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Papers: 21 Sep 2019 - 27 Sep 2019

2019 Nov 11

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci



Pain in dinosaurs: what is the evidence?


Hearn L, de Williams ACC
Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2019 Nov 11; 374(1785):20190370.
PMID: 31544618.


How far back can we trace behaviour associated with pain? Behaviour is not preserved in the palaeontological record, so, for dinosaurs, we are restricted to what we can deduce from fossilized bones and tracks. This review is a thought experiment using circumstantial evidence from dinosaur fossils and from the behaviour of their extant relatives to describe probable responses of dinosaurs to serious injuries. Searches yielded 196 papers and chapters with: reports of healed serious injuries, and limping gait and injured feet in trackways; information about physiology and behaviour relevant to healing; evidence of evolutionary connections with birds and crocodilians, and their behaviour; and information about relevant aspects of evolution. Clearly, many dinosaurs survived injuries that would have seriously hampered mobility, impairing hunting or escape from predators, and affecting social interactions. Recovery from severe injuries implies pain-mediated responses. Rates of healing seem faster than for other reptiles, possibily aided by warm-bloodedness. Nesting was often communal, raising the possibility of parental and group protection for injured young. The existence of family groups, packs or herds raises the possibility of protection or feeding from pack kills. This is the first study, to our knowledge, of possible pain behaviour and responses to injury in dinosaurs. This article is part of the Theo Murphy meeting issue 'Evolution of mechanisms and behaviour important for pain'.