Ailing T-rex

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For all its size and strength, one mighty T. rex may have ultimately succumbed to a minuscule parasite.

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In the case of the T. rex fossil nicknamed “Sue,” scientists have a new guess about what caused its death: a single-celled parasite called Trichomonas. Today, the parasite infects birds’ throats and beaks; the fossil evidence suggesting that trichomonosis affected Sue is the series of holes in the dinosaur’s jawbone.

Originally, those holes were interpreted as the legacy of bite wounds from a rival T. rex. Recently, experts have concluded that the holes appear too perfectly formed to have been caused by a bite; but if caused by trichomonosis or a similar disease, Sue may have eventually starved to death.

The authors of the PLoS ONE study (“Common Avian Infection Plagued the Tyrant Dinosaurs”) have also found other fossil evidence that they say shows the work of trichomonosis. “There’s a possibility that this disease is quite old,” said University of Wisconsin–Madison paleontologist Ewan Wolff, one of the scientists.

Wolff and his colleagues unsurprisingly link their idea to dinosaur-to-bird evolution, writing, “This finding represents the first evidence for the ancient evolutionary origin of an avian transmissible disease in non-avian theropod dinosaurs.” However, if their hypothesis is accurate, the existence of the same or a similar parasite in dinosaurs would only indicate the range of trichomonosis hosts.

Sue, whose home is Chicago’s Field Museum, is the largest and most complete T. rex fossil discovered—at 42 feet (13 m) long. The fossilized evidence of its demise (whether by attack, disease, or another cause) is another reminder that the fossil record is a record of death and imperfection—including carnivory, cancer, and thorns. Would God pronounce the earth “very good” on the sixth day of Creation Week (Genesis 1:31) if such fossils were the legacy of His creative process?

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