For decades scientists have been mystified by the strangely-shaped skulls of the duck-billed, crested dinosaurs known as lambeosaurus. Their nasal passages are extremely long and twisty, looping up over the tops of their skulls. Originally it was believed that these were just super-noses providing a keen sense of smell. But today a group of Canadian and U.S. researchers present their latest findings about the lembeosaurus at the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology in Ohio — it turns out the nasal passages may have been used for fairly complicated communication between dinosaurs.

This insight came after researchers used CT scans to look at the structure of the crests on top of lambeosaurus' head. It turns out these crests are connected to the nasal cavities, and that the crests might have emitted what researchers describe as "eerie bellowing calls." CT scans of the brain cavity in the skull suggest that the dinosaurs' brains were highly developed, and their inner ear structure was perfect for picking up the low frequencies produced by the crest. Paleontologist Lawrence Witmer, a member of the research team, said:

We were surprised to see just how large the centers of the brain associated with higher cognitive functions were. We suspected that the crested duck-billed dinosaurs used both vocal and visual displays, but now we see that they had the brain power and hearing to pull off these behaviors.

Nobody is saying that lambeosaurus had language. And yet their sophisticated brains, coupled with a highly-specialized organ for communication, does suggest a potential for speech. So humans might not be the first chatty species on the planet, after all. Brain structure provides key to unraveling function of bizarre dinosaur crests [via Witmer's Lab and Ohio University]