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Xing Lida via Scientific Reports

Dinosaurs May Have Performed Bird-like Dances to Attract Mates

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Xing Lida via Scientific Reports

We already know that dinosaurs were more similar to modern birds than to the lizards they’re named for. They had feathers, crests, and sharp vision, just like their aerial descendants. Now, a study recently published in Scientific Reports shows that they may have also performed bird-like dances as a way to woo the opposite sex.

The researchers studied roughly 50 fossilized scrape marks left in 100 million-year-old sandstone in western Colorado. The markings appeared in irregular clusters resembling the display arenas some birds gather in when competing for mates. Researchers compared the fossils to patterns made by puffins and ostriches and concluded that they were not the result of nesting or digging for water or food. Instead, they say, the five- and six-foot patterns of scratch marks more closely resemble those left behind by courting birds.

The specific dinosaur species responsible for the markings hasn’t been determined, but scientists suspect Acrocanthosaurus, a massive ridge-backed theropod whose tracks are similar to those spotted near the fossil site.

Paleontologists have long guessed that the prehistoric mating rituals of these creatures were similar to those of birds, but this is the first time they’ve found fossil evidence supporting the theory. It’s possible that the patterns were made for an entirely different reason. However, when it comes to speculating on the behaviors of a long-extinct species, looking at their closest living relatives is often the best place to start. 

The study’s leader, Martin Lockley of the University of Colorado at Denver, suggested to The Guardian that dinosaurs may have also produced vocal sounds during these rituals, as some birds do: “Can you imagine these dinosaurs getting really excited about mating, doing all of this frenzied physical activity, and then just being mute, silent?” 

[h/t: The Guardian]

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/GettyImages

Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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