Humans never walked the Earth alongside dinosaurs – but if we had, undoubtedly we would have tried to barbeque a velociraptor. Or perhaps oven roast some T. rex.
Of course we have no way of knowing if dinosaurs would have been a delicacy or a disgusting dish to be served to unwelcome dinner guests. But scientists do know that modern-day birds are descendants of dinosaurs – evolving over millions of years to lose their teeth and grow beaks.
In one study, scientists at Yale and Harvard were actually able to alter chicken embryos to grow the snouts of velociraptors rather than beaks.
“Until very late in development, the body of a bird looks not like a bird body but more like a dinosaur body,” said Bhart-Anjan Bhullar, assistant professor of Vertebrate Paleontology and Zoology at Yale, and the lead author on the study. “It turns out that although that explains the shortness of the face, it didn’t explain the overgrown beak.”
His research revealed that birds have a unique set of genes in the middle of their faces that tell their bodies to grow outward, eventually forming a beak. His team of scientists removed that bird-specific zone from chickens’ faces to replicate the molecular activity of their early ancestors. Then they let those embryos grow, which resulted in a chicken-raptor hybrid skull.
“When I affected the earlier genes, the later genes diverted back to a more reptile-like gene,” Bhart-Anjan Bhullar explained. “What we had done was an experimental rolling back of evolution to resurrect this form that hadn’t really been seen on Earth for millions of years.”
Tastes like chicken?
That prompted us to wonder: If it’s possible to create a dino-chicken in a lab, would dinosaurs have tasted like chicken? Well, not exactly.
Dinosaurs were strong, formidable animals, Bhullar explains. Based on the velociraptor claw specimens that scientists have preserved, Bhullar speculates they would taste more like birds of prey, such as hawks or eagles.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they acted more like the raptors today – if they were precise and swift and really scary,” Bhullar told CNN. “Actually, all of the movies I’ve seen, like ‘Jurassic Park,’ have been underestimating the size of their talons. They are about twice the size and exactly shaped like eagle talons.”
So what would a hawk taste like? (We don’t suggest you track down a bird of prey for dinner, by the way.) Exotic meat enthusiasts say it would be similar to turkey, but more gamey because hawks are carnivores.
Of course, the taste of any meat is affected by the animal’s muscle composition and what it eats. A swift-moving raptor needs fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are associated with white meat. But not all dinosaurs were similar to raptors -- some were herbivores, some were land-dwelling and some looked far less frightening.
Since dinosaurs are reptiles, Bhullar suggests that other primitive dinos might taste similar to crocodiles, which share a common ancestor with dinosaurs.
As far as the flavor of crocodile, Paul Cook, the owner of exotic meat company Osgrow, told CNN it looks and tastes like a pork chop.
“It’s got that golden brown color on the outside. And you’d need a proper knife and fork to eat it,” Cook said. “People think it will taste like fish because it’s been in water. It’s more like pork, but you sort of know it’s been in water. It’s definitely not chicken.”
But the meat of dinosaurs’ more simple evolutionary descendants – chickens and other small birds like pigeons and ground dwelling fowl – shouldn’t be discounted.
“The things that survived [the great extinction] were the things that could survive on almost anything,” Bhullar explained. “So the birds that survived were these diminutive little drab creatures – probably not that bright. Similar to a chicken.”
In fact, a 2007 study in the journal Science revealed that some protein sequences from a T. rex fossil closely resembled the protein sequences found in a chicken.
So depending on the dinosaur, maybe it would make for a delicious BBQ after all. And Cook is sure the meat would fly off the shelves.
“If anyone could produce dinosaur meat, I’m sure I could sell that,” Cook said. “People will buy it just to try it.”