Disease in the Cretaceous
: A comparative study of Iguanodon and hadrosaur palaeopathology

  • Filippo Bertozzo

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Ornithopod dinosaurs show one of the highest frequencies of palaeopathological lesions in the dinosaurian fossil record. However, a systematic overview of distribution of palaeopathologies in the clade has not been undertaken, and this thesis aims to report an extensive review of them and identify possible ecological and behavioural correlations. First, a brief overview of the topic is reviewed, along with a description of the injures and diseases affecting the modern living relatives of dinosaurs (crocodiles and birds), and the palaeopathologies reported in the ornithopod literature are outlined and quantified. Afterward, the database is expanded with a wide range of taxa, from Upper Jurassic specimens such as Camptosaurus and Dryosaurus, to Iguanodon and Late Cretaceous hadrosaurids, the latter showing the highest frequency of palaeopathologies. Statistical analysis of selected museum collections demonstrates a relationship between injuries and body regions possibly indicating similar aetiologies for different taxa, perhaps linked to locomotion and behaviour. A series of case studies is then reported to demonstrate the nature of the ecological data that can be obtained via more in-depth analysis of histology and (micro)CT scanning. In the last chapter, the high frequency of tail pathologies is reported and described. The location of these injuries corresponds to the apical portion of the spine of the proximal and middle caudal vertebrae above and near the putative position of the cloacal opening. Finite Element Analysis showed that the spine could have been bent and/or broken by a vertical, slightly oblique, heavy loading force, presumably from another hadrosaur, on the proximo-middle region of the tail. It is tentatively suggested that the injuries could have resulted from mating, but further studies are required in the future to confirm this hypothesis. The study of palaeopathologies at population or clade levels, rather than isolated case studies, can provide new methods to reconstruct the lifestyle of extinct species.

Thesis embargoed until 31 December 2026.
Date of AwardDec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsEC/Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions & Dinosaur Research Institute
SupervisorEileen Murphy (Supervisor) & Alastair Ruffell (Supervisor)


  • Dinosauria
  • palaeopathology
  • Ornithopoda
  • Cretaceous
  • Mesozoic
  • Hadrosauridae
  • palaeontology

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