SOUTHAMPTON, England, July 5 (UPI) -- Scientists have unearthed the first fossilized facial tumor. The ancient facial growth belongs to Telmatosaurus transsylvanicus, one of the earliest hadrosaur species -- a duck-billed dinosaur.
The tumor is an ameloblastoma, a benign type of growth found in the jaws of humans, mammals and reptiles. Neither it nor any other type of facial tumor has ever before been seen among fossilized animals.
"This discovery is the first ever described in the fossil record and the first to be thoroughly documented in a dwarf dinosaur," researcher Kate Acheson, a PhD student at the University of Southampton, said in a news release. "Telmatosaurus is known to be close to the root of the duck-billed dinosaur family tree, and the presence of such a deformity early in their evolution provides us with further evidence that the duck-billed dinosaurs were more prone to tumors than other dinosaurs."
The fossil -- dated between 69 million and 67 million years old -- hails from the Late Cretaceous period. It was discovered in a geopark in western Romania.
Because the fossil remains are incomplete, paleontologists can't be certain how the adolescent hadrosaur met its end. It's possible the dinosaur's facial growth played a role.
"We know from modern examples that predators often attack a member of the herd that looks a little different or is even slightly disabled by a disease," explained researcher Zoltán Csiki-Sava. "The tumor in this dinosaur had not developed to its full extent at the moment it died, but it could have indirectly contributed to its early demise."
Researchers detailed their discovery in the journal Scientific Reports.