Today, let’s talk about some insidious little creatures that may have infected dinosaurs…protozoan parasites! These parasites are single-celled and not something that preserves well in fossils or in amber as our ectoparasites did. However, they can still be detected in coprolites (fossilized feces) and by the pathological problems they left evidence of in the bones of ancient beasts.
Confirmation from Coprolites
Always Check the Amber
As we talked about last week, there is also a lot of evidence regarding parasitism that can be found encased in amber. Specifically, we talked about the face that insects that are known vectors for modern diseases have been found in these little time capsules. This leads us to believe that they may have been transmitting diseases back in the days of the dinosaurs as well. Some scientists, such as Dr. Poinar (co-author or What Bugged the Dinosaurs?) have claimed to find evidence of protozoans that are similar to modern-day Leishmania and Haemoproteus parasitic protists.
|An adorable stuffed-protist |
version of Leishmania
Either way, finding protozoans in insects that have been preserved in amber can’t be an easy task. I suppose we will have to wait and see what science and technology can do in the coming years to either support or debunk claims about the presence of the tiny, unicellular menaces.
Detection of Protists Via Paleopathology
|Depicting the lesions found on "Sue" |
a T. rex who suffered from parasitic
Moral of the Story
When a conversation turns to dinosaurs, we don’t often think about how these massive creatures may have played host to unicellular demons. It still astonishes me that something so small and seemingly insignificant can cause such pathology in animals as massive and seemingly invincible as a Tyrannosaurus rex. And those poor guys couldn’t even scratch a jaw being systematically riddled with holes. Anyway, the next time you are at a party, you should definitely throw around the name Entamoebites antiquus. If a dude introduces himself after hearing you utter such a phrase, you should let him take you out for coffee. I urge you to accept this offer because he’s either really awesome for knowing something about ancient parasites, or he reads my blog…which makes him even more awesome. ;)