If someone dared you to roar like a dinosaur, you’d probably let rip a guttural, threatening tyrannosaurus like those typically heard on Jurassic Park, right? That deep, thundering bellow evokes an image of triassic Earth, between 251 and 199 million years ago, where dinosaurs dominated the landscapes and life outside of the ocean began to diversify. The last thing most people would do is tweet, coo, and mumble “like a dinosaur”. But new research conducted by a suite of universities across the United States and Canada is turning the what we know about the way dinosaurs communicated on its head (dinosaur pun). Shockingly, it is far more likely these megalithic prehistoric reptiles sounded more like a bird tweeting, or cat purring. So why is this? And what else have we got wrong about dinosaurs in the past?
Communication is super important for all animals, as sound is a really effective way to get the attention of other members of any group. For example, sound is used to signal danger, communicate happiness and affection, or let others know where to find food and water. Communicating with others in a social or familial group is paramount to the preservation and success of the community. Humans have pretty developed verbal communication, through our noses and mouths, and we have even developed full speech and languages.
Another type of of communication used by animals that don’t have language is closed-mouth-vocalization or closed-beak-vocalization. This type of language is used to describe the cooing and gurgling sounds, like those made by a dove, and is a common vocalization behavior across the history of birds. Closed mouth communication is made by forcing of air through nasal and oral passages in the skull and jaw. Researchers found that these types of vocalization also occur in dinosaurs, and other distant relatives like crocodiles, and flightless bird species.
So dinosaurs might have actually cooed, like doves! But what if they were feathered, like birds, too? Recent discoveries of birdlike dinosaurs reveal that feathers weren’t just for birds. Dinosaurs may have been covered in small, downy feathers and not only scales. “Feathers offered evolutionarily advantages such as insulation, camouflage, display, and flight support” states a recent National Geographic publication on the topic, and dinosaurs may have even danced like birds! Check out some dino dance moves below:
Exploring the past through new discoveries and milestones in paleontological research is a fun process. In science, however, most of the information we can access has some kind of limitation. We can’t physically go back to the Triassic Era and most of what we know about dinosaurs is derived from fossilized minerals, like bones, or amber samples. Sadly, biological material, such as skin is lost to history.
For scientists, being mindful of limitations is important, because discoveries influence how we interpret our past, and how we inform the future. Working with evidence alone is useful, but it takes imagination, critical thinking, testing hypotheses, experimenting, critically assessing and communicating findings to really understand the world around us. Asking questions, being inquisitive, and talking about ideas is absolutely crucial on the road to even more amazing insights, just waiting to be explored!
So, SciKids, if it’s possible that dinosaurs had feathers, were epic dancers, and cooed like doves, it begs the age-old question: If it looks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, was it really a dinosaur?
Ready to coo like a Tyrannosaurus Rex?
Can you think of other animals, like your household dog or cat, and where the sounds that you made were like the sounds you have heard your pet make?
How loud can you be with closed-mouth-vocalization? What are the most effective noises to make if you are 1) hungry 2) happy, 3)scared 3)laughing, 4 tired or 5) if there is danger and you are warning others? Send us a video to firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Kristen Bigland