Dinosaurs danced to attract lovers and scare off enemies, scientists say

Don’t be surprised if the sequel to Jurassic World features a couple of carnivorous dinosaurs cutting a little rug, according to the authors of a new study which claims that dinos danced both to impress potential mates and as a way scare off their enemies.

What evidence is there to support these bizarre claims? Well, in the latest edition of the journal Scientific Reports, University of Colorado, Denver professor and paleontologist Martin Lockley explained that they discovered large scrapes, some two meters long, at several Cretaceous sites located throughout Colorado.

The scrapes were discovered at “leks”—or areas where dinosaurs would gather in search of mates, according to Gizmodo, leading Lockley’s team to conclude that they were made by theropods, a group of large, bipedal, carnivorous dinosaurs that included raptors and tyrannosaurs. Given that dinosaurs eventually gave rise to birds, and that birds are well-known for their courtship dances, the authors believe it likely that the behavior originated in their predecessors.

“They’d get out there in the open and start showing off to their peers or their competitors or their girlfriends,” Lockley told USA Today. He and his colleagues noticed the similarity between these marks and those made by courting birds, and said it was like finding a “fossilized… disco floor.”

Scars might have been the result of a “threat display”

According to reports, this marks the first time that paleontologists have found physical evidence of courtship displays among dinosaurs. Some of the scrapes were five feet long and a food wide, while others were said to be far smaller. One of the sites discovered had roughly 50 of the marks, which the authors speculate were left behind by a group of at least 12 theropods.

Luis Chiappe, a dinosaur expert at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County who was not involved in the research, told USA Today that the researchers’ interpretations of the markings was reasonable. As he noted, the link between birds and dinosaurs has been well established, and it was “very cool” to find evidence of bird-like behaviors in the fossil records of dinosaurs.

University of Alberta paleontologist Scott Persons, who like Chiappe was not among the authors of the Scientific Reports study, added that while it was likely that dinosaurs had courtship rituals, it is also possible that the scrapings were made as part of a “threat display” to ward off potential threats.


Feature Image: University of Colorado Denver