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This Newly Discovered Dinosaur Suffered From A Bone Infection Before Dying

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The life of Judith the dinosaur was one filled with incredible resilience.

Discovered on the Judith River rock formation in Montana by a retired nuclear physicist, the dinosaur was once struck with a severe bone infection and died on the river coast sometime after.

But although the infection left her limping and weak, scientists say she lived through her illness and the attack that may have caused it.

Accidental Discovery

After a 45-year career in nuclear physics, scientist Bill Shipp engaged in a fossil hunting one weekend afternoon just for fun. He recruited Jordan Mallon, an amateur paleontologist at that time, to help him out on the adventure.

A couple of hours into the task, Shipp spotted a long, white object half-sticking out from a hillside. As it turned out, the object was a massive leg bone.

Shipp then enlisted the help of two local paleontologists and his other friends to help with the dig. Paleontologist Joe Small collected data about the fossil and helped excavate the fossil from the formation.

It took the team hundreds of thousands of dollars to finish the digging. Shipp even had a road built to bring an excavator.

Six years later, Shipp and his team finally pieced together the remains. They found half a skull, several parts of the front limbs, hind limbs, hip bones, and the backbone. These were enough for paleontologists to get a good idea of what the dinosaur looked like.

Although the creature's sex was not determined, they decided to name her Judith after the river. The dinosaur is now considered the first of a new species called Spiclypeus shipporum, a member of the ceratopsids.

Suffering From An Injury

Weighing somewhere between the weight of an elephant and a rhinoceros, Judith would have been at least 4.5 to 6 meters (177.16 to 236.22 inches) in length and weighed around 3 to 4 tons.

Judith had a massive head with a spiked frill and horns, as well four stout limbs. Scientists say the dinosaur likely walked on three legs as it suffered a bone infection on its upper arm bone or left humerus.

Mallon said the bone fossil they discovered was "gnarly-looking" especially toward the elbow. There is a hole that has opened up at the bottom, which would have functioned to drain the infection.

This infection probably rendered the limb useless for walking, he said.

Radiologist Edward Iuliano of Kaldec Regional Medical Center closely inspected the bone and also found signs of advanced arthritis.

Mallon said this injury probably caused a lot of pain for the dinosaur.

"You can just see her, hobbling along on three legs like a tripod," said Mallon.

But because there were growth rings in the bone, Judith likely lived with the bone infection and arthritis for years before her demise, researchers said.

The Story Behind The Hole In The Bone

Mallon said Judith would have lived 76 million years ago at a time when northern Montana stood on the shores of a narrow inland sea.

The dinosaur probably walked Earth as duck-billed hadrosaurs, meat-eating tyrannosaurs, and ankylosaurs moved about their daily lives. She was probably abandoned by her herd because she could not keep up with them.

Although scientists can only speculate as to what caused the bone infection, they believe that the fact that the hole was the size of a Spiclypeus horn would mean Judith was attacked by one of her own species.

Despite her suffering, however, Judith still managed to survive for a while. The bones' growth rings revealed that the dinosaur lived to be 10 years old, which was considered an adult among ceratopsids.

The injuries on the dinosaur's leg also showed signs of healing. She probably would have survived for months or years before a predator eventually took her down, researchers said.

"It may have weakened her, but it didn't kill her," said Shipp. "She was tough, no doubt about that."

Now, Judith has found a home at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. She is the first representative of a newly discovered species, and will be on display on May 24.

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