Throwback Thursday -Remember when dinosaurs roared?

A friend of mine recently posted a video link to a wicked company that produced animatronic dinosaurs (along with dragons and other majestic or magical beasts) that claimed to be super realistic. I clicked on the link and was generally thoroughly impressed with the attention to fine visual details. Others had commented about how the dinosaurs did not have feathers even though there is a general consensus and scientific proof. Normally I would agree but as far as I could tell, I didn’t spot any dinosaurs on display in the short video that would actually have feathers.  Not all species of dinosaurs did. (CORRECTION: I do spot some now that need feathers) What did irk me though, and no-one had commented on, was how the dinosaurs sounded. Pretty much as you would expect from growing up watching TV and movies. Loud piercing roars.

The first time I read that dinosaurs probably squawked or sounded like large species of birds, I laughed. A lot. I dismissed it quite easily. It seemed ridiculous and besides, how could we really know what they sounded like? Soft tissue does not preserve as easily as bones. What proof was there? Then as I studied evolution deeper in university I realized, what proof was there that dinosaurs roared ferociously then? Who determined that the Tyrannosaurs sounded terrifying? Is it because of how we think of tigers or lions as hunters, because they have a roar? Is it because of a dogs bark? I know some breeds sound scary, especially when they are raised to be aggressive fighters or well-trained animal actors. Has our perception of the animal kingdom given us the wrong idea about what a dinosaur sounds like?

I went back and re-read the Popular Science article and the scientific paper on which it was based. I had new eyes this time. It is quite possible that we have been blind, or rather deaf, to the true sounds of dinosaurs. Research in vocal chord evolution is changing how I feel when I watch my favourite movies and makes me giggle when I push the buttons at Canada’s Wonderland dinosaur exhibit. The next time I go to the Royal Ontario Museum I intend to push every dinosaur display button I find and watch every educational video blurb. What else have I been misinformed on? What else may be wrong and currently unstudied?

Come to think of it… I’ve had pet lizards and I’ve never heard them make much more than a clicking or chucking sound and that was only for breeding not for hunting their food at all. Perhaps a trip to the Zoo or reptile world is in order. I plan to see how much more I can find out on the subject before I decide to laugh at every movie, toy, and animatronic display I see. However, I’ve decided that I need to believe in Hollywood magic a little less and remember that I need to put science first, ‘grow up’ a little from my childish giddiness and glee of seeing detailed dinosaurs come to life, and pay attention to details most of us may overlook as ‘fact’ simply from lack of contrasting alternatives in visual media.

So did dinosaurs roar? ehhhh…. my face crinkles now when I try to think of the T-Rex singing a beautiful low-throated mating song… but I’m starting to be open to the possibility.




  • Julia A. Clarke, Sankar Chatterjee, Zhiheng Li, Tobias Riede, Federico Agnolin, Franz Goller, Marcelo P. Isasi, Daniel R. Martinioni, Francisco J. Mussel, Fernando E. Novas, Fossil evidence of the avian vocal organ from the Mesozoic, Nature, 2016, 538, 7626, 502

Full Journal Article Available at:

Additional References:

  • Benson, R. B. J., R. J. Butler, M. T. Carrano, and P. M. O’Connor. 2012. Air-filled postcranial bones in theropod dinosaurs: physiological implications and the ‘reptile’–bird transition. Biol. Rev. 87:168193.
  • Gans, C. and P. F. A. Maderson. 1973. Sound producing mechanisms in recent reptiles: review and comment. Am. Zool. 13:11951203.
  • Wedel, M. J. 2009. Evidence for bird-like air sacs in saurischian dinosaurs. J. Exp. Zool. A 311:611628.

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