Scientists have discovered a voice box in the fossilized remains of an ancient bird believed to be a relative of the modern-day ducks and geese. The now extinct bird called Vegavis iaai lived in what is now Antarctica during the age of the dinosaurs more than 66 million years ago.
The creature's voice box is the oldest vocal organ discovered. Its discovery suggests that dinosaurs may not have been able to produce the noise similar to the songs and calls produced by birds today. Birds descended from dinosaurs, and scientists consider them as living dinosaurs.
Using CAT scans of the bird's fossils, which were discovered on Antarctica's Vega Island in 1992, researchers found the presence of syrinx, an organ unique to birds that give them the ability to produce the songs and calls that they make. Researchers did a search in the dinosaur fossil record for other examples of a syrinx in nonavian dinosaurs of the same age but they did not find one.
Researchers said that the fact that this particular species of bird existed at the same time dinosaurs walked on Earth during the Mesozoic era suggests that the organ developed at a later time in the evolution of birds and that dinosaurs were no songbirds.
"The lack of other Mesozoic tracheobronchial remains, and the poorly mineralized condition in archosaurian taxa without a syrinx, may indicate that a complex syrinx was a late arising feature in the evolution of birds, well after the origin of flight and respiratory innovations," study researcher Franz Goller of the University of Utah and colleagues wrote in their study, which was published in the journal Nature on Oct. 12.
The asymmetrical shape of the syrinx suggests that the species likely made honking noises through sound sources located in the right and left parts of the organ.
While the findings suggest that dinosaurs did not sing, it does not mean that these iconic creatures of the prehistoric time were silent.
Dinosaurs, particularly the predatory ones such as the T-rex are often portrayed to produce roaring sounds that scare away potential preys. Findings of a research published in July, however, suggest that dinosaurs cooed and produced purring sounds like ostriches and doves.
"This finding helps explain why no such organ has been preserved in a nonbird dinosaur or crocodile relative," said study researcher Julia Clarke, of The University of Texas. "This is another important step to figuring out what dinosaurs sounded like as well as giving us insight into the evolution of birds."