At least one species of dinosaur may have been able to make calls just like their descendents the birds. This is the conclusion of a study of a fossilised larynx of Pinacosaurus grangeri by researchers from the Hokkaido University Museum in Japan and the American Museum of Natural History. Pinacosaurus grangeri — first unearthed in 1933 — was a squat, spiky species of armoured, plant-eating dinosaur that lived in China and Mongolia some 86.3–71 million years ago, during the Late Cretaceous.
Previous studies have offered little in the way of tangible evidence for what noises dinosaurs might have been able to make using the anatomy of their throats.
The reason for this is that most voice boxes are made of cartilage — a strong, flexible connective tissue that nevertheless is not easily preserved in the fossil record.
In their new investigation, palaeontologist Dr Junki Yoshida of the Hokkaido University Museum and her colleagues analysed the fossil of a P. grangeri unearthed in Mongolia back in 2005.
Despite the initial assumption that the bones of the dinosaur’s throat were only used for breathing, closer examination revealed two of them to be parts of the creature’s larynx.
The team also found evidence of muscle attachment points on the bones adjacent to the specimen’s voice box.
Muscles here, they explained, could have been used to manipulate the bones of the larynx and modify the passage of air through the throat to allow the dinosaur to make sounds.
To find exactly what noises P. grangeri might have been able to produce, the team compared the remains of its larynx with the equivalents in several kinds of modern birds and reptiles.
One part of the dinosaur’s larynx was found to be larger, relatively, than the same part in its modern counterparts, suggesting it could make very loud sounds indeed.
The researchers also found that part of P. grangeri’s larynx was elongated, which would have allowed muscles in the windpipe to further modify the sounds made in the former.
This, they explained, is similar to the way in which sounds made from the “syrinx” — the name for the vocal organs in birds — can also be modified by organs in the animals’ mouths.
And if the dinosaur was able to make similar calls as birds do, Dr Yoshida and his colleagues said, they likely used them for the same reasons, that is for attracting mates, defending their territory and tracking offspring.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Communications Biology.
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The findings come in the same week that scientists determined that Therizinosaurs — the giant dinosaur with the longest claws of any known animal — used its three-feet-long, sickle-like talons for display, not combat.
In their study, palaeontologist Zichuan Qin of the University of Bristol and the IVPP and his colleagues used a computational biomechanics approach to identify the claws’ functions based on detailed comparisons with living animals.
From CT scans, the team recreated the claws in three dimensions, then modelled for their ability to support different stresses using engineering methods.
While the giant claws of the therizinosaurs were found to be suitable only for display, those of their smaller cousins, the alvarezsaurs — which resemble rock picks — would have been suitable for digging, the team concluded.
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