What did dinosaurs actually sound like?
ASK A RESEARCHER: Tyrannosaurus rex probably didn't roar like a lion. The sound it made might have been even scarier.
If you've seen the film Jurassic Park or Jurassic World, it's not strange that you think Tyrannosaurus rex roared a bit like a lion. But dinosaurs were not mammals, so they probably didn't sound exactly like that.
Researchers do not know much about how dinosaurs communicated with each other and what they sounded like.
Some things from the film world is accurate, but not everything can be believed.
Why is it so hard to figure out?
When palaeontologists find fossils of dinosaurs, they are just impressions of the skeleton. The fossils tell us nothing about the muscles in the body or what they looked like.
Anette Högström is a palaeontologist at the University of Tromsø. She knows a lot about dinosaurs and other ancient animals.
“Sound is not preserved. Many of the sounds animals make are related to their behaviour, which we know very little about,” she tells sciencenorway.no.
Sound amplifiers on their heads
There have been many different dinosaurs throughout the history of the Earth. And they probably made many different sounds.
For example, the dinosaur Microraptor was about the size of a crow. Researchers believe it had feathers and could glide down from trees.
The enormous dinosaur Patagotitan could be almost 40 metres long.
“We have better understanding of the sounds made by duck-billed dinosaurs, such as the Parasaurolophus. These dinosaurs had a lengthy crest on their heads, which housed air tubes that functioned as a sound amplifier. Researchers have discovered intact skulls of these creatures and have reconstructed them. The air tubes operate similarly to a trombone, producing a range of sounds,” Högström explains.
But there are some dinosaur sounds that scientists know even more about.
Aubrey Jane Roberts works as a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum and says that researchers have found fossils that stand out from other dinosaurs.
She explains that they have a good understanding of what the armored dinosaur Pinacosaurus sounded like.
This is because researchers have discovered preserved parts of the Pinacosaurus’ larynx, where sounds are produced in the throat. Researchers have compared this ancient dinosaur larynx with those of modern birds and crocodiles.
“Pinacosaurus’ larynx was likely capable of producing a wide range of sounds: rumbling, grunting, roaring, and even chirping,” Roberts says.
But animals, lizards, birds, and humans don't just communicate with sounds. Some animals also communicate with colours.
Högström compares dinosaurs with other reptiles that use colours for communication.
“We know that certain dinosaurs had feathers, and many of them were brightly coloured. These feathers could be used for signalling both within their group and to others outside it,” she says.
A sound you can feel
Although researchers are still not entirely certain what Tyrannosaurus rex sounded like, they have developed a sound they believe is accurate.
By combining the sounds of animals they consider similar, they have produced a sound so deep that researchers think it could be felt rather than just heard.
Roberts shares how US researchers assembled this sound.
“They used what we know about the T. rex’s skeleton and compared it with the skeletons of crocodiles and birds. By using the sounds of a Chinese alligator and the Eurasian bittern bird, they have come up with the ‘voice’ of Tyrannosaurus. While it’s probably not the ‘real’ sound, it’s likely closer than what you can hear in Jurassic Park,” she explains.
In this video, you can hear what some researchers believe Tyrannosaurus rex actually sounded like:
Translated by Alette Bjordal Gjellesvik