, Volume 99, Issue 6, pp 443–448 | Cite as

Adaptations for marine habitat and the effect of Triassic and Jurassic predator pressure on development of decompression syndrome in ichthyosaurs

  • B. M. RothschildEmail author
  • Z. Xiaoting
  • L. D. Martin
Original Paper


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 Late Middle 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 “leisurely” behavior until the evolution of large predators in the Late Jurassic that forced sudden depth alterations contributed to a higher occurrence of bends.


Caisson disease Ichthyosaurs Triassic 



We express appreciation to Dave Burnham, Eugene Gaffney, Chun Li, Judy Massare; Desui Miao; Frank Rühli and William Sampson for access to collections that they curate and to cogent manuscript review and commentary.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • B. M. Rothschild
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 6
    Email author
  • Z. Xiaoting
    • 4
    • 5
  • L. D. Martin
    • 1
  1. 1.Biodiversity InstituteUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA
  2. 2.Carnegie Museum of Natural HistoryPittsburghUSA
  3. 3.Northeast Ohio Medical UniversityRootstownUSA
  4. 4.Tianyu Natural History MuseumLinyiChina
  5. 5.Linyi UniversityLinyiChina
  6. 6.Biodiversity InstituteUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA

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