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Dinosaur Sex and Mating Rituals Explained

"The research on dinosaurs' closest relatives and mating grounds has revealed some mating habits and rituals. Some make sense, others don't."

Out of modesty and a lack of data, scientists have always avoided discussing how dinosaurs had sex. How can we learn about the sexual lives of creatures that have been extinct for millions of years? 

Dinosaurs had to reproduce, but how they did so has baffled paleontologists for almost a century. Scientists have come up with many theories in the absence of actual data.

Dinosaur Sex and Mating Rituals

A Lack of Evidence

Soft-tissue preservation is extremely unusual, and no perfectly preserved dinosaur with entire reproductive organs has yet been identified. The best method to analyze dinosaur sex in terms of fundamental mechanics is to look at the creatures’ closest surviving relatives. Dinosaurs shared an ancestor with alligators and crocodiles, and current birds are the living descendants of dinosaurs like Velociraptors. 

As a result, we may assume that anatomical features found in crocodilians and birds were also found in dinosaurs. Unfortunately, no dinosaur remains have been discovered in a passionate hug. Even the most wonderfully preserved of these species don’t have any reproductive organs left.

Reproductive Organs

Both groups’ reproductive organs are quite similar. The cloaca, a dual-use organ for sex and excretion, is shared by males and females. A penis emerges from the cloaca in male birds and crocodiles to deliver sperm. Dinosaur sex had to have followed the same process as their offspring and cousins today. 

Things become a little complex after you go past the most fundamental anatomy. Computer modeling allows researchers to explore speculations about how these titans pulled off the feat. Much remains uncovered, but scientists are gradually revealing more about dinosaur love.

Dinosaur Sex and Mating Rituals

Determining Sexes

Sexual dimorphism refers to the difference in appearance between the sexes in many animal species. Consider the mane of a lion, the feathers of a peacock, or the antlers of a deer. Scientists have a surprising amount of difficulty determining such characteristics on extinct species. 

Despite early suggestions that female T-Rexes were larger than males, such evidence is inconclusive. Anatomical differences might indicate a young and elderly individual, two distinct species, or just variances unrelated to gender. The first step in investigating dinosaur mating is determining which sex it is. 

Paleontologists have taken several methods to this challenge, including looking for gender variations in size and ornamentation. Unfortunately, few species have enough remains to allow for such research, and no case of the evident difference between the sexes in the general morphology of the skeleton has gone uncontested.

Medullary Bones

Paleontologist Mary Schweitzer made a breakthrough in 2005 when she realized that the key to dinosaur sexes had been hidden in bone all along. In birds and dinosaurs, the Medullary bone is a layer of material found inside a conventional bone. A porous and spongy layer grows inside their bones when females prepare to produce eggs. 

Female dinosaurs absorbed calcium from their bones to make eggshells before producing eggs. The source was medullary bone, a transitory form of tissue that lined the interior of their leg bone chambers. Paleontologists recognized they had a female dinosaur when similar tissue was discovered in the femur of a Tyrannosaurus. 

Paleontologists looked for medullary bones in other species once they understood what they were looking for. Paleontologists discovered medullary bone in the limbs of the carnivorous dinosaur Allosaurus and an evolutionary relative of Iguanodon known as Tenontosaurus in 2008. This finding also confirmed Ms. Schweitzer’s results.

Mating Ages

Scientists determine dinosaur ages by studying the microstructure of their bones for growth rings or lines of growth (LAGs). The findings suggest that dinosaurs started reproducing at a young age. When some females began producing eggs, they had not yet achieved full maturity. 

Other fossils revealed that females’ development slowed only when they started breeding. Dinosaurs grew up quickly and were teenage mothers. This method made evolutionary sense based on what we know about dinosaurs’ existence. 

Prey animals like the hadrosaur Hypacrosaurus may have developed quicker than predatory species as a kind of defense, according to another study. Whether prey or predator, dinosaurs perished young a lot, so any dinosaur that wanted to pass on its genes had to get started early. 

Dinosaur Colors

For decades, conventional thought claimed that we’d never know what color dinosaurs were. This no longer holds true. Paleontologists have discovered feathers on more than 20 dinosaur species, and these feathers reveal the mysteries of dinosaur color. 

Dinosaur feathers featured microscopic structures called melanosomes, which have been preserved in detail in fossils. These structures may also be seen in the plumage of living birds, and they are responsible for the hues black, gray, brown, and red. We may estimate the feather’s palette by comparing the arrangements of melanosomes in a dinosaur specimen with those in modern birds if the specimen has well-preserved feathers, as one study did last year for the tiny, feathered dinosaur Anchiornis. 

According to research, it appeared like a modern-day woodpecker: predominantly black with white wing fringes and red on the head. Only one Anchiornis specimen has been fully restored. Still, with so many more specimens discovered, paleontologists will be able to determine the color variation within the species, specifically whether there was a difference in color between males and females or whether the flashy red color was mating plumage. 

 

Dinosaur Sex and Mating Rituals

Dinosaur Mating Rituals

Paleontologists have speculated about the lavish adornments on dinosaurs, such as crests, plates, spikes, feathers, and horns. Perhaps females of the sauropod Amargasaurus looked for males with the longest neck spines, while the spiky dinosaur Kentrosaurus found the plates and spikes of the opposite sex appealing. Sauropods’ long necks may have had a similar purpose. 

Although they most likely developed the long necks to assist in reaching a wide variety of food sources, they could also have been used to show their strength and health to possible mates during mating seasons.

Dances and Fights

Sexual practices encompass not just the physical aspect of procreation but also the pre-mating rituals, according to R. Bakker in his book The Dinosaur Heresies. Hundreds of dinosaurs have been discovered so far. There were maybe as many courtship rituals as there were dinosaur species. 

Drive-in movies and evenings out dancing were not part of teen dinosaur dating. What they actually did has largely been left to speculation. Paleontologists have recently progressed beyond pure speculation and begun piecing together the long reproductive lifetimes of some of these species. 

What better way for a sauropod to market itself to members of the other sex than by parading around a little? Damaged bones allow paleontologists to have a closer look at dinosaur mating behaviors and their implications. Large theropod dinosaurs like Gorgosaurus have painful-looking punctures on their heads, indicating that they bit each other in the face during combat. 

These brawls were most likely over mates or territory that prospective mates might travel through. The fights that resulted in these wounds could have occurred at any time, but the mating season is the most likely candidate. Ceratopsian dinosaurs exhibit a variety of horn arrangements and frill morphologies, which some experts believe result from sexual selection. 

These theories are difficult to verify because there’s no way of knowing whether female Styracosaurus favored males with extra-large horn racks or whether male Giganotosaurus fought over mating opportunities. These flamboyant characteristics undoubtedly complicated the act. We may envisage male Stegosaurus lowering their heads and waggling their spiked tails in the air to scare each other, with the victor dominating territory and displaying his power. 

Not all females will be impressed, though, because female preference influences decoration just as much as male competition – but may have influenced some to mate with the dominant male. Females may have selected the fittest males from the sick, weak, or unwanted through all of the shouting, swaying, and posturing.

Scratching and Nesting

You can still find experts who insist birds aren’t dinosaurs, but we now have more proof, and the evidence keeps growing. Therefore, you can use avian behavior to figure out how some dinosaurs acted. A good example is a form of scratching in which male ground-nesting birds advertise that they are powerful and skilled nest builders. 

It’s part of a behavior known as lekking, in which males compete by dancing and performing other courting rituals in groups to gain the attention of females. According to fossilized “scrapes” found in 100 million-year-old rocks in western Colorado’s Dakota Sandstone, dinosaurs participated in similar mating activity. In one place, paleontologists discovered over 60 different scratches. 

This is physical proof of ancient foreplay that looks like what we see in birds. The signature three-toed footprint of a theropod, a bipedal and highly predatory dinosaur, was found among the scrape traces, further proving the unusual markings’ connection to dinosaur builders. With around 1,850 dinosaur taxa believed to have existed so far, there certainly were many variants on this subject. 

Dinosaur Sex and Mating Rituals

Dinosaur Sex

How did they actually mate after all of their struttings and flaunting? Theoretical explanations for how this happened are based on what scientists believe dinosaurs were capable of, considering their physical structure. For years, paleontologists have been baffled by dinosaur sex, with specialists proposing strange dinosaur reproduction hypotheses. 

On the Back

R.M. Alexander, a biomechanics expert, hypothesized that they mated in the same way as rhinoceroses and elephants do today, with females bearing the male’s weight. The biggest distinction would be dinosaurs’ large, somewhat strong tails. Based on the theory, male dinosaurs slung one leg over the female’s back. 

Alexander said that the female dinosaurs’ hindquarters supported the male’s weight. While this could have been substantially heavy, the associated strains wouldn’t have been more than walking since the male dinosaur’s weight is theoretically supported by one back leg, much like it would in a normal step cycle. This implies that dinosaurs that were powerful enough to walk were also strong enough to mate in this position. 

One Leg Over

According to British scientist Beverly Halstead, male dinosaurs half mounted females to complete insemination. He thought dinosaurs behaved similarly to reptiles and alligators today, rather than rhinos and elephants. He hypothesized that males half-mounted females with one leg over the female’s back. This caused their hips to be pushed underneath the females’ tails, bringing their cloacae close enough for mating to be successful. 

Longer-tailed animals may have interwoven their tails for tactile pleasure, similar to how certain snakes wrap their bodies. Scientists are unsure if sauropod tails and legs could bend and flex sufficiently to attain the conventional configuration. Bipedal carnivores like Allosaurus seem to have needed a lot of collaboration and balance to make one leg over mating happen.

Laying Down

I’ve been sitting looking at two Stegosaurus figures for a long time, and I’m stumped. Did the female dinosaurs possibly lie down during the deed – on their back or, more likely, their sides? How could dinosaurs, covered in spikes and plates, mate without skewering one other? 

Mating would have been a highly delicate procedure when it comes to body armor. Females were just as well-armored as their male counterparts, and males mounting females from behind doesn’t make sense. The most basic method yet described is for the female to lie down on her side while the male approaches, standing up, avoiding all of the plates and spikes. 

Sitting Down

Bipedal dinosaurs had to contend with the issue of balance while navigating the Earth on two legs. Getting those critical locations to align would need cooperation to stay upright. There’s a hypothesis that T-tiny, Rex’s goofy arms, were utilized to cling onto a mate’s back. Personally, I think that they may have just sat down to conduct their mating business.

Back to Back

Could the lovers have collided with each other back to back? As Timothy Isles hypothesized in his research, perhaps males in certain dinosaur species turned away from standing females and backed up against them. Comprehending such flexibility is crucial to understanding how they dominated the Earth for so many years.

Dinosaur Sex and Mating Rituals

The Unknown Still Baffles

Advanced research methodologies, more powerful computers that allow for realistic simulations, and ongoing fossil discoveries have uncovered a wealth of fresh knowledge on dinosaurs and their bedroom habits. Experts can also use computer-generated visuals of what dinosaur sex would have looked like to examine probable behaviors. However, many questions remain unresolved. 

Did male dinosaurs have an external penis, or did they use the cloaca? It is more likely that there were species with external penises and others that use their cloaca. No evidence suggests that all dinosaurs had to have the same physical mating apparatus. Let us know what you think by leaving us a comment below – I’d love to hear your opinions on the matter!

Cindy L

Cindy L

Writer

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