Think you’re a good shuffler? Dinosaurs did it first.

For decades, comparisons between dinosaurs and birds have been made in an attempt to feed our imaginations of the long extinct creatures. Until now most evidence concerning their behaviour has not been concrete enough to be taken seriously. However, the recent discovery at four paleontological sites in Colorado, USA have linked Theropod dinosaur mating behaviour with that of today’s living birds, of different shapes and sizes.

We know that both dinosaurs and birds lay eggs as part of their reproductive cycle, but now we have physical proof that they even tried to score a partner in the same way as many avian species do. Many birds, including plovers, puffins and ostriches, try to attract females by dancing in the dirt, resulting in trademark, face-off scrapes. Think of it like shuffling in Mansion, although potential mates would actually find it attractive.

You may ask, why would a few scratches in the dirt determine a good candidate for mating? When the fossilised scrapes are compared to those made by birds, they appear to be created by movements similar to those used in nest-making activity. So, the males are trying to prove that they will be able to provide for a family. Given that birds are thought to have evolved from dinosaurs, it’s logical to observe their mating conduct to hypothesise how the extinct beasts may have behaved.

Researchers deduced that this behaviour is purely for social interaction after eliminating other tasks that the patterns may have alluded to. The theory of searching for water or food by digging into the ground was debunked. Water sources can be found underground. However, if the scrapes were for this purpose the marks would have surely been washed away upon discovery of ground water. Additionally, Theropods are carnivores, i.e. meat eaters, therefore they wouldn’t be digging for fruit, vegetables and food sources buried underground by other animals. It was also speculated that the marks were used to set out territorial claims. However, this behaviour is not found in birds, a close relative of the dinosaurs, therefore this explanation has been discounted.

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Image: M. Lockley

So next time you pull out your favourite dance move hoping to attract a new mate, maybe try a shuffle?

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