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Alligators have more in common with the dinosaurs than you think

American Alligators, neural maps of sound in the same way the birds. (Credit: Ruth Elsey Louisiana Department of wildlife and Fisheries)

Dinosaurs and crocodiles are reptiles, but the similarities were supposed to be few and far between. Dinosaurs are often thought to have been warm-blooded, while crocodiles are cold-blooded, which means they cannot regulate their own body temperature.

Now, a new study suggests that both dinosaurs and animals have more in common than was previously thought – their ability to hear.

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, notes that the alligators create the same kind of neural maps of the sound of the way the birds, due in part to their common ancestor, the archosaur.

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“We conclude that the available acoustic cues and the architecture of the acoustic system in the beginning of archosaurs led to a stable and similar organization in the current birds and crocodiles, although the physical characteristics, such as internally coupled ears, head size or shape, and the audible frequency range, differences between the two groups,” the researchers wrote in their study.

“Our research strongly suggests that this particular hearing strategy first evolved in their common ancestor,” University of Maryland professor Catherine Carr said in a statement. “The other option, that they independently evolved the same complex strategy, it seems very unlikely.”

Carr and her team studied more than 40 different alligators and gave them the earphones as they tried to study how they identified sound. They played a variety of different colors and sizes, the response of a structure in the brain stem known as the nucleus laminaris, which measures auditory processing of the signal.

From there, they were able to determine that the ‘gators made neural maps that are very similar to the barn owls and chickens.

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“We know so little about dinosaurs,” Carr said. “Comparative studies such as this, which identify common characteristics that goes back through evolutionary time to add to our knowledge of the biology.”

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