Could Dinosaurs Roar? Ancient Voice Box Offers Some Answers


Could dinosaurs roar? A 68-million-year-old question has been answered. According to experts, the sounds dinosaurs made were more like a grunt similar to a crocodile. Movies always featured giant dinosaurs roaming the earth pushing out frightening loud and scary roars mainly before attacking their preys like other animals or humans.

It was never really possible to confirm or dismiss the theory that the giant creatures let out a roaring sound because it was not possible for scientists to know what kind of sound the extinct animals produced. That was until now – Wednesday, a group of experts – Julia Clarke, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Texas at Austin, physiologists Tobias Riede and Franz Goller – published a fascinating study in the journal Nature, which answered the question, could dinosaurs roar?

Clarke used a fossilized syrinx of a Vegavis, “a genus of an extinct bird that lived during the Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian stage) of Antarctica, some 68 to 66 mya,” a relative of today’s ducks. The Vegavis was discovered in Antarctica more than ten years ago. Clarke said they decided to analyze the syrinx, also known as the squawk box of the Vegavis because the prehistoric birds evolved from dinosaurs.

According to the paper, to determine what sound the Vegavis made, the experts recreated the squawk box used with a high-resolution X-ray imaging technique known as micro-computed tomography. They also “looked at how 12 groups of present-day birds vocalize, noting the related “hardware” of these birds that is made up bones and soft tissues.” The researchers then compared that data on modern birds with their V. iaai squawk box model. Clarke explained what her team discovered:

“Evidence from both other skeletal material as well as the syrinx indicates Vegavis is closely related to living ducks and geese. The shape of the asymmetrical syrinx (left vs right sides) is most similar to living female ducks. In males the syrinx is even more asymmetrical — with a giant protrusion on one side. Both male and female ducks create loud honks with an open mouth.”

The physiologists said that they now believe that dinosaurs had no syrinx and therefore did not have the ability to roar. Instead, they made sounds like crocodiles – they hissed, grunted, and squeaked. Dr. Clarke shared:

“But in fact the vocalized in a manner more similar to that which we see in crocs low-frequency booms, maybe using a resonating structure such as an inflated esophagus or something like that, and using the larynx, not a syrinx.”

Clarke, who wondered why is it they never unearthed the larynx of non-avian dinosaurs, finally got the answer. The larynx of a crocodile does fossilize readily “so if non-avian dinosaurs had a similar structure, which might explain why their voice boxes are so hard to find.”

Stephen Nowicki, a biologist and dean at Duke University, said the study is the first of its kind and we need additional information to have a more definitive answer. He said:

“It’s inherently going to be speculative when you talk about dinosaurs communicating. Our understanding of evolutionary patterns is constantly changing as we get new information. A paper like this is telling us something we didn’t know before, but it’s not necessarily the last word, and that’s okay. If somebody finds a treasure trove of fossils, it could change the way we’re thinking about this completely.”

Some say it will be interesting to see how movie makers will react to this new information.