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]