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Mariana Ruiz Villarreal via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Mariana Ruiz Villarreal via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Paleontologists Try to Diagnose a Dinosaur Skin Disease

Mariana Ruiz Villarreal via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Mariana Ruiz Villarreal via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Little craters on dinosaur bones aren’t necessarily battle scars from a death match. They might be signs of a less glamorous aspect of prehistoric life: festering infections.

Several years ago, a graveyard of more than 30 Gastonia ankylosaurs was discovered in Utah. When these tank-like dinosaurs died 125 million years ago, they left behind thousands of osteoderms—the bony plates of armor in their skin. Paleontologists noticed that the pieces of Gastonia armor were often marked with little pits and craters. One of the researchers, Kenneth Carpenter, curator at the Utah State University-Eastern Prehistoric Museum, said it was actually easy to tell that these weren’t bite marks.

“A pointed tooth puncturing a bone crushes and collapses the bone inward at the injury,” Carpenter told mental_floss. “This causes cracks to radiate outwards from the puncture. We did not seen any of these features on the ankylosaur armor.”

In a new study, published last month in the International Journal of Paleopathology, Carpenter and his colleagues tried to figure out what ailed the ankylosaurs by turning to a modern analog: crocodiles. The researchers looked over the literature on the bacterial infections, fungal infections, and other skin diseases than can leave traces in crocodile armor. 

Without soft tissue, a conclusive diagnosis for the ankylosaurs wasn’t possible. But Carpenter and his colleagues think a likely explanation is that some of these dinosaurs had ulcerative dermatitis—which, among snake and reptile owners today, is better known as scale rot. (The squeamish—who should probably not watch this video—can at least take comfort in the fact that dinosaurs, like birds and reptiles, likely didn’t produce liquid pus, as the study authors note.) Dinosaur dermatitis probably formed from a bacterial or fungal infection, and possibly it was a secondary infection initiated by a bite from a blood-sucking parasite, the researchers said.

“In general, not much is known about disease in dinosaurs, because most of what we have are the bones,” Carpenter said, adding that paleontologists know “practically nothing” about dinosaur skin disease because the actual skin is rarely preserved. He is only aware of one example of direct evidence for an ulcerative dermatitis lesion in a dinosaur, preserved in an impression of hadrosaur skin that was display as a touch specimen in the Utah Museum of Natural History. (Because of its rarity, it has since been pulled from the touch display, Carpenter said.)   

“Existing animals have these minor infections very commonly, like athletes foot in humans,” said Elizabeth Rega, a dinosaur disease expert at Western University of Health Sciences, who was not involved in the new study. Rega told mental_floss that researchers like herself are increasingly attributing these holes not to bites but to mundane infections. 

“But,” she added, these explanations “are routinely ignored by the media whenever someone waves [their] arms about dinosaur bite marks, because combat is so much more fun.” 

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Courtesy of The National Aviary
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Animals
Watch This Live Stream to See Two Rare Penguin Chicks Hatch From Their Eggs
Courtesy of The National Aviary
Courtesy of The National Aviary

Bringing an African penguin chick into the world is an involved process, with both penguin parents taking turns incubating the egg. Now, over a month since they were laid, two penguin eggs at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are ready to hatch. As Gizmodo reports, the baby birds will make their grand debut live for the world to see on the zoo's website.

The live stream follows couple Sidney and Bette in their nest, waiting for their young to emerge. The first egg was laid November 7 and is expected to hatch between December 14 and 18. The second, laid November 11, should hatch between December 18 and 22.

"We are thrilled to give the public this inside view of the arrival of these rare chicks," National Aviary executive director Cheryl Tracy said in a statement. "This is an important opportunity to raise awareness of a critically endangered species that is in rapid decline in the wild, and to learn about the work that the National Aviary is doing to care for and propagate African penguins."

African penguins are endangered, with less than 25,000 pairs left in the wild today. The National Aviary, the only independent indoor nonprofit aviary in the U.S., works to conserve threatened populations and raise awareness of them with bird breeding programs and educational campaigns.

After Sidney and Bette's new chicks are born, they will care for them in the nest for their first three weeks of life. The two penguins are parenting pros at this point: The monogamous couple has already hatched and raised three sets of chicks together.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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iStock

Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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