You don’t normally think of dinosaurs doing the kinds of things that modern animals might do — like taking a nap in a grassy field or playing with each other as youngsters — but new research suggests that they may at least been taking the time to stop and smell the roses.
A new study led by Oregon State University entomologist George Poinar Jr reveals that ancient flowering plants had the same kind of fragrant scents as many flowers do today. In fact, Poinar even goes so far as to suggest that such pleasant scents might have played a role in attracting dinosaurs to certain areas.
The study focused on long-fossilized examples of flowering plants encased in hardened tree sap. This material, which is called amber, has the ability to preserve both animals and plants for incredibly long periods of time. By studying multiple examples of now-extinct flowers dating back as far as 100 million years, the researchers were able to determine that the same fragrant compounds that tickle our fancy today were present in ancient flowers from the Cretaceous period, when dinosaurs were abundant.
“I bet some of the dinosaurs could have detected the scents of these early flowers,” George Poinar explained. “In fact, floral essences from these early flowers could even have attracted these giant reptiles.”
Just as they are today, the scents were likely used by the plants to attract pollinators. Bugs were prevalent at the time, and many plants would have relied on them for pollination just like today’s flowers.
“It’s obvious flowers were producing scents to make themselves more attractive to pollinators long before humans began using perfumes to make themselves more appealing to other humans,” Poinar says.
Whether or not towering dinosaurs would have had any measurable interest in the fragrant flowers of the age is little more than a guess, but modern animals are regularly observed taking in the sweet scents, so it’s more likely than not.