STL Science Center

STL Science Center

05 November 2011

Stripes and Spots in A Blur

Today I wanted to focus on the camouflage schemes usually assigned to animals like Ornithomimus. We have seen the general shape of the bird mimics when we looked into Gallimimus and, to be perfectly honest, nature did not mess up a good thing between Gallimimus and Ornithomimus; it worked and nature stuck with it as the species evolved into what we now recognize as each animal and that is quite all right with me. Really in its simplicity the body shape and tuning of the bird mimics is quite beautiful because it produced a large but sleek and speedy runner with balance and power that, I'm just betting here, had good fine motor skills as well once it stopped in what appear to be fairly dextrous hands.

Anyhow, enough about that, bring on the markings! I'm starting with the black and white image because, for one, it's a fantastically well drawn dinosaur. Two, the markings we see are quite typical of dinosaurs of any kind here. I don't want to say that the illustrator, a very nice young lady from Germany, has done a half thought out job because she gave the animal typical markings when, in fact, this drawing is wonderful, so please do not misinterpret. I use this drawing as our baseline merely because it is what we come to expect in dinosaur camouflage from years and years of seeing this marking set of camo on animal after animal in both professional and amateur illustration and this piece just happens to be one of the best drawn examples and I like it quite a bit on that account. The first picture, above in the opening paragraph, is by a totally different artist, who I cannot find the name of, of course, but is basically a color version of our friend's illustration here.

©Keiji Terakoshi

The other type of marking we see an awful lot of in dinosaur illustration is the one to two color solid setting of white abdomens and green to brown backs. Again, there is nothing wrong with this form of markings on the dinosaurs, especially since we have no idea what the colorings of all dinosaurs were and this is certainly a plausible interpretation given that not all living species today have extremely intricate camouflage and they seem to do just fine without it. The minimalist approach may even have been the simplest form for nature to take and succeed with, which means, for all that we know, that this may have been a very successful and prominent color scheme in the Late Cretaceous when Ornithomimus was roaming the plains and forests. Either way, though, this color scheme is still very effective and looks very presentable on our dinosaurs here.

As the sun goes down I hide expertly!(?)
The next color scheme I found on representative illustrations of Ornithomimus was this horizontal stripe version which, I must admit I am fairly intrigued by because I would not have thought about an animal like Ornithomimus having such a color scheme. Typically when I think of horizontal stripe I think of skunks and on those crazy polecats that serves more as a warning of what the skunk is than it does as a camouflage, though admittedly we know it does serve both purposes to an extent. The stripes here in the first image are not exactly stripes, more like bands of horizontal color, but the same purpose is served as bands as there would be in linear and parallel stripes, so I see them as the same idea.
I look like a caracal domestic mix, the coolest of cats,
or a fawn... caracal sounds better
The purples and reds make me wonder what sort of flora the dinosaur would be hiding in or, perhaps, it is more supposed to appear as a trick to blend in with the setting sun. Could it be that in this illustrator's mind the dinosaur was hunted by a predator who emerged for nocturnal hunts around sunset and thus the color scheme needed to match the sky in the setting sun because that was the time when both animals were active at the same time the most? An interesting theory, but could it be proven? Sadly I think not, not without some form of time machine anyhow. The second image has more of the striping, or banding if we want to be accurate I suppose, but this camouflage is definitely more geared toward a life of hiding in and around trees and the edges of forest like a deer. Nothing wrong with that at all and probably fairly accurate to the life style of Ornithomimus. I imagine that in searching for vegetation, bugs, potentially eggs, and maybe even small lizards to eat, the Ornithomimus probably spent a lot of time at the edge of the woods or, perhaps, just inside the woods but still close enough to open land to use its speed in escape.

Ahh, the postal service, such vivid colors.
I would never disagree with the need for the postal service (though some would but really, who wants to lose it and have to pay UPS and FedEx for all of our simple letter deliveries... or Netflix?) but I have to question their expertise in stamp production sometimes. Flashy dinosaurs are probably best for selling a stamp that costs 32¢ to begin with, but I am not sure at all what sort of landscape the illustrator, or inker perhaps, of the Ornithomimus stamp was thinking that this dinosaur would be standing in. Purple is okay for animal colorings and markings, in moderation or a purple rich environment (like our sunset idea above), but considering the background colors of this stamp are entirely green would Ornithomimus not have stood out like a giant yellow and purple Scooby Snack to every predator within eyesight? I just cannot endorse this color scheme with that background no matter how I try to level with it.

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