Most people know that a number of species of birds perform a dance as a part of their mating ritual, but I bet you didn’t know that some species of dinosaurs also apparently “danced” in their efforts to attract a mate.
New paleontological research suggests that dinosaurs strutted their stuff in Western Colorado where they left tracks at four locations hinting at their activities more than a hundred million years ago.
The new paper describing this dinosaur dance floor was published in the most recent edition of Scientific Reports.
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Paleontologist Martin Lockley of the University of Colorado, Denver, was the lead author of the new dancing dinosaurs study. Lockley and his coauthors claim this site offers “compelling evidence” that dinosaurs had dancing mating rituals like some birds today.
In the abstract of the paper, Lockley et al. note: “Relationships between non-avian theropod dinosaurs and extant and fossil birds are a major focus of current paleobiological research. Despite extensive phylogenetic and morphological support, behavioural evidence is mostly ambiguous and does not usually fossilize. Thus, inferences that dinosaurs, especially theropods displayed behaviour analogous to modern birds are intriguing but speculative. Here we present extensive and geographically widespread physical evidence of substrate scraping behavior by large theropods considered as compelling evidence of “display arenas” or leks, and consistent with “nest scrape display” behavior among many extant ground-nesting birds.”
More on dinosaur dance floor discovered in Western Colorado
According to the authors of the paper, like many many modern birds (which descend from one branch of dinosaurs) perform mating dances, the dinosaurs who left the dance tracks were also very likely involved in a mating ritual.
“They’d get out there in the open and start showing off to their peers or their competitors or their girlfriends,” explains Lockley. He compared the site of the dinosaur dance tracks as finding a “fossilized … disco floor.”
The archaeological record makes it clear that many dinosaurs laid eggs, built nests and even had feathers, so it is only logical to expect that they had mating rituals much like the courtship dances of modern-day birds.
For example, a small bird called the piping plover kicks backward with its feet as if it were digging a hole as a part of its mating dance, and the Atlantic puffin is known to scratch furrows into the ground before beginning to breed.
However, when Lockley and his colleagues first saw “these very strange sort of scrape marks,” they didn’t know what to think. They had never seen anything like these deep claw furrows, which they documented at four different sites in Western Colorado.
A few of the marks were up to five feet long and a foot wide, but most were much smaller. A few of the scrapes on the dinosaur dance floor were mixed in with three-toed footprints from carnivorous two-legged dinosaurs.
Finally, it dawned on them that the scrape marks were much like those from courting birds. One of the sites has around 50 scrapes of various sizes, and Lockley speculates that at least a dozen dinos were cutting a rug across this dinosaur dance floor. It could be that the females made their choices from among the dancing males, he noted, or it’s quite possible that both the males and females were dancing.
Statement from dinosaur expert
The authors’s interpretation of the scrapes at the Colorado site is reasonable, dinosaur expert Luis Chiappe of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County says. He points out that it has been known for a long time that birds descend from dinosaurs, but known bird behaviors “are now being found in the fossil record. … (and it’s) very cool.”