We all know the thundering howl of Tyrannosaurus rex. The Jurassic Park franchise made sure of that, giving the 9-ton predator opportunities to roar and scream almost every time it stepped onscreen. But did our favorite dinosaur really sound like a reptilian hellbeast?
Unfortunately, we’re 66 million years too late to know the precise vocal repertoire of T. rex. That’s why the dinosaur’s howls for Jurassic Park and its sequels were cobbled together from various modern animal sounds including baby elephants and sound designer Gary Rydstrom’s Jack Russell terrier Buster. The effect is impressive, but probably a bit too mammalian for the likes of the Cretaceous carnivore.
Modern birds aren’t much help here, either. Even though they’re living dinosaurs, they make sounds through a specialized vocal organ called a syrinx. This is what allows crows to caw, robins to sing, and parrots to say “clever girl” if we teach them to. The fact that this structure is unique to birds suggests it evolved after early avians split from other dinosaurs. We know T. rex probably didn’t tweet.
Alligators and crocodiles may come to the rescue here. Even though they’re the most distant relatives of dinosaurs, they’re still the closest living cousins to the dinosaur group as a whole. And they create a range of deep-throated calls through a larynx, which is the more archaic vocal setup. With this in mind, creators of the still-in-progress game Saurian – which seeks to immerse players in the world of the Hell Creek Formation, 68-66 million years ago – turned to crocodylians for their tyrannosaur’s vocalizations. Listen above.
It doesn’t have the same guttural punch of Steven Spielberg’s star dinosaur, but it’s probably a lot closer to what the real T. rex sounded like.
Not that T. rex sounds were all made through vocal chords. Paleontologist Phil Senter pointed out that, much like modern reptiles, dinosaurs could have communicated by splashing in the water, rubbing their scales together, hissing, and clapping their jaws. So while the dinosaurs of the movies will probably continue to roar their heads off in the way that no animals ever do, the real T. rex probably would have sounded eerily familiar. Imagine walking over the floodplains of Cretaceous North America and hearing a rumble so deep that you can actually feel it, following by a “THWOK!” of clapping jaws politely warning your squishy little self to leave the tyrant king’s territory.
IMAGE: Brian Switek