Tetrapod Zoology

Tetrapod Zoology

Amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals - living and extinct

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bucorvus in flight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nasobemes, among the best known rhinogradentians.

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

Cassowaries Kick Ass: The title really says it all.

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

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

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

Atractaspis, the father of death.

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

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

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

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

Alligators Eat Fruit: Yeah, you read that right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grey whale photographed off Israel, 2010.

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

Floating giraffe model, by Don Henderson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naish encourages Bucorvus to bite. Naish gets bitten.

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

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


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

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

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