Flashy frills. Clubbed tails. Teeth the size of bananas. With strange features like these, it’s tempting to think that dinosaurs must’ve inhabited some distant, alien world. But their planet was ours. They roamed our land, they breathed our air. And, as Parasaurolophus has shown us, our skies once boomed with the chorus of their voices. Here’s a quick guide to this elegant animal.
There’s more to Parasaurolophus’ most noticeable feature than meets the eye. Inside, a labyrinth of hollow chambers merge directly into its nasal passages. Suspiciously similar-looking are the musical innards of European crumhorns—a fact that hasn’t been lost on paleontologists. Seventy-five million years ago, that crest likely acted as a resonating device and enabled its owner to produce deep, long-distance bellows during outward breaths.
In the 1990s, a group of American paleontologists and computer scientists teamed up to revive the beast’s ancient roar. After scanning the nooks and crannies of a large skull, they managed to simulate the eerie noises that Parasaurolophus probably sent echoing across prehistoric valleys. As an added bonus, their recording makes for one heck of a ringtone!
Greek mythology tells of a boater named Charon, who would (for a small fee) safely row the recently-deceased across to the Underworld. When a beautiful dinosaur skeleton popped up near Asia’s mighty Amur River in 2000, it was named Charonosaurus in his honor.
The first rule of snorkel-making is “don’t forget to poke an air hole in the top.” Though hollow, the creature’s nifty accessory lacks any external openings, so breathing through it underwater would have been impossible. Therefore—to the surprise of no one—this hypothesis went extinct.
Fossilized impressions left by dino hides aren’t all that common, but a patch of pebbly scale prints has been discovered in conjunction with an Albertan Parasaurolophus skeleton.
In “Distant Origin”—a third-season episode of Star Trek: Voyager—our heroes encounter a group of humanoid aliens known as “Voths,” which descended from Parasaurolophus and fled to a far-off galaxy before the rest of earth’s dinosaurs died out.
Anyone above the age of 12 knows this feeling all too well. By comparing the inner ear and crest of an adult Parasaurolophus with those of a juvenile, scientists determined that younger animals were built to hear and emit higher-frequency cries. As in humans, their voices deepened with time.
For starters, there’s Russia’s gorgeous Olorotitan and the “hatchet-headed” Lambeosaurus lambei of western Canada.
Before he’d even left for college, Kevin Terris had a major scientific discovery under his belt. On a clear day in 2009, the 17-year-old Utahan accompanied veteran paleontologist Andrew Farke on a fossil hunt. Something in the rock caught Terris’ eye—a baby Parasaurolophus skull with a skeleton attached! At present, this little dinosaur (nicknamed “Joe”) is the genus’ best-preserved specimen. “It’s a little embarrassing to walk by something like that,” said Farke, “but [Terris] was just in the right place at the right time, looking from the right angle.”
Smile you big, scaly thespian: The camera loves you! Having appeared in such movies as all three Jurassic Park films, the Land Before Time series, and Disney’s Dinosaur (2000), Parasaurolophus’ cinematic résumé is one that few prehistoric critters can match. It was even cast in the z-grade buddy cop comedy Theodore Rex (1995), which also featured Whoopi Goldberg fighting crime with a vegetarian Tyrannosaurus (just let that premise sink in, we’ll wait…).