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The events of TetZooCon 2014

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

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A montage of TetZooCon visuals: our banner, a Tet Zoo t-shirt, a Squamozoic scene by Raven Amos, and a collection of Mark Witton art prints.

The world’s very first Tetrapod Zoology Convention – we’re calling it TetZooCon – happened on Saturday 12th July, and what fun it was. Our venue: the London Wetland Centre, a Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust conservation park officially opened in 2000 and situated in Barnes, west London. I’m curious to know whether this is the first convention organised around a single blog. Anyway, as the first ever of its kind, it was something of a gamble – we organised it in a rush, didn’t do any advertising beyond what you might already have seen on Tet Zoo,, facebook and twitter, and simply hoped that enough people would turn up to make it worthwhile. Did it work? It kinda did, actually. The ‘we’ is myself and John Conway; we were also aided and abetted in various ways by Jenny Taylor, Gareth Monger (thanks for help with the banners), and the various people discussed below.

Statue of the late Sir Peter Scott (and some swans) at the entrance to the London Wetland Centre. By coincidence, my talk on speculative zoology required a mention of Sir Peter due to his interest in the Loch Ness Monster. Photo by Darren Naish.

ALL THE PALAEOPLUSHIES, SQUEEE. Buy them from Rebecca Groom.

What did the day involve? Mostly it was talks (seven of them in total), but we also had two interactive events and a wetlands tour… oh, and there was a pub trip too. Rebecca Groom’s palaeoplushies were in attendance as were various of our books, t-shirts and whatever other merchandise we could get ready in time. Huge thanks to everyone who attended; special thanks to those who livetweeted during the meeting (#TetZooCon) and helped communicate goings-on to the outside world. As you should be able to see from some of the photos here, the number of people seemed about right for the size of the venue – we never found ourselves wishing that more people should be in the audience. Anyway, on to recollections about the event…

Me, delivering part of my speculative zoology talk. You might recognise some of the images on the screen. Photo by Natee Himmapaan.

I kicked things off (after John’s introduction) with my ‘The past, present and future of speculative zoology’. The aim was to review the history of speculative zoology, give some idea of what speculative zoology does and does not include (ideas about aliens? Ideas about alternative evolutionary pathways? Speculations on ‘missing links’ and hypothetical prototypes?), and wrap it all up with what we know of anthropology and the relationship between humans and the rest of nature. Does speculative zoology have any sort of ‘function’? Even if it doesn’t (we can’t really evaluate speculative ideas scientifically), the whole phenomenon might be seen as a “probably inevitable consequence of the human condition”: it has ties to monster building, something we humans have always indulged in, and thence to cryptozoology (Naish 2014). I was delighted to discover that Victoria Coules and Steve Nicholls – series writer and series director, respectively, of The Future is Wild – were in attendance at the meeting. Victoria was especially happy with the palaeoplushie Microraptor she purchased, and walked around with it draped alluringly over her shoulder.

Mark Witton talks about azhdarchid imagery used over the years and the peculiar persistence of 'head nubbins'. Tet Zoo regulars might recognise some of the images on the screen.

A Tetrapod Zoology convention would not, of course, be complete without talks on various of the Mesozoic archosaurs that have appeared on Tet Zoo over the years. Mark Witton presented a neat review on the “Tet Zoo stalwart pterosaurs”, the azhdarchids, focusing in particular on how views of these animals have changed over time. From the weird demonic semi-fictional azhdarchids that appeared during the 1970s to the various surreal skeletal images of the 1980s and the homogenous and anatomically realistic ‘terrestrial stalkers’ (sensu Witton & Naish 2008, 2013) of modern times, Mark treated us to a spectacular tour of azhdarchid imagery: palaeoart memes aplenty. He also spoke about some of the exciting new stuff that we’re still working on and hope to see published soon. More on palaeoart in a moment…

Paolo Viscardi discusses the application of forensic techniques on mermaids. Note the scary teeth... not from a monkey after all, then. Photo by Darren Naish.

Two (unrelated) talks focused on mystery animals. Well, mystery animals of a sort. Paolo Viscardi of the Horniman Museum and Gardens (he blogs at Zygoma) spoke about one aspect of his extensive investigations into mermaids: specifically, it was about his research on Feejee mermaid ‘carcasses’ – those grotesque, fascinating objects that have seemingly masqueraded over the years (well, ever since P. T. Barnum got the ball rolling in 1842) as taxidermy specimens of ‘real’ mermaids. As Paolo explained, mermaids of a few different kinds are known, and all have distinct cultural and geographical origins. CT-scanning, x-raying and dissection were all used to investigate certain of them: that old favourite ‘explanation’ (that those ‘mermaids’ are made from the front halves of monkeys stitched to the back halves of fishes) is completely wrong, Paolo’s forensic work showing that they’re actually complex fabrications involving several materials. Some of the data discussed in this talk was published by Paolo and colleagues in a recent paper (Viscardi et al. 2014).

Carole Jahme discusses historical depictions of non-human primates and asks whether some of them might depict unknown species. Photo by Neil Phillips.

Continuing with the theme of shadowy fringe creatures, Carole Jahme reviewed the possibility that Caliban – the near-human but non-human character from Shakespeare’s The Tempest (originally written in 1610 or 1611) – might have been based on accounts of Orang pendek, the famous red-furred, bipedal crypto-ape of Sumatra. Shakespeare seemingly went to great effort to incorporate new scientific discoveries and theories into his plays, and Carole explained how there were good reasons for thinking that he would have spoken to the explorers and travellers of the time, some of whom would have related accounts of creatures then unknown to science. Whether you accept the idea that stories about unknown ape species were being conveyed via the writings of Elizabethans or not, the fact remains that this was a fascinating look at the often confused ideas about those non-human primates from far-flung parts of the world, and on how they were distinguished from, and sometimes confused with, humans.

Helen Meredith: amphibian champion! The screen shows some amphibian-themed images that she wasn't particularly happy with. Photo by Darren Naish.

Helen Meredith, currently studying for her PhD at the Zoological Society of London, gave a brilliant and highly amusing talk in which she answered the question “What have amphibians ever done for us?”. The short answer is: they’ve done an absolute crapload in terms of their contribution to human medicine, culture, folklore and diet, and many species have important roles as ecosystem service providers and as model organisms that help us monitor and model ecological and climate change. Furthermore, efforts are afoot to understand phenomena like limb regeneration in amphibians to see if and how they can be applied to humans. Helen’s sheer enthusiasm for amphibians won the proverbial hearts and minds of many in the audience; she did a brilliant job of highlighting the beauty, importance and significance of these animals, and she’ll surely go on to help raise even further awareness of amphibians and the issues that face them.

Mike Taylor reminds us how sauropods basically make everything else look pathetic. Photo by Darren Naish.

Next: more Mesozoic archosaurs, this time dinosaurs, as Mike Taylor (of SV-POW!) explained why giraffes have such short necks compared to sauropods and why sauropods were able to categorically humiliate all other tetrapods in the long neck stakes. Some of this research might be familiar to people on the same conference circuit as me (and it was published last year as Taylor & Wedel (2013)), but it surely wasn’t to the majority of the TetZooCon audience. Like all the talks we had at the event, it was brilliantly illustrated, highly visual, and both amusing as well as educational.

TetZooCon palaeoart workshop. Mark Witton, Bob Nicholls and John Conway are down at the front. Photo by Darren Naish.

Mark, Bob and John reconstruct dinosaurs in the Palaeoart Workshop. Note the iphone rigs made of technic lego. Photo by Darren Naish.

We then took a break from talks for a while, an hour or so being devoted entirely to our Palaeoart Workshop. Three professional palaeoartists – John Conway, Bob Nicholls and Mark Witton – led things from the front, this being an audience participation event where we (the audience) were asked to reconstruct an extinct animal’s life appearance from a jumbled mass of bones. Special rigs, mounted iphones and a bit of apple software meant that we could watch John’s, Bob’s and Mark’s progress on the big screen. This was brilliant fun and is sure to become a regular feature.

Neil Phillips of UK Wildlife carried the last talk of the day – a series of photos and videos portraying wildlife he’s seen about the British Isles, tied together by his recollections about the adventures involved in getting the images. I most liked the capercaillie pictures, but the stories about terns, shearwaters, seals and foxes were great too.

Darren Naish (at left) presenting Kelvin Britton with a pig skull: his prize for coming first in the TetZooCon Quiz! Photo by John Conway.

Our last indoor event was the patented TetZooCon Quiz! 30 questions, set by me, covered a range of tetrapod-themed topics, from the history of domestic dog breeds to obscure dinosaur names, lizard longevity, shrew behaviour and crocodile anatomy. The quiz was never meant to be easy, just fun, and it included several silly questions based entirely on in-jokes from the Tet Zoo comments (e.g., “What was the 10,000th comment on Tet Zoo ver 3?“). We had three prizes: a wonderful pig skull, kindly donated by Mike Taylor, a set of art prints from Bob Nicholls, and a set of prints from Mark Witton. Kelvin Britton came first with a very impressive 23 out of 30; Richard Hing was second, and Marc Vincent and Natee Himmapaan came joint third. Well done everyone!

Waterfowl montage seen on the day, at the London Wetland Centre. Can you identify them all? Photos by Darren Naish.

With events drawing to a close, we embarked on a tour of the amazing grounds at the London Wetland Centre. There are huge numbers of waterfowl (both captive and wild) to see, plus many other animals, but time was short so we didn’t get to see everything. Part of our group managed to get ‘lost’ and seemingly separated from the rest of us because they spent some time rescuing a family of ducklings that had gotten trapped behind a mesh fence (their mother was on the other side). I’m sure the birds would have figured it out themselves eventually, but it might have taken them a while to get re-united.

Those poor little trapped ducklings, trying to get to their mother. Not sure what they are - aythyins of some sort, I think. Photo by Darren Naish.

And – after a group photo and such – it was time to disembark to the pub. How did people feel about the day overall? I, personally, really enjoyed most minutes of it and feel good enough about it that I’d want to do it again. If that does happen (at the time of writing, a proper decision has yet to be made), we’ll have to revise our plans as goes venues, since things didn’t exactly work out brilliantly as goes the finances. Despite the major scares John and I had from the theatre equipment the day before, things mostly worked out on the day, and the mix of talks, quiz and palaeoart workshop all seem generally enjoyed. And, like I said, the turnout was good.

For news on what happens next, just continue to watch this space. All that remains, for now, is for me to thank the many people who helped out in whatever way: John and Jenny, Rebecca Groom, Gareth Monger, Michael “Xane” Lesniowski and the WWT staff. Huge thanks to our speakers and presenters: Carole Jahme, Helen Meredith, Bob Nicholls, Neil Phillips, Mike Taylor, Paolo Viscardi and Mark Witton. Finally, thanks to everyone who attended, it was a great pleasure seeing you there on the day! This was the very first ever meeting of the ‘Tet Zoo community’ – if you weren’t there, where were you?

Goodbye TetZooCon 2014 -- the first of many? We shall see...

Refs – -

Naish, D. 2014. Speculative zoology. Fortean Times 316, 52-53.

Taylor, M. P. & Wedel, M. J. 2013. Why sauropods had long necks; and why giraffes have short necks. PeerJ 1: e36. 41 pages, 11 figures, 3 tables. doi:10.7717/peerj.36

Viscardi, P., Hollinshead, A., MacFarlane, R. & Moffatt, J. 2014. Mermaids uncovered. Journal of Museum Ethnography 27, 98-116.

Witton, W P. & Naish, D. 2008. A reappraisal of azhdarchid pterosaur functional morphology and paleoecology. PLoS ONE 3: e2271.

- . & Naish, D. 2013. Azhdarchid pterosaurs: water-trawling pelican mimics or “terrestrial stalkers”? Acta Palaeontologica Polonica doi:

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. Heteromeles 10:43 pm 07/14/2014

    Sounds like wonderful fun. Hope it happens again!

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  2. 2. Dartian 1:32 am 07/15/2014

    Congratulations for the successful convention!

    Waterfowl montage seen on the day, at the London Wetland Centre. Can you identify them all?

    Top row (left to right): comb duck, Egyptian goose, lesser white-fronted goose. Middle: plumed whistling duck, magpie goose. Bottom: barnacle goose, Bewick’s swan and… er, I don’t know. Perfect ID fail.

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  3. 3. naishd 3:04 am 07/15/2014

    Heteromeles and Dartian: aww, you were both missed, you would (I hope) have enjoyed it very much. As for those waterfowl… yes, well done, except for that animal at bottom right. It’s a very famous species in the world of waterfowl conservation.

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  4. 4. glynyoung 5:31 am 07/15/2014

    Surely they are wildfowl! Sorry I couldn’t make the event but I was stuck out here on this granite lump. Can I name the bottom one or is that unfair?

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  5. 5. naishd 5:37 am 07/15/2014

    Glyn: if you’re ever here on the mainland at the right time I would dearly love a duck talk :) And, yes, they are indeed all w-w-wildfowl… or waterfowl, take your pick. You can name the bottom one but on the condition that you say something interesting about it.

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  6. 6. glynyoung 6:10 am 07/15/2014

    Wildfowl in UK, waterfowl in N America? Ok. I have it on some very good and reliable advice that the bottom duck, Laysan teal or Laysan duck, really did go down to a wild population of one. And recover! How’s that?

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  7. 7. glynyoung 6:13 am 07/15/2014

    Oh, and I’d love to do a duck talk for you.

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  8. 8. irenedelse 6:14 am 07/15/2014


    Without googling, I’d guess: the one individual was a gravid female with at least one surviving male in her clutch?

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  9. 9. glynyoung 6:34 am 07/15/2014

    Yes, the legend was that the adult male was killed by a (bristle-thighed) curlew but that the eggs went on to hatch. This story was passed down but lost its authenticity and was considered an urban myth. However, I recently met someone who should know and who said it was true. The job now might be to persuade them to put the information out again.

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  10. 10. naishd 6:50 am 07/15/2014

    I know that collecting animals for museum collections is a crucial bit of biological science, but… I can’t help but think there’s something wrong when a scientist discovers a tiny, remnant population of a critically endangered species and proceeds to kill 30% of them.

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  11. 11. irenedelse 7:06 am 07/15/2014

    @Darren #11:

    Definitely wrong. I’ve read similar stories about other species, from the 19th or early 20th century. I wonder if it was a case of conservation pessimism, though? If one thinks a bird is doomed anyway (for good or bad reasons), they may be inclined to act accordingly and prioritise collecting specimens before it’s too late…

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  12. 12. glynyoung 7:20 am 07/15/2014

    Better to get them while they are there. Can’t stuff ‘em later! The last Auckland Is mergansers went this way. When Madagascar teal was ‘rediscovered’ they went straight to a museum – luckily there were more of them!

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  13. 13. naishd 6:46 am 07/15/2014

    I honestly did not know that there was a US-UK difference as goes ‘wildfowl’ vs ‘waterfowl’; I’ve simply preferred the latter since it’s the term I grew up with in books and articles.

    Laysan teal: the sign at the WWT certainly states the story as if it’s true. I quote: “This duck came so close to dying out: in 1930 there was only one bird left in the wild. Fortunately that was a female and she laid a clutch of fertile eggs. All the wild Laysan ducks in the world are descended from her.”. I just checked Vol 2 of Delacour (1956) and, while he doesn’t mention anything relating to 1930, he repeats Dill & Bryan’s observation of 1912 that “they could not be sure that there were more than six individuals left”. A letter from a Dr A. Wetmore “from Honolulu” describes how Wetmore found 20 birds and collected (=killed) six (“he easily ran them down and captured some by hand”). This can only be Alexander Wetmore, in which case — what the hell??

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  14. 14. Jerzy v. 3.0. 8:54 am 07/15/2014

    I se you had a great time in London!

    I heard Laysan Duck story with a difference: the only female was found incubating clutch, which was destroyed by a bristle-thighed curlew. Amazingly, female must have stored sperm from previous mating, which fertilized the second clutch of seven. From this clutch come all the existing Laysan Ducks.

    I also would be interested if this is true! Especially that the generation of people who could have known it is dying out.

    BTW, many endangered species are likely even more inbred than we know. Even if a minimum population was larger than one, this wild population was likely already inbred eg. because of natural isolation.

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  15. 15. naishd 9:03 am 07/15/2014

    Comment # 14: on the inbred nature of relict populations, there are various studies demonstrating how genetically depauperate some ‘conservation success stories’ are. Nene and Przewalski’s horse are certainly among those that have very low diversity compared to the ancestral population, and Laysan duck presumably is too.

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  16. 16. naishd 9:06 am 07/15/2014

    Heads-up to commenters… all comments are – it seems – going straight into the spam file at the moment. I will try and keep on top of things, but don’t be surprised if you post a comment and it disappears before appearing in final form.

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  17. 17. glynyoung 10:26 am 07/15/2014

    Poor genetic makeup of critical species is a common problem unfortunately. We can only work with what’s left. Luckily perhaps, many of the most critical species are endemic to single islands and have gone through numerous bottlenecks since first colonisation. It does mean these species have adapted to inbreeding already. I assume that many of the numerous species that reached oceanic islands but didn’t colonise couldn’t adapt to these problems. My own island, the not very isolated Jersey, has been colonised by several bird species in recent years that appeared to become established then died out slowly. Perhaps without periodic top ups from the continent they can’t survive.

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  18. 18. SciaticPain 11:07 am 07/15/2014

    Looks like fun. come to California!! With regards to financial burdens here are some ideas.

    Given that it appears to be a convention less formal than others (that is a good thing imo) maybe go with a venue less typical of scientific conventions – a concert hall or something like that – where the venue can sell beer, coffee, alcohol, food etc etc and therefore make all/or most of their money off of the captive audience that you provide. The venue might charge you less and maybe you can even pass these savings on to the attendees. Everybody wins. At least now that you have one con under your belts you can give the venue an idea of the draw you can attract.

    Something that constantly bugs me about conventions is the lack of film documentation of such events. Get a film crew that can film the events, speeches, goings on and such. You could probably hire some film grad students for a good price and maybe work out a profit sharing scheme. Then offer a digital download of the film for a couple of bucks/quids/euros and all the people who read the blog but don’t necessarily have the funds to fly to England can download the event. I can imagine you might make more from downloads than actual attendees. Add some bonus features – interviews with presenters etc etc – not seen at the conference so that people who attended will purchase as well. Hell, just thinking out loud, maybe make a condensed version that you can peddle to netflix or something.

    Hope this helps.

    Duane Nash

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  19. 19. irenedelse 11:44 am 07/15/2014

    @Sciatic Pain:

    “maybe go with a venue less typical of scientific conventions”

    As long as #TetZooCon is in the UK, maybe a pub? ;-)

    And someone did film this one, at least if the gentleman with the tripod didn’t stumble on some technical glitch!

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  20. 20. Yodelling Cyclist 11:46 am 07/15/2014

    …and this is why the business of America, is business.

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  21. 21. TheologyGeology 12:05 pm 07/15/2014

    Where was I? Stuck at work…in America. *sigh* this is why I can’t have nice things.

    (That being said, I would love one of those microraptor plushies. Or one small enough to dangle from a rearview mirror.)

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  22. 22. Halbred 12:21 pm 07/15/2014

    Where was I? ALASKA.

    Sounds like a great time, though. Maybe a spin-off conference (“TetZoo West”) will arise in the Americas one day, where I will be more likely to attend. :-)

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  23. 23. Heteromeles 12:57 pm 07/15/2014

    I think Halbred wins that one. Anyone connecting from Kiribati? Kamchatka?

    Speaking also from California, I’d note that some of us need a 6-8 month lead time to get days off during the summer. In some industries, there are limited time-offs (due to staffing requirements), and holidays and summer days go quickly. If Darren wants to do TetZooConToo, announcing the date of the next conference at least six months in advance would allow some of us to get the time off and make travel plans. No pressure, of course.

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  24. 24. irenedelse 1:38 pm 07/15/2014

    The film and pay per download scheme sounds brilliant. I bet even people who were there may be interested to get the video and re-live the glorious day!

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  25. 25. Halbred 1:55 pm 07/15/2014

    I’m with Heteromeles on this one. Not because I have strict time off requirements, but because airfare increases the longer you hold off buying tickets. And when your starting destination is Alaska, the cost is already significant. That’s why I rarely go to SVP–not just because the conference itself is obnoxiously expensive, but also because airfare tends to be similarly priced.

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  26. 26. John Harshman 2:33 pm 07/15/2014

    Oh, and I’d love to do a duck talk for you.

    Me too. Or ratites. Or Neoaves. Whatever.

    I find Sarkidiornis interesting mostly because of its odd pantropical distribution. There really aren’t many birds (or, needless to say, other organisms) with that geographic pattern. Dendrocygna bicolor, but what else?

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  27. 27. naishd 4:31 pm 07/15/2014

    I find Sarkidiornis interesting mostly because of its odd pantropical distribution.

    An ancient, widespread Pangaean distribution is clearly the most sensible explanation.

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  28. 28. naishd 4:35 pm 07/15/2014

    test test test

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  29. 29. Heteromeles 5:03 pm 07/15/2014

    Indeed, Dr. Naish, indeed. Were bears involved?

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  30. 30. Yodelling Cyclist 5:13 pm 07/15/2014


    Seriously, that post counter continues to climb like a home sick angel, yet the thread remains rife with crazy.

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  31. 31. Yodelling Cyclist 5:14 pm 07/15/2014

    Any posts getting through now?

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  32. 32. 6:01 pm 07/15/2014

    What location besides London would have the highest concentration of TetZoo followers? I see two other Californians in these comments….

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  33. 33. John Harshman 8:40 pm 07/15/2014

    Oh, now you’re just trying to start a 200-comment thread, aren’t you?

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  34. 34. LeeB 1 11:53 pm 07/15/2014

    What else? The cattle egret?


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  35. 35. Heteromeles 1:43 am 07/16/2014

    Testing. Is the spam filter full yet? Inquiring minds want to know. If this ends up in the spam filter, please don’t post it. If not, guess what, things are working again!

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  36. 36. irenedelse 2:57 am 07/16/2014

    Ducks may have invaded this thread, but they don’t always win. I spent part of Sunday in London’s Kensington Park and saw a coot repeatedly chase away obnoxious ducks bigger than it. It was impressive to see the smaller bird “run” on the water surface while flapping wings! Quite fast too. I don’t fault the ducks for fleeing from it.

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  37. 37. Jerzy v. 3.0. 4:05 am 07/16/2014

    There is also Grey-headed Gull. And recently Cattle Egret colonized S America from Africa, and Little Egret tries to (just a handful of breeding pairs on Antilles).

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  38. 38. irenedelse 8:08 am 07/16/2014

    Location wise: to content both European and American TetZooers, maybe we need to hold next con in the middle of the Atlantic. Iceland, anyone? :-)

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  39. 39. Heteromeles 9:27 am 07/16/2014

    @Irene: Bermuda would be good. We could test out that whole Bermuda Triangle thingie.

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  40. 40. MMartyniuk 9:41 am 07/16/2014

    I would fork over at least us$20 for a downloadable video of the event :)

    Also, if a future con is to be held in the US the only obvious and appropriate choice is NYC, Californians can just deal with it.

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  41. 41. Heteromeles 9:42 am 07/16/2014


    Seriously, that post counter continues to climb like a home sick angel, yet the thread remains rife with crazy. (hope I did the italics right. If not, abject apologies!)

    You’re surprised that crazy and homesick angels go together?

    Not to jinx it, but that spamalot episode yesterday seems to have slowed the comments down. We can hope that it will stop somewhere around, yes, comment #666.

    To me, it’s kind of sad that the SciAm “most read posts” feed didn’t acknowledge that the thread had gone deep into the triple digits. You’d think that they’d like to brag about some post getting that kind of traffic, not bury it behind an undoubtedly reasonable story like, say, “Psychic Animals and Football-Playing Bees.”

    The other sad part is that for some of us, “PB” will no longer stand for “peanut butter sandwich.” That’s a real loss.

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  42. 42. irenedelse 10:40 am 07/16/2014


    Ah, but Iceland has trolls… The mountain kind, not the common online-dwelling critter.

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  43. 43. DavidMarjanovic 11:00 am 07/16/2014


    Thread won.

    announcing the date of the next conference at least six months in advance would allow some of us to get the time off and make travel plans. No pressure, of course.

    *piles on to increase the pressure*

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  44. 44. Heteromeles 11:44 am 07/16/2014

    @Irene: That’s true. But Iceland could conceivably have been part of a land bridge back in the Paleocene. Maybe that’s why it has trolls.

    @MMartyniuk: I’m down with New York City, but if you want to center it in the US and make it easier for Halbred, I’d suggest, say, Kansas. Or Minot. :D

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  45. 45. John Harshman 12:00 pm 07/16/2014

    Cattle egret and grey-headed gull don’t manage pan-tropical, as they have no Asian populations. Purely trans-Atlantic distributions are interesting too, but they’re a bit more common. There are also a fair number of species with nearly worldwide distributions — osprey, barn owl, e.g. — but they don’t count either.

    Is there another pan-tropical species?

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  46. 46. Yodelling Cyclist 2:17 pm 07/16/2014

    IF, and I mean IF, TZC2 crosses the Atlantic, it would have to be either to a hub airport (say Atlanta) or to Montauk. Just because, you know….monsters…..

    Oh, and IF TZC2 (say it with the US accent tee-zee-cee – it has a certain ring) did cross the Atlantic, perhaps Dr. Atlantis could render advice and succour.

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  47. 47. Heteromeles 2:18 pm 07/16/2014

    Salvinia molesta?
    Sus scrofa?

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  48. 48. irenedelse 3:46 pm 07/16/2014

    @Heteromeles #44:

    Well, obviously, trolls in Iceland are evidence for a wider Laurasian distribution than just the parts known today as Scandinavia. It is thus conceivable that the opening of the Atlantic in Mesozoic times is the explanation for their presence on this very isolated island, and not dispersion over water when vikings settled there. It is well known that trolls are feared by Homo sapiens, so we can’t just suppose that Middle Ages people lived in close proximity to these creatures. On the other hand, the qalupalik of Greenland and Nunavut have been described by some researchers to be “troll-like” and it is clear that they are close relatives to trolls. Together they form the troll-qalupalik clade, whose distribution can be most parsimoniously explain by vicariance events tied to the tectonics of the Laurasian basin. This theory is due to be published any time soon…

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  49. 49. irenedelse 3:50 pm 07/16/2014

    And the spam filter is still up to its voracious ways, I see… :-(

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  50. 50. Heteromeles 4:18 pm 07/16/2014

    It occurred to me that “panbiogeography” has the same number of syllables as “modern major general,” if you know the Gilbert and Sullivan song from the Pirates of Penzance.

    It also occurred to me that panbiogeography needs a proper song to introduce people to its unique accomplishments.

    Sadly, I’m not much of a songsmith. Anyone want to help? Some things are better crowdsourced, and there are enough syllables in the song that you could probably incorporate a decent phylogeographic hypothesis into the song without breaking a sweat.

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  51. 51. naishd 4:19 pm 07/16/2014

    Yes, something is seriously, seriously amiss in the comments — >everything< goes into the spam folder, and stays there until I select and 'approve' it. There's nothing I can do at my end – no settings to change or anything like that. Somebody said (on twitter) that it's a SciAm-wide thing. Sigh. I'll keep releasing comments (including my own, FFS) as and when I can, please be patient if you post something and then see it seemingly vanish into the ether.

    Seems to have killed the PBG discussion (at 658 comments). Or has it?

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  52. 52. Heteromeles 4:31 pm 07/16/2014

    Another song that could be adapted to celebrate panbiogeography is, of course, Monty Python’s Spam song.

    It’s very simple, really: “Pan, pan, pan, pan, pan, pan, pan, pan, panbio, geography (pan, pan, pan)…”

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  53. 53. LeeB 1 6:37 pm 07/16/2014

    John Harshman,

    actually cattle egret are in Asia, and spread from there to Australasia(or perhaps they have been there for hundreds of millions of years and were just overlooked).

    They aren’t quite as widespread as barn owls (yet).


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  54. 54. LeeB 1 7:52 pm 07/16/2014

    Actually just had a further look around and some authorities split the cattle egret into two species; but then the barn owl can be split into three species based on DNA work.


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  55. 55. Yodelling Cyclist 8:52 pm 07/16/2014

    If we’re doing weird population distributions, ospreys? Why have they not spread south of Brazil in south america?

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  56. 56. irenedelse 5:14 am 07/17/2014

    @Heteromeles #50:

    I’ve had a go at “The Panbiogeographer’s Song”, feel free to add/change stuff, everybody!

    I am the very model of a Panbiogeographer,
    I’ve phylogenies vegetable, animal, and mineral,
    I know the works of Croizat, and I quote the times historical
    From Cambrian to Holocene, in order geological;
    I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters philosophical,
    I understand theories, parsimonious and heretical,
    About Gondwanan tectonics I’m teeming with a lot o’ news, (bothered for a rhyme)
    With many cheerful facts about the origin of the emus.
    I’m very good at dispensing information voluminous;
    I know the minutest clades of beings animalculous:
    In short, in patterns vegetable, animal, and mineral,
    I am the very model of a panbiogeographer.

    It’s funny how many lines hardly need to be changed to apply…

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  57. 57. LeeB 1 5:23 am 07/17/2014

    According to the discussion and maps here: Osprey can be found down to Uruguay and Northern Argentina and Chile; but the interesting thing is that all South American specimens are non-breeding migrants from North America.
    Also African and Indian Osprey are migrants from Europe and Northern Asia,
    But Australian Osprey are resident breeders.

    So why are there no resident breeding Osprey in the tropics outside of Australasia and Central America?

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  58. 58. irenedelse 7:53 am 07/17/2014

    I can’t come up with examples of Tetrapods with a pantropical distribution (global now, that’s easy: humans, Falco peregrinus…) but unless I’m sorely mistaken, there’s a perennial herb, Bacopa monnieri, which has this distinction.

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  59. 59. Heteromeles 12:25 pm 07/17/2014

    @56 Irene: Bravo!

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  60. 60. Tayo Bethel 2:42 pm 07/17/2014

    This is way off topic but …

    Is it true that owls lack atapetum lucidum?

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  61. 61. irenedelse 3:59 pm 07/17/2014

    @Tayo Bethel #60:

    No. Owls do have a tapetum lucidum. At least barn owls

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  62. 62. Christopher Taylor 8:39 pm 07/17/2014

    I was just looking up stuff on a pantropical arthropod, the scorpion Isometrus maculatus. Of course, it has generally been assumed that the distribution of this species is due to human transportation, but in the absence of contrary information, it is just as possible that it has survived unchanged since the Permian. After all, there are fossil scorpions even older than that </snark>

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  63. 63. Tayo Bethel 1:45 am 07/18/2014

    @Comment 61:
    this seems to be a confused issue–some sources state that owls do have a tapetum, while others say no. In the very excellent book The Unfeathered Bird, for instance, it is stated that owls and all other birds besides the nightjars lack a tapetum, while others say yes, owls do have a tapetum.Any owl experts here who might care to comment?

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  64. 64. Yodelling Cyclist 7:24 am 07/18/2014

    Since this has devolved into a general bird chat, I’ll mention that in the case of shooting rare species we should recall that the last record of Eskimo curlew, Bachman’s warbler and the pink headed duck are all shot specimens. Famously, Mason Spencer had to shoot one of the last Ivory Billed Woodpeckers in 1932 before the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries would credit reports of their survival in the Singer tract. We have to remember that for most of the last two centuries firearms have yielded better data than cameras. The term “snap shot” does not originate in photography.

    Now for a silly question: can very heavy waterfowl actually land on dry ground safely (low friction ice not included)? Seriously I’ve never seen it, and the one photograph Google could find involved a bird which landed on a motorway and was mildly injured by the landing/crash. I appreciate that, say, condors, pull it off, but large swans, for example, always seem to approach for high speed “rolling” landings.

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  65. 65. Yodelling Cyclist 7:25 am 07/18/2014

    Ah spam filter, thou art a cruel…..witch.

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  66. 66. naishd 8:38 am 07/18/2014

    Yod: I appreciate the importance of taking definitive records. But I’m still troubled by the idea of a scientist that finds 20 birds and hunts down and kills 6 of them. Seriously — how is this ok? (rhetorical question; I’m not challenging you).

    As for big waterfowl landing on dry ground: they can do it just fine – even swans (video). Geese (especially Canada geese) sometimes land on roofs, and routinely land in non-flooded fields.

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  67. 67. London Wetland Centre birds | Dear Kitty. Some blog 8:46 am 07/18/2014

    [...] On 9 November, to WWT London Wetland Centre. [...]

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  68. 68. Yodelling Cyclist 9:21 am 07/18/2014

    Darren: huh, thank you for the information. Well, there goes the delicious idea of swans as biological flying boats.

    As regards the shooting of rare birds, we should reflect that there are many cases and so different rationales may apply in different cases. In the cases of Bachman’s warbler, Eskimo Curlew and possibly pink headed duck, my understanding is that the animals were shot prior to their identification, so that could be called an accident. The case of the Laysan teal I really don’t know, but was Wetmore also aware they were critically rare? I mean the IUCN and term “critically endangered” were not to exist for several more decades.

    Finally there’s the Mason Spencer situation. Good, light weight and affordable cameras are recent inventions – James Tanner hauled an unholy mass of kit into the Singer Tract to get his high quality photographs and motion pictures, and these were obtained by finding nest holes and a determined quest in known habitat, not taking rapid pictures of a bird serendipitously spotted on the wing. (As the fine men and women from Cornell can attest, rapidly acquiring images of a quality sufficient to identify flying birds when there is no warning is still really hard to do). So here is one reason for taking samples. So that one can say, “I saw one, I really did, and here is the proof”. Multiple specimens demonstrates that a population was encountered, not just an isolated individual. I don’t think it’s right but that’s with hindsight, and I doubt anyone would try it today.

    Case in point, an Orang Pendek body, whether modern or dating from 1854, would dramatically alter the conservation debate/funding situation in Indonesia. Sampling is a brutal necessity in a world where people…make inaccurate statements (for a great variety of reasons).

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  69. 69. naishd 10:41 am 07/18/2014

    Yod: thank for the points. Just to emphasise: I don’t have any disagreement with what you say at all.. rather, I’m complaining about the fact that someone can find 20 birds and kill 6 of them. It is that he thought the birds were more valuable dead than live or something? There are plenty of biographical notes about Wetmore out there, I might try and find out.

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  70. 70. Yodelling Cyclist 11:05 am 07/18/2014

    Well, it seems we agree. It’s a shame, but we just have to accept that a dead dude did something we don’t agree with for motivations that we don’t fathom.

    Which is pretty much most of human history.

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  71. 71. vdinets 10:05 am 07/19/2014

    I add my vote for California! Our state has the largest bigfoot population (and entire towns specializing on bigfoot-themed souvenirs), plus sea serpents, Trinity Alps giant salamanders, and loads of other crypto fauna. I wouldn’t be surprised if the reason mokele-mbembe hasn’t been caught yet is that it now lives in Sacramento Delta as an illegal immigrant.

    Fulvous whistling-duck has almost-pantropical distribution (the Americas, Africa and India, but not SE Asia or Australia).

    Owls do have reflective eyeshine, although it’s much weaker than in nightjars. I don’t know how to explain it unless they have tapetum lucidum.

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  72. 72. CS Shelton 10:59 pm 07/19/2014

    Hey y’all! I have a general question which may be off-topic but I really gotta know – Our cat sighs in frustration. It is funny and cute, but also so similar in context and form to that human expression that I have to wonder the following:
    A) How widespread is this in mammals? Someone on the google results says cattle sigh as well.
    B) How far back would phylogenetic bracketing push this?
    C) Given that, can we know if a frustrated Cretaceous insectivore made that sound while the big dinosaurs stomped around nearby?
    & lastly,
    D) Can I get a what what?

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  73. 73. irenedelse 1:01 pm 07/20/2014

    @CS Shelton:

    Cat sighing in frustration? Like, when they miss a prey, or when their humans don’t want to pet them? If it’s a kind of displacement activity, sighing in frustration may well occur in archosaurs. Do birds or crocodiles sigh?

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  74. 74. CS Shelton 5:03 pm 07/21/2014

    The sighing cat only wants to be touched on his own terms, but we own his fuzzy butt, so we pick him up when we feel like it. He’s flimsy and resigned to it, unless he thinks he has an angle to wriggle free. The sigh is that of a small child being forced to sit on Aunt Nettie’s lap.

    I’d imagine Archosaurs do not, because their respiration is hella different and weird. But that would be something else, wouldn’t it? If we do the bracketing thing, wouldn’t that make a huge majority of extant tetrapods into potential sighers?

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  75. 75. Yodelling Cyclist 6:18 pm 07/21/2014

    @CS Shelton:I don’t think the sighing business should be taken very seriously.

    But then, when did I take something seriously?

    At the moment, the bracket is one carnivoran and one primate (F. Catus and H. Sapiens), so the bracket at most includes placental mammals, and probably only boroeutheria. At this point the classic fossil evidence versus molecular clock debate starts up again, as the youngest boroeutherid fossils (and indeed placental mammal fossils) date from the Palaeocene (this is gleaned from a brief Google search), while molecular data suggests a Jurassic split from the rest of the mammals. So, the answer is maybe some insectivorous mammal was sighing in the Cretaceous. That said I think, personally, that trying to phylogenetically bracket such a minor behavioural tick is perhaps pushing this concept way too far, especially since it’s really hard to definitively determine an emotional state in a human, let alone another animal.

    You can, of course, get a what what.

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  76. 76. Tayo Bethel 6:46 pm 07/21/2014

    Then again, sighing might be limited to mammals. No mention of sighing amphibians anywhere, nor sighing archosaurs.
    Perhaps the tapetum is only weakly developed in owls compared to nightjars. Owl share the characteristic of enormous, immovable eyes with tarsiers and owl monkeys, both of whom lack tapeta altogether.

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  77. 77. Tayo Bethel 6:58 pm 07/21/2014

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  78. 78. Yodelling Cyclist 7:36 pm 07/21/2014

    Wait, wait Tarsiers have no tapetum? But Galagos do (I assume since they have very strong eyeshine)? Would someone with better understanding of primates please tell me when and where the tapetum got lost, and why?

    One possibility that idly comes to mind, having light reflected from a tapetum would mess with the detected polarisation of the signal for light entering the eye far from the optical axis(for reasons I don’t want to go into after a long day). Do owls or tarsiers use light polarisation at all – are they looking for a strongly polarised signal from prey or something?

    I mean, without doing any calculations (for which I way too tired) if you were looking at moon light reflected off the ground and had a tapetum lucidum (I’m assuming a sort of organic film here) you’d get an enhanced signal (brighter region) in a vertical band in the eye. That’s actually a pleasing qualitative result, because it matches a cat’s eye’s orientation. So at a wild guess, round pupil = no tapetum, and I’m going to guess that’s so that there’s reduced distortion to the image in an animal that has to manoeuvre in a complex environment under low light conditions. OK, that matches owls and tarsiers, but doesn’t explain why a.) their brains can’t do post processing to compensate in an analogous fashion to dealing with blind spot, and b.) where the hell is the eyeshine coming from?

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  79. 79. Yodelling Cyclist 7:42 pm 07/21/2014

    Oh god, googling tapetum lucida reveals myriad complexity in the optical parameters and reflective layer. I’m going to stand by this statement though, I strongly suspect that the type of lucida will have to do with whether an animal is trying to capture polarisation data.

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  80. 80. CS Shelton 12:47 am 07/22/2014

    Thx for the whatwhat, YC, and the info. My google fu is inferior, no question. As for taking it seriously, I do so on this level: It sounds a lot like a human sigh and the context is very similar. He is in a frustrating situation and taking a moment to rest & re-orient himself to it, like when you lean back in your chair at work after being stymied for a while.

    But it is just two data points in front of me. I still can’t say with 100% certainty his sigh is the same as ours, and if only two species are in evidence, then the tentative answer would have to be it’s convergent / derived / i shouldn’t be allowed to use technical terms i barely understand :P

    Tayo – I thought all birds had immovable eyes, figured that’s what the small heads on very stable high-speed necks was about. Then again, wouldn’t be surprised if I’m totally wrong. BTW,check out chicken cams on youtube. The GallusCam commercial one is an obvious fake, but I think the other one might be real.

    I mentioned archosaurs because Irene had wondered if they might, but no one has reported that in the thread yet. I should go frustrate a cockatiel now for science… I have no idea how I’d do that. The bird tends to skip straight from easy-goin’ to screechy.

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  81. 81. irenedelse 8:28 am 07/22/2014

    @Tayo Bethel #77:
    Thanks for the link. This eye-shine business is more complex than I assumed! (But then, what is simple and straightforward in biology…)

    @CS Shelton #80:
    Heh. If I suddenly heard a cockatiel do a human-like sigh, I would think it was just imitating the cat.

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  82. 82. CS Shelton 4:35 pm 07/22/2014

    Further flaws in my experimental model! This science is doomed.

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  83. 83. DavidMarjanovic 1:06 pm 07/25/2014

    Wait, wait Tarsiers have no tapetum? But Galagos do (I assume since they have very strong eyeshine)? Would someone with better understanding of primates please tell me when and where the tapetum got lost, and why?

    Galagos do retain the tapetum lucidum. Its absence is a derived feature diagnostic for Haplorrhini = monkeys (incl. apes) + tarsiers.

    It follows that the earliest haplorrhines were diurnal, lost the tapetum lucidum because it was unnecessary, and then the tarsier side immediately became nocturnal again (Eocene omomyid – stem-tarsier – skulls have huge eye sockets). In short, Stupid Design.

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  84. 84. leecris 5:32 pm 08/11/2014

    All for having a TetZooCon 2 next year, and, since the author thereof is resident in the UK, see no reason why it should not always be held there – although more notice would be appreciated, for those of us who have let our passports expire, as would a way to purchase and download a video of the proceedings, as well as fuzzies and t-shirts available for purchase online for shipment to the UK as well as elsewhere. Royal Mail does an admirable job of getting items to me though they once sent something from Scotland to the US via Australia…

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  85. 85. Things to Make and Do, Part 14: sheep skull | Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week 11:31 am 09/30/2014

    [...] call it my pig skull, but it’s not mine any longer. I donated it as the prize for winning the TetZooCon quiz, and it is now the proud possession of Kelvin Britton. But I have another one, so that’s [...]

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