January 21, 2014 | 41
It’s January 21st, meaning that, once again, a year has passed and that much-loved internet phenomenon known at Tetrapod Zoology is fully one year older. Eight years of Tet Zoo… it seems incredible that I’ve been doing this for nearly a decade now. In fact, that’s scary. As is tradition, my aim here is simply to take an over-long, meandering personal look at the year that’s passed, purely for the purposes of self-gratification and without the assumption that you, or indeed anyone, will read this all the way through. What happened in 2013, and what did I achieve?
The pterosaurs Eurazhdarcho and Vectidraco and the ichthyosaur Malawania all saw print, as did technical research on Edwardian lynxes and the flight style of Microraptor, and work on dinosaur sexual selection and azhdarchid palaeobiology. All Your Yesterdays and Cryptozoologicon Volume I were published, and the launch and growth of the Tet Zoo podcast was a fruitful endeavour. In fact, 2013 might be the first year in which Tet Zoo began to properly expand as a brand.
Start as you mean to go on: of azhdarchids and TetZoopodcats
If there’s any group of tetrapods that have been a constant, ever-near presence throughout 2013, it’s pterosaurs – this’ll become increasingly clear as you read through this article. And, right out of the gate, in late January, I and colleagues published the first of several pterosaur-themed contributions: our description of the new Romanian azhdarchid Eurazhdarcho langendorfensis (Vremir et al. 2013). This paper (published in PLOS ONE) represents one of several collaborative efforts between my research group at the University of Southampton and our colleagues in Romania (especially Mátyás Vremir of the Transylvanian Museum Society at Cluj-Napoca) and elsewhere. More Romanian stuff later. The primary significance of the Eurazhdarcho paper is that it allowed for a discussion of the hypothesis that many Late Cretaceous ecosystems might have been occupied by sympatric, but morphologically and behaviourally distinct, azhdarchid taxa (Vremir et al. 2013). The associated Tet Zoo article is here.
January also saw the launch of the TetZoo podcast, co-hosted with John Conway and amusingly term the TetZoopodcats [sic]. The general idea for the podcast is that we talk about material recently featured on Tet Zoo the blog, but we also chat about movies (focusing on sci-fi and creatures, of course) and other connected topics. It’s been fairly chaotic but seems to be working out. Thanks indeed to our regular listeners; we’ve built up a good, fun community in short time. John and I launched episodes throughout the year. We’ve done 16 so far, the most recent of which is titled The Dividulation of Smaug (‘dividulation’ is a reference to the discussion that John and I had about chimerism: the fact that some animals incorporate the genes of two or more individuals that have fused during development).
February, and I blogged about crocodiles attacking elephant trunks and the predatory proclivities of the Great tit Parus major. The latter article caught the attention of those lovely people at io9. Petrels, glassfrogs, Shuker’s The Encyclopedia of New and Rediscovered Animals and more were featured at Tet Zoo. An article I’d written a few months prior about the ‘rise’ of dinosaurs and the ‘fall’ of croc-group archosaurs appeared in BBC Focus magazine (Naish 2013a) – great timing, since possible early dinosaur Nyasasaurus had just been published and I had an article on that in the same issue (Naish 2013b). The article looks pretty good (the ‘dinosaurs vs the rivals’ feature is especially nice), but shame about the opening illustration (an Invicta brachiosaur? Awww, maaan…). Giant BRIAN COX on the cover. I did a few TV shows with Brian Cox back in the day, true story.
We obtained a dog – a rescue animal named Willow, a cross between a Staffie and (we think) a Corgi – at the end of February. Time to find out if all that stuff about dogs being experts at interpreting human non-vocal signals is correct. Yup, it is.
Ankylosaur-themed museum trips meant that I got to see taxidermy specimens of endemic New Zealand parrots, resulting in March’s Kea, Kaka, Kakapo article. The (still unfinished) crocodile series saw another installment in March and a visit to the Hampshire County Museum Service store at Chilcomb House, Winchester, led to another meeting with the Hayling Island Jungle cat Felis chaus, one of several non-native cat specimens discovered in the British countryside. I gave the first of many talks in early March, speaking to the Winchester College Natural History Society about the study of sea monsters. Thanks to Simon Woolley for sorting that out, and also for showing me the College’s wonderful collection of ‘Hampshire Rarities’ – a set of unusual, anachronistic birds, ostensibly obtained in the county but definitely in need of verification.
Vectidraco, Romania and ‘species recognition’ in dinosaurs
March also saw the second pterosaur-themed event: the publication (again, in PLOS ONE) of Vectidraco daisymorrisae, a small, Lower Cretaceous azhdarchoid named for a very interesting three-dimensional pelvis and its associated vertebrae (Naish et al. 2013a). The media interest in this story was enormous, due of course to the fact that the fossil’s finder – Daisy Morris – was just 4 years old when she found it. I wasn’t much involved in the publicity, partly because I didn’t want it. The Tet Zoo article on Vectidraco is here.
Just a few days after the publication of Vectidraco, I received my copy of Daniel Loxton’s fantastically illustrated Pterosaur Trouble (I was consultant) (Loxton 2013). Daniel did an amazing job on getting the azhdarchid – the star of the story – looking as realistic as possible (there are minor errors as goes eye position and hindlimb membranes: my bads). If you like pterosaurs or want to introduce kids to a neat book about prehistoric animals, get hold of a copy. My colleague Mark Witton reviewed the book here.
At the end of the month, it was time for another fieldwork trip to Romania. The weather out there was pretty terrible – no frogs or lizards this time; it snowed a lot and we froze to death while wading around in the rivers where we find our fossils. Again, though, we found some amazing stuff – significant dinosaur, crocodyliform and turtle specimens, none of which we’ve finished working on yet. Papers are forthcoming!
As is tradition, April 1st saw another of those innovative Tet Zoo articles. This time round, I didn’t go for an all-out spoof, but used the opportunity as an excuse to out my assorted Squamozoic ramblings. After all, it’s difficult to know when else to do it. The Squamozoic project will be developed further and expanded into a full-blown book at some point. Temnospondyls are (like so many other tetrapod groups) always there, lurking in the background and requiring more coverage and more discussion, and during April I wrote about trematosauroids, trimerorhachids, archegosauroids and tupilakosaurids.
I went on a much-needed family holiday to Wales. There was more snow and ice. These days, it’s about inevitable that you’ll see Red kites Milvus milvus while in Wales. Well, you’ll see them in many parts of England as well, but you know what I mean. Within the UK, the species has gone from critically endangered to widespread and abundant – a real success story. As we said goodbye to our house and began driving up the road – so, literally, within the first two minutes or so of our moderately lengthy journey – I caught sight of a raptor flying overhead. It was a Red kite, right here in Southampton. We pursued it in the car: I jumped out and tried (and failed) to photograph it. Huh.
Also in April, I became horribly ill, started work on a major new book (yeah, more on that in time), and finished assorted projects involving Cretaceous ichthyosaurs. Dave Hone and I had our paper on ‘sexual selection or species recognition’ in dinosaurs published in Journal of Zoology (Hone & Naish 2013). As anyone who read the article (or has read our paper) will know, we see big problems with the species recognition hypothesis that remains so amazingly popular among dinosaur workers (Hone & Naish 2013). Where are the studies convincingly documenting species recognition as a driving selection pressure behind the evolution of elaborate structures in extant animals?, which mechanism might explain the evolution of said structures as ‘species recognition’ aids in the first place?, and since when does the term ‘sexual selection’ depend on the presence of sexual dimorphism? Our ‘rivals’ in this argument – Kevin Padian and Jack Horner – produced a response to this paper later in the year (Padian & Horner 2013) and Kevin has (as of early 2014) been giving conference presentations on the issue. We are still at an impasse, with totally conflicting views on what the key terms mean, let alone on how the fossil record should be interpreted. I can’t see that things will change.
Late April also saw the publication of my paper – with Max Blake, Ross Barnett and others – on the stuffed lynx specimen that Max had discovered in Bristol Museum and Art Gallery a few years prior (Blake et al. 2013). Since the records showed that the specimen had been shot (in 1903) in south-west England, we did about everything we could to determine its origin and history (though some of our results were frustratingly vague or inconclusive). Things aren’t finished with that lynx, since there have been interesting discussions about its specific taxonomic identity and also about the nature of the taxidermy mount. Watch this space. The Tet Zoo piece is here.
The ichthyosaurs are here, and Rio
At the start of May, I and several of my University of Southampton colleagues (Jessica Lawrence-Wujek, Kirsty Morgan and Brandon Jardine) went to Lyme Regis for the fossil festival. More ichthyosaurs (including Aubrey Roberts’s talk on digging up Jurassic marine reptiles in Svalbard), giant puppet pliosaurs, and GULLS. I also went to Marwell, but I do that a lot.
Ichthyosaurs were also the focus of attention in May thanks to the publication of my Biology Letters paper (with Valentin Fischer, Michael Maisch, Jeff Liston and others) on Malawania anachronus, a parvipelvian from the Lower Cretaceous of Iraq that’s similar in overall morphology to Lower Jurassic parvipelvians like Ichthyosaurus (Fischer et al. 2013). Little has been said about Malawania since its publication in May (which is to be expected) – certainly nothing in print. It’s part of the Cretaceous Ichthyosaur Revolution, several other papers on which are due to appear soon.
May wasn’t all ichthyosaurs – there were pterosaurs as well! Thanks to support and assistance from Alex Kellner, Taissa Rodrigues and others, I was able to get to Rio for the International Symposium on Pterosaurs where I presented work on the Romanian azhdarchids I work on (Naish et al. 2013b) as well as more thoughts on Vectidraco (Naish et al. 2013c). I also contributed to the roundtable debate on pterosaur ontogeny and reproduction (and I must write-up and publish my thoughts on that issue some time). As should be clear from my Tet Zoo article, I had a great time: Brazil is wonderful. In social terms it was brilliant, and I also enjoyed seeing numerous local birds and also a few lizards.
Immediately on returning to Southampton, I had to dismantle my office at NOCS. The salaried research position I had at Southampton had expired in 2012, but I remained associated with the vertebrate palaeontology MRes course (as I do today), lecturing and mentoring students.
In June, I wrote about my efforts to photograph the Eurasian magpies Pica pica that had been raising their chicks in my own front garden. I observed and photographed lots of neat British animals during 2013 (several other corvid species among them), but then you can say that of any year. No matter where you live, there are neat animals to watch and pay attention to. In May, a baby Blackbird Turdus merula fell out of its nest. I tried to put it back so that it wouldn’t fall prey to cats or dogs and checked all the nests I knew of on my property (all are shown in the montage below). None were active Blackbird nests though. I put the bird in the most sensible place and left it alone for its parents to find (which they did). It later died anyway.
Toward the end of June, I published a long article on Raymond Hoser and taxonomic vandalism. I hope it brings Kaiser et al. (2013) – a paper which provides the technically acceptable names to use in place of the deplorable Hoser ones – to wider attention. I’m pleased to say that Hoser has listed me – along with Wolfgang Wüster, Mark O’Shea, David Williams, Hinrich Kaiser and Wulf Schleip – as among the ‘Truth Haters’ who work so hard to foil his brilliant, sensible and wholly objective approach to systematics. Most interested parties will know that the ICZN is currently soliciting opinions on taxonomic practise as it pertains to works by the likes of Hoser: the ICZN doesn’t like to voice opinions on the availability of names in matters like this, hence the need for opinions. Background reading to this case comes in the form of Kaiser (2013).
Also in June, I gave another talk on pterosaurs, this time for the Bournemouth Natural Science Society: it was on new pterosaurs very large (our new Romanian azhdarchid material) and very small (Vectidraco). While in Bournemouth I managed to solve the mystery of the BNSS tuatara skeleton… its extremely aberrant postcranial anatomy was due to the fact that a tuatara skull had been stuck onto a platypus’s body, oops.
A few days later, me and my University of Southampton colleagues travelled to the Isle of Wight to be part of the Walking With Dinosaurs 3D launch event. This was less exciting that it might sound since it was about the publicity tie-ins connected to the movie, not about the movie itself. Still fun though – a good chance to see the Walking With Dinosaurs 3D bus, to experience some augmented reality, and to hang out with people and talk about Isle of Wight dinosaurs. At the end of June, Gareth Dyke and I went to Brussels for a collaborative project that involves some very peculiar dinosaur and pterosaur material. Not done on any of that stuff yet. The dinosaur material is ridiculous… if we’ve interpreted it correctly.
As per usual, projects initiated months or even years beforehand rumbled along in the background, and some saw near-completion. Mark Witton and I submitted a manuscript to Acta Palaeontologica Polonica on azhdarchid palaeobiology during July… if you’re a regular reader you’ll know how this one turned out. Whatever, more on this project below.
Sun-bathing birds, Pacific Rim and model dodos
What happened on Tet Zoo during July? I republished the classic article (originally from December 2007) on photos of the Loch Ness Monster – it’s always super-popular and always brings out a reasonable number of True Believers as well as reasoned scepticism (look at the comments if you’re interested). Articles on extinct vampire bats, my famous duck-based rant and sunbathing birds also appeared during July. The last article – the one on sunbathing birds – inspired me to ask people to send in their illustrations of sunbathing non-bird dinosaurs. A bunch were received: rest assured that I haven’t forgotten, I just haven’t found time to compile them and finish the article. Thanks to everyone who played along. Crowd-sourcing illustrations would be something I was to take advantage of again later on in the year.
July also saw the release of the movie Pacific Rim and, after getting all riled up about it, and seeing it two… three… four times (can’t remember now), I blogged about it at the end of the month. Some of the questions we asked about the movie back in July can now be answered due to its released on DVD, plus I own Tales from Year Zero and have access to Pacific Rim: Man, Machines and Monsters (my son owns a copy). Of course, my thoughts (and John Conway’s, too) will be familiar if you’re a podcast listener…
Anyway, while in London in late July, John and I caught up with noted mammalogist Henry Pihlström after visiting the temporary Extinction: Not the End of the World exhibition at The Natural History Museum (NHM). I liked it. One of the things I mentioned here at Tet Zoo is the excellent Dodo model included in the exhibition – you might remember that I asked who its creator is. Thanks to Peronel Craddock at the NHM, I’ve learnt that the model-maker is Derek Frampton. Looking at the model, I was of course reminded of another famous, fairly modern Dodo model – the one at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Coincidentally, I got to see this model too later on in the year while in Edinburgh for the Symposium on Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy.
In August, I started putting out teasers for the Cryptozoologicon, the cryptozoology-themed book that John Conway, Memo Kosemen and I were working on in the background. The second teaser article – devoted to megatooth sharks (yikes, a non-tetrapod featured at Tet Zoo!*) – was of course timed to coincide with the Discovery channel’s god-awful fauxumentary on the same subject. August and September is Conference Season in Tet Zoo World, so lots of preparation for assorted meetings was going on in the background. The finishing touches were made to the Microraptor manuscript (a project initiated about a year beforehand).
* It isn’t the first time; I think it’s the third.
August also saw another pterosaur article: a revamped, updated version of another Tet Zoo classic – the article on those weird, old depictions of Quetzalcoatlus that make it look like something from a Hieronymus Bosch painting. That stuff is so weird that is never fails to get a lot of attention. Again, io9 picked it up. Also during August, a horrific and unpleasant tapir attack occurred at Dublin Zoo. Since I’ve covered tapir attacks on Tet Zoo before, I felt it appropriate to write about this incident. And a particularly remarkable thing happened – go and read this comment right now if you haven’t already.
To Edinburgh for the zoo, the museum, and SVPCA
At the end of August I flew to Edinburgh (Scotland) for the Symposium on Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy (SVPCA). I spoke about archosaurs and sexual selection (combining material from Knell et al. 2012, 2013, Hone & Naish 2013) and also co-presented several talks and posters on ichthyosaurs, pliosaurs, azhdarchid pterosaurs and theropods. Part of the meeting was hosted at the amazing National Museum of Scotland, the main atrium of which is absolutely stuffed full of beautiful and exciting zoological models, mounted skeletons and taxidermy mounts. There are simply so many things on display I don’t know where to start, but here’s their display section on chickens, chosen simply because I think chickens are awesome. They also have that very nice dodo model I mentioned a moment ago.
Before attending SVPCA, I went to Edinburgh Zoo with my friends Richard Hing, Mark Witton and Georgia Maclean-Henry. We saw just about everything, except the Giant pandas. Here’s a montage featuring a few of the highlights – it’s a great zoo with a great collection of animals, though the enclosures for some of the carnivorans are way too small.
September saw me celebrating the publication of 200 articles at Tet Zoo ver 3: I also added my support to the potoo pandemic. That ‘200 articles’ article should prove especially useful/interesting for those who spend time perusing the Tet Zoo archives, since it includes links to all 200 previous ver 3 articles (the article you’re reading now includes links to all of the 2013 articles, of course). Asian wild asses, newts and more lacertid lizards saw coverage. Jessica and I spent time at the Natural History Museum in London, collecting data on ichthyosaurs. Jessica is one of several people currently working on the tremendously confusing mess that is Ichthyosaurus, and here’s a picture I produced to commemorate that fact.
‘Celebrating Dinosaur Island’, and rhinos
Late in September, I attended and spoke at another conference: the Wealden-Jehol conference – properly titled Celebrating Dinosaur Island – at the National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton. I spoke about Eotyrannus, covering its discovery, the story behind our initial 2001 paper (Hutt et al. 2001), and new data on its anatomy and phylogenetics. Don’t even talk to me about the monograph. An important point that I don’t think I’ve made publicly about the early work on Eotyrannus is that it was all done in a ridiculous rush: the Eotyrannus paper had to be out before the Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight book (Martill & Naish 2001) could be published, and Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight had to be out in time for the opening of the Dinosaur Isle Visitor Centre. I’ll talk about this some more one day.
Anyway, the conference was good and I live-tweeted through the whole thing (except for the field trip). One of the dinosaur specimens integral to Richard Owen’s recognition of the group – the Iguanodon sacrum discovered by William Saull on the Isle of Wight – was present at the meeting, as were numerous other neat specimens and personages of note. Mark Young (of metriorhynchid fame) won an award. We had an unusual gathering of ichthyosaur workers at the meeting (Dean Lomax, Aubrey Roberts, Jessica and myself), which resulted in an impromptu ichthyosaur mini-symposium in Southampton’s 12th Century Red Lion pub. Luke Muscutt sang the infamous Tetrapod Rap. Seriously. He also sang it at the end of his talk at SVPCA, which was interesting.
That trip to the Red Lion gave me the opportunity to photograph a few more of the Go! Rhino rhinos. There were apparently 36 of these sculptures (all decorated by different artists under sponsorship from different companies), out on the streets of Southampton between July and September. All were auctioned off to raise money for charity (the only animal-related one being Marwell Wildlife), their design and presence also helping to raise awareness of the plight of wild rhinos. And 2013 was not a good year for rhinos. In the end, over 1000 were killed during the year. Things aren’t disastrous for all rhino populations everywhere, but they are for many of the African ones that are being hardest hit. It’s difficult to know whether things will change in the Asian countries that are fuelling the demand for rhino horn (Vietnam and China in particular), despite international efforts to slow or prevent trade in rhino products. Anyway, here are all but one of the Go! Rhino rhinos I got to see up close…
As September drew to a close, I felt the urge to cover temnospondyls on Tet Zoo once more. After noticing that Platyhystrix – one of several remarkable sail-backed dissorophoid temnospondyls – was surprisingly poorly represented in online artwork, I invited people to produce their own. The results are visible here. I’ll be taking advantage of this clever and productive crowd-sourcing of neat artwork again! Robert Bakker, creator of one of the best and most famous Platyhystrix images, emailed me later in the year about this most remarkable beast.
Incidentally, September 2013 was also the month in which amazing remote-camera shots were released which revealed the moment a Russian Golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos attacked a young (but still large) Sika deer Cervus nippon, the event resulting in the deer’s death. The incident had actually occurred in 2011 but the research and images weren’t published until 2013 (Kerley & Slaght 2013). Given that this very subject (that is, eagles attacking large artiodactyls) is something I’ve covered on Tet Zoo (in fact, it formed the subject of the very first Tet Zoo article ever), you’d think that I would have blogged about it. But, unfortunately, I just didn’t have the time plus, weird as it seems, I usually prefer not to cover stories that are being given wide exposure online in any case.
All Your Yesterdays sees publication, and SVP LA
Also at the end of September, All Your Yesterdays was published – a freely available volume produced by Irregular Books (the publishing company owned by John Conway, Memo Kosemen and myself). All Your Yesterdays features a huge number of All Yesterdays-style illustrations by diverse artists and can basically be imagined as an addendum to All Yesterdays (Conway et al. 2012).
Those who follow these things will know that we’ve gotten a bit of flak from some quarters for seemingly saying that people should go nuts in terms of speculative artwork depicting extinct animals. Most of my thoughts on this issue have been expressed before, including in All Your Yesterdays itself (Naish 2013c), but here’s a very brief summary. When it comes to reconstructions that are, specifically, meant to be scientifically accurate and rigorous, they should be accurate and rigorous, taking note of the data we have on proportions, integument, pigmentation and so on. However: (1) there is still some slop in how some animals are reconstructed, and images that make animals look fatter, fuzzier or weirder than expected are sometimes still without the bounds of credibility – their creators simply have to explain that they are depicting an extreme possibility, but a possibility nonetheless; (2) depictions of extinct animals do not just ‘belong’ to science – abstract images, experiments and deliberate flights of fancy and fantasy are permitted as well, so long as they are labelled as such. Speculative art, ‘retro’ palaeoart, and accurate, high-fidelity reconstructions all have their place in the way we choose to portray the animals of the past, and ‘palaeoart’ is not synonymous with ‘technically accurate’ or ‘authenticated by an expert’.
A few kid’s books that used me as a consultant appeared during this part of the year, including Dorling Kindersley’s Doodlepedia Dinosaurs and The Usborne Very Big Colouring & Activity Book. I try hard to get artists for kid’s book to properly depict feathered dinosaurs and columnar-handed sauropods, I really do, but there are things you just can’t get them to get right. We end up with scenes like this – dromaeosaurs that are fully feathered but still have scaly fingers.
During October, I revamped the salamander articles for Tet Zoo and republished them as one big review. Our study on the aerodynamics of Microraptor (Dyke et al. 2013) was published in Nature Communications (though I didn’t write about it at Tet Zoo until November) and, at the end of the month, I went to Los Angeles for another conference – the 73rd Symposium on Vertebrate Palaeontology.
SVP is always overwhelming. If you’re interested in diverse topics within vertebrate evolution virtually everything is of interest and you end up not knowing what to pay attention to. So, you go and sit in the bar or peruse the expensive second-hand books. The nature of modern publishing means that conferences are very different from what they were like just five or ten years ago. Once upon a time, you would arrive at a conference, look (for the very first time) through the list of talks and/or abstracts, and be bowled over by the stunning revelations therein. These days, anything exciting or gee-whizzy has already been released online – often at ‘preprint’ or ‘early release’ stage – and nothing is truly unexpected. I suppose it does make conferences less exciting, but it’s a consequence of the fact that we live in a different age.
Anyway, the meeting was fun. Together with Valentin Fischer and others, I presented the Malawania work. I also had posters on the Microraptor work, on Ichthyosaurus (with Jessica and Gareth), and on azhdarchids… but the less said about that last one the better. Personal highlights included the workshop on dinosaur ontogeny, the new data on Beelzebufo, Deinocheirus and Archaeopteryx, Valentin’s work on Cenomanian ichthyosaurs, and the presentations on monachine seals, odontocetes and mysticetes.
It being LA, we spent an evening at the Los Angeles County Museum (LACM). I’ve been there before, but this time round I was very pleased to see the newly revamped Age of Mammals hall, featuring amazing mounted skeletons of fossil sloths, sirenians, proboscideans, pinnipeds, rhinos, cetaceans and others. The highlight for me was the newly mounted desmostylian Palaeoparadoxia…. or – waitaminute – that’s Neoparadoxia as of Barnes (2013). This is far from the world’s only mounted desmostylian skeleton (there’s even one here in the UK [at London’s Natural History Museum], as well as a couple in Japan), but it’s by far the best in its new, dynamic swimming pose. Desmostylians have been discussed briefly before at Tet Zoo (see this 2010 article from Tet Zoo ver 2). Huge thanks to Matt Wedel and R. Kent Sanders for helping out with my SVP accommodation.
After the meeting, I went to the George C. Page Museum at La Brea with Jessica, Deborah Rook and others. More brilliant fossil things on display (though, again, I’ve been there before). It really bothers me that you can’t buy posters featuring Mark Hallett’s amazing painting featuring the Pleistocene wildlife of La Brea. I told a person at the counter that they should have copies on sale, and she said that people say this all the time. Huh. Apparently, they did used to sell such posters. I’d love to own one. If you’ve only seen this painting in books (or on TV: it features in the David Attenborough series Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives), you’ll know that it features mammoths, dire wolves, American lions, bison and horses, but you might not know that it also features moles, snakes, alligator lizards, plethodontid salamanders, millipedes, dung beetles… there’s a vast amount to look at. I actually spoke about the creation of giant murals featuring prehistoric wildlife with William Stout while at SVP – you may know that he produced an absolutely invaluable book on the subject of palaeoart murals, titled Prehistoric Life Murals (Stout 2009).
Round about the same time as SVP, PLOS ONE launched its series of papers on sauropod dinosaur gigantism. These are effectively the proceedings of the Bonn sauropod biology meeting that I attended back in December 2011. Despite efforts, Matt Wedel and I weren’t able to get our collaborative paper together in time. In any case, the work on sexual selection and the whole ‘necks for sex’ model I discussed at the meeting has already been published (Taylor et al. 2011). Anyway, of special interest to me is that the series includes the latest published installment in the ongoing Neck Wars saga (Stevens 2013). I (and colleagues) may, or may not, respond to it. It contains some problematic arguments: when will people realise that museum-mounted skeletons do not depict animal neck skeletons in their in-vivo postures?
Cryptozoology meets the All Yesterdays movement
Throughout 2013, the Irregular Books team – John, Memo and me – had been working hard in the background on our next, post-All Yesterdays project: the Cryptozoologicon. What was initially intended to be a one-off volume on cryptozoology, featuring novel artwork and shortish sections of text, ended up as a substantial work involving critique, scepticism and review as well as speculation. Furthermore, what was meant to be one volume is now two. Volume I appeared in print early in December (Conway et al. 2013). As discussed above, we’d released bits of information on the Cryptozoologicon throughout the year and I spoke about the project at the Weird Weekend meeting in August (mostly to bring its attention to the cryptozoological community).
Feedback so far has been good and positive (there are several 5-star reviews on Amazon), but what’s notable is that ‘true believer’ cryptozoologists and prominent pro-cryptozoology authors have been essentially silent about it. Loren Coleman implied in a conversation we had on twitter (I’m @TetZoo) that the book appeared uninteresting to scholarly and hard-nosed cryptozoologists due to its emphasis on “speculative crypto-fiction”; it is, apparently, not obvious that it might also include serious critique and analysis. Well, whatever; I find it generally helps to find out about a book before casting judgement on it. John, Memo and I did a TetZoopodcats episode on the Cryptozoologicon (it’s here) and I also spoke about the book on an episode of the MonsterTalk podcast with Blake Smith.
I should also note that another significant cryptozoology-themed book appeared during 2013: Loxton and Prothero’s lavishly produced, sceptical tome Abominable Science! (Loxton & Prothero 2013). I was one of the several reviewers and even get quoted on the back cover, though I should add that any similarities between ideas in the Cryptozoologicon and Abominable Science! emerged in parallel, not because I stole ideas from their draft manuscript (we both say very similar things about the William Roe Bigfoot case, for example). I certainly agree with Loxton and Prothero that the ‘case’ for such cryptids as Yeti, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster rests on a series of early hoaxes, misunderstandings and embellishments that were then perpetuated by the speculations, mistakes and hoaxes of later workers, and the fact remains that evidence really supporting the existence of these entities simply does not exist. That doesn’t mean that they definitely don’t exist, but there isn’t any reason to think that they do other than personal belief (especially if you regard eyewitness testimony as virtually unreliable, as most technical studies indicate it to be). Anyway, I still have to review Abominable Science! properly; likewise for a list of other books.
We hosted a Cryptozoologicon launch event in London during early December – thanks to everyone who showed up and bought copies of the book. My talk can be viewed here online. While in London I learnt about the giant blue chicken.
During November, I featured the popular article on the life appearance of the Woolly rhino and also re-vamped my piece on the Hook Island sea monster photos. Tet Zoo regular Vladimir Dinets and colleagues published their extremely interesting paper on possible tool-use in crocodylians (Dinet et al. 2013). This proved a soar-away success in terms of bringing in hits. Regardless, I thought I made in clear in that article that, while a case for tool-use in crocodiles and alligators had been made by the authors, there are reasons for being sceptical, and that further data and evidence is needed.
More on azhdarchids… and the Peters menace, again
I also blogged about the paper on azhdarchid pterosaur palaeobiology that Mark Witton and I published in October (Witton & Naish 2013). Azhdarchid anatomy, evolution, ecology and lifestyle continue to be areas of fascination and argument with disparate views being present within the pterosaur community and new (as yet unpublished) data screwing with some of our cherished ideas (hang tight, it’s coming).
Part of the December Tet Zoo article on that Witton & Naish (2013) paper refers to a challenge we received for our 2008 paper from independent researcher David Peters. As should be well known (I previously blogged about Peters in 2012), I consider David a serious menace as goes miseducation of naïve parties (undergrad students and the public). Is this because I dislike his ideas no matter what he says? Or, am I working hard to maintain the conservative status quo of ‘textbook’ palaeontology? Is it because I’m sitting high in my Ivory Tower, keen on protecting the massive salary I receive from my funding bodies and academic affiliations? Ha, I wish. NO: it’s because I think the methods he uses, and thus the conclusions he draws and hypotheses he discusses, are… to be polite, highly problematic. This should have been clear to anyone who looked at his poster at the aforementioned SVP meeting. Here, a series of unidentifiable blobs and lumps visible in a very dark photo were claimed to be bones, and bones identifiable as a strongly reduced forelimb skeleton evidencing flightlessness in the Jurassic pterosaur specimen SoS 2428 (a pterosaur that, by the way, has previously been examined first-hand and technically described by people who are generally regarded as being fairly reliable in their interpretations).
Of course, David’s unbelievable blog-productivity (seriously, Dave: how do you do it?) means that he is constantly there, showing up in google results for just about everything related to tetrapod evolution*. Other than encountering him in this way, I didn’t otherwise have much to do with him or his stuff in 2013. I did notice, however, that a very interesting video on pterosaur evolution appeared online. If you’re short on time, skip to the 32 minute mark.
* If you really want to, you can get google to filter out certain websites. Read the comment here.
Of November, December and January, and Walking With Dinosaurs 3D
Anyway, a few other new papers of mine appeared toward the end of 2013. My book chapter on the conservation status of South American mammals, included in the Grzimek volume on extinction, saw print (Naish 2013d). During our 2011 fieldwork season in Romania, I discovered a surprisingly small ornithopod tibia. Turns out that it’s the smallest rhabdodontid tibia ever found – wow, what a significant find! (I say this with slight sarcasm intended). Anyway, it forms the focus of a fairly lengthy description and analysis led by Steve Brusatte (Brusatte et al. 2013). A paper that I completed during the last few months of 2013 – a review of what we know about the behaviour of fossil birds (Naish 2014) appeared in January. More on that project some time soon. The submitted manuscript was more than twice as long as the maximum allowed length, so tons of material had to be removed. In fact, December’s article on the ‘ghosts’ of extinct birds in modern ecosystems is an excised section from that paper.
2013 should have felt like a very satisfying year in terms of producing technical publications, but I spent much of December being extremely frustrated by the fact that I just couldn’t make the time to finish the huge pile of manuscripts (technical papers, magazine articles and books) that were sitting around, essentially finished but needing those extra few hours of work that you just cannot find when you have a family, and an unfortunate requirement to sleep, to work to earn money, and to engage in personal maintenance and social interaction. We’re talking about essentially finished papers on South American cats, ichthyosaurs, Cretaceous theropods and azhdarchoid pterosaurs, all of which are due to be completed soon.
While talking about the events of December, I should say that Will (my son) and I went to see Walking With Dinosaurs 3D. I had no involvement at all with this film (but I did have a few – I think three – articles appear during the year at the Walking With Dinosaurs 3D website). Anyway, my main problem with the film – I mean, apart from the fact that the animals talk – is that it’s immediately forgettable. All the detail, skin texture, carefully chosen habitats and anatomical accuracy is wasted since the plot revolves around a bunch of dinosaurs that go on an epic migration, encounter trials and tribulations on the way, find love, defeat nefarious (non-talking) predators… in other words, the exact same stuff you’ve seen in every other dinosaur ‘docu-drama’ since 1982 or whatever.
I’m a huge fan of Pendleton Ward’s TV and comic series Adventure Time (despite the fact that I totally failed to describe it at all well when asked about it on the podcast). So it’s only fitting that, late in 2013, John Conway and myself were transformed into Finn and Jake-type versions of ourselves for classicalguy and Alberta Claw’s new webcomic, TetZoo Time! We live in a treehouse based on the magnolia from John’s Troodon painting and are surrounded by a plethora of neat beasts. You can see the first two episodes here and here. Another cartoon/comic crossover also occurred during the year, this time involving Ethan Kocak’s Black Mudpuppy webcomic. Tetrapod Zoology actually makes a cameo here in the B Vengers story, which is a bit like having a walk-on role in Star Wars. Ethan helped me out with several things in 2013 and we may well be planning something together…
And so, we come to 2014. I took to telling people that my New Year’s Resolution was to be lazier and work less hard, since I constantly take years off my life through pushing myself too hard (something that only Toni, my unbelievably supportive wife, can appreciate). In reality, of course, I know that things are going to continue at the same manic rate as they have for all the time that I’ve been both self-employed and involved in technical research; there is still no reliable lifeline or confirmed lucky break on the horizon. At the time of writing I’m working on three books simultaneously and am working hard to set up further projects ‘upstream’.
If any of this sounds doomy and gloomy, rest assured that Tet Zoo is set to feature stacks of awesome content in coming weeks and months. Part of the plan for this year so far has been – I’m not kidding here – to avoid charismatic megafauna and focus instead on the rodents, frogs and lizards and so on that I’ve always said need more attention. If you’re really interested in animals, you have nothing to fear, since none of them are boring. And the hit counts and comment numbers show – so far – that rodents, lizards and small brown birds are just as attention-grabby as big Mesozoic dinosaurs and cryptozoology if handled right.
On the subject of which groups of animals have been covered during the year, here’s the bit where I list all the year’s articles (arranged by category) before seeing how balanced – or unbalanced – coverage actually was…
Lissamphibians (extant amphibians)
Squamates (snakes, lizards, amphisbaenians)
Permian and Mesozoic swimming reptiles
And the results…
As usual, mammals and birds win the bulk of the coverage, but the fact that – in contrast to 2012 – no one group won more than 16 articles shows that things were a little more balanced across the year. Non-lissamphibian anamniotes (those ‘ancient amphibian’-type tetrapods) and lissamphibians (modern amphibians) received far better coverage than they did in 2012, but things still aren’t representative enough. Pterosaur articles outnumbered those on non-bird dinosaurs and croc-group archosaurs, and squamates were third to mammals and birds, which is great. However, no turtles, no non-mammalian synapsids! Despite those oversights, the improved coverage of non-lissamphibian anamniotes, lissamphibians and squamates is encouraging and I want to see if I can improve on this.
So, we end here. Thanks loads to all you readers and commenters, and to those who provide support, encouragement, advice and help.
For previous Tet Zoo birthday articles see…
Refs – -
Blake, M., Naish, D., Larson, G., King, C. L., Nowell, G., Sakamoto, M. & Barnett, R. 2013. Multidisciplinary investigation of a ‘British big cat’: a lynx killed in southern England c. 1903. Historical Biology doi:10.1080/08912963.2013.785541
Brusatte, S. L., Vremir, M., Watanabe, A., Csiki-Sava, Z., Naish, D., Dyke, G., Erickson, G. M. & Norell, M. A. 2013. An infant ornithopod dinosaur tibia from the Late Cretaceous of Sebeş, Romania. Terra Sebus. Acta Musei Sabesiensis 5, 627-644.
Conway, J., Kosemen, C. M. & Naish, D. 2012. All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals. Irregular Books.
- ., Kosemen, C. M. & Naish, D. 2013. Cryptozoologicon Volume I. Irregular Books.
Dinets, V., Brueggen, J. C. & Brueggen, J. D. 2013. Crocodilians use tools for hunting. Ethology Ecology & Evolution in press doi.org/10.1080/03949370.2013.858276
Dyke, G., de Kat, R., Palmer, C., van der Kindere, J., Naish, D. & Ganapathisubramani, B. 2013. Aerodynamic performance of the feathered dinosaur Microraptor and the evolution of feathered flight. Nature Communications 4, Article number: 2489 doi:10.1038/ncomms3489
Loxton, D. 2013. Pterosaur Trouble. Kids Can Press, Toronto.
- . & Prothero, D. R. 2013. Abominable Science! Columbia University Press, New York.
Hone, D. W. E. & Naish, D. 2013. The ‘species recognition hypothesis’ does not explain the presence and evolution of exaggerated structures in non-avialan dinosaurs. Journal of Zoology doi:10.1111/jzo.12035
Hutt, S., Naish, D., Martill, D. M., Barker, M. J. & Newbery, P. 2001. A preliminary account of a new tyrannosauroid theropod from the Wessex Formation (Early Cretaceous) of southern England. Cretaceous Research 22, 227-242.
Kaiser, H. 2013. The Taxon Filter, a novel mechanism designed to facilitate the relationship between taxonomy and nomenclature, vis-à-vis the utility of the Code’s Article 81 (the Commission’s plenary power). Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 70, 293-302.
- ., Crother, B. I., Kelly, C. M. R., Luiselli, L., O’Shea, M., Ota, H., Passos, P. Schleip, W. & Wüster, W. 2013. Best practices: in the 21st Century, taxonomic decisions in herpetology are acceptable only when supported by a body of evidence and published via peer-review. Herpetological Review 44, 8-23.
Kerley, L. L. & Slaght, J. C. 2013. First documented predation of Sika deer (Cervus nippon) by Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) in Russian Far East. Journal of Raptor Research 47, 328-330.
Knell, R. J., Naish, D., Tomkins, J. L. & Hone, D. W. E. 2012. Sexual selection in prehistoric animals: detection and implications. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 28, 38-47.
- ., Naish, D., Tomkins, J. L. & Hone, D. W. E. 2013. Is sexual selection defined by dimorphism alone? A reply to Padian and Horner. Trends in Ecology and Evolution http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2013.02.007
Martill, D. M. & Naish, D. 2001. Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight. The Palaeontological Association, London.
Naish, D. 2013a. How dinosaurs conquered the world. BBC Focus 251, 54-59.
- . 2013b. Oldest dinosaur discovered. BBC Focus 251, 17-18.
- . 2013c. On All Your Yesterdays. In Kosemen, C. M. All Your Yesterdays. Irregular Books, pp. 6-9.
- . 2013d. South American native mammals. In McDade, M. (ed) Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia: Extinct Life. Gale Group (Farmington Mills, Michigan), pp. 567-576.
- . 2014. The fossil record of bird behaviour. Journal of Zoology doi:10.1111/jzo.12113
- ., Matyas, M. & Dyke, G. 2013b. Pterosaur size classes in the Transylvanian Late Cretaceous? In: Sayão, J. M., Costa, F. R., Bantim, R. A. M. & Kellner, A. W. A. International Symposium on Pterosaurs, Rio Ptero 2013, Short Communications. Universidad Federal do Rio de Janeiro, pp. pp. 85-86.
- ., Simpson, M. I. & Dyke, G. J. 2013a. A new small-bodied azhdarchoid pterosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of England and its implications for pterosaur anatomy, diversity and phylogeny. PLoS ONE 8(3): e58451. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.005451
- ., Simpson, M. & Dyke, G. 2013c. A new small-bodied azhdarchoid pterosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of England and its implications for pterosaur anatomy, diversity and phylogeny. In: Sayão, J. M., Costa, F. R., Bantim, R. A. M. & Kellner, A. W. A. International Symposium on Pterosaurs, Rio Ptero 2013, Short Communications. Universidad Federal do Rio de Janeiro, pp. 83-85.
Padian, K. & Horner, J. R. 2013. The species recognition hypothesis explains exaggerated structures in non-avialan dinosaurs better than sexual selection does. C. R. Palevol http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.crpv.2013.10.004
Stout, W. 2009. Prehistoric Life Murals. Flesk, Santa Cruz.
Taylor, M. P., Hone, D. W. E., Wedel, M. J., & Naish, D. 2011. The long necks of sauropods did not evolve primarily through sexual selection. Journal of Zoology 285, 150-161.
Vremir, M., Kellner, A. W. A., Naish. D. & Dyke, G. J. 2013. A new azhdarchid pterosaur from the Late Cretaceous of the Transylvanian Basin, Romania: implications for azhdarchid diversity and distribution. PLoS ONE 8(1): e54268. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054268