A duck-billed dinosaur fossil discovered in Transylvania is the first to ever show evidence of a facial tumor. This non-cancerous growth was an ameloblastoma — a type of tumor found today in contemporary reptiles, mammals, and even human beings.
Telmatosaurus transsylvanicus was a hadrosaur, a variety of dinosaur which featured a duck bill. This particular specimen, found in the Valley of the Dinosaurs in western Romania, lived somewhere between 69 and 67 million years before the modern day. Immediately upon its excavation more than ten years ago, researchers noted the deformed state of the artifact. However, it was not known until now what caused the unusual shape.
"This discovery is the first ever described in the fossil record and the first to be thoroughly documented in a dwarf dinosaur. Telmatosaurus is known to be close to the root of the duck-billed dinosaur family tree, and the presence of such a deformity early in their evolution provides us with further evidence that the duck-billed dinosaurs were more prone to tumours than other dinosaurs," Kate Acheson, a doctoral student at the University of Southampton, said.
Investigators found the cause of the deformity by utilizing the Micro-CT scanning, allowing researchers to map the inside of the fossil without ruining the valued find.
The hadrosaur likely suffered little pain as the tumor first began to grow, as humans do not suffer pain from similar growths in the early stages. Given the fact that only two pieces of the lower jaw of the animal were found, it is impossible to ascertain the conditions that lead to the young dinosaur's death. Predators often attack members of a herd which appear to be deformed or sick. There exists the possibility that this creature met its demise from a hunter who interpreted the deformity as a sign of weakness.
Hadrosaurs, which bred in nesting grounds, were commonly found in North America, Europe, and Asia. When these fossils were first discovered, researchers believed these creatures possessed webbed feet. However, current research suggests these animals possessed pads on their feet, similar to those found on camels today. The creatures lived primarily on the land, although they kept close to bodies of water, where they feasted on a diet of tough plants.
This finding sheds light on how dinosaurs and human beings suffered from some of the same afflictions. The finding also provides evidence on the evolution of tumors within dinosaurs.
Analysis of the tumor in the ancient dinosaur fossil was published in the journal Scientific Reports.