Dinosaur Senses

How dinosaurs touched, tasted, and smelled their way around the prehistoric world.

4 types
CT scanning
Olfactory bulb
Well-developed sense of touch
Secondary posterior brain in its rump


Vision played a crucial role in the lives of dinosaurs, shaping their behavior and interactions with their environment. The structure and function of dinosaur eyes varied greatly, with size, shape, and placement on the skull influencing visual capabilities.

For example, the forward-facing eyes of Tyrannosaurus rex provided good binocular vision for depth perception during predation. It’s likely that T. rex had excellent vision — some studies suggest that their visual clarity was 13 times that of humans.


In contrast, Allosaurus may have relied more on other senses due to poorer binocular vision. Pachycephalosaurs had eyes placed on the sides of their heads which suggests they prioritized peripheral vision over depth perception – an adaptation that would have made it easier to detect predators while grazing.

Dinosaurs probably possessed tetrachromatic vision, meaning they had 4 types of cone cells in their eyes for receiving light compared to the 3 types of cone cells in human eyes. This allowed them to see a greater range of colors than humans, and they could likely see ultraviolet light. This enhanced color perception likely aided in hunting, communication, and navigation.


Good hearing was probably vital in the survival of many dinosaur species, the accurate detection of sound making the difference between eating or being eaten. The inner ear stapes bone, preserved in Sue the T.Rex, offers valuable insights into dinosaur auditory anatomy. CT scanning has revolutionized our understanding of these ancient creatures’ hearing capabilities.

Dinosaur ears likely resembled those of modern birds and reptiles externally – featuring ear openings rather than protruding structures. Their hearing range encompassed low-frequency sounds produced by fellow dinosaurs as well as high-frequency noises emitted by insects or small mammals.

This auditory prowess significantly influenced dinosaur communication and behavior. Vocalizations likely served various purposes such as attracting mates, establishing dominance, or warning of impending danger. By examining specific examples like Sue’s stapes bone alongside advanced technology like CT scans, we continue to unravel the mysteries surrounding these fascinating prehistoric beings and their sensory world.



The olfactory system of dinosaurs, crucial for survival, involved structures akin to modern animals. Central to this was the olfactory bulb, a neural structure processing scent information. By examining dinosaur skulls and comparing them with extant species, paleontologists can infer their smelling capabilities.


Smell played a vital role in locating food sources, detecting predators, and communicating among dinosaurs of the same species. Tyrannosaurus rex, for example, likely possessed 620-645 genes encoding olfactory receptors – an impressive arsenal for tracking prey. The herbivore Erlikosaurus, on the other hand, likely had 477 genes encoding olfactory receptors. It probably used its keen sense of smell primarily for tasks such as discerning edible vegetation from toxic plants or identifying potential mates.


Taste, a vital aspect of dinosaur sensory experience, is one of the most difficult aspects to study. The soft tissues involved with the sense of taste do not fossilize well, so scientists must turn to indirect methods to theorize on dinosaurs’ sense of taste. Skull shapes and comparisons to birds offer insights into how dinosaurs may have perceived taste. Some theorize that some dinosaurs lacked the ability to taste sugar due to the absence of gene T1R2, a phenomenon observed in modern birds.


Taste would have played a significant role in dinosaur evolution and survival, influencing feeding behaviors and interactions with other species. A theory suggests that rising toxic plant populations contributed to their extinction as they couldn’t discern these through taste alone. This would be in line with modern comparisons: birds typically rely on sight rather than taste for avoiding spoiled food and crocodiles exhibit less discrimination in their consumption habits than most mammals do.


Touch, a vital yet often overlooked aspect of dinosaur sensory experience, played a significant role in their behavior and interactions. Dinosaur skin featured scales, feathers, or other structures that may have aided in touch perception.


Tactile communication between individuals and the ability to sense vibrations might have been crucial for survival. For instance, the well-preserved fossil of Juravenator starki reveals circular knobs on the tail which look remarkably like integumentary sense organs (sensory receptors within the skin). Comparisons with crocodiles, which use these these sense organs to detect prey and sense temperature changes in the water, suggest that this dinosaur had sensory scales on its tail and a well-developed sense of touch.

Modern research techniques like scanning electron microscopy and biomechanical modeling help us better understand how dinosaurs experienced touch. By examining well-preserved examples such as Juravenator starki’s fossilized remains, we can piece together an intricate picture of these prehistoric creatures’ tactile world.

Brain and Nervous System

The brain and nervous system of dinosaurs were crucial for their survival, as they controlled movement, behavior, and sensory processing. Fossilized skulls offer insights into dinosaur brains by allowing comparisons with modern animals’ anatomy. At one time, dinosaurs were thought to be unintelligent animals, but this is no longer thought to be the case. Some theropods, in particular, probably had above-average intelligence for reptiles. Studies suggest that dinosaur brains had a cortex and that their brains were divided into six regions. This specialized structure would allow for the processing of complex sensory information and implies possible advanced capabilities.


A popular myth claims Stegosaurus possessed a secondary posterior brain in its rump, responsible for controlling the hind region. However, this likely arose from misinterpretations of an enlarged spinal canal region. In reality, it probably served to house glycogen bodies or other neural tissues instead of a second brain. Over time, dinosaur brains evolved in size and complexity, influencing species’ behavior and adaptability to changing environments – factors essential for their long-term success on Earth.

Sensory Adaptations

Sensory adaptations in dinosaurs were crucial for their survival, encompassing vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. These adaptations varied across different dinosaur groups. For instance, the tiny theropod Shuvuuia could hunt at night due to excellent hearing and enhanced nocturnal vision. Through CT scans, scientists have been able to measure Shuvuuia’s lagena – an organ equivalent to the cochlea in mammals which deals with incoming sound information. They found that the lagena of this diminutive dinosaur was about the same size proportionally as that of a barn owl, an incredibly efficient nocturnal hunter.

Juravenator starki’s sensitive tail facilitated nighttime hunting as well, as the specialized sensory scales would allow them to sense prey in the absence of light.


Sauropods’ elongated snouts enabled them to detect and access vegetation high up in trees. Sensory adaptations significantly impacted dinosaur behavior and ecology; keen-smelling theropods located prey more efficiently and engaged in stalking behaviors. Meanwhile, ornithopods with excellent vision detected predators before they got too close, giving them a better chance of making their escape.

Sensory Predation

Sensory predation, the artful employment of senses to locate and capture prey, played a crucial role in dinosaur hunting strategies. Dinosaurs utilized their visual, auditory, and olfactory abilities to detect and pursue sustenance.

For instance, Allosaurus probably relied heavily on its keen sense of smell to track down prey. In contrast, some species boasted exceptional vision that enabled them to spot potential meals from great distances. The formidable T. rex exemplified sensory predation prowess. Its remarkable sensory advantages likely included excellent hearing, sight, and sense of smell. Together with its other adaptations, these senses contributed significantly to its status as an apex predator.


Over time, evolutionary adaptations for sensory predation emerged in response to environmental shifts or changes in available prey types. These adaptations influenced the development of other traits such as speed, agility, and intelligence – all vital components for successful predatory dinosaurs navigating their ever-changing world.

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Introduction to Dinosaurs;

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Dinosaur Eggs and Nests;

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Dinosaur Tracks and Trackways;

The giveaway markings that tell us huge amounts about the dinosaur kingdom.

Dinosaur Skin and Feathers;

The protective layers of dinosaur anatomy.

Dinosaur Locomotion;

How dinosaurs got from A to B.

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