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Swimming capabilities of Mesozoic marine reptiles: implications for method of predation

  • Judy A. Massare (a1)

Body shape and mode of swimming were major factors that affected the swimming capabilities of Mesozoic marine reptiles. By estimating the total drag and the amount of energy available through metabolism, the maximum sustained swimming speed was calculated for 115 marine reptile specimens. Calculated sustained swimming speeds range from 1.8 to 2.7 m/sec, but are probably too high by as much as a factor of two. Mesozoic marine reptiles were probably much slower than modern toothed whales. The diversification of fast, agile teleost fish in the Cretaceous may have therefore contributed to the decline of the marine reptiles.

Long-bodied reptiles appear to have had slower sustained swimming speeds than deep-bodied forms of the same length. For a given length, ichthyosaurs were probably faster sustained swimmers than plesiosaurs, and plesiosaurs were probably faster sustained swimmers than crocodiles and mosasaurs. This suggests that the long-bodied forms probably used an ambush technique to capture prey, to maximize the range of possible prey and to minimize competition with the faster pursuit predators.

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