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Both plant-eating and meat-eating dinosaurs needed their senses to find food. How do you search for tasty plants to eat while remaining aware of any stalking predators? How do you find your plant-eating prey when they may be camoflaged or in hiding? Which senses would be most helpful to different kinds of dinosaurs?


Herbivore senses

Sight:

  • eyes were on the sides of the head for a wide view of surroundings
  • vision was probably in colour like birds and most living reptiles

Smell:

  • olfactory lobes (part of the brain responsible for the sense of smell) were enlarged in some, indicating smell was an important sense
  • sense of smell was used to find plants or detect predators or possible mates

Hearing:

  • small plant-eaters probably heard higher frequencies, which was useful for pinpointing the location of a predator and warning calls from other dinosaurs
  • large plant-eaters probably heard lower frequencies, which was useful for communicating over long distances
  • external ears would have been similar in appearance to those of living birds and reptiles


Carnivore senses

Sight:

  • some had relatively big, forward-facing eyes used to judge distances to prey
  • vision was probably in colour like birds and most living reptiles

Smell:

  • olfactory lobes (part of the brain responsible for the sense of smell) were enlarged in some, indicating smell was an important sense
  • sense of smell was used to find prey and detect predators or possible mates

Hearing:

  • external ears would have been similar in appearance to those of living birds and reptiles
  • structure and large size of middle ear cavities suggests some theropods heard low frequency sounds, useful for detecting far-off prey

Dinosaur illustration troodon
Troodon had large eyes that may have provided good night-vision. It may also have used acute hearing to locate prey, as it had extremely enlarged middle ear cavities and one ear located higher on the skull than the other. The latter is unusual and found only in some living owls. Image: Anne Musser
© Australian Museum

How did the sight of a meat-eating dinosaur differ from that of a plant-eating dinosaur?

  • Theropods generally had forward-facing eyes. This resulted in a relatively wide range of binocular vision (the eyes work together to produce one image) and a narrow range of monocular vision. They may also have had stereoscopic vision which means their eyes judged exact distances to objects or prey (known as depth perception).
  • Most plant-eating dinosaurs had eyes on the sides of their heads. This resulted in a wide range of monocular vision (the eyes work independently to produce two separate images) and a very narrow range of binocular vision.