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Tetrapod Zoology


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Tet Zoo highlights 2006-2011, from a Tet Zoo superfan

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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As you read this, I’m away (at the annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting, in Las Vegas)*. As usual when I’m away, the plan is to have articles set to self-publish during my absence. And here’s one such article – but it’s an unusual one.

I have a fairly strict policy of not running guest articles. There are several reasons for this but, whatever, today I’m breaking the ‘no guest articles’ rule with a very special exception. Albertonykus – if that is his/her real name!!! – is a maniraptoran-obsessed Tet Zoo superfan who will likely need little introduction if you follow me on facebook, or are overly familiar with maniraptoran-based internet memes, cartoons, or in-jokes (yes, these things do exist). Quite recently, Albertonykus happened to mention that the tree-kangaroo article had become a favourite to “add to the list”. And thus an idea for gratuitous self-promotion was born.

How, I suggested, would Albertonykus like to pen a brief article on “my favourite Tet Zoo articles”? Given that reviews of past efforts, links to old articles and navel-gazing in general are all apparently good moves in blogging, here is the result…

* Actually, I’m now back, but didn’t have time to publish this article before leaving.

And thanks to Albertonykus for the time and effort involved in writing this.

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Those who specialize in actinopterygians or arthropods or bacteria will beg to differ, but one of the things I really like about Tet Zoo is the great diversity of taxa it covers. Even in a clade as “small” as Tetrapoda, there is always a lot to cover, and this blog does a superb job at doing so. As a result, I’ve tried to include posts on a wide variety of topics covering many different tetrapod clades in this list. Unfortunately, I am still a dinosaur enthusiast first and foremost (specifically, shock horror, of that overexposed, spotlight-stealing clade, the Maniraptora), and it clearly shows. For this I apologize profusely. Furthermore, there are multitudes of Tet Zoo posts that I would have liked to add to the list, but to avoid replicating essentially 80% of the Tet Zoo archives I really had to whittle things down to my absolute favorites, and of course during that process I tended to favor posts on my favorite clades.

Enthusiasts of other clades will no doubt come up with a vastly different list of favorite posts. Regardless, I hope that my list encompasses at least a small slice of the greatest Tet Zoo has offered thus far.

When Eagles Go Bad, (One More Time): The blog post that started it all (and its several addendum posts). Being about badass eagles killing large prey, they’re quite worthy of such a distinguished standing. Naturally, they are Tet Zoo classics.

A 6.6m long Malaysian python tries to swallow 29-yr-old Ee Heng Chun, 1995..

The Bear-eating Pythons of Borneo: Pythons. Eating. Bears. (And people.)

British Big Cats: How Good, Or Bad, is the Evidence?: A very interesting one (even for a Tet Zoo post), because I never knew how good the evidence for alien big cats was. And doing cryptozoology as an actual science is the coolest (and best) way to do it.

The Hands of Sauropods: Horseshoes, Spiky Columns, Stumps and Banana Shapes: I love paleo art tips like these, especially those coming from paleontologists themselves.

Why Azhdarchids Were Giant Storks (and the paper): This is where the giant-storks-of-doom azhdarchids we all know and love now came from. Clearly a Tet Zoo classic!

The Most Freaky of All Mammals: Rabbits: At its most basic, Tet Zoo does two big things. One is introduce us to tetrapods no one has ever heard of. The other is tell us how freaking weird tetrapods we all thought we knew really are.

Make That Ten Most ‘Beautifully Interesting’ Birds: Tet Zoo on ten awesome maniraptors and everything that makes them awesome.

Introducing the Plethodontids: Before I read Tet Zoo, I’d never heard of plethodontids, or at least had not paid much attention to them. I know Tet Zoo does this type of thing a lot, but I consider these posts the crowning examples, because they give me the feeling that any general audience book on similar subjects that doesn’t talk about plethodontids is incomplete. Re-evolving the larval stage? Insanely cool.

A Greater noctule pursues a Robin in this imaginative reconstruction, by D. Naish.

Greater Noctules: Specialist Predators of Migrating Passerines: Hypercarnivory in megadermatid bats is well known. Hypercarnivory in verpertilionids, less so.

What Killed the Stag Beetles?: Darren does a necropsy on some stag beetles to find out which tetrapod killed them.

Dinosaurs Come Out to Play: Playing behavior in Komodo dragons, turtles, and (of course) non-avian dinosaurs? Yes!

The War on Parasites: An Oviraptorosaur’s Eye View: Derived from a (lesser-known) behavior in extant coelurosaurs, here’s some interesting speculation on why lots of Mesozoic coelurosaurs have specialized front teeth.

Bucorvids: Post-Cretaceous Maniraptorans on the Savannah: The speculation about dinosauroids makes this a Tet Zoo classic. Ground hornbills are also notable in being the only Tet Zoo mascot (on the Tet Zoo logo) to not be part of a long series of posts (unless you count all the dinosauroid posts). See, that’s how awesome maniraptors are. They don’t even need a long series of posts to capture their full awesomeness (though it would help).

Bucorvus in flight.

Literally, Flying Lemurs (and Not Dermopterans): This is one of those Tet Zoo posts that go, “Yeah, you read that right. These animals do this thing that you never knew they could do.” In this case, (some) lemurs (might) fly (sort of).

Dinosauroids Revisited: Enough of that upright, frog-skinned, humanoid lizard monstrosity proposed in the 1980s. Darren and others set the record straight on dinosauroids.

That’s No Mystery Carnivore: A photograph of a mysterious, potentially new mammal was buzzing around on the Internet some years ago. It appeared to be a civet of some type, though the leaf that obscured most of its face didn’t help. But it’s (probably) not a civet, it’s not a continent-jumping lemur, it’s not a new species, it’s a…?

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Sloths: This has to be one of my favorite, favorite Tet Zoo posts of all time. Even if I had to whittle this list down to only maniraptor-related posts, I’d find some excuse to shoehorn this one in. Sloths are such interesting animals (for stinking synapsids, at least).

The Science of Godzilla (and Zilla), with update: Because it’s always fun to evaluate fiction with real science. Tet Zoo classic.

Dark Orgins: The Mysterious Evolution of Blood-feeding in Bats: I know we have all wondered at some point how sanguivory in bats evolved. Okay, even if we haven’t, the (possible) answer is interesting, and it all makes sense.

PVP: Predator vs. Predator: Who doesn’t like to discuss animal fights? Actually, I don’t, but this post isn’t about who’d win in a fight between two animals that have little chance of encountering one another in real life. It’s about a more natural behavior that is also far more interesting.

Nasobemes, among the best known rhinogradentians.

At Last, the Rhinograndentians: Everything you ever wanted to know about this unusual clade of tetrapods.

Cassowaries Kick Ass: The title really says it all.

Monster Hunting? Well, No. No.: Listen well, this is how cryptozoology is (or should be) done.

Axolotls on the EDGE!: I mentioned earlier that Tet Zoo is well known for two big things that it does, but there’s actually a third thing as well. There are some animals that all zoology enthusiasts have heard of but can only regurgitate the same old facts about them. Tet Zoo alleviates that, and here it does so with axolotls.

Amphisbaenians and the Origins of Mammals: We all thought that mammals were synapsids. Darren sets the record straight.

Atractaspis, the father of death.

Side-stabbing Stiletto Snakes: Any snakes that can stab their prey without opening their mouth deserve more recognition than they get. There’s some interesting stuff on autotomy in burrowing lepidosaurs as well.

What was the Montauk Monster?: Arguably Darren’s most famous identification of a mysterious corpse (among many). And it shows that the general public has no clue what dead animals look like. Tet Zoo classic.

Duiker, Rhymes with Biker: Omnivorous bovids? Sure, why not.

Sleep Behavior and Sleep Postures: Yet another interesting yet rarely publicized subject.

Alligators Eat Fruit: Yeah, you read that right.

Junk in the Trunk: Why Sauropod Dinosaurs Did Not Possess Trunks: Everyone remember this common meme from older dinosaur books? One of those “we’ll never know” kind of things? Well, we actually can know: it doesn’t really work.

Passerine Birds Fight Dirty, a la Velociraptor: Feathers are so easily damaged that dinosaurs which led a rough and tumble life wouldn’t have had… Wait, modern dinosaurs lead pretty rough lives, too, and they’re not too worried.

Diplodocids with raised (and lowered) necks, by Mark Witton.

Sauropod Dinosaurs Held Their Necks in High, Raised Postures: For a while it was suggested that most sauropods couldn’t raise their neck above their shoulders. After this post, there was much rejoicing.

Getting the Phrase ‘Shit Happens’ Into the Title of a Technical Publication: If the title alone doesn’t warrant the inclusion of this post, certainly the prospect of frogs and bats in elephant dung does.

The World’s Biggest Ever Fish: Time to Put Out the Trash: As themed blogs go, Tet Zoo is one of the best at staying on topic. So when it finally succumbs to something else, that has to be something really good. It is.

Peruvian tarantula walks over Dotted humming frog. Photo by Emanuele Biggi.

Tiny Frogs and Giant Spiders: The Best of Friends: I’d heard of this strange symbiosis before reading Tet Zoo, but this is the most in depth coverage I’ve ever read about it.

Publishing with a Hidden Agenda: Why Birds Simply Cannot Be Dinosaurs: Darren tends to let the cranks do as they please. But when he decides to reply, it’s always, always a good read. The only downside of this article is that I know that some people too lazy to read past the title will misinterpret (and have misinterpreted) Darren’s stance on the subject, but it’s their loss.

Overenthusiastic Swallowing (Parts I, II, III, IV, V, and VI): A roadrunner bursting its neck open trying to eat a horned lizard, a snake dying from swallowing a giant centipede, a perentie getting an echidna impaled in its mouth, herons choking on lampreys, a bearded dragon eating a large toy lizard (and surviving), and gulls eating just about anything. Need I say more?

The Tet Zoo Guide to the Creatures of Avatar: Another take on popular media from a scientific point of view.

May Two-toed Sloths Climb Into Your Latrine and Eat Your Feces and Urine, Because That’s the Sort of Thing They Do: Personally, I like to consider this “The Eleventh Thing You Didn’t Know About Sloths”. Some will find this disgusting, but it’s fascinating all the same. And it’s about sloths.

Grey whale photographed off Israel, 2010.

When GREY WHALES – You Know, From the PACIFIC OCEAN – Crossed the Atlantic: Transatlantic manatees are cool enough. This, though, is nothing short of incredible.

Floating giraffe model, by Don Henderson.

Testing the Flotation Dynamics and Swimming Abilities of Giraffes By Way of Computational Analysis: I’ve always wondered whether or not giraffes really couldn’t swim. No, I’m serious. And finally, here’s an answer.

Ptychozoon: The Geckos That Glide with Flaps and Fringes: Read about an experiment that involves chucking lepidosaurs off towers.

Amazing Waterfowl Facts (Parts I, II, III, and IV): Geese can poison you. That is all. (To be honest, I could probably write all these blurbs with [cool fact] + [That is all], but the risk of being over repetitive thwarts me.)

Clubs, Spurs, Spikes and Claws on the Hands of Birds: Sometimes a big deal is made about how hoatzins and many Mesozoic maniraptors have wing claws while most modern maniraptors don’t. Except when they do (along with weird spikes and clubs and things in many species). It’s wonderful to see this publicized.

Giant Cretaceous bivalve attacks azhdarchid pterosaur! This really happened. In my mind.

When Bivalves Attack: Unusual tetrapod deaths are covered fairly often on Tet Zoo, and these are some of my favorites: many birds feed on bivalves, but occasionally the bivalves get their own back.

Concavenator: An Incredible Allosauroid with a Weird Sail (Or Hump)… and Proto-feathers?: The online paleo community might not be quite as powerful as it likes to think it is. Regardless, sometimes it can be (or at least get pretty close). Since this post was popularized, I’ve yet to meet a single dinosaur enthusiast who didn’t at least mention the idea that the Concavenator “quill knobs” might represent an intermuscular line alongside the original quill knob interpretation. Now, someone needs to get this into the technical literature…

Possibly the First Ever Photos of a Live Bothrolycus ater. Or: A Test of How Much Information Exists on a Really Obscure Snake.: This post really exemplifies a central theme of Tet Zoo – no matter how obscure a tetrapod is, there’s still lots of (interesting) stuff to say about it.

Condors and Vultures: Their Postures, Their ‘Bald Heads’, and Their Sheer Ecological Importance: You know how we were always told that most vultures have bald heads? And that this is mainly to keep their heads clean? That’s wrong.

Tetrapod Zoology Book One is Here At Last: It’s the (first) Tet Zoo book! Self explanatory.

QUITE POSSIBLY THE BEST VIDEO I’VE EVER SEEN: Archosaurs vs. Mammals: See for yourself.

Lal the Chicken-eating Cow: We’ve had “carnivores” practicing herbivory, and now we have “herbivores” practicing carnivory.

Vespertilionids (Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII, XIX, and XX): This series is significant in that it is the first (and so far only) really long Tet Zoo series to actually be completed. It’s about vespertilionid bats, the second largest mammalian “family”. Being a comprehensive overview of a tetrapod clade that severely needs more attention? Cool, though standard for Tet Zoo. Covering all of the species in that clade? Awesome. But completing the series? Crowning Moment of Awesome.

Science Meets the Mokele-Mbembe: Brill et al. debunk several common myths among paleo enthusiasts today, including egg-laying sauropods, feathered dinosaurs, birds being dinosaurs, cladistics, and the theory of evolution.

The Sauropod Viviparity Meme: Excellent coverage of another one of those unusual dinosaur memes.

What Does It Feel Like To Get Bitten By a Ground Hornbill, I Hear You Ask?: Lots of interesting anecdotes on bird bites, and a bit on azhdarchids. This shouldn’t need to be said for most Tet Zoo articles, but remember to read the comments, too.

Naish encourages Bucorvus to bite. Naish gets bitten.

Hoatzins are No Longer Exclusively South American and Once Crossed an Ocean: New fossil hoatzins? Cool. Wait, fossil hoatzins from Africa? Beyond cool.

The ‘Tree Kangaroos Come First’ Hypothesis: We all know tree kangaroos are kangaroos that live in trees, but surely there’s more that needs to be said. As usual, Tet Zoo does not disappoint.

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And that brings us to the end. Thanks again, Albertonykus, for this nice refresher on five years of Tet Zoo. If anyone has any additional favourite articles that weren’t listed here, please feel free to mention them. It’s useful. Hey, there are some articles I shouldn’t have written, but let’s not mention them.

Darren Naish About the Author: Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist (affiliated with the University of Southampton, UK). He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at darrennaish.wordpress.com. He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at tetzoo.com!

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Follow on Twitter @TetZoo.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Yodelling Cyclist 9:36 pm 11/8/2011

    I should like to point out (to new readers) that some of the above articles were published on April the first…

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  2. 2. MikeTaylor 9:49 pm 11/8/2011

    What?! No mention for How to rot down dead bodies: the Tet Zoo body farm? Surely the single greatest Tet Zoo article of all time. Comment 6 is worth the price of admission alone.

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  3. 3. Dartian 6:14 am 11/9/2011

    I would have expected How do you masturbate an elephant? to get a mention too…

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  4. 4. Andreas Johansson 2:41 pm 11/9/2011

    Those who specialize in actinopterygians or arthropods or bacteria will beg to differ, but one of the things I really like about Tet Zoo is the great diversity of taxa it covers.

    It seems quite arguable that each of those three is more diverse than Tetrapoda …

    Plus, not a single post about ropens! Boo!

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  5. 5. Andrew O 8:54 pm 11/9/2011

    Heh, I’ve been on an Alien Big Cat kick all afternoon, thanks to the link to the v1 post on the subject up there. The email from Carl Buell that Darren posted in the comments- and in particular, the bit about vehicular fatalities in Florida panthers and their role in confirming a species’ presence in a given area- got me thinking about about the actual population dynamics of these creatures.

    Obviously, there are confounding factors to take into account- the geography of the ranges of the animals in question, the habits of the animals, the distribution of roads and human population density within the territory they occupy, and even culture-specific things such as general aggressiveness in driving or average traffic density at different times of day- but extrapolating from the Florida panther data (and any other sources of vehicle-related fatalities for known felid populations) it seems like you could come up with a population estimate for ABCs using encounter rates and/or road-related fatalities; at the very least, in the absence of road fatalities you could produce a likely upper bound on the number of individuals in a given area.

    Has anyone done so? Or estimated the population by other means? Based off of a completely unscientific eyeballing of the data, I’d guess an absolute maximum of maybe 150 individuals across Great Britain, and almost certainly closer to half or a third of that number, if not less. (At least, as far as large cats such as Puma and various Panthera species go. I’m not even going to try estimating numbers for morphologically distinct populations of small cats with non-native ancestry, but they’re probably similarly small.)

    On another note, there’s probably some (very indirect) evidence about their likely population history that can be gleaned from a look at trends in the history of the import, breeding, and keeping of big cats in the British Isles- How have social attitudes, knowledge of cat behavior, and technological development shaped the likelihood of a captive animal’s escaping?* how has the captive cat population- and its rate of growth- changed over time?

    [* There's a really interesting History of Science aspect to this, too, in that the tradition of importing such cats ties into the traditions that lead- through the private menageries of prominent individuals and the related tradition of the display of exotic animals as curiosities in travelling shows- to the modern natural history museum and the paradigm of the zoo as a center of research and conservation on the one hand, and to the idea of the zoo, game farm, or travelling circus as a privately-owned business venture and source of public entertainment on the other.]

    Is there any data, for example, backing up the frequent claim that the Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976 was accompanied by a surge of released animals ahead of the licensing restrictions it imposed? If there is, then few, if any, of the individuals that were introduced to the wild during that surge can possibly remain. If they bred, the majority of the first wild-born generation stemming from those animals are probably dead as well, and there could easily be animals with four or five generations of wild-born ancestors out there- and probably more, if we take this surge to have merely augmented breeding populations established by animals introduced earlier, perhaps escapees from private owners taking part increasing trend of private ownership of exotic animals throughout the 60′s and 70′s that the act seems to have been a response to, or from traveling circuses or the collections of exotic animals that seem to have been so popular amongst the wealthy of the 18th and 19th century.

    Whenever they were established, any wild breeding population is going to be supplemented by a fluctuating trickle of formerly-captive animals; and if the population is as small as it seems likely to be, even one introduction every few years could amount to a significant contribution to the population- which raises the question of how sustainable a the wild populations would be without such an influx.

    And it goes without saying that regardless of how you feel about the possibility of unrecognized native species, any ABCs in Britain represent a variety of large and small cats of various origins rather than anything like a uniform population. It’s pretty much inevitable that there will be a certain amount of interbreeding between individuals of diverse ancestries in that sort of situation, and it’d be interesting to speculate how this would play out:

    - Of the smaller cats, which species are likely to hybridize and form new lineages, which are likely to die out, which are likely to survive while remaining reproductively isolated due to genetic or behavioral factors, and which are likely to be subsumed into existing wildcat, feral domestic, or kellas populations?

    - Regarding the larger cats- pumas and pantherines- what are their prospects for remaining a part of the British ecosystem in the long term, given that they are perhaps more easily distinguishable from native species by humans, are perceived (rightly or wrongly) as greater threats to people, pets, and livestock, and, being less likely to produce fertile hybrids with other native or introduced felines, are perhaps more susceptible to inbreeding depression given how tiny a population we look to be dealing with?

    On a different note, I’ve got to mention that somewhere in all of this I was reminded of the case of the ‘ghost cow’ of Griggstown, New Jersey ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Griggstown_cow ). It makes for an interesting case study in the impact a single individual of a large, unexpected species can have on a human population: the animal was frequently sighted over a period of several decades and entered local folklore, but left no recognized physical traces until it got itself stuck in a ditch and had to be rescued (and, sadly, euthanised shortly thereafter due to its advanced age and poor health).

    … and I was supposed to be getting a head start on a couple of term papers right now, not speculating on the biodiversity of cryptids in relation to the history of zookeeping and animal control legislation in the UK. Thanks,, Darren and Albertonykus. Thanks a whole bunch. :P

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  6. 6. albertonykus 4:17 am 11/10/2011

    Hi everyone! It was an immense honor for me to do this guest post for Tet Zoo. Registered to make a few replies.

    Re you forgot all these awesome articles:
    I’m thinking/hoping that the somewhat disapproving tone in some of these comments are at least partly tongue in cheek. Just in case though, I’ll reiterate my disclaimer that this is by no means an exhaustive list. I knew from the start there would likely be some fantastic posts I’d miss while perusing the archives. There are almost certainly also some articles that I don’t consider extremely outstanding (by Tet Zoo standards) while others do, and vice versa.

    Of course, if you really don’t like my list and can hardly agree with any of it, that’s fine too. Such a list is inherently subjective.

    Re diversity of actinopterygians et al.:
    The greater diversity of these groups compared to Tetrapoda is not necessarily a view I hold. To be honest that was just a token opening remark I decided to make. Though it does beg the question, how is/should diversity of a clade measured?

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  7. 7. Dartian 4:59 am 11/10/2011

    Albertonykus:
    I’m thinking/hoping that the somewhat disapproving tone in some of these comments are at least partly tongue in cheek.

    My comment, at least, was made tongue fully in cheek. ;)

    Seriously speaking: my personal all-time favourite Tet Zoo article is probably the one about the Montauk ‘monster’. That was a brilliant piece through and through.

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  8. 8. albertonykus 8:59 am 11/10/2011

    Dartian:
    My comment, at least, was made tongue fully in cheek.

    Thought so, but good to know! Was just being a little paranoid back there. It’s actually fun to see which posts I forgot about or overlooked.

    (This thing needs a comment preview.)

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  9. 9. Spugpow 10:40 am 11/10/2011

    In terms of morphological diversity, my gut feeling is that tetrapoda wins over the bony fish. Then again, do we have anything as divergent as a syngnathid?

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  10. 10. naishd 10:48 am 11/10/2011

    Remember that diversity is not the same thing as disparity. Tetrapoda probably wins in terms of disparity – what with snakes, ostriches, whales and box turtles – but do they win in terms of species diversity? Not sure. There are about 25,000 extant actinopts vs about 30,000 extant tetrapods. Remember also that ‘actinopterygian’ is not synonymous with ‘bony fish’.

    Darren

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  11. 11. John Harshman 11:53 am 11/10/2011

    Then again, it seems fairly likely that the proportion of undescribed actinopterygians is greater than the proportion of undescribed tetrapods. And outside of tetrapods, there are only 4 or 5 species of living, non-actinopterygian bony fish.

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  12. 12. Andreas Johansson 12:56 pm 11/10/2011

    albertonykus wrote:
    The greater diversity of these groups compared to Tetrapoda is not necessarily a view I hold. To be honest that was just a token opening remark I decided to make. Though it does beg the question, how is/should diversity of a clade measured?

    That’s why I wrote “arguable”. By species count actinopterygians may eventually beat tetrapods, but, despite some freaks, overall disparity seems obviously lower. WRT bacteria, species count seems a dubious concept, and disparity not much better – tetrapodan disparity is mostly in things that bacteria simply don’t have, while tetrapods are all much the same biochemically speaking.

    It seems “obvious” to me however that arthropods handily beat tetrapods on both diversity and disparity.

    (Oh, and my “Boo!” was very much tongue in cheek.)

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  13. 13. Christopher Taylor 8:23 pm 11/10/2011

    It’s a difficult thing to actually measure, but I’d say that when it comes to disparity, actinopterygians beat tetrapods hands down. No tetrapod makes a living as an internal parasite (unlike the parasitic eel Simenchelys). No tetrapod has males that attach themselves to the females and degenerate into little more than undifferentiated bags of sperm (unlike ceratioid anglers). Indeed, actinopterygians exhibit a kaleidoscope of reproductive strategies unmatched by tetrapods. Not to mention that, with the possible exception of anurans, no tetrapods undergo the degree of metamorphosis during growth that most actinopterygians do. Then there are monognathid eels, boxfish, ocean sunfish, oarfish, fangtooths, spookfish, four-eyed fish (and not just Anableps with their
    divided lens, but marine species with an actual second pair of eyes), flatfish (some of which have colour-changing abilities rivalled only by cephalopods)…

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  14. 14. naishd 8:34 pm 11/10/2011

    Oh yeah :)

    No tetrapod makes a living as an internal parasite

    Rhinogradentians excepted.

    Darren

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  15. 15. Cameron McCormick 9:23 pm 11/10/2011

    I don’t think actinopterygians are getting enough credit here. Flatfishes (Pleuronectiformes) exhibit the most extreme asymmetry in vertebrates and are far from one-off freaks with over 700 species (as of 2005′s Flatfishes: biology and exploitation). Syngnathids (mentioned by Spugpow) are also very successful with over 300 species and not only exhibit the unique trait of male pregnancy (which isn’t just egg carrying) but also bizarre posture in seahorses and dermal appendages/processes in various taxa. There are probably over 1000 species of loricariids and they range from looking like generic characins (Otocinclus), to pipefish (Farlowella), and beyond. There is of course a vast array of surreal deep sea fishes of which cetomimids are arguably the strangest for having three different bizarre forms, thanks to an unprecedented combination of ontogenetic transformation and sexual dimorphism.

    I can see how one could get the impression that ray-finned fishes are largely conservative (this seems true of most ‘familiar’ species), but this really doesn’t seem to be the case. Fishbase is perpetually shocking me with forms that strain belief.

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  16. 16. Christopher Taylor 3:02 am 11/11/2011

    Rhinogradentians excepted.

    A completely unfounded assertion. The supposed ‘parasitic rhinogradentians’ are highly derived parasitic forms with no distinguishing features whatsoever, and their describers maliciously omitted to note that all highly derived parasites with no distinguishing features must be identified as crustaceans. It’s the law.

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  17. 17. Dartian 3:56 am 11/11/2011

    Darren:
    There are about 25,000 extant actinopts vs about 30,000 extant tetrapods.

    Actually, as of August 2011, FishBase lists a total of 32,100 species of ‘fish’. (In that number are included chondrichthyans, lampreys and hagfish, but those clades together only comprise fewer than 1,500 species.) So the respective numbers of species, as they currently stand, are pretty even.

    John:
    outside of tetrapods, there are only 4 or 5 species of living, non-actinopterygian bony fish

    There are at least eight: the Australian lungfish, the South American lungfish, four species of African lungfish (two of which are further divided into subspecies, which may or may not be promoted to full species eventually), and two species of coelacanth. As for the coelacanths, a recent paper (Nikaido et al., 2011) suggested that some of coelacanth populations in the western Indian Ocean are reproductively isolated from each other; thus, extant coelacanth taxonomy has surely not yet been settled.

    Reference:
    Nikaido, M., Sasaki, T., Emerson, J.J., Aibara, M., Mzighani, S.I., Budeba, Y.L., Ngatunga, B.P., Iwata, M., Abe, Y., Li, W.-H. & Okada, N. 2011. Genetically distinct coelacanth population off the northern Tanzanian coast. PNAS 108, 18009-18013.

    Andreas:
    [actinopterygian] overall disparity seems obviously lower

    As pointed out by Christopher and Cameron, I don’t think that’s so obvious at all – even if we only consider the morphological disparity/diversity (as opposed to other kinds of disparity/diversity; Takifugu pufferfish genome size, anyone?).

    Christopher:
    No tetrapod has males that attach themselves to the females and degenerate

    Actually, some Homo sapiens males have done exactly that. Or so I’ve heard.

    Link to this
  18. 18. Spugpow 1:55 pm 11/11/2011

    Don’t forget the Barreleye family.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zoygy-8PTtU

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barreleye

    Link to this
  19. 19. David Marjanović 10:13 am 11/12/2011

    four-eyed fish (and not just Anableps with their divided lens, but marine species with an actual second pair of eyes)

    WTF! Link, please!

    Link to this
  20. 20. Spugpow 4:19 pm 11/12/2011

    Here’s a scientific paper overviewing several “four-eyed” fish, and a gallery containing images of two such species.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11797302

    http://www.nature.com/news/specials/darwin/gallery/index.html

    Link to this
  21. 21. Christopher Taylor 9:54 pm 11/12/2011

    Don’t forget the Barreleye family.

    I didn’t: those are the same as spookfish. Thanks for the Nature gallery link; Bathylychnops was the one that I had in mind.

    Link to this
  22. 22. BilBy 6:07 pm 11/13/2011

    Let’s not forget the article ‘traumatic anal intercourse with a pig’ – if Darren was after more hits and comments I think he got more than he expected. The denizens of the dark and damp corners of the internet cellar came out for that one.

    Link to this

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