The third TetZooCon happened on Saturday October 1st, and what a success it was. Over 80 denizens of the TetZooniverse descended on the London Wetland Centre in Barnes to witness a selection of talks and events on tetrapod-themed topics.

Our final 2016 banner, ha ha ha. Compiled by John Conway but incorporating illustrations produced for my big book project (and with one subtle little surprise). Credit: DARREN NAISH

This year’s banner – we had two, printed at substantial size and displayed on the walls of the venue – was fish-themed, a witty in-joke, ha ha (if you don’t know, it reflects the years of fish-themed toil I’ve endured while preparing my big book on the vertebrate fossil record). Stalls featuring art prints, books and merchandise were there courtesy of Katrina van Grouw, Steve White, Mark Witton and others. I’m pleased to say that I sold all copies of my new book (co-authored with Paul Barrett) Dinosaurs: How They Lived & Evolved.

Opening slide of my gratuitously titled TetZooCon presentation featuring artwork by Mark Witton (left) and Evan Saitta (right). Credit: DARREN NAISH

I kicked things off with a run-through of ideas on the biology and behaviour of non-bird dinosaurs, specifically looking at the controversies that have surrounded interpretations of their extravagant structures. It felt like a good time to do this what with Lockley et al.’s (2016) recent paper on the discovery of what appear to be display arenas in the Cretaceous fossil record and Gates et al.’s (2016) testing of the ‘feathers replaced bony crests’ hypothesis of Hone et al. (2012)… the talk also felt connected to the one I gave just a few days ago at New Scientist Live on the subject of dinosaur life appearance.

Oh, my name badge... how witty, ha ha ha (photo taken at the end of the day, hence slightly worn look to the badge and pub-like setting of image). Credit: DARREN NAISH

Next up, Charles Paxton – fisheries biologist and statistician with diverse research interests – spoke about his analysis of Loch Ness monster sightings. There’s a lot of bias in how authors describe and interpret monster sightings but there are actually lots of interesting trends and signals in the data. The different descriptions of the Loch Ness monster that Charles reviewed were pretty amusing.

Just one of our many excellent stalls. Yes: THE Steve White, stuff of legend. Credit: DARREN NAISH

Jim Labisko spoke about his work on sooglossids – an obscure, tiny and fascinating group of frogs that are endemic to the Seychelles and have been living there since Gondwanan fragmentation. He played us sooglossid vocalisations, showed amazing pictures of sooglossid parents carrying babies around, wowed us with breaking news on a special discovery, and even had two preserved specimens that we were allowed to examine. Fantastic.

Bob Nicholls' awesome life-sized Psittacosaurus model, surrounded by replica plasticine versions. The dinosaur was the star of the show. Credit: DARREN NAISH

Without doubt, the star attraction of this year’s TetZooCon was not any one of the speakers, but the amazing life-sized, accurately pigmented Psittacosaurus model produced by Bob Nicholls for the recent study on life appearance and ecomorphology of this dinosaur (Vinther et al. 2016). Yes, we had the actual model itself in attendance: what a coup! We then embarked on a ‘Beat The Bob’ challenge in which participants were invited to construct their own psittacosaur models in plasticine (pre-made strips of masking tape and bristles stolen from a dustpan brush gave people the tail bristles they needed). The results were amazing; Bob then did the judging and selected a winner… and well done Kai Casper. Great fun. People got to take their psittacosaur models home with them (if they wanted to).

A packed audience listens to Bob Nicholls (centre) talk about the science and art behind his psittacosaur model. John Conway stands next to Bob; Jon Perry (of Stated Clearly) stands on the right. Credit: DARREN NAISH

Breaks and lunch were punctuated with book signings from Mark Witton, John and I. Mark’s new book – Recreating An Age of Reptiles – was on sale, though I regret not being able to make time to ever buy one. I will soon. We had a box of Rebecca Groom’s palaeoplushies for sale and shifted nearly all of them.

John Hutchinson gave a jaw-dropping presentation on kneecaps – on the tons of research he and his team have done on their diversity, anatomy, distribution and function in tetrapods. There were so many surprises here... it seemed that, with every turn and every new investigation, a surprising new thing was discovered. Outstanding stuff!

Introductory slide from John Hutchinson's outstanding review of kneecaps. It could have served as a plenary lecture at an anatomical conference, it was amazing. Credit: DARREN NAISH

David Unwin discussed what we currently know about pterosaur reproductive biology: eggs, embryos, growth rates and the biology of babies, an engaging story that has leapt forward thanks to new fossils and new data from China in particular. We were treated to special insights into Dave’s on-going work on Darwinopterus. Hannah O’Regan wowed us with a review on the history of bears in the UK. Bears have been a constant feature in British mythology, popular culture and artwork, and the way in which they’ve been depicted reflects our changing experiences with them – early depictions show wild bears, more recent depictions show tamed or captive ones. Her tales of bear-baiting pits in Elizabethan London’s South Bank and of dancing bears in British streets of the early 1900s were especially amazing.

George the Great crested newt, one of a set of fun popularised British amphibian and reptile images produced by ARG UK. Credit: MABEL HARRIS ARG UK

And so we came to the last session of the day. Angie Julian of Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK gave a whistle-stop tour of Britain’s amphibian and reptile fauna before talking about the challenges these animals face today, attempts to conserve them, and efforts to increase their popularity among young people. Combine this talk with Jim Labisko’s on sooglossids and it felt like herps got an appropriate amount of coverage on the day.

Katrina van Grouw then gave a brief discussion – a promotion of sorts – of her new book project, titled Unnatural Selection. It’s devoted to domestic animals and their incredible diversity and will feature even more illustrations than her famous, outstandingly good The Unfeathered Bird (van Grouw 2013).

Opening slide from Katrina van Grouw's promotional presentation on her in-prep Unnatural Selection project, due to be complete by Spring 2018. Credit: KATRINA VAN GROUW

The event ended with our famous quiz, the prizes this year including a fantastic selection of Rebor dinosaur models and a replica Tylosaurus skeleton provided by the excellent people at Everything Dinosaur. I deliberately made the quiz a bit easier than previous ones, but still it was hard to get more than 50%. Anyway, Mo Hassan was the winner (I think getting something like 24 or 25 out of 30), five or six other people then getting runner-up prizes.

A set of happy TetZooConian attendees (though not all of them) outside the venue - we mostly dodged the rain. So many Rose-ringed parakeets in the area now. Credit: DARREN NAISH

And with everything done and dusted, we packed up and disembarked to the pub. I’m very happy with the way it all went and hope that everyone who attended really enjoyed it. Thanks in particular to Bob for bringing the psittacosaur, to John and Jenny for all their work, to all of our speakers and stall-holders, to the Everything Dinosaur team for the gifts, and to all those people who came from far and wide to witness the events. People flew in from France, Germany and even the USA (great to see you, Ralph Attanasia!). I will finish by saying that we’ve reached capacity at our current venue and will likely be at a new one next year. And, yes, there will be another TetZooCon in 2017. Bigger and better... onwards and upwards!

For previous Tet Zoo articles on TetZooCon, see...

Refs - -

Gates, T. A., Oran, C. & Zanno, L. E. 2016. Bony cranial ornamentation linked to rapid evolution of gigantic theropod dinosaurs. Nature Communications 7:12931 doi: 10.1038.ncomms12931

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.

Lockley, M. G., McCrea, R. T., Buckley, L. G., Lim, J. D., Matthews, N. A., Breithaupt, B. H, Houck, K. J., Gierliński, G. D., Surmik, D., Kim, K. S., Xing, L., Kong, D. Y., Cart, K., Martin, J. & Hadden, G. 2016. Theropod courtship: large scale physical evidence of display arenas and avian-like scrape ceremony behaviour by Cretaceous dinosaurs. Scientific Reports 6:18952 doi: 10.1038/srep18952

van Grouw, K. 2013. The Unfeathered Bird. Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford.

Vinther, J., Nicholls, R., Lautenschlager, S., Pittman, M., Kaye, T. G., Rayfield, E., Mayr, G. & Cuthill, I. C. 2016. 3D camouflage in an ornithischian dinosaur. Current Biology 26, 1-7.