Common Dinosaur Behavior

How they communicated with each other, how they mated, and more

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

The following questions were answered by dinosaur expert Don Lessem, paleontologist Tim Rowe, and paleontologist Bill Hammer.


Q: What did dinosaurs do all day?
A: To tell the truth, it was mostly pretty boring — walking around slowly, eating, and going to the bathroom. Like most animals today, most dinosaurs were plant-eaters and that's what these animals do. The meat-eaters had more exciting lives, but then lions sleep as much as 20 hours a day, and miss 9 hunts out of 10.

Q: Do you think a dinosaur can be trained?   Do you think they could survive today?
A: I don't think dinosaurs would survive in our world. The air is different and the plants are unfamiliar (there wasn't even grass in dinosaur times). I don't think we have a very good record of living with big wild animals — we seem to like to kill them all off and I'm afraid we would probably do the same to dinosaurs. If we could bring them back and keep them alive, I don't think they'd make very good housepets. The smartest dinosaur appears to have been no smarter than an ostrich, so if you could house train it you would need an awful lot of Sunday papers. If you ever got it to fetch your slippers it would probably eat them.

Q: Can you tell me anything about dinosaur mating habits and rituals?
A: Dinosaurs didn't leave us very much evidence of their mating habits, not even a dating guide. We do find many broken tail bones on duckbilled dinosaurs, and some scientists think these may have been squashed in mating. Also, one researcher has speculated that male and female dinosaurs can be distinguished by the shape of their tail bones, particularly the v-shaped chevrons at the base of the tail. In general, females may have been larger than males, as in many modern birds and reptiles. As for how they mated, no one knows, but they must have been pretty careful, especially the dinosaurs with spikes!

Q: Were dinosaurs instinctively violent or just when they were hungry and feeding?
A: No, I don't think dinosaurs were necessarily violent, even the meat-eaters. Most of the time they were just looking for a meal, most of the time. But we did find a T. rex tooth inside the cheek of another T. rex.

Q: What was the most ferocious dinosaur?
A: The scariest dinosaur was probably T. rex, since it was the most powerful meat-eater. Or perhaps Utahraptor, a giant raptor 20 feet long, with huge killer toe and hand claws and sharp teeth.

Q: Dogs bark, cows moo, and cats meow. Do we have any evidence that dinosaurs communicated with each other?
A: Dinosaurs did communicate with each other, but we don't know what they sounded like. Some duckbills had huge trumpet-like crests and probably blew loud, low rumbling noises to other members of their herd.

Q: Could dinosaurs swim in deep water?
A: Dinosaurs probably didn't swim in deep water since they all lived on land. But they were good swimmers and could cross rivers when they needed to.

Q: What was the speed of the fastest dinosaur?
A: The fastest dinosaurs were probably the ostrich mimic ornithomimids — toothless meat-eater with long limbs like ostriches. They ran at least 25 miles per hour from our estimates based on footprints in mud. But that's just a guess, and you don't run your fastest in mud.

Q: How fast did the raptor run?
A: We're not sure how fast any dinosaurs ran, but with a formula devised to measure fossil footprints and the size of the animal's leg, scientists have estimated the speed of some dinosaurs. The problem is we aren't sure what dinosaur made the footprints, and most footprints are left in mud, not the best surface for running. By this formula the fastest dinosaurs were the ornithomimids, like the gallimimus ostrich-like dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. They are measured at 25 mph. Raptors did not run as fast, despite the claim in the movie that they were as fast as cheetahs (70 mph), but they were among the faster dinosaurs of their time, and plenty scary. The real velociraptor wasn't much bigger than a standard poodle either!

Q: The parasaurolophus has bird hips. Why did he need them when he walked on all fours? I read that dinosaurs with bird hips walked on two legs and could run quickly.
A: Not all bird-hipped dinosaurs ran on two legs. Parasaurolophus and other duckbills, as well as the earlier iguanodontid bird-hipped dinosaurs were probably able to run on their hind legs or walk on all fours. For larger dinosaurs, walking on four legs may have been a way to support their enormous weight.

  • Subjects:
    Archaeology, Dinosaurs, Animal Structure and Movement, Animal Survival and Adaptation