Australian dinosaurs living more than 120 million years ago endured long periods of darkness and below freezing temperatures, research has shown.
The plant-eating hypsilophodontid was the size of a medium wallaby when fully grown and lived in what was once the Antarctic Circle and now Victoria.
“These little dinosaurs would have dealt with prolonged periods of darkness and mean annual temperatures near freezing, and certainly below freezing in the winter,” says Dr Patricia Vickers-Rich, a professor of paleobiology at Swinburne.
An examination of the bone microstructure, or histology, of the hypsilophodontid fossils revealed many characteristics of their growth.
In general, growth was most rapid during the first three years of life, and the dinosaurs were fully grown in five to seven years.
The shin bone of one sample also revealed the earliest known example of osteomyelitis – a bone infection caused by blood-borne micro-organisms.
“Further investigations of this unique sample will continue to shed light on how these little dinosaurs thrived in high latitudes and under the most stressful of environments during a time when dinosaurs flourished on Earth,” Dr Vickers-Rich says.
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