Tetrapod Zoology

Tetrapod Zoology

Amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals - living and extinct

Tetrapod Zoology enters its 8th year of operation


Tet Zoo stuff from 2012: man-eating lions, raptors, crocodyliforms, the Squamozoic, turtle penises. Why chickens? Because they were always there, in the background. Lion by Mathew Wedel, battling raptors by John Sykes, Squamozoic scene coloured by Tim Morris. Other images Darren Naish.

It’s January 21st, meaning that Tetrapod Zoology is another year older and has now been going for more than seven years. Time once again to look back at the year that’s passed… or, the year as seen from my own personal, Tet Zoo-themed perspective. As per previous birthday events (or, blogoversaries, or whatever), I’m going to discuss things in chronological order, as if I was reading it all from some grand, comprehensive personal diary (which I’m not). This makes everything messy and jumbled but, hey, I’m talking about real life. And – remember – these articles are highly omphaloskeptical; stop reading now if you hate self-absorption or introspection. Ok, off we go…

A miscellany of 2012 things; from top to bottom: caracara playing ker-plunk, John Conway and the famous over-stuffed Horniman Museum walrus, Grant Museum Megaloceros, Nick Wadham's pet Argentine common boa (Boa constrictor occidentalis). Photos by Darren Naish.

Oh, and because the SciAm blog platform disallows the featuring of date-arranged or subject-arranged archives, please find a subject-arranged list of links at the bottom of this article.

As per the latter months of 2011, 2012 saw me affiliated with the University of Southampton’s National Oceanography Centre where I worked as part of Gareth Dyke’s vertebrate palaeontology research group. I got to spend the better part of the year working as a technical researcher: as a consequence, I was pretty productive during the year. Finally, I was able to finish some of the long-overdue projects that have been on the backburner for, literally, years.

Eotyrannus: finished, yet strangely not finished

So 2012 started with me working hard to complete and update my descriptive monograph on the tyrannosauroid theropod Eotyrannus. If you have a brilliant memory you might recall that I signed off the previous Tet Zoo blogoversary article by hinting about the in-progress nature of this project. I finished said article with a mystery picture that featured a load of grey plastic boxes balanced precariously on a small table. Well, those boxes contained the Eotyrannus holotype (lovingly referred to as the Eotyrannus holotype).

The monograph is the long-promised follow-up to the preliminary but hugely cited Hutt et al. (2001) and concerns the dinosaur I focused on for my PhD thesis. I actually live-tweeted progress throughout work on the project (#Eotyrannus) and – together with excellent co-author Andrea Cau (of Theropoda) – had the manuscript done and submitted during February. Whence…. it has since languished in review. Grr.

Here's something weird I photographed in March 2012. This male Common frog (Rana temporaria) stayed with this clutch of eggs for two days, croaking. The clutch may have been his from a previous mating and maybe he was hoping for another partner; alternatively, his proximity to this clutch may have been accidental. Tadpoles never survive to metamorphosis in this pond - the 2012 lot were all eaten by blackbirds (Turdus merula). Photo by Darren Naish.

Giant otters in the snow

Pteronura in the snow! Photo taken at New Forest Wildlife Centre, by Darren Naish.

Material on colubrid snakes, that ‘San Diego Demonoid’ carcass (a Virginia opossum), odontocetes and my review of Williams and Lang’s book Australian Big Cats appeared on Tet Zoo at about this time. During early February I (with family) visited the New Forest Wildlife Centre where I was amazed to see Giant otters Pteronura brasiliensis frolicking in the snow.

The animals concerned – they’re called Akuri and Simuni – were born at a wildlife centre in Derbyshire; since we saw them in February, they’ve been selected for overseas breeding programmes. Giant otters are another of those animals where the estimated global population is far lower than you might assume: it’s probably between 1000 and 5000. Yes, there may be as few as 1000 Giant otters in the whole world.

Interesting factoid about Giant otters: according to a recent phylogenetic analysis of carnivorans, Pteronura may not actually be an otter at all, but instead the sister-taxon to the clade that includes other otters, weasels and kin (Agnarsson et al. 2010).

Aquatic Apes, Cryptozoology, ‘Necks For Sex’ and cleaning beaches

Robin Boyden's aquatic ape cartoon, (c) BBC Focus.

Later in February I finished an article on the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis (AAH) for BBC Focus magazine. Written to mark 50 years since the publication of Alister Hardy’s proposal, it ended up being published online only rather than in the magazine (Naish 2012a).

I’ve always been really interested in the AAH. I’m certainly not averse to the possibility that certain populations or species of hominid might have foraged on beaches, in wetlands and so on, but I agree with the majority of primatologists and anthropologists that there is no compelling evidence linking the evolution of hominid (or hominine, or hominin) anatomy, behaviour or physiology with such a way of life. We seem to owe our unusual anatomy, posture and lifestyle to a history that involves vertical climbing, adaptation to open habitats, specialisation for complex communication and reliance on rare, fatty foods. Incidentally, a two-day symposium focusing on the possible role of waterside adaptation in hominid evolution is being held this May at the Grange St. Paul's Hotel in London. I’d like to attend but don’t know if I can. May is also when the next International Symposium on Pterosaurs is being hosted in Rio and I’m intending to make it to that. The submission deadline for the pterosaur meeting is January 31st, come if you can!

Frame 352 again.

Another Focus article appeared in March. Titled ‘Should we give up looking for Bigfoot?’ (Naish 2012b), and focusing mostly on the question of whether the pursuit of mystery animals should be considered worthy or not, I basically argued that we need to make a judgement call when considering which ‘mystery animals’ are possibly real and which are possibly not. I think that there’s a totally subjective sliding scale; that not all ‘mystery animals’ (I’m deliberately not using the term ‘cryptid’ here) are in the same proverbial basket, and that we have to make decisions about which seem likely to exist based on reported appearance, location and behaviour. Orang-pendek might score well, mothman might not, and where sasquatch goes really depends on which evidence you think is at all good or worthy of consideration. Like I said, it’s subjective, but it means that I regard the existence of things like bigfoot as looking pretty unlikely (yes, I’m familiar with the several ‘good’ bits of evidence, and all of them have turned out to be unreliable or erroneous). Predictably, the article earned scorn from readers who interpreted my opinion as defeatist and dismissive.

Due credit to co-authors on this work: Mike P. Taylor, Dave Hone, Matt Wedel. Images on this slide produced by Greg Paul, Robert Bakker, Jaime Headden, Nima Sassani, Tom Lehman and others.

Also in March I gave a talk for the Geological Society of London on the whole ‘Sauropod necks not for sex’ thing (see Taylor et al. 2011). I damn-near did a UK-wide lecture tour based around that research, giving the same talk for the Southampton Geology Group in April, the Bristol University Palaeontological Discussion Group in May, the Dorset County Museum’s Geology Lecture Series in November and the Bournemouth Natural Science Society in January (for the original Tet Zoo article see Necks for sex? No thank you, we’re sauropod dinosaurs on ver 2). I gave other talks as well, speaking about azhdarchid pterosaurs for the Bournemouth Natural Science Society and Saharan wildlife for the Southampton Natural History Society (both in April).

Chessel Bay Nature Reserve, Southampton: the last remaining stretch of undeveloped tidal saltmarsh on the River Itchen, and a crucial feeding and wintering spot for waders, seaducks and other birds. The mud at tidal sites such as this is phenomenally fertile and full of millions of invertebrates. Photo by Darren Naish.

I don't know how obvious it is from this small photo, but there are many stretches of the beach (here, Chessel Bay, Southampton) where every handful of substrate will reveal hundreds of tiny plastic particles. We are now at the stage where many beaches are partially composed of plastic. Photo by Darren Naish.

I did beach-cleaning work in March. My thoughts on non-degradable anthropogenic waste and the impact it has on animals and environments are the same as they have been in previous years; on a global scale, the situation is depressing beyond belief, involving the starvation and needless death of 1000s of birds, turtles, marine mammals and other animals, the contamination and obliteration of food webs, the swamping of beaches and of the pelagic realm with endless tons of plastic shit, the chemical pollution of animal’s bodies, including those of human children, and so on. Occasionally I meet people who doubt that things are really this bad. Inevitably, they are the sorts of individuals who don’t get out much, and who certainly don’t do things like make deliberate trips to ruined ecosystems. My local ‘project beach’, Chessel Bay Nature Reserve here in Southampton, is afflicted both by macro-litter as well as by millions of tiny plastic nurdles and other bits of micro-litter. Our clean-up efforts are led by my friend Rose Nicole.

Several articles forming part of the petrel series appeared on Tet Zoo during March. Aiming to wrap that series up soon (yeah, I’ve heard that before). At about this time, I worked in the background on two cat-based projects (neither of which have yet been through the system), on manuscripts describing new pterosaurs and ichthyosaurs, on several projects that focus on sexual selection in fossil animals, and on a lengthy article about the conservation status of South American mammals. Some of these projects saw publication later in the year; others are still in preparation and news will appear here as and when it’s appropriate.

Wookey Hole! Animal Inside Out! Marwell Zoo!

Prehistoric beasts of Wookey Hole! These sorts of models might be familiar to some of you. Spot the ghostly Tanystropheus, the old-school 'Scolosaurus', Placodus (!) and the non-Burianesque Phorusrhacos. The Corythosaurus looks suspiciously similar to the Iguanodon at Blackgang Chine (Isle of Wight), but for the crest. Photos by Darren Naish.

During April I and the family went to Wookey Hole. While that name might be a little odd-sounding if it’s new to you, I assure you that Wookey Hole is a well known holiday attraction in Somerset, southern England. It’s predominantly a spectacular cave system, but there’s also a landscaped valley with life-sized prehistoric animal statues of the ‘vintage’ sort that we all remember from childhood. A few of my favourites are shown in the montage above.

You can't take photos inside the exhibition, so this is the best you're gonna get. Photo by Dave Hone.

I also visited the Gunther von Hagens ‘Animal Inside Out’ (not Animals Inside Out) exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London with Dave Hone and Rose-Heather Mikalik. The giraffes and elephants were well worth the proverbial price of admission, and I liked the ostriches and domestic mammals as well. Not so enamoured with the marine invertebrates though. The exhibition was on show between April 6th and September 16th – if you’re seriously interested in anatomy you really should make efforts to see it somehow.

Scenes from Marwell, April 2012. Left: two Plains zebra mares engage in protracted battle. Top right: ostrich meets human hand - what could possibly go wrong? No, it isn't my hand. Bottom right: what the hell? Rooks (Corvus frugilegus) practise weird sex. Photos by Heinrich Mallison.

Dave and I also went to Marwell Zoo in Hampshire a few days later with Heinrich Mallison and Sebastian Marpmann. I love visiting zoos, and visiting them with like-minded colleagues makes the experience all the better. We were extraordinarily lucky that day and got to see giraffes running, zebras engaging in protracted battle and Congo buffalo trotting. I also took time to tell my colleagues how ostriches don’t really have a painful bite – the resulting shenanigans were highly amusing.

Tet Zoo articles published around this time include those on Yutyrannus (a fuzzy theropod I initially regarded as a possible carcharodontosaurian), raptors and goannas. Round 4 in the Cadborosaurus Wars (Woodley et al. 2012) saw print. The entire debate was reported on Tet Zoo here in April.

Romanian enantiornithine nesting colony, reconstruction by Julio Lacerda.

One of several projects resulting from the Romanian fieldwork saw publication in May: I’m talking about the enantiornithine nesting colony reported by Dyke et al. (2012) in Naturwissenschaften (and written up here on Tet Zoo). The conclusions of this study had already been ‘outed’ at the 2011 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting in Las Vegas but it was good to get the paper out at last. Other results from our fieldwork in Romania are currently in the system and are due to appear in print very soon.

During April, independent scientist/author/TV personality/jazz pianist Brian J. Ford published his Laboratory News article claiming that big dinosaurs couldn’t walk on land and hence must have been obligatorily aquatic. I was among several dinosaur specialists asked to respond; after deliberation, I decided that attempting to undo the damage was a worthy endeavour and a brief but fairly damning response was published in May (Naish 2012c).

I love looking at domestic livestock and (I think) I'm not ashamed in saying that I see a lot of beauty in the bodies of big cows like these Holstein. Hmm, nope, still sounds pervy. Photographed at New Forest and Hampshire County Show by Darren Naish.

In June I attended the Hampshire County Fair (wow, so many dogs), had an interview for an overseas job that I didn’t get and published an updated version of the fabled turtle penis article. The latter proved popular (as always) and was picked up by io9 and Jezebel. I also went to the New Forest and Hampshire County Show in July, hence the adjacent photos of wonderful cows. Oh, and Tet Zoo got its own TV Tropes page!

‘Monster of the Manor’: British big cats, again

The new National Geographic TV series Wild Scene Investigation started screening during June and I featured in the episode ‘Monster of the Manor’: an investigation focusing on alleged sightings of puma- or leopard-like cats in the British countryside. The series was presented by the intrepid Suzanne York, Daniel Huertas and Lorne Kramer and we had great fun doing the filming back when... whenever we did it (ah, July 2011).

NatGeo features yours truly; the cover of Rick Minter's 2011 book Big Cats: Facing Britain’s Wild Predators (to be reviewed here on Tet Zoo when time allows).

As regular readers will know, I don’t think there can be serious doubt about the existence of non-native large cats in the UK. The problem in saying this is that the evidence that I’m aware of is almost wholly unpublished and, understandably I hope, I can never make time to publish it myself (despite efforts to get the projects off the ground). I’m not talking about hazy anecdotes of animals that could be pet dogs or domestic cats, but about an enormous number of collected droppings, chewed bones, carcasses, hairs and tracks. Over the last few years I and colleagues worked on some leopard hairs – confirmed leopard hairs (confirmed both via microscopic anatomy and DNA analysis) – collected in south-west England. However, we ran into some obstacles concerning provenance: understandably, it can be difficult to establish beyond reasonable doubt that your samples were collected in the UK. Consequently, we have yet to publish the work concerned. As usual, I will point to Coard (2007).

More on this issue soon, since my long-overdue review of Rick Minter’s 2011 book Big Cats: Facing Britain’s Wild Predators (Minter 2011) needs to appear here soon. On that note, reviews of quite a few 2011 and 2012 books need to see the light of day on Tet Zoo – I try to keep up but it isn’t easy. Luke Hunter’s Carnivores of the World, Karl Shuker’s The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals, John Marzluff and Tony Angell’s Gifts of the Crow, Steve Bodio’s An Eternity of Eagles and many others need to be covered here as soon as possible. Yikes, more pressure.

Attached by a goose, the David Peters thing, borhyaenoids and woodcock

I published several articles on crocodiles on Tet Zoo in June. That’s another of those sets of articles that still hasn’t been completed. What can I say – I get distracted. I did think of making a New Year’s Resolution to complete all the unfinished articles sitting here in my files. But then I decided to continue doing whatever the hell I like, as and when I feel like it. That seems to have worked out so far.

In any given year I have numerous deer-based experiences. 'Giant' ten-pointer Red deer (Cervus elaphus) stag at left; mixed herd of semi-tame young stag and hinds at right. Photos by Darren Naish.

I went deer-spotting at the end of June and – as part of my ongoing study of bird bite strength – got beaten up pretty badly by a male goose who did a good job of looking after his female consorts. I was hoping that the more impressive of the scars would remain for perpetuity; they have not.

What happens when you invite a goose to attack you? Let's find out - it's science! I assume my wounds, bloodshed and retreat did wonders for his ego and status (he was in front of female friends at the time). Photos by Darren Naish.

The lengthy article on Dave Peters and appeared on Tet Zoo in early July and generated a lot of interest and discussion. My coverage of this issue was picked up by io9, Laelaps and the Blog. Dave’s stuff continues to flood the internet and, of course, he remains steadfast in his opinion that his interpretations are more correct than those of anyone else. He announced proudly during 2012 that received over a million hits during the year, many of them coming his way as curious readers visited his site after reading about it at Tet Zoo.

The warning slide I include in my lectures. Images by David Peters.

The good news is that the Tet Zoo critique does rank fairly high whenever ‘reptile evolution’ or such is googled. Each of Dave’s articles includes copious meta tags (bits of html code that don't show on the site [to see them, right click and view ‘View page source’], but are read by software and hence help search engines). In fact, every single one of his pages includes such tags as “Reptile, Amniote, Dinosaur, Pterosaur, Synapsid, Diapsid, Plesiosaur, Ichthyosaur, Turtle, Bird, Lizard, Crocodylian, Tetrapod, Mammal, Human, Homo sapiens” as well as “Reptile evolution including the evolution of humans, mammals, birds, dinosaurs, lizards, turtles, crocodilians and other reptiles” and “Reptile evolution from its genesis to today, including the evolution of man, mammals, birds, dinosaurs and reptiles of all sorts”! Wow – I’m not sure if I’m hugely impressed or massively disgusted (I use tags too, but only listing subject areas specifically relevant to the specific article). David remains one of the biggest menaces on the web when it comes to the dissemination of palaeontological information. As an educator, I make the point of telling people not to use or rely on his stuff, and I assume other lecturers, teachers and educators do likewise.

CENOZOIC SOUTH AMERICA, BABY. Image by Darren Naish (and still a work in progress).

Articles on borhyaenoids, toxodonts and suboscine passerines were also published on Tet Zoo during July. Various versions of a montage showing assorted animals from the Cenozoic of South America appeared on Tet Zoo: the illustration is still not complete and other versions will appear here in future. My review of Ryan et al.’s New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs: the Royal Tyrrell Museum Ceratopsian Symposium appeared in digital form (Naish 2012d). A brief review of Klein et al.'s Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs: Understanding the Life of Giants (Naish 2012e) had appeared earlier in the year, in The Quarterly Review of Biology no less.

Cover of Brett-Surman et al.'s The Complete Dinosaur, Second Edition (art by Bob Walters). Personally relevant for issues discussed below...

During a July trip to Longmoor in far east Hampshire (led by the Hampshire Ornithological Society) I had excellent views at dusk of displaying European nightjars Caprimulgus europaeus and Eurasian woodcocks Scolopax rusticola. I wasn’t quick enough with my camera to get what could well have been one of the best photographic opportunities I’ve ever had – a rhoding woodcock, viewed at close-range, silhouetted against a beautiful sunset. If you think the term ‘rhoding woodcock’ has the air of smut about it, shame on you, though you’re right.

The Complete Dinosaur, Dinosaur Art, sexual selection, Alien Investigation, lecturing

At the start of August my copy of The Complete Dinosaur, Second Edition arrived, and mightily impressive it was too. As discussed at Tet Zoo, the volume includes my own lengthy review of avialan diversity and evolutionary history (Naish 2012f). As I said in the Tet Zoo piece, the chapter is significant in including a substantial review of the Cenozoic avian fossil record. I’ve been trying for years to get the backing to produce a volume – as in, a whole book – on the bird fossil record, but things never pan out. And before anyone says it – no, I am not writing the book and then going in quest of a publisher. This is, I’m sorry to say, an unworkable approach if writing and research forms your primary source of income. I speak from bitter, bitter experience.

Mark O'Shea (on left) with your humble author. What a great guy. Mark's good too.

Another big book project – Steve White’s Dinosaur Art – was nearing completion at the same time. While in London for a meeting, John Conway and I caught up with herpetologists Mark O’Shea and Hinrich Kaiser for a drink. Among many other things, we discussed the Hoser Problem. I’ve only written briefly about this issue (“this issue” = the massive taxonomic vandalism caused by amateur snake-wrangler Raymond Hoser) and indeed will talk more about it and what to do about it later this year. If you’re involved in herpetology and if you’re on facebook, be careful: Mr Hoser is in the habit of sending out friend requests from fake facebook profiles.

Matt Wedel (at SVPCA, Oxford) shows the world what he thinks of Robert Bakker's theropod vs sauropod illustrations. Photo by Darren Naish.

I went to Oxford in September for the 60th annual Symposium on Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy (SVPCA). I spoke about a new pterosaur from the Cretaceous of the UK and its implications for our understanding of pterosaur anatomy, diversity and evolution. The paper describing the animal concerned is currently in the system and will appear at some stage in the near future; you’ll hear about it here first (probably).

TREE cover for ish 28(1), image by Mark Witton.

I did consider talking about sexual selection in fossil tetrapods at that conference, since September also saw publication of the review paper that Rob Knell, myself, Joseph Tomkins and Dave Hone published on sexual selection in fossil animals in Trends in Ecology and Evolution (Knell et al. 2012) (Tet Zoo write-up here). The paper version of the article actually didn’t appear until January 2013, and I’m pleased to say that it made the cover: you may recognise the art as that of my friend and colleague Mark Witton. Incidentally, Mark joined the collective and began blogging in 2012.

Knell et al. (2012) forms part of a body of work in which sexual selection theory is applied to dinosaurs and pterosaurs as well as other fossil animals (Taylor et al. 2011, Hone et al. 2012). I can only see that applying modern biological theory to fossil animals is a good thing, but there are some palaeontologists who strongly disagree with us and a debate is underway. Keep an eye on the letters pages of TREE.

Me with Paul Stewart of The Velvet Claw fame - oh, and The Velvet Claw on VHS box-set. I always carry it with me, just in case.

Dinosaur Art was out by September and we had our launch events on September 21st and 22nd. This all got reported at Tet Zoo so I don’t want to gush about it anymore. The Natural History Museum event was filmed and I’m in the lucky position of owning a copy on DVD. I’ll arrange a home screening if there’s sufficient interest. As always with these sorts of events, lots of interesting and noteworthy people turned up. I will only mention one: BAFTA-nominated cameraman and film-maker Paul Stewart, who I know best as producer of the acclaimed BBC TV series The Velvet Claw, surely known to and remembered fondly by a great many Tet Zoo readers (I wrote about the series here and here back in 2007). In what might be an inexcusable bit of behaviour, I took along my boxed set of The Velvet Claw on VHS videotape purely for the photo you see here.

Mark Young (of metriorhynchid fame) visited us at Southampton later in September and I was back at the Grant Museum for some filming toward the end of the month. This was for the Alien Investigations show eventually screened in early December. As per previous TV efforts, they wanted me because I was featured as ‘the guy’ who debunked the Montauk Monster. The final product was ok, but for the fact that I don’t think they did a good enough job of rubbishing claims that decomposing raccoons, skinned marmosets and skull-boarded human mummies might be the unexplainable carcasses of genuine aliens.

The massively simplified tetrapod cladogram I use in my lectures (incorporating illustrations from diverse sources: Nobu Tamura, Dmitry Bogdanov, Zdeněk Burian, John Sibbick and others). Some people will dislike some of the relationships I chose to depict.

Anyway, our masters course on vertebrate palaeontology kicked off at the University of Southampton’s National Oceanography Centre in October. My first lectures for the course were those on – shock horror – fish, but I was later to tackle Palaeozoic tetrapods, the rise of diapsids, Mesozoic marine reptiles, pterosaurs, turtles and much else. Lecture preparation took up essentially all of my time during the latter months of the year, hence all the recycled stuff that appeared here on Tet Zoo. Technical projects on pterosaurs and Triassic and Cretaceous ichthyosaurs rumbled on in the background; material covered at Tet Zoo at about this time included that on hypothetical big-brained dinosaurs (again), giant flightless bats, hammer-toothed skinks and hypothetical trunked sauropods.

Latest version of the crocodylomorph montage, here in 'parade' format. Image by Darren Naish.

Somewhere round about this time, I finished that big montage showing crocodylomorph diversity. It was later modified to account for new information on metriorhynchids and other taxa. A version of the montage was sold for incorporation into a museum display later in the year – more on that when I’m allowed to talk about it. Actually, I also sold my Sibley and Ahlquist tapestry picture for use in a museum installation during the year. And I met up with Alice Roberts again and got to go backstage with The Scissor Sisters. Honest. Still yet to meet Kate Bush though.

Suburban theropods photographed at Weymouth in September 2012: Larus argentatus and Corvus corone, foraging on the beach. Photo by Darren Naish.

I had another piece in BBC Focus magazine in October, titled ‘Dinosaur palaeontology’ and forming part of their ‘Questions at the frontiers of…’ series. The idea behind the piece is that it focuses on three areas where new research has the possibility of illuminating areas of mystery or controversy. I opted to cover the origin of flight, the sorts of vocalisations Mesozoic dinosaurs might have made, and the as-yet-unfilled gaps in the dinosaur fossil record (Naish 2012g). Discussing the first issue involves mentioning the birdiness/featheryness of non-avialan theropods, the possibility that feathers were exapted for flight from a role in insulation or display, and wing-assisted incline running (WAIR). I quite like WAIR as a possible explanation for the evolution of some aspects of the flight apparatus in theropods, but I know some researchers who dislike it very much.

November saw the appearance of the first issue of The Journal of Cryptozoology, meaning that my paper identifying the Margaret River mammal carcass as a domestic cat now appeared in hard-copy, peer-reviewed form (Naish 2012h).

And so, to the close of 2012…

All Yesterdays saw publication at the end of November (Conway et al. 2012), with the launch event happening in early December. That all went pretty well; much of it was reported here at Tet Zoo. All Yesterdays has received a lot of mostly very positive response and has sold pretty well. The vast majority of people have understood the point we’ve tried to make: that reconstructions of prehistoric animals should be rigorously based on as much evidence as possible but that a great many things about soft tissue anatomy, behaviour and lifestyle are unknowable and the speculations we regard as traditional are no more ‘right’ than the weirder possibilities we explore in the book (Conway et al. 2012). By the way, we’re all frustrated by the number of small typos in the book. I blame google docs. It repeatedly undoes formatting changes made to a manuscript. On the subject of All Yesterdays, are you aware of the All Yesterdays competition? Details here.

All Yesterdays: at left, the three of us. At right: a draft version of something you might recognise if you know the book (by C. M. Kosemen, used with permission).

The PLOS ONE claw curvature paper, co-authored with Alexandra Birn-Jeffery and others, appeared at the start of December (Birn-Jeffery et al. 2012) (it was discussed here on Tet Zoo) and the paper on Wealden plesiosaurs – co-authored with Roger Benson, Hilary Ketchum and Langan Turner – was also published in December (Benson et al. 2012). Also early in December, Judith Pardo Pérez and I met up for an ichthyosaur-themed project; Dave Hone and I also met up and completed and submitted a new manuscript. Again, this is all stuff that won’t appear for a while yet but it’ll get reported here when it sees publication.

Don’t look back in anger

Dan Green and Basher's Dinosaurs: the Bare Bones (Kingfisher, 2012) - definitely one of the most 'interesting' dinosaur books I've been involved in!

Hopefully, this article weaves research, general adventures, popular writing and such together with whatever stuff appeared on Tet Zoo during 2012. I haven’t mentioned everything. There are several children’s books I was involved in, like Dorling Kindersley’s Tourist Guide to Prehistoric Life, Carlton’s How to Build a T. rex, and Kingfisher’s Dinosaurs: The Bare Bones, that appeared during the year, there were various slow-gestation bits of research, and there were an inordinate number of trials and tribulations as goes the ups and downs of personal and academic life. In fact, 2012 was an incredibly tough year that ended on a massive low, not a high.

Am I happy with the amount of material covered at Tet Zoo? No, I am never happy. There is so much I want to do but can’t due to constraints of time; of course, paying work, family life and academic commitments have to take priority. And I don’t know if it’s at all obvious from this over-long article, but 2012 seemed nuts – I spent months where I had so many things to do that I never knew where to start. The stress was sometimes unbearable.

Giant killer shrews. My feelings encapsulated in macropredatory lipotyphlan form. Image by Darren Naish.

Was the year – Tet Zoo’s seventh years of operation – a success in terms of what I got to cover? In general terms, readership shows that it was. I keep an eye on stats and ratings and such, and Tet Zoo continued to do pretty well throughout the year. But was it a success in getting through all that tetrapod diversity that I so long to cover here? I dunno, let’s do some counting… (scroll down for evaluation)...

Miscellaneous musings

Non-amniote, non-lissamphibian tetrapods

Lissamphibians (extant amphibians)


Squamates (snakes, lizards, amphisbaenians)


Mesozoic marine reptiles

Other Mesozoic reptiles

Croc-line archosaurs

Mesozoic non-avialan dinosaurs



So, how did I do? Results...

After totting up the articles covered over the previous year, it’s obvious that 2012 was good for birds and mammals at Tet Zoo. A bit too good, perhaps: as is typical, charismatic megafauna definitely hogged the limelight. Mesozoic non-birdy dinosaurs were fairly well represented, but it’s good to see that croc-line archosaurs got slightly more coverage – and I still need to write lots more about them. As I always say, dinosaurs are great, but they’re already well served elsewhere in the blogosphere and it’s for this reason that I mostly avoid covering dinosaur-themed news stories. Mostly.

I’m especially surprised and ashamed to see that lissamphibians essentially got no coverage at all during the year (ok, we have one rushed article on axolotls). Ancient ‘amphibians’ – as in, non-amniote, non-lissamphibian tetrapods – also had little presence. Non-mammalian synapsids got no coverage at all. This all makes me feel bad, since I really do aim to give representative coverage and equal amounts of love and time to all parts of the tetrapod tree. The constraints that limit my coverage include (1) a focus on hits: like it or not, articles on dinosaurs, birds and big mammals do seem to attract more visits (and definitely more comments) than those on frogs and obscure lizards, and (2) a partial reliance on the text and research I already have sitting around, most of which is – I’m sorry to say – on birds, mammals and Mesozoic dinosaurs. Actually, I have tons of text on toads sitting around, but I’ve gotten stuck in the middle section on obscure African lineages, I have trouble sourcing the illustrations I need, and I’m not yet able to move on.

A reminder that TET ZOO NEEDS MORE FROGS (and other anurans, and salamanders, and caecilians). This is the Frost et al. anuran tree, though much simplified and with several chunks missing. Remember: other cladograms are available. Images compiled from numerous sources online.

As always, this inspires me to want to change things and, say, to focus for months on nothing but lissamphibians and non-mammalian synapsids. Alas, the sad fact is that this just isn’t possible due to those two constraints. Time is the big factor: there is never enough time for blogging when so many other things require priority.

It just remains for me to say that I hope you enjoyed the previous year of operation at Tet Zoo and I hope you’re looking forward to what’s in store next. Including this one, Tet Zoo ver 3 now features 146 articles, many of which inspired copious comment and insight from you visitors. And thanks indeed to everyone who visits or comments – ver 3 currently has over 5100 comments, so the feeling of an interested and active Tet Zoo community is very much there, despite the total failings of SciAm to provide a user-friendly commenting system (due to faceless bureaucrats at the top, not to the visible and hard-working SciAm editors). I want to finish by thanking my wife, Toni, for everything. I don’t know how different things would be if I didn’t have her love and support.

If you enjoy Tet Zoo and are on twitter, do follow me. I tweet as @TetZoo (there are also #TetZoo things to look at). There’s also a Tet Zoo facebook page.

For previous Tet Zoo birthday articles see...

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Agnarsson, I., Kuntner, M. & May-Collado, L. J. 2010. Dogs, cats, and kin: A molecular species-level phylogeny of Carnivora. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 54, 726-745.

Benson, R. B. J., Ketchum, H. F., Naish, D. & Turner, L. E. 2012. A new leptocleidid (Sauropterygia, Plesiosauria) from the Vectis Formation (Early Barremian-early Aptian; Early Cretaceous) of the Isle of Wight and the evolution of Leptocleididae, a controversial clade. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology DOI: 10.1080/14772019.2011.634444

Birn-Jeffery, A. V., Miller, C. E., Naish, D., Rayfield, E. J., Hone, D. W. E. 2012. Pedal claw curvature in birds, lizards and Mesozoic dinosaurs – complicated categories and compensating for mass-specific and phylogenetic control. PLoS ONE 7(12): e50555. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050555

Coard, R. 2007. Ascertaining an agent: using tooth pit data to determine the carnivores responsible for predation in cases of suspected big cat kills. Journal of Archaeological Science 34, 1677-1684.

Conway, J., Kosemen, C. M. & Naish, D. 2012. All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals. Irregular Books.

Dyke, G. Vremir, M. Kaiser, G. & Naish, D. 2012. A drowned Mesozoic bird breeding colony from the Late Cretaceous of Transylvania. Naturwissenschaften 99, 435-442.

Hone, D. W. E., Naish, D. & Cuthill, I. C. 2012. Does mutual sexual selection explain the evolution of head crests in pterosaurs and dinosaurs? Lethaia 45, 139-156.

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.

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.

Minter, R. 2011. Big Cats: Facing Britain’s Wild Predators. Whittles Publishing, Dunbeath, Caithness.

Naish, D. 2012a. Were we once aquatic apes? Focus: Science & Technology

- . 2012b. Should we give up looking for Bigfoot? BBC Focus March 2012, 27.

- . 2012c. Palaeontology bites back… Laboratory News May 2012, 31-32.

- . 2012d. [Review of ] New perspectives on horned dinosaurs: the Royal Tyrrell Museum Ceratopsian Symposium. Historical Biology doi: 10.1080/08912963.2012.688589

- . 2012e. [Review of] Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs: Understanding the Life of Giants edited by Nicole Klein, Kristian Remes, Carole T. Gee, and P. Martin Sander. The Quarterly Review of Biology 87, 53.

- . 2012f. Birds. In Brett-Surman, M. K., Holtz, T. R. & Farlow, J. O. (eds) The Complete Dinosaur (Second Edition). Indiana University Press (Bloomington & Indianapolis), pp. 379-423.

- . 2012g. Questions at the frontiers of… dinosaur science. BBC Focus October 2012, 32-33.

- . 2012h. Identifying ‘Jaws’, the Margaret River mammal carcase. The Journal of Cryptozoology 1, 45-55.

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.

Woodley, M. A., McCormick, C. A. & Naish, D. 2012. Response to Bousfield & LeBlond: Shooting pipefish in a barrel; or sauropterygian “mega-serpents” and Occam’s razor. Journal of Scientific Exploration 26, 151-154.

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

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