Dinosaurs truly are fascinating creatures. But all the images we have created of these prehistoric beasts are based on the fossils we have found of them. Does that mean we don’t have a method of knowing if they had cartilage protrusions like the human nose or the trunk of an elephant? Then how accurate would our recreations of them be?
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The short answer is, we can’t know for sure 100%, from dinosaur to dinosaur. But there are some things we do know. Impressions left by dinosaurs haven’t shown us anything weird yet. Birds tend not to have cartilaginous ears and noses, so it’s unlikely their ancestors did. And also, cartilage leaves very minute traces of their existence in the form of bone shape, and stress points.
For an example, look at the skull of an elephant. We can guess just by examining it really closely how much weight the muscles surrounding the skull were supporting, and where a protrusion was likely based on tiny grooves left on the bone near the nose left by muscle. Logically, if such grooves were present in dinosaur bone, we could conclude similar protrusions. Nothing we’ve found so far seems to suggest cartilaginous protrusions, but that could change with just the right specimen.
We don’t conclusively know. We do have a few indicators. Cartilage usually attaches to bone or connects in such a way that leaves marks. Beyond this we can look at their closest relatives. Dinosaurs were the ancestors to birds, which have no ears. Dinosaurs were cousins to lizards and other large reptiles, who again have no ears and kind of suck for hearing. While they may have had ears in the sense of audio sensing organs, they almost certainly did not have ears as we recognize on mammals.
It’s actually possible that ancient relatives of crocodiles had external ears. The bit where you’d put modern crocs’ earlid muscles was greatly developed in land-based cousins called notosuchians, and even further in a subgroup called the baurusuchids. This implies they had something over their ears that needed to be wiggled, and they weren’t exactly keeping water out of their ears regularly.
They may not be dinosaurs, but badass wolf-lion-crocodile-things with dinosaurian teeth from the age of the dinosaurs are relevant in basically anything by being pure, concentrated badass.
In a similar vein- notosuchians actually had cousins called sebecids that lived after the dinosaurs died out, with similar ear adaptations. So there were giant possibly-eared dinosaur-headed land crocodiles with jaws a metre long that, up until about ten million years ago, were murdering so many protollamas for their dinner. Because prehistory has absolutely no sense of restraint when it comes to badass.
The remains from cartilaginous protrusions would be visible in sedimentary deposits. For example, look at this cast made from the body of someone who died in Pompeii during the Vesuvius explosion. His cartilaginous nose is visible. Dinosaurs would have left similar impressions.