Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

New Research Says Dinosaurs Made Bird-Like Sounds

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

New Research Says Dinosaurs Made Bird-Like Sounds

Article excerpt

Picture, if you will, the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex.

The odds are good what you envision has been brought to you in part by "Jurassic Park," a plastic toy or some other facet of pop culture. (Perhaps you're a fan of stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen.) But what Hollywood won't teach you is that T. rex may have had feathers. After all, today's birds are living dinosaurs.

Now listen closely to your fearsome and possibly feathered friend. If you imagine it roaring, as both Steven Spielberg and "The Valley of Gwangi did, we are sorry to say that sound is complete fiction. The roar of "Jurassic Park's CGI tyrannosaur can be traced to a sound studio rather than the fossil record. It was a witches' brew of baby elephant cries, tiger chuffs and a gargling alligator, remixed into a cinematically terrifying but completely artificial aural blast.

Were a dinosaur to vocalize in defense of its territory - or as a mating call - it might have sounded like one of today's birds, scientists say. In fact, a journal article published online Monday argues that the ancient reptiles made sounds closer to the coo of a pigeon or the mumble of an ostrich. Those are far cries from mammalian screams.

According to the new research, dino sounds may be what scientists call "closed-mouth vocalizations. Unlike the high-pitched chirps and tweets from the open beaks of songbirds, the closed-mouth sounds are low, throaty whooshes of air. A flesh sac called an esophageal pouch enables birds with proportionally large bodies - think pigeons or doves - to produce the low murmurs.

The researchers figured out the common bird sound like this: First, they collected vocal data on all sorts of animals called archosaurs, which include birds and crocodiles. And, notably, the long-dead dinosaurs. Writing in the journal Evolution, scientists from universities in Texas, Arizona, Utah and Canada analyzed the noises made by many living bird and crocodilian species.

They divided the types of sounds into various groups, including the close-mouth noises. Roughly a quarter of 200 birds species analyzed emitted the bulging closed-mouth sounds. Small birds, like sparrows and finches, did not make the noise. But birds with proportionally larger body types - like doves, ostriches and the giant New Zealand cassowary - do. This, the researchers say, suggest large-bodied dinosaurs may have had similar vocal abilities.

"Looking at the distribution of closed-mouth vocalization in birds that are alive today could tell us how dinosaurs vocalized, said study author and University of Texas biologist Chad Eliason in a statement.

Moreover, because not all birds had the trait, the scientists say it evolved separately in different groups of animals. It appeared in 16 distinct animal lineages, including crocodiles and birds. …

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