-billed”) dinosaur for histological and isotopic analysis.
The detailed sampling made possible by CT imaging allowed scientists led by William Straight of Northern Virginia Community College to examine bone mineral deposited in the repair (the callus). This callus preserves a temperature record of the healing process, a record that can be measured with stable isotopic techniques. The results demonstrated that skeletal repair in at least some dinosaurs shows a combination of reptilian and non-reptilian characteristics. Despite hadrosaurs not being among those dinosaurs most closely related to birds, “healing and remodeling rates in our dinosaur bones are similar to those seen in birds,” says Straight.
Dinosaurs seem to be covered with these healed injuries, much more so than modern animals of nearly similar size. As Straight muses: “Quick healing may have offset the consequences of being so large, and being surrounded by other giant animals, in a Mesozoic school of hard knocks.”
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