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We’re all away, at TetZooCon

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

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Things here at Tet Zoo will be quiet for a while since I’m preparing for, or away at, TetZooCon, the first ever Tetrapod Zoology-themed convention. Booking is now closed, but you can read about the schedule here.

Squamozoic scene at left (featuring corvaxid chamaeleoniform and chalarodont) by Raven Amos.

We have a set of talks on diverse zoological topics (including herpetology, wildlife photography, vertebrate palaeontology, historical primatology, cryptozoology and speculative zoology) as well as an interactive palaeoart workshop, a quiz, a book sale and more.. hmm, I’ve said all this before, haven’t I? Anyway… I leave you with screengrabs of a few slides from my speculative zoology talk.

Yup, Discovery's 'mermaids' in my TetZooCon talk, sorry about that... Images (c) Discovery.

I’ll tell you how it went when it’s all over. Follow livetweeting at #TetZooCon. For previous pieces on TetZooCon, and the thoughts of other bloggers, see…

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 He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at! 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. Oenitholestes 4:16 pm 07/9/2014

    Typo spotted: Rhinogradentians in a “speculative zoology” slide, as if they were fictional. It is of course well known that they are real.

    Link to this
  2. 2. irenedelse 4:30 pm 07/9/2014

    Of course. Rhinogradentians are no less fictitious than Permian bears!

    Link to this
  3. 3. JoseD 6:53 pm 07/9/2014

    Here’s hoping that all the TetZooCon talks (especially this 1 & the ones about dinos/paleoart) are recorded & posted online like the All Yesterdays Book Launch talks.

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  4. 4. John Harshman 8:01 pm 07/9/2014

    Rhinogrades are clearly an isolated group of afrotherians, possibly even stem-afrosoricids. Anyone with me?

    Link to this
  5. 5. Stripeycat 8:13 pm 07/9/2014

    I wish my health let me attend. Another one who’d like talks available afterwards.

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  6. 6. Heteromeles 11:21 pm 07/9/2014

    Yes, I agree that the Rhinogradentians are a classic stem-afrotherian, distinguished of course by their derived polyrhiny.

    Break a leg and hoist a pint for those of us who couldn’t make it to the Con.

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  7. 7. Jerzy v. 3.0. 9:10 am 07/10/2014

    Speculative zoology dates back to at least medieval bestiaries. Animals there were attributed clearly fantastic qualities to teach readers moral lessons.

    It seems that medieval authors who wrote about dragons, goblins etc. believed they are fictional, but many their contemporaries believed they were real creatures. Exactly the same is today with yetis, sea serpents etc.

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  8. 8. naishd 9:17 am 07/10/2014

    It’s uncanny — I have slides stating exactly the same thing, though I argue that (due to the lack of an evolutionary back-story) the ‘monster building’ of the past was not really the same as modern speculative zoology. However, part of cryptozoology evolved from Medieval ‘monster building’, and it clearly does overlap with speculative zoology. It’s a shame you can’t see my talk.

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  9. 9. Heteromeles 10:35 am 07/10/2014

    Medieval times? Try the Classical world and far before that. Le Sorcier, for example? How many cultures don’t have monsters?

    One thing to remember is that stories can act as “memory palaces,” that also serve as maps and survival guides to particular areas. A description of a dragon in a turbulent river can be encoded to provide information about how to survive a dangerous crossing on that river, and making the dragon bizarre and giving it a good story is an excellent way to help it stick in the memory. A lot of Australian Dreamtime stories are supposed to work this way.

    The chimera of classical mythology may be an example of this, as it’s supposed to represent the qualities of <a href="Mount Chimaera, where there’s a natural gas vent that’s been alight for centuries. Probably smells like a goat, roared like a lion, and killed like a dragon.

    This isn’t to say that monsters aren’t made just for fun. The world’s also full of drop bears and their relatives, and probably more than a few of them have been, erm, spontaneously generated because some credulous outsider was writing the story down as fast as the storyteller could spin it. Still, some monsters aren’t supposed to be just fiction, and it’s worth remembering that they can serve a useful purpose.

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  10. 10. naishd 10:38 am 07/10/2014

    Yup yup yup… more pre-empting of stuff that’s in my talk. Ok, if we’re going to go the whole hog, we actually know that ‘monster building’ extends back to the Palaeolithic (thanks to a cave in the Lot Valley, France).

    Link to this
  11. 11. irenedelse 1:57 pm 07/10/2014

    *Very probable spoilers for the upcoming talk*

    Proceed at your own risk…


    You mean this guy? Classic Upper Paleolithic (Magdalenian, around 13 000 years BCE) “shaman”. There’s been a lot of speculation to relate him to mythologies known in historical times, but it’s of course tricky.

    Darren, are you thinking about the “bison women” of Pech Merle? They’re dated from the Gravettian (25 000 before present) and they too have a history of tentative mythological interpretations.

    There’s an even older “imaginary being” from Germany, dubbed the “Lion man” for obvious reasons… Carbon dating puts the statuette at 40 000 years before present (Aurignacian culture), which means there’s even a distant possibility that it was made by Neandertalians and not modern humans.

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  12. 12. John Harshman 3:03 pm 07/10/2014

    Heteromeles, you can’t consider them stem-afrotherians on the basis of a derived character. I suggest that they’re crown-afrotherians, based on what appear to be states shared with afrosoricids. Of course this could only be settled with access to good skeletal material or tissue samples. Does anyone know of a good rhinograde specimen? Even a dried skin might be enough.

    Link to this
  13. 13. naishd 4:08 pm 07/10/2014

    Palaeolithic monsters (comment # 11): you’ll see what I have in mind when you see the slide. There’s a really nice bit of cave art that shows a giant, long-necked monster as well as a big-nosed pachydermish one. The authors who described it suggested that the illustration was the product of drug-fuelled hallucination, though surely ordinary human inventiveness could be an equally plausible explanation.

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  14. 14. naishd 4:30 pm 07/10/2014

    Rhinograde specimens: you people do know that both fossil and living rhinograde species have now been discovered, right? I guess you don’t follow the literature. See…

    Bukashkina, V. V. 2004. New parasitic species of colonial Rhinogradentia. Russian Journal of Marine Biology 30, 150.

    Hildwein, G. 1995. Un nouveau fossile de Rhinograde. Bull. Trim. Soc. Géol. Normandie et Amis Muséum du Havre 70 (3) 23-25.

    Kashkina, M. I. 2004. Dendronasus sp. A new member of the order nose-walkers (Rhinogradentia). Russian Journal of Marine Biology, 30, 148-149.

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  15. 15. Heteromeles 6:40 pm 07/10/2014

    @John: Sorry, I jumbled up two different issues. Yes, it’s obvious that polyrhiny is a derived character unique to the clade. I was thinking of them as stem-afrotherians without reference to that synapomorphy.

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  16. 16. John Harshman 8:44 pm 07/10/2014


    Sadly, I have no access to those journals. Can you tell me where the specimens are deposited?

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  17. 17. Heteromeles 11:59 pm 07/10/2014

    @John: you can read the third reference at

    There’s no reference to where the specimen was deposited. It’s tragic in this case, because it’s the only example I know of where a mammal transforms its forelimbs into external gills and engages in asexual reproduction by budding.

    Link to this
  18. 18. Jerzy v. 3.0. 5:23 am 07/11/2014

    Are you sure that “bison women” are not the earliest representation of Nessiteras?

    Any chance of putting your talks online as pdf and Youtube?

    Link to this
  19. 19. irenedelse 9:49 am 07/11/2014


    They are evidently hybrid of centaur and mermaid. Also, the shape of their bellies show most are pregnant, making this piece of art a testimonial to ancient Goddess worship. The most sacred mystery of this culture, had it been depicted, would have shown the mergodesses giving birth in water, and proven beyond reasonable doubt at last the Aquatic Ape Theory. Panbiogeography of water adapted primates, however, has not yet been considered, though we are confident that the presence of the so-called bison women in Europe points to a Panthalassic basin origin of a newly defined primate-cetartiodactyl clade. Their closest living relative being of course the manatees.

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  20. 20. Heteromeles 12:57 pm 07/11/2014

    @Irene#19: good thing I put my coffee down before I read that!

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  21. 21. John Harshman 1:18 pm 07/11/2014

    Once more we see the often overlooked importance of natural history museum collections. Apparently no past worker on rhinogrades was aware of that importance, and our knowledge of the order will always be grossly limited, at least until some extant population can be rediscovered and collections made.

    I hope this can serve as a cautionary example for anyone who still thinks that a photo and/or tissue sample can substitute for collection of whole specimens.

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  22. 22. irenedelse 3:01 pm 07/11/2014

    @Heteromeles #20:

    Thank you. I must admit sleep deprivation makes my brain do weird stuff… Shouldn’t have stayed up last night to argue on the ratites/everything thread.

    Link to this
  23. 23. irenedelse 2:24 am 07/13/2014

    I’m glad to report that Permian bears were present in spirit, thanks to Yodelling Cyclist and his name tag.

    Link to this
  24. 24. Heteromeles 12:49 pm 07/13/2014


    Now, I’ll ask the questions that the rest of us want to know:
    1. Will there be a TetZooCon2: Louder and Prouder, and
    B. Will it be announced far enough in advance (like 6-8 months) that those of us who need long lead times to get summer time off can actually make it to England next time?

    Link to this
  25. 25. Christopher Taylor 10:17 pm 07/13/2014

    The world’s also full of drop bears and their relatives, and probably more than a few of them have been, erm, spontaneously generated because some credulous outsider was writing the story down as fast as the storyteller could spin it.

    A while ago, I was listening to a podcast on the olgoi-khorkhoi, the supposed “Mongolian death worm”, including the details of how it was initially reported by Roy Chapman Andrews. I definitely got the impression that the olgoi-khorkhoi was a Mongolian parallel to the drop bear.

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  26. 26. irenedelse 8:56 am 07/14/2014

    @Christopher Taylor #25:

    The MonsterTalk podcast? I got the impression the olgoi-khorkhoi was a kind of “beware, not a good place to camp” mnemonic item in local lore. Sort of: if you see a weird snake-like thing, don’t push your luck, pick another place to spend the night or pasture your animals. Then a Russian scientist who also wrote speculative fiction published a story about the creature, and lo and behold! A cryptid was born.

    Link to this

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