Dinosaur mating ritual was less Rocky, more Flashdance

8 Jan 2016

An illustration of what the mating ritual would have looked like. Image by Lida Xing and Yujiang Han via University of Colorado Denver

Offering answers as to where modern birds learned their mating rituals, a team of palaeontologists has discovered that male dinosaurs used their sweet dance moves to attract the opposite sex.

While the image of a dinosaur mating ritual involving a series of dances and swaggers might seem like a source of great hilarity, palaeontologists have speculated for some time now that dinosaurs would have engaged in such behaviour.

Now, according to the palaeontology team from the University of Colorado Denver, the discovery of 50 huge fossilised scrapes found in 100m-year-old sandstone appears to show the first evidence of ‘dinosaur foreplay’.

Rather than being just a series of footprints or regular movements, the fossilised remains would appear to run in regular patterns, indicating a ritualistic performance, much like the ones performed by modern-day birds.

Today, male birds use these ‘scrape ceremonies’ to show the female that they are capable of building a nest, thereby making them a potential better suitor than another.

‘Very similar to birds today’

Publishing their findings in Scientific Reports, each of the scrapes measures around 2m in diameter but the exact species of the dinosaur that made them remains a mystery.

However, the team suggests one possible Jurassic smooth mover could be the Acrocanthosaurus, which would have existed in modern-day western North America, where the remains were found.

A bipedal predator, this species of dinosaur is distinctive in palaeontology due to the number of high neural pines running along its vertebrae, which were used to support a mass of approximately six tonnes, making it one of the largest known theropods.

“The scrape evidence has significant implications,” said Professor Martin Lockley who led the study. “This is physical evidence of prehistoric foreplay that is very similar to birds today. Modern birds using scrape ceremony courtship usually do so near their final nesting sites. So the fossil scrape evidence offers a tantalising clue that dinosaurs in ‘heat’ may have gathered here millions of years ago to breed and then nest nearby.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic