Dinosaur Parasites

  • By Anna Rothschild
  • Posted 08.17.17
  • NOVA

Even the mighty T. rex was covered in creepy, crawly parasites. Discover what plagued the dinosaurs in this episode of Gross Science.

Running Time: 02:49


Dinosaur Parasites

Published August 17, 2017

Dinosaurs were the kings (and queens) of the Mesozoic. But even they were chock full of creepy, crawly parasites.

I’m Anna and this is Gross Science.

Fossilized dino poop is a veritable wellspring of information. These ancient turds, called coprolites, can give us insights into what the animal ate and what was living in its guts. As it turns out, even dinosaurs suffered from intestinal parasites. One dinosaur coprolite found contained four different types of organisms.

Inside the fossilized feces were cysts and three types of eggs. The cysts looked similar to those of amoebas that live in animal guts today. And scientists found one type of flatworm egg and two types of roundworm eggs.

Malaria—which is often thought of as a human parasite—may also have plagued the dinosaurs. Researchers discovered an ancient strain of a malaria-like parasite, frozen in time in the digestive system of a biting fly that was trapped in amber 100 million years ago.

Very Jurassic Park.

These parasites look like species that commonly infect birds and reptiles today. Plus, the fly looked like one that could have fed on dinosaurs.

Not even the mighty T. rex could escape parasitic infection. Often times, the mandibles of tyrannosaurids possess smooth-edged lesions, which many paleontologists thought to be bite wounds from fighting with other dinosaurs. But in 2009, scientists proposed a different cause for the lesions—the remnants of ancient parasites.

Trichomonosis is a parasitic infection that afflicts modern day birds. In fact, pigeons are commonly infected with trichomonosis, which can cause the birds to have flesh eating ulcers in their upper digestive tract, including in the mouth and esophagus. It can actually bore holes in the bird’s jaw. And when scientists compared these holes to the ones on fossilized T. rex jaws, they looks pretty similar, leading the scientists to hypothesis that whatever caused the holes in the dino jaws was related to the parasite that causes trichomonosis in birds.

Anyway, almost every living creature has at least one parasitic species that can infect it, and dinosaurs were no exception. Just goes to show that life, uh, finds a way.




Host, Producer
Anna Rothschild
Camera, Sound, Research, Writing, Illustrating, Animating
K Melvin
Brave New World
Watch Out - 30
Fantastic Journey
Music Provided by APM
©WGBH Educational Foundation 2017


Original Footage
©WGBH Educational Foundation 2017
Jurassic Park (1993)
Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment
Beautiful Pigeon Bird Walking On Grass In The Square. Curious Pigeons Standing
Wikimedia Commons/United States Geological Survey
Dinosaur coprolite (Morrison Formation, Upper Jurassic; Cortez, Colorado, USA)
Flickr/James St. John
Entamoeba coli
CDC/ Dr. Mae Melvin
Fasciolopsis buski
CDC/Dr. Mae Melvin
Ascaris lumbridcoides
Parasite130049 Haemoproteus syrnii -fig3
Wikimedia Commons/Karadjian, G., Puech, M.-P., Duval, L., Chavatte, J.-M., Snounou, G. & Landau, I. 2013: Haemoproteus syrnii in Strix aluco from France: morphology, stages of sporogony in a hippoboscid fly, molecular characterization and discussion on the identification of Haemoproteus species. Parasite, 20, 32. doi:10.1051/parasite/2013031
Biting midge
Flickr/Oregon State University
DMSN dinosaurs
Wikimedia Commons/Luke Jones
T-rex Sue 1070329
Wikimedia Commons/Amphibol
AMNH rex mount
Wikimedia Commons/Osborn, H.F.
Figures 1, 3, and 4
Wolff, E. D. S., Salisbury, S. W., Horner, J. R., & Varricchio, D. J. (2009). Common Avian Infection Plagued the Tyrant Dinosaurs. PLoS ONE, 4(9), e7288.


(used with permission from author)
Squeak Pack/squeak_10
Short Fart 01
Big Dinosaur Whirrs
Produced by WGBH for PBS Digital Studios


Dinosaur with lesions
Wolff, E. D. S., Salisbury, S. W., Horner, J. R., & Varricchio, D. J. (2009). Common Avian Infection Plagued the Tyrant Dinosaurs. PLoS ONE, 4(9), e7288.


Want more gross info?

Common Avian Infection Plagued the Tyrant Dinosaurs

Evidence of Intestinal Parasites of Dinosaurs

Paleohaemoproteus burmacis gen. n., sp. n. (Haemospororida: Plasmodiidae) from an Early Cretaceous biting midge (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae)

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