Dinosaur “booty flashing” may have been key communication, mating function

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Everyone loves dinosaurs because it’s naturally fascinating to focus on their exciting features, such as massive jaws, teeth, horns, long necks, armor-spiked tales and, of course, their gargantuan size.

But if we are to truly gain an in-depth understanding of how these extinct creatures lived and behaved, science simply must take into account their rear ends.

New insights have been gained recently that suggest the dinosaur derriere played an important role in how these creatures interacted with each other, including identifying each other and setting up the vitally important role of mating.

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There is good evidence now that dinosaurs used their tushies to “flash” each other to communicate and as markers for identifying themselves to their mates and fellow species. It’s likely that the dinosaur anal-buttocks area displayed a highly distinctive color that others could see from a long distance. Dinosaurs would have used their backside calling cards in important communicative behaviors with each other.

There is ample precedent for this in modern species of animals. Think of how baboons display their bright bottoms to each other in obvious forms of social interaction. This includes everything from attracting a mate to showing who is dominant.

Another good example is the feathers of birds. To us, it’s a delight to observe the incredible variety and wonderful colorings of our avian friends. To them, however, these colored patterns are deeply meaningful. They transmit specific information to each other. Birds key in on colors and their patterns to identify their own species and mates.

Scientists today consider birds to be the closest living relatives to the dinosaurs. Indeed, many species of dinosaurs have been found with traces of fossilized feathers still intact. Furthermore, tiny traces of melanin pigment have been found. This has enabled researchers to recreate the color scheme of dinosaurs.

This coloring may now include the dinosaur buttocks area as well. At least in some species, the dinosaur behind may have stood out like the proverbial “sore thumb.”

This line of inquiry came up when paleontologists were taking a closer look at a dinosaur called the psittacosaurus. It was about the size of a large dog and closely related to a much larger dinosaur that is among the most familiar to us — the triceratops. The psittacosaurus was a plant-eater that lived about 100 million years ago.

A fairly complete fossilized psittacosaurus is in the hands of the Senckenberg Museum of Natural History in Frankfurt, Germany. Researchers used the remains to recreate what it looked like when it was alive using technology that reconstructed it as a 3D model.

Remains of skin coloring and pigmentation revealed that the psittacosaurus sported a counter-shaded camouflage that would have helped it blend in within a forested environment.

The incredibly accurate 3D model revealed something else of critical significance — the dinosaur’s backside. From the reconstructed image, paleontologists could conclude that the psittacosaurus had what animal anatomists call a cloacal opening at the back. This means that this species used “one hole” for everything — defecation, urination, giving birth and having sex.

In most species today, there are two separate orifices. One is for urinating and defecating and the other is for sex and giving birth. In the case of the dinosaur, “giving birth” meant laying eggs. In the males, the cloacal opening would also most likely have housed a contracted penis.

The reconstruction of the psittacosaurus indicated that it had a pair of lips on either side of its cloacal opening. These lips flared out toward the tip of the tail. Between the lips, there was a section of the tail that formed a swollen lobe.

Because the underside of the psittacosaurus was light in color, the cloacal lips would have stood put vividly due to their dark pigmentation. This would have been seen from a long distance.

It’s logical to conclude, then, that a dramatically visible backside of the psittcosaurus would have played a key role in the way in interacting with its fellow dinosaur clan. If the psittcosaurus displayed this trait, other species of dinosaurs are likely to have done so as well.

In the dinosaur world, “flashing some booty” came along with a whole lot of meaning.

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