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Dinosaur researchers drugged alligators to study dino hearing

No, they didn't make them listen to Dark Side of the Moon while watching Jurassic Park.


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Scientists turned to alligators, drugs and earbuds to better understand how dinosaurs might've processed sound.

A paper published this week in The Journal of Neuroscience said the study focused on the gap in arrival time of sound to each ear, otherwise known as the interaural time difference.

The study was authored by Catherine Carr, a biologist at the University of Maryland, and Lutz Kettler, a neuroscientist at the Technische Universität München.

Carr and Lutz's team sedated 40 American alligators at the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana with ketamine and dexmedetomidine. Once the animals were unconscious, the scientists inserted specially fitted earbuds. They placed electrodes on the animals' heads to record auditory neural responses to the tones and clicks played over the headphones.

In an email, Carr noted that birds are dinosaurs' and alligators' closest living relatives.

The experiment discovered that alligators use similar neural mapping to that of birds to locate sounds, despite the differences in their brains. Birds, alligators and dinosaurs are all descended from archosaurs, reptiles abundant during the Triassic period.

"Thus, features shared by both groups might reasonably be inferred to have been found in extinct dinosaurs so we assume dinosaurs could localize sound," Carr said. 

No word yet on whether the stoned gators also got to listen to Fire on High played backward.

Originally published March 21
Update, March 22: Added comments from Catherine Carr. 

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