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A tongue-wrestling interlude, from the azhdarchids

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


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I’d like to talk to you about the recently announced ‘Yeti DNA’ discovery just featured on British television; I’d like to talk to you about tail feathers in Cretaceous maniraptoran dinosaurs (O’Connor et al. 2013), about the weird new Miocene pseudo-otter Teruelictis (Salesa et al. 2013), about the spectacular new leaf-tailed gecko Saltuarius eximius (Hoskin & Couper 2013), about the new taxonomic arrangement for beaded lizards (Reiserer et al. 2013), about frugivory in crocodylians (Platt et al. 2013), about the new Wallacean rodent Halmaheramys (Fabre et al. 2013), and about ecological partitioning between big cat species (Lovari et al. 2013). I’d like to finish that massive backlog of over-due book reviews I have on the go…

Tongue-wrestling Quetzalcoatlus pair, by Bob Nicholls, used with permission.

But, I can’t. I just can’t find the time. So, here’s a wonderful sketch kindly provided by Bob Nicholls (of paleocreations.com), showing two male azhdarchids indulging in a novel form of sexual combat termed Tongue Wrestling. Bob produced the image at the recent SVPCA conference in Edinburgh and I’m pleased to say that I own the original. It will be framed and added to the Art Gallery wing of Tet Zoo Towers. I’ll be talking about azhdarchids (again) soon, since Mark Witton and I have a new paper due out soonish on that very group.

Alas, an epic workload has prevented me from blogging much lately: this is only the fifth Tet Zoo article published this month. It’s very frustrating. The near-silence will continue for a while, since I’m about to disappear for the SVP meeting in Los Angeles. Good news, though: we at Irregular Books are pretty much done on the Cryptozoologicon and it’s on schedule (I think). What about those other projects? Ah.

Oh, and – - remember the Teenage Mutant Ninja Temnospondyls, by Henrik Petersson? Henrik has done it again, this time with a lean, mean, fighting team of Teenage Mutant Ninja Tetrapods, featuring those Tet Zoo stalwarts caecilians, ground hornbills, babirusas, and matamatas. Awesome! Thank you, Henrik!

Henrik's TMNT team: a suitably censored babirusa Leonardo (being a "teen", his tusks aren't very curved yet); a caecilian Donatello, a ground hornbill Rafael, and a matamata Michelangelo.

Refs – -

Fabre, P.-H., Pagès, M., Musser, G. G., Fitriana, Y. S., Fjeldsa, J., Jennings, A., Jonsson, K. A., Kennedy, J., Michaux, J., Semiadi, G., Supriatna, N. & Helgen, K. M. 2013. A new genus of rodent from Wallacea (Rodentia: Muridae: Murinae: Rattini), and its implication for biogeography and Indo-Pacific Rattini systematics. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 169, 408-447.

Hoskin, C. J. & Couper, P. 2013.  A spectacular new leaf-tailed gecko (Carphodactylidae: Saltuarius) from the Melville Range, north-east Australia. Zootaxa 3717, 543-558.

Lovari, S., Minder, I., Ferretti, F., Mucci, N., Randi, E. & Pellizzi, B. 2013. Common and snow leopards share prey, but not habitats: competition avoidance by large predators? Journal of Zoology 291, 127-135.

O’Connor, J., Wang, X., Sullivan, C., Zheng, X., Tubaro,P., Zhang, X. & Zhou, Z. 2013. Unique caudal plumage of Jeholornis and complex tail evolution in early birds. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 10.1073/pnas.1316979110

Platt, S. G., Elsey, R. M., Liu, H., Rainwater, T. R., Nifong, J. C., Rosenblatt, A. E., Heithaus, M. R. & Mazzotti, F. J. 2013. Frugivory and seed dispersal by crocodilians: an overlooked form of saurochory? Journal of Zoology 291, 87-99.

Reiserer, R. S., Schuett, G. W. & Beck, D. D. 2013. Taxonomic reassessment and conservation status of the beaded lizard, Heloderma horridum (Squamata: Helodermatidae). Amphibian & Reptile Conservation 7, 74-96.

Salesa, M. J., Antón, M., Siliceo, G., Pesquero, M. D., Morales, J. & Alcalá, L. 2013. A non-aquatic otter (Mammalia, Carnivora, Mustelidae) from the Late Miocene (Vallesian, MN 10) of La Roma 2 (Alfambra, Teruel, Spain): systematics and functional anatomy. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 169, 448-482.

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! 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. Jerzy v. 3.0. 10:33 am 10/22/2013

    Did pterosaurs have a tongue? Any hyoid bone fossils? Storks and hornbills have reduced tongues and must toss food into the air before swallowing.

    Link to this
  2. 2. naishd 10:43 am 10/22/2013

    Jerzy – that’s not quite right, both herons and storks actually have long, slender tongues (sometimes seen protruding when they swallow or preen). I certainly wouldn’t expect azhdarchids to have thick, muscular tongues on this basis. I don’t think hyoids are known for azhdarchids, though they certainly are for other pterosaurs.

    By the way, this is a good example of how palaeoart can lead us to ask interesting questions that we might not have thought about before.

    Darren

    Link to this
  3. 3. Hai~Ren 12:35 pm 10/22/2013

    Haven’t been able to find any images of hornbill or stork tongues, but there are quite a few images of heron tongues. Here’s a couple I found on Flickr:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mykreeve/6218118083/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/dangler/9526059518/

    Link to this
  4. 4. Hai~Ren 12:37 pm 10/22/2013

    Wait, found an image of a hornbill’s tongue (Buceros hydrocorax). The tongue is not involved in feeding, which makes me wonder if it serves any other function.
    http://neurodojo.blogspot.sg/2010/02/i-have-big-beak-and-small-tongue.html

    Link to this
  5. 5. naishd 12:40 pm 10/22/2013

    Told ya.

    Darren

    Link to this
  6. 6. David Marjanović 12:42 pm 10/22/2013

    Tongues are close to universal among tetrapods. So are hyoids (gill arches), but the extents to which they ossify vary a lot.

    Raffaello’s wing feathers go to far up his upper arms. :-(

    Link to this
  7. 7. David Marjanović 12:46 pm 10/22/2013

    Wow. Heron tongues are seriously weird.

    Link to this
  8. 8. BrianL 1:41 pm 10/22/2013

    So, what can we infer about tongues in non-avian dinosaurs? Also, would pangolins, anteaters or echidnas have the longest tongues (proportionally) among mammals? Do blue whales hold the record for the longest tongue in absolute terms? What species would hold those records among birds? How about the shortest tongues in mammals and birds? Do caecilians have tongues? Are any tetrapods tongue-less anyway? Why did projectile tongues not evolve among endotherms? How do the tongues of humans compare to those of other apes? What creatures have the strongest tongues, relatively speaking? Do long tongues evolve before, after or synchronously with tooth loss and elongated jaws in myrmecophagous mammals? How did tongues evolve anyway? What species likely has the most developed sense of taste?

    Such a load of tetrapod tongue related questions should keep the comments coming in for a while, I hope. :)

    Link to this
  9. 9. Dartian 2:35 pm 10/22/2013

    Darren:
    the recent SVPCA conference

    But the text on the picture would seem to say SUPCA…?

    Brian:
    So, what can we infer about tongues in non-avian dinosaurs?

    That they probably had them.

    Also, would pangolins, anteaters or echidnas have the longest tongues (proportionally) among mammals?

    Anteaters, probably.

    Do blue whales hold the record for the longest tongue in absolute terms?

    Probably.

    What species would hold those records among birds?

    Woodpeckers, probably.

    How about the shortest tongues in mammals and birds?

    No idea.

    Do caecilians have tongues?

    AFAIK, yes.

    Are any tetrapods tongue-less anyway?

    AFAIK, no.

    Why did projectile tongues not evolve among endotherms?

    Define “projectile”. (Woodpeckers, for instance, would seem to have one.)

    How do the tongues of humans compare to those of other apes?

    Favourably.

    What creatures have the strongest tongues, relatively speaking?

    No idea.

    Do long tongues evolve before, after or synchronously with tooth loss and elongated jaws in myrmecophagous mammals?

    After tooth reduction but before tooth loss. See: “aardwolf, dentition of”.

    How did tongues evolve anyway?

    Gradually.

    What species likely has the most developed sense of taste?

    What do you mean by “most developed”? Acuity or sensitivity?

    There, that was was easy. ;)

    Link to this
  10. 10. naishd 2:42 pm 10/22/2013

    BrianL – great questions on a fascinating topic. A few quick thoughts and answers…

    – woodpeckers are the longest-tongued birds, the tongue looping up behind and around the eye and rooting at the base of the bill in the longest-tongued taxa. Wrynecks are classic ‘intermediate’ taxa, possessing the specialised long, flexible tongue but lacking a bill suitable for an excavating habit. Might this mean that long tongues evolve before elongate rostra do?
    – Caecilians do indeed have tongues: short, relatively inflexible ones. Combined with the tongue form of (most) salamanders and non-neobatrachian anurans, it seems that the ancestral form of the lissamphibian tongue is a short, scarely mobile disc.
    – Tongueless: a bunch of anurans lack tongues, hence the old name Aglossa formerly used for pipids etc.
    – humans and other hominids: the short faces of humans compared to other primates might mean that we have shorter tongues. Look at the sections here at Tet Zoo ver 2.

    I’ll keep an eye on comments, more later.

    Darren

    Link to this
  11. 11. Jerzy v. 3.0. 2:51 pm 10/22/2013

    Well, what you mean be long/reduced. Short and weak compared to the bill length.

    Btw, did pterosaurs have a bill pouch, and did they keep it in shape like that?
    http://jrcompton.com/photos/The_Birds/J/Pelican-Beak-Weirdness.html

    Link to this
  12. 12. Dartian 2:52 pm 10/22/2013

    Darren:
    the short faces of humans compared to other primates might mean that we have shorter tongues

    Ours are probably broader (at least relatively speaking) though. And AFAIK, our taste bud diversity isn’t inferior to that of other apes (if anything, the opposite might be the case).

    Link to this
  13. 13. CS Shelton 5:33 pm 10/22/2013

    Off the tongues, I was googling the things Darren mentioned in the post and in “related searches” saw Diabloceratops. Like many ceratopsians, artists like putting fake eyes up on the frill, which I think they intend to be for sexual display.

    Anyhoo, it occurred to me that the frill combined with the rest of the head had a similar shape to large theropod skulls, and I was wondering if there was a chance some ceratopsians were mimicking the general look of dominant predators to scare off other animals.

    As for heron tongues, OOOOOOMMMMMMMFFFFFFFFGGGGGGG yuck.
    XD

    Link to this
  14. 14. Tayo Bethel 11:02 pm 10/22/2013

    Do all birds have a reduced sense of taste? Slightly off topic–what about the sense of smell in avians?

    Link to this
  15. 15. JoseD 1:00 am 10/23/2013

    BrianL: “So, what can we infer about tongues in non-avian dinosaurs?”

    The following quote is all I know of when it comes to tongues & taste in non-avian dinos.

    Quoting Gardom/Milner ( http://www.amazon.com/Natural-History-Museum-Book-Dinosaurs/dp/184442183X/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1358375235&sr=1-4 ): “The senses of taste and smell are closely linked in all animals, being controlled by the same part of the brain. They are used by hunters and hunted to keep track of each other, by some plant-eaters to discriminate between attractive and unsuitable food and, in many species, as part of the mating process. It is hard to believe that the big meat-eaters like Allosaurus did much tasting of the meat they bolted down their huge throats. Their tongues were probably simple and rough, designed to position chunks of meat for swallowing as fast as possible. Plant-eaters, particularly those that chewed their food, would have needed more mobile tongues to move the wads of vegetation to the correct position for chopping and grinding. One of the very rare fossil brains that has been preserved, that of an Iguanodon, shows well-developed olfactory lobes (the section of the brain dealing with smell and taste) at the front of the brain. Iguanodon certainly had a large, broad snout to accommodate nostrils and sense organs, so perhaps this dinosaur at least had a keen sense of smell and relished the taste of its food.”

    Link to this
  16. 16. Dartian 2:11 am 10/23/2013

    Darren:
    Tongueless: a bunch of anurans lack tongues, hence the old name Aglossa formerly used for pipids etc.

    Right, thanks for pointing that out; I completely forgot about those frogs. Do you know if the tongue is entirely absent in them? As in, don’t they possess even a rudimentary one?

    On tongues in humans vs. other apes: It’s worth keeping in mind that tongue shape in our species is not only influenced by its role in taste perception, but also by its role in producing speech.

    Tayo:
    Do all birds have a reduced sense of taste?

    No, recent research has shown that many if not most birds have a functional sense of smell. Whether one wants to consider avian olfactory capabilities “reduced” relative to those of, e.g., mammals is another matter; some birds such as kiwis and turkey vultures, however, presumably would give most mammals a run for their money in terms of scent perception.

    Gardom & Milner (via Jose):
    The senses of taste and smell are closely linked in all animals

    Not strictly true; there are exceptions. Odontocetes, for example, apparently have lost the sense of smell altogether, but they do possess a sense of taste.

    Link to this
  17. 17. Jerzy v. 3.0. 6:22 am 10/23/2013

    What about tongues of Mononykus, Shuuvia and segnosaurs?

    Link to this
  18. 18. Tayo Bethel 7:53 am 10/23/2013

    Myguessis that frugivorous birds would have the most developed sense of taste–well, not all but many. Especiallthose species with a long evolutionary history of frugivory. Anyone can correct me if I’m wrong. …I thought the olfactory lobes were only concerned with smell. Where canI find this book? It keeps onbeing referenced–I want a copyto refer to.

    Link to this
  19. 19. David Marjanović 9:44 am 10/23/2013

    artists like putting fake eyes up on the frill, which I think they intend to be for sexual display

    More like predator deterrence then.

    “Iguanodon certainly had a large, broad snout to accommodate nostrils and sense organs”

    The tip of the snout is broad. The rest not so much. The toothrows are actually pretty close together. This also holds for hadrosaurs and ceratopsians.

    Odontocetes, for example, apparently have lost the sense of smell altogether, but they do possess a sense of taste.

    True, but they’ve lost most of that, too.

    Link to this
  20. 20. JoseD 11:18 am 10/23/2013

    Tayo Bethel: “Where canI find this book? It keeps onbeing referenced–I want a copyto refer to.”

    It’s the 2006 edition of “The Natural History Museum Book of Dinosaurs”. I got my copies from Amazon.com ( http://www.amazon.com/Natural-History-Museum-Book-Dinosaurs/dp/184442183X/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1358375235&sr=1-4 ) & Amazon.co.uk ( http://www.amazon.co.uk/Natural-History-Museum-Book-Dinosaurs/dp/184442183X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1382541070&sr=1-1 ). I reviewed it under my real name at Amazon.com &, for reasons discussed there, it’s 1 of the best non-encyclopedic dino books for casual readers I’ve ever read.

    Link to this
  21. 21. CraigYork 12:53 pm 10/24/2013

    Perhaps a foolish question, but has this “tounge-wrestling” behavior been observed in living species?
    ( I mean, apart from those awkward pictures of me and the Mrs. ) Dig the Teenage Mutants – glad to see one of them is still a turtle…

    Link to this
  22. 22. David Marjanović 6:52 am 10/25/2013

    But Ninjemys should be a TMNT…!

    Link to this
  23. 23. LeeB 1 5:03 pm 10/25/2013

    Now how about some TMNGlyptodonts or TMNAnkylosaurs.

    LeeB.

    Link to this
  24. 24. David Marjanović 6:42 am 10/26/2013

    Placodonts and Saurosphargis/Sinosaurosphargis!

    Link to this
  25. 25. Yodelling Cyclist 1:47 pm 10/26/2013

    23′s up. Time to shuffle on…

    Link to this
  26. 26. Chabier G. 6:56 am 10/28/2013

    Storks, at least the 2 species I’ve worked with, C. ciconia and C. nigra, have very short tongues. It’s kinda problem for chicks in nest, because the tongue can’t reach the two distal thirds of the bill, adults put the bill in water and wash it, but the nestling bills, between both jaws, accumulate a mass of debris, rotten and seldom colonizated by fly larvae. Cleaning the inner bill is one of the first tasks when we receive a stork chick.

    Link to this
  27. 27. Jerzy v. 3.0. 7:13 pm 10/28/2013

    Everybody saw already elephant vs hippo pictures?
    http://blog.africageographic.com/africa-geographic-blog/wildlife/wildlife-and-nature/elephant-fury-for-this-mother-hippo/

    Link to this
  28. 28. Yodelling Cyclist 12:18 pm 10/30/2013

    Since we seem to be in a bit of a lull, I’ve left another comment on the recent salamander post. It’s another of my non-zoologist ramblings, so be warned, but I would appreciate being corrected.

    Link to this
  29. 29. John Scanlon FCD 11:00 pm 10/30/2013

    Just saw this news on a new dolphin species – http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-31/new-dolphin-species-spotted-swimming-off-australian-coast/5060072 – and something in the photo caught my eye. The adult has quite a bulge in the position of the ex-hindlimb, and there is also a dark triangular (i.e. flipper-shaped) object in a roughly equivalent potion in the juvenile. A species caught in the act of re-evolving tetrapterygiality?
    OK the ‘hind flipper’ of the juvenile seems to be too far forward (not certain due to perspective), but in any case this comment is justified by the coolness of the word ‘tetrapterygiality’, which I just constructed and Google has not encountered previously.

    Link to this
  30. 30. Jerzy v. 3.0. 8:05 am 11/4/2013

    Trying to revive Tet Zoo. Is there any indication that pterosaurs could clatter bill like storks?

    Link to this

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