Note on Coloration

There is absolutely no way in which the colours of early fossil reptiles can be ascertained but, from what is known about animal coloration today, it is extremely likely that the same principles would have applied then. In all probability the larger dinosaurs would have been uniformly grey, like modern elephants, rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses. Marine reptiles were almost certainly dark above and whitish below, like modern sharks and whales. The effect of a pale ventral surface is that it tends to counteract the effects of shadow and to render its possessor inconspicuous - an invaluable asset to both predators and their potential prey. The same would have applied to flying reptiles as well as to many of the smaller terrestrial forms.

In addition to a general colour resemblance to that of the environment, there may well have been changes in coloration during various stages of the life history. Some extinct reptiles would have been endowed with disruptive coloration which drew attention away from their shape and thus hindered recognition. Others, especially smaller ones, were probably aposematic as are coral snakes today, to advertise distasteful or dangerous characteristics. Alternatively, brightly coloured forms could have been mimics whose models were very conspicuous. Mimicry is very prevalent among coral snakes. Conspicuous colours in adults, especially males, might have had an epigamic or sexual function (Sect. 9.3.1). Indeed, all the functions of animal coloration that we see in the modern world must have been expressed in the colours of Mesozoic reptiles (Halstead and Halstead 1981; Lambert 1992). No attempt, however, has been made in most of the drawings that illustrate this book to guess about the colour patterns of the reptiles depicted. To do so might be more misleading than to depict them as they would have appeared had they been mainly monochromatic or self-coloured.

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