Popular interest in dinosaurs and other Mesozoic reptiles began during the third decade of the 19th century, and has increased continually since that time. In 1841, the name Dinosauria ('terrible lizards') was proposed by Richard Owen at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held in Plymouth; it first appeared in print the following year. During subsequent decades, both scientific and popular interest were extended to pterosaurs, mosasaurs, ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. Mesozoic reptiles, especially dinosaurs, likewise earned their place in science fiction, films and comic strips. It is no coincidence that both my wife and I were thrilled especially by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1912) whilst at school. Anne even read it by the flickering light of a coal fire whilst in the sanatorium quarantined for chickenpox! Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan, and numerous other authors wrote stories about dinosaurs during the first part of the 20th Century, whilst they appeared in many early films, notably The Lost World (1925) and King Kong (1933).
My own interest in Mesozoic reptiles was awakened at the age of 6 or 7 when my parents first took me to the Natural History Museum, London. I was astonished by their wondrous size and the sobering thought that they had all disappeared from the face of the earth some 65 million years ago. When we got home I asked my father, What "What if there was a dinosaur buried underneath our house?" I never forgot his reply, "Then the house would have to be pulled down to get it out." As I grew older, the mystery of dinosaur extinction intrigued me more and more. On my return to Cambridge after World War II, despite a very busy timetable and knowing that I would not attempt to answer any questions on vertebrate palaeontology in the Natural Science Tripos Part 2 exam, I nevertheless attended F.R. Parrington's lectures, as did Alan Charig. Indeed, the Cretaceous extinction did not impinge upon my own fields of research for 30 years. By that time, a number of clues had been provided that helped to explain the mystery . They came not only from palaeontological and geological studies, but also from research on the physiology and ecology of extant reptiles.
In the present volume, I have attempted to provide a not unbiased synthesis of current views regarding the ecology, physiology and behaviour of Mesozoic reptiles, and to outline the various hypotheses that have been proposed to explain their extinction.
London, Autumn 2004
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