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What color were extinct proboscideans?

  • 01-10-2012 9:37pm
    Registered Users Posts: 5,279 ✭✭✭

    Hey guys, maybe you can help me out with this. I'm currently working on a series of paintings (If Im lucky they go to a museum) and the subject is an extinct proboscidean, so I've been thinking a lot of proboscidean skin color.
    So I've been wondering, would it be far fetched to assume that extinct elephants and kin would possibly present other colors, perhaps reddish, or brown, or even perhaps (although it seems harder to imagine) blotches or patterns of other colors, maybe white? Would it look very weird to have an extinct proboscidean (not precisely an elephant in this case) have more diverse colors, maybe similar to these?:




    Now, I know these animals are not related to elephants and that today, an elephant painted like this would look bizarre, but then, these animals live in habitats similar to those where ancient proboscideans lived, and there were so many species of them that I somehow don´t believe all of them were just grey, unless of course there's an actual major reason for elephants to be grey. I remember reading about how the grey skin kept a balance between the heat radiated from the body and the heat absorbed, thus helping regulate the body temperature better, but I don´t know if there are other reasons. Some say they don´t need bright colors because they are color blind, but this doesn´t seem to be the case, as I also remember reading about elephants attacking people clad in red because they associate red with Masai hunters- they don´t seem to see red the same way we do but they can´t be completely color blind either.

    So my question is, do you think there's another reason why elephants are grey other than temperature control? Is there a possibility that extinct elephants or elephant-like creatures (mastodons, gomphotheres, etc) had more colorful skins? If so, what would you say the range of color would be?

    PS- No pink elephant jokes, plz.

    PS- This could be an equally interesting thread if we switched the elephants for sauropods which most people depicts now in bright colors...


  • Registered Users Posts: 30,746 ✭✭✭✭Galvasean

    I see no reason why you couldn't give a prehistoric elephant relative a different skin colour/pattern. If anything it would highlight that they are different to modern elephants. Museum exhibits with unusually coloured elephant like creatures would surely catch the ye of visitors more so than regular looking ones.

  • Registered Users Posts: 8,551 ✭✭✭Rubecula

    I can't see any reason to suppose all beasts were big and grey. We know mammoths had reddish hair for example. I see no reason to exclude albinos, or elephants with a stripey bum. We simply do not know what colours many creatures were as colour doesn't fossilise.

    I would avoid green though as that seems to equate more to birds and reptiles, I can't think of a single mammal that has a green colouration.

  • Registered Users Posts: 30,746 ✭✭✭✭Galvasean

    Rubecula wrote: »
    I would avoid green though as that seems to equate more to birds and reptiles, I can't think of a single mammal that has a green colouration.

    Some tree sloths are green because the rainforest they like in is so moist (and they are so inactive) that algae start living in their hair en masse making it turn green. I wouldn't project something like that on an elephant mind you.


  • Registered Users Posts: 8,551 ✭✭✭Rubecula

    A rolling pachyderm gathers no moss?

    The thought of a moss covered Elephant hiding up a tree ready to pounce on an unsuspecting leaf shows just how far my mind has gone .. :pac:

    Yep I knew about the sloth and algae/moss thing. Not actually a green mammal though. I seriously doubt there ever has been a green mammal. Fish, birds reptiles, amphibians, insects and so on all have green possibilities. Just no mammals. And it has me wondering why now.

  • Registered Users Posts: 714 ✭✭✭Ziphius

    Hey Adam,

    Best of luck with this. My advice would be to think about the habitat and ecology of the animals you are painting. Would they need camoflage? What kind of predators would they have? Did they live in groups?

    If they are large elphant-like creatures I imagine that dull grey/brown would be the most accurate. However, if they were smaller, horse or pig sized forest dwellers a more flamboyant colour scheme could be suitable. Blotches, stripes, countershading et cetera would all be expected.

    I'd stick with the colours you've shown above, creams, browns, russets, greys, and blacks. As mammals typically do not signal via colour I'd steer away from bright showy blues, greens, and reds. Primates, of course, are the exception that proves the rule. They display some quite unusual colours.

    While mammals coats are typically more conservative than reptiles and birds, as the pictures you've posted above show, they don't have to be boring.

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  • Moderators, Recreation & Hobbies Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators, Technology & Internet Moderators Posts: 91,622 Mod ✭✭✭✭Capt'n Midnight

    Rubecula wrote: »
    A rolling pachyderm gathers no moss

    as for the colour look at convergent evolution to see if there was a trend with similar inhabitants, make not of what type of vegetation was present

    also what type of potential predators were around ( more of a general tip ) and did they have colour vision

    double check records of colours of mammoth skin

  • Registered Users Posts: 5,279 ✭✭✭Adam Khor

    Hey guys!

    Thank you all for your replies! :> I'm following all of your advice. This particular species lived in forested areas and did coexist with some fearsome predators so I guess I'm going for a cryptic coloration, but I'm determined to make it look distinct from elephants. :>

    As for other green mammals of today, don´t forget the green ringtail possum:

    Some species of agouti:



    And the very rare and poorly known Allen's swamp monkey (which I think beats the vervet or "green monkey" when it comes to, well, green-ness):




  • Moderators, Recreation & Hobbies Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators, Technology & Internet Moderators Posts: 91,622 Mod ✭✭✭✭Capt'n Midnight

    they have mammoth DNA so it's possible that some genes for colour may be identified.