October 24, 2006
An artist's conception of Leonardo, a duck-billed dinosaur, as it may have looked shortly after its death.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- 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 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.