Dinosaurs suffered from parasitic worms

Maiasaura, a Montana duck-billed dinosaur

Reuters reports:

They may have ruled the land and the seas 75 million years ago but even dinosaurs fell prey to the lowest of the low — gut worms, scientists reported on Monday.

An unusually well-preserved fossil of a duck-billed dinosaur dug up in Montana has revealed great detail of the animal’s insides, including what appear to be tiny burrows that would have been made by worms, the team at the University of Colorado at Boulder found.

They found more than 200 suspected parasite burrows that most likely were made by tiny worms similar to annelids and nematodes that infest animals today, said assistant geology professor Karen Chin.

“Fossil evidence for interactions between dinosaurs and invertebrates usually involves insects,” said Chin.

“This research is exciting because it provides evidence for the movement of tiny, soft-bodied organisms inside the gut cavity of a dinosaur.”

Chin and graduate student Justin Tweet are presenting their findings to a meeting in Philadelphia of the Geological Society of America.

“Typically a carcass attracts multiple scavengers, and this one was largely undisturbed,” Tweet said in a statement.

“Since the carcass was apparently buried before it had a chance to fall apart, we think remnant parasites may have been living inside of the animal when it died.”

Duck-billed dinosaurs were plant-eaters, reaching up to 50 feet long and weighing up to three tons.

This fossil, nicknamed “Leonardo”, also revealed chewed-up plants in its gut, useful for helping to identify what dinosaurs ate.

Maiasaura: here.

Giant palouse worm of the USA: here.

Two living specimens of the fabled giant Palouse earthworm have been captured for the first time in two decades, University of Idaho scientists revealed on Tuesday: here.

8 thoughts on “Dinosaurs suffered from parasitic worms

  1. Bugs may have doomed dinosaurs

    Monday, September 10, 2007 10:57 AM PDT

    CORVALLIS (AP) — Back in the days of Tyrannosaurus Rex, bugs didn’t pick on critters their own size. Dinosaurs would do just as well, and an upcoming book by two Corvallis scientists say bugs with diseases and parasites may have led to the undoing of Rex and his reptilian pals. The book by George Poinar Jr. and Roberta Poinar, whose research served as the inspiration for ‘‘Jurassic Park,’’ says insects may have diminished plant food sources as well.

    ‘‘What Bugged the Dinosaurs,’’ published by Princeton University Press, comes out in January.

    ‘‘We think insects played an important role in determining the fate of the dinosaurs, and a lot of people haven’t considered that yet,’’ said George Poinar, a zoology researcher at OSU, and a leading expert on insects trapped in amber.

    Poinar, 71, is a courtesy professor at Oregon State University. He isn’t paid but he is a member of the zoology department and gets to use OSU facilities for his research. ,

    John Ruben, chairman of OSU’s zoology department, said he wasn’t sure his colleague was on the right track, but didn’t discount his suggestion entirely.

    ‘‘I don’t know of any particular evidence that would point to a link,’’ said Ruben who teaches dinosaur biology. ‘‘It was probably a lot of things working together to cause their extinction. … Extinctions are very complicated.

    ‘‘We don’t know why animals that lived at the same time people lived went extinct. Dinosaur extinction, we’re talking about 65 million years ago.’’

    George Poinar said bugs likely were just one factor.

    Climate change, ocean regressions and volcanic activity may have contributed, he said.

    Even 100 million years ago, bugs were pests. Poinar studied bugs trapped in amber that bore diseases and even pathogens from cold-blooded vertebrates, some of them probably dinosaurs, he said.

    He said insects also would have competed for the same plant food and led to the rise of flowering plants, which pushed aside species such as ferns that some dinosaurs relied on.

    Ruben said many dinosaurs flourished after the rise of flowering plants, however.

    ‘‘There’s no evidence that dinosaurs were dying from disease based on the bones,’’ he said.

    Poinar has been studying amber for about 30 years, and he and his wife have worked on two books about it.

    In a separate development, Poinar and OSU researchers recently identified a soldier beetle, preserved almost perfectly in amber, that was using chemical repellents to fight off an attacker when an oozing flow of sap engulfed it.

    ‘‘This was a really interesting find, because it not only doubled the age of this particular group of beetles, but it showed that insects had already developed chemical warfare 100 million years ago,’’ Poinar said.

    The findings were just published in the Journal of Chemical Ecology.

    ‘‘‘‘We’re investigating the ancient life, what the ancient ecosystem was like, by looking at various bugs and flowers from various parts of the world,’’ Poinar said.


  2. June 30, 2009

    Protection sought again for giant, spitting worms

    Associated Press

    Fans of the giant Palouse earthworm are once again seeking federal protection for the rare, sweet-smelling species that spits at predators.

    They filed a petition Tuesday with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requesting the worm be protected as an endangered species.

    “The giant Palouse earthworm is critically endangered and needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act to have any chance of survival,” said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity.

    The center filed the lawsuit along with Friends of the Clearwater, Palouse Prairie Foundation, Palouse Audubon and Palouse Group of Sierra Club.

    The worm has been seen only four reported times in the past 110 years, but supporters contend it is still present in the Palouse, a region of about 2 million acres of rolling wheat fields near the Idaho-Washington border south of Spokane.

    Decades of intense agriculture and urban sprawl have wiped out much of the worm’s habitat, said Steve Paulson with Friends of the Clearwater. Only about 2 percent of the Palouse prairie remains in a native state, he said.

    The worm can reach 3 feet in length, is white in color and reportedly possesses a unique lily smell, said Greenwald, who is based in Portland, Ore. It is the largest and longest-lived earthworm in North America.

    During the Bush administration, the agency rejected a similar petition from the groups, saying there was not enough scientific information about the species to prove it needed protection. The groups hope to have better luck with the Obama administration.

    Officials for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland, Ore., did not immediately return telephone messages seeking comment.

    In 1897, the giant Palouse earthworm was described as “very abundant” in the region, but sightings are rare. The last confirmed sighting was made on May 27, 2005, by a University of Idaho researcher. Before that, the worm had not been seen since 1988.

    Most earthworms found in the Northwest originated in Europe, arriving on plants or in soil shipped to the New World. The giant Palouse earthworm is one of the few native species.

    In previously rejecting endangered species protection, the Fish and Wildlife Service said there was too little information in the scientific record. That prevented the assessment of population trends.

    The agency concluded that while the Palouse prairie has experienced a dramatic conversion of native habitat to agriculture, it was not clear if that hurt the worm. The agency also found no information on predation or transmission of pathogens by other earthworms to the giant Palouse earthworm.


  3. Saturday, Jul. 11, 2009

    Stalking elusive giant Palouse earthworm

    By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS – Associated Press Writer

    MOSCOW, Idaho The giant Palouse earthworm has taken on mythic qualities in this vast agricultural region that stretches from eastern Washington into the Idaho panhandle – its very name evoking the fictional sandworms from “Dune” or those vicious creatures from the movie “Tremors.”

    The worm is said to secrete a lily-like smell when handled, spit at predators, and live in burrows 15 feet deep. There have only been four sightings.

    But scientists hope to change that this summer with researchers scouring the Palouse regoin in hopes of finally finding the giant earthworm. Conservationists also want the Obama administration to protect it as an endangered species, even though there is scant scientific information about its existence.

    * http://www.palouseprairie.org/invertebrates/palouseworm.html

    Click here to find out more!

    “It absolutely exists,” insisted Jodi Johnson-Maynard, a University of Idaho professor who is leading the search for the worm.

    To prove it, she pulled out a glass tube containing the preserved remains of a fat, milky-white worm. One of Johnson-Maynard’s graduate students found this specimen in 2005, and it is the only confirmed example of the species.

    The worm in the tube is about six inches long, well short of the 3 feet that early observers of the worms in the late 1890s described. Documented collections of the species, known locally as GPE, have occurred only in 1978, 1988, 1990 and 2005.

    The farmers who work the rich soil of the Palouse – two million acres of rolling wheat fields near the Idaho-Washington border south of Spokane – also haven’t had much experience with the worm.

    Gary Budd, who manages a grain elevator in Uniontown, said no farmer he knows has talked about seeing the worm. He compared the creature to Elvis.

    “He gets spotted once in awhile too,” Budd joked.

    Johnson-Maynard and her team of worm hunters are working this summer at a university research farm and using three different methods to try and find a living worm.

    One involves just digging a hole and sifting the soil through a strainer, looking for any worms that can be studied.

    The second involves old-fashioned chemical warfare, pouring a liquid solution of vinegar and mustard onto the ground, irritating worms until they come to the surface.

    The third method is new to this search, using electricity to shock worms to the surface.

    “The electro shocker is pretty cool,” said Joanna Blaszczak, a student at Cornell who is spending her summer working to find the worm alongside Shan Xu, a graduate student from Chengdu, China, and support scientist Karl Umiker.

    The shocker can deliver up to 480 volts. That makes it dangerous to touch, and it could potentially fry a specimen.

    On a recent day, Umiker drove eight 3-foot long metal rods into the ground in a small circle and connected them to batteries. Then he flipped the switches. The only sound for several minutes was the hum of a cooling fan.

    “I’m kind of bummed we haven’t seen anything yet,” Umiker said.

    Eventually, a small rust-colored worm dug its way to the surface. It was not a GPE, but it was collected for study anyway.

    The GPE was described as common in the Palouse in the 1890s, according to an 1897 article in The American Naturalist by Frank Smith. Smith’s work was based on four samples sent to him by R.W. Doane of Washington State University in nearby Pullman.

    Massive agricultural development soon consumed nearly all of the unique Palouse Prairie – a seemingly endless ocean of steep, silty dunes – and appeared to deal a fatal blow to the worm.

    They were considered extinct when Idaho graduate student Yaniria Sanchez-de Leon in 2005 stuck a shovel into the ground to collect a soil sample and found the worm that now is in the tube in Johnson-Maynard’s office.

    Conservation groups quickly petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the worm as an endangered species, citing as proof the lack of sightings. But the agency said there simply was not enough scientific information to merit a listing.

    Conservationists recently filed a second request, saying they had more information. They are also hoping the Obama administration will be more friendly than the Bush administration. The GPE would be the only worm protected as an endangered species.

    Doug Zimmer of the Fish and Wildlife Service in Seattle said the agency isn’t ready to comment on the petition.

    “It’s always good to see new information and good science on any species,” Zimmer said.

    Farmers are keeping a wary eye on the process.

    “The concern is whether a listing is going to end up curtailing farming activities,” said Dan Wood of the Washington State Farm Bureau. “I dont know if people plan to stop all farming for the possibility of a worm being somewhere.”

    Most earthworms found in the Northwest originated in Europe, arriving on plants or in soil shipped to the New World. The giant Palouse earthworm is one of the few native species, and has become quite popular with the public.

    While it’s tough to come by a live one, visitors seem happy to take a picture with a dead one. Johnson-Maynard said she has received calls from tourists who want to come to her office and be photographed with the specimen.

    “A lot of people are curious about it,” she said.


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