Field of Science

As "Leisurely" Divers, Triassic Ichthyosaurs Did Not Suffer From "The Bends"

Rothschild, B. M., Xiaoting, Z., and L. D. Martin. 2012. Adaptations for marine habitat and the effect of Triassic and Jurassic predator pressure on development of decompression syndrome in ichthyosaurs. Naturwissenschaften 99:443–448 DOI 10.1007/s00114-012-0918-0
Abstract - Decompression syndrome (caisson disease or the the bends) resulting in avascular necrosis has been documented in mosasaurs, sauropterygians, ichthyosaurs, and turtles from the Middle Jurassic to Late Cretaceous, but it was unclear that this disease occurred as far back as the Triassic. We have examined a large Triassic sample of ichthyosaurs and compared it with an equally large post- Triassic sample. Avascular necrosis was observed in over 15%of LateMiddle Jurassic to Cretaceous ichthyosaurs with the highest occurrence (18 %) in the Early Cretaceous, but was rare or absent in geologically older specimens. Triassic reptiles that dive were either physiologically protected, or rapid changes of their position in the water column rare and insignificant enough to prevent being recorded in the skeleton. Emergency surfacing due to a threat from an underwater predator may be the most important cause of avascular necrosis for air-breathing divers, with relative frequency of such events documented in the skeleton. Diving in the Triassic appears to have been a leisurelybehavior until the evolution of large predators in the Late Jurassic that forced sudden depth alterations contributed to a higher occurrence of bends.

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