Have you heard about the new tapir? Now available on merchandise...

Yet again, it’s January 21st and, yet again, Tetrapod Zoology is another year old. As of today, Tet Zoo has been going for nine years. I’ve discovered that children (should you produce and raise them) are a good means by which you can plot the swift burning away of your short time on the planet*. Well, blogs are too. Happy birthday Tet Zoo; as per usual, the idea here is that I review the year that’s passed from an entirely TetZoo-centric perspective. I hope you enjoy this look back at the year that’s passed and don’t find it too egocentric.

* “They say time is the fire in which we burn”; favourite movie quote.

Assorted creatures encountered during the year. Clockwise from left: Turkmenistan x Siberian eagle owl hybrid, cryptically pooping bush tapir, terrestrially-foraging Bateleur.

2014 was a pretty good year for all things Tet Zoo-related. The blog itself saw the publication of the 300th ver 3 article and a huge amount of stuff got covered. The main innovation, however, concerned the appearance of an expanded TetZooniverse: Ethan Kocak’s Tet Zoo Comic was launched during the early part of year, the Tet Zoo podcats (co-hosted with John Conway) underwent a substantial increase in listenership, John Turmelle and Alberta'a Claw Tet Zoo Time built itself a community, and the first ever Tetrapod Zoology Convention (TetZooCon) happened during the summer.

I was kept perpetually in work with jobs for books and magazines, and did part-time lecturing and mentoring. A gigantic textbook project remained a constant presence in the background (some idea of progress is conveyed via my patreon project), and there was the SpecBio event at LonCon. I wasn’t ever able to devote all that much time to technical research, but still pushed out something like seven technical papers as well as a few book reviews (Naish 2014a-c). Long-in-gestation projects on big cats and cassowaries saw print, and additional long-in-gestation articles on ichthyosaurs, pterosaurs and theropods finally got finished and submitted (though have yet to see print at the time of writing).


Assorted fossil birds (not drawn to scale). From Naish (2014).

January 2014 started with the appearance of my Journal of Zoology paper on what we know (or what we think we know) about the behaviour of fossil birds (Naish 2014d), a contribution for a special issue devoted to behaviour and the fossil record. The paper is mostly a review and variously links the form-function work that I’ve been involved in, those projects on sexual selection in the fossil record, and my collaborative (and ongoing) studies on theropod phylogeny as a whole. More on those subjects in a moment. I also blogged about ichthyosaurs during January.

At top (l to r): Naish, Rayfield, Benson at a dinosaur-themed meeting. Below: cover slide for my talk. Oh no, not dinosaurs and sexual selection AGAIN.

At the end of the month I spoke at a dinosaur seminar organised by the Open University Geological Society; Roger Benson and Emily Rayfield were the other speakers. I discussed sexual selection as it applies to fossil dinosaurs – a subject that might now be familiar to Tet Zoo regulars. Several publications relevant to the sexual selection debate appeared during 2014, but that’s a long story that I can’t cover here. io9 wrote about Cryptozoologicon (Volume 1) in early February and said positive things about it. The book was published at the end of 2013 but it, and its planned successor, would pop up on several additional occasions during the year.

February and March’s articles at Tet Zoo included a revamped version of my reminiscences about The Velvet Claw, the second part of my review of Australian agamid lizards, and articles on monitor lizards, wildebeest, and the last – the seventh – article in the crocodiles series. March’s article on plesiosaurs – a review of Daniel Loxton’s book Plesiosaur Peril (Loxton 2014) – provided a good excuse to discuss various ideas about plesiosaur life appearance and biology. Ethan's aforementioned Tet Zoo Comic saw official release on February 19th, the very first issue focusing on ducks.

I published my second paper of the year during March: a morphometric analysis of two Peruvian big cat skulls, suggested on previous occasions to represent new taxa. We (Naish et al. 2014) found that the skulls can almost certainly be identified as those of Jaguars Panthera onca. That paper was published in the new open-access journal PeerJ: they published an interview with me about the paper (and the story behind it) here. The project was also covered here on Tet Zoo.

My ability to use the wacom tablet that John Conway gave me improved steadily through the year, though it hasn't yet made pencils and paper redundant. Here: a series of initial experiments.

On a vaguely related note, March’s issue of Science Uncovered magazine featured my article ‘The hunt for strange beasts’ (Naish 2014e). The idea of the piece was to explore the ways in which new scientific techniques are allowing cryptozoological claims and bits of data to be examined. It includes discussion of the Brian Sykes yeti DNA work, the British lynx work I did with Max Blake, Ross Barnett and others (Blake et al. 2013), the promise of eDNA, and the hugely problematical Ketchum et al. bigfoot article. Sykes et al. (2014) famously claimed that the bear DNA identified in their ‘yeti’ sample revealed evidence of ancient hybridisation involving polar bears. Alas, this interesting (albeit over-egged and not really as surprising as it was made out to be) discovery has since been shown to be erroneous (Edwards & Barnett 2015).

Waterbirds encountered during March 2014: Great crested grebe pair engage in mirroring behaviour, and angry Canada goose chases Greylag. Photos by Darren Naish.

A few social events that occurred in March are worthy of mention here. John and I attended the London-based launch of Matt Salusbury’s Pygmy Elephants book (Salusbury 2014) during the month. Clive Spinage didn’t turn up, alas, but at least I got another toy Komodo dragon out of it. I also visited Katrina van Grouw and her husband Hein and spent a day talking about birds, bones, anatomy, publishing and art with them. The resulting Tet Zoo article, which was mostly a review of Katrina’s amazing The Unfeathered Bird (van Grouw 2013) was published in June. On the subject of birds, I photographed displaying grebes and fighting geese during this part of the year.

Permian bears are a meme now. HT Yodelling Cyclist.

The two palaeognath articles published here in March and May proved extraordinarily entertaining as they attracted THE PANBIOGEOGRAPHERS!! And thus we have the second of those articles having a record-holding 661 comments. If you missed all the fun (I’m not about to explain it here), now would be a good time to catch up. We owe the Permian bears meme to this whole wondrous event.

A neat thing only tangentially related to the TetZooniverse happened in the pages of Nature in late March: Jakob Vinther and colleagues described a new Early Cambrian anomalocarid termed Tamisiocaris, interpreted by them as a suspension-feeder with distinctive, long-pronged feeding appendages. This discovery allowed them to recognise a new clade of anomalocarids which they named Cetiocaridae, and this name was based specifically on Ceticaris [sic], a wholly speculative suspension-feeding anomalocarid invented by John Meszaros for the crowd-sourced, freely available book All Your Yesterdays (Kosemen 2014). Anomalocarids certainly aren’t tetrapods (or even vertebrates), so I shouldn’t be mentioning this here. Can’t resist it though. This really is a case where speculative palaeoart presaged or predicted reality. Furthermore, it's a nice instance of the scientists being aware of, and crediting, the work of artists and visionaries. I should add that the amazing Bob Nicholls of paleocreations.com did the official artwork depicting Tamisiocaris.

Tamisiocaris reconstruction at left by Bob Nicholls; Ceticaris image at right by John Meszaros.

Of April Fool’s cassowaries, Dougal Dixon, and ‘theme park dinosaurs’ in Wales

Palaeognaths (one of my favourite groups of animals) formed the focus of 2014’s April 1st article. Finally, the world was let in on the secret of Maximum cassowary, and there was much rejoicing. The Dougal Dixon interview also appeared here in early April and proved extremely popular. Entirely coincidentally, I revisited Dougal and his ideas on speculative evolution later on in the year. More on that in a moment.

Another of April’s articles (titled The Tet Zoo Manifesto) gave me a good excuse to compile lists of the various Tet Zoo articles that have covered several of the ideas I’m especially interested in and keep returning to: obscure lizards and snakes and frogs, bird-like dinosaurs and dinosaur-like birds, azhdarchid pterosaurs, crocodylomorph diversity, and the probable prevalence of sexual selection as a driving force in Mesozoic archosaur evolution. Tortoises, hornbills and amphisbaenians were covered here at about the same time.

A scene from June 2014. Photo by Darren Naish.

With the family, I again visited the Welsh Brecon Beacons during April. While there we visited the Dan yr Ogof National Show Cave for Wales where there are a vast number of life-sized model dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, virtually all of which are out-of-date, pre-Renaissance behemoths. And it's not all just T. rex and Stegosaurus – I particularly enjoyed seeing models of such beasts as Placodus, Tanystropheus, and Phorusrhacos. From a sociocultural perspective, remember that these models aren’t just anachronistic, arty irrelevancies (as many scientifically informed people might assume), but – for many – key reference points with regard to prehistoric life, the reinforcement of tropes and idioms. I’ve written about these models a few times before and wrote about them again – this time focusing specifically on the Phorusrhacos models – in July. Anyway, while in Wales I also watched (and extensively photographed) tadpoles, passerines, and interspecies rape in ducks.

Ducks, always with the raping. Male muscovy turns attention to Aylesbury, April 2014. Photo by Darren Naish.

A title is needed for this section of text and I haven't thought of one yet

Ethan’s Tet Zoo Comic continued to go from strength to strength with a high level of virality. A favourite I just have to mention here – you really must check it out if you’re a long-time Tet Zoo fan – is the ‘Red pandas of Ohio’ episode from March 2014.

Your humble author with British Antarctic Survey chart showing living and fossil penguins. I'm as tall as an Anthropornis nordenskjoeldi.

Freak passerines, more monitor lizards and musk turtles received Tet Zoo coverage in May. I went to Howletts Wild Animal Park and photographed monkeys, to the Lyme Regis Fossil Fair (again) where I bought too many toy prehistoric animals and (with a team of like-minded individuals) made a night-time homage to Mary Anning’s grave. The personal highlight was Mark Witton’s palaeoart exhibition – a whole gallery devoted to Mark’s artwork, with the associated text and installations discussing the animals Mark has illustrated and the science behind his illustrations. The British Antarctic Survey stall was good too, the ‘measure yourself next to fossil penguins’ chart being a nice touch.

Neat new toys obtained in May 2014. Favourites include the Collecta Kelenken and azhdarchid. Photo by Darren Naish.

A couple of weeks later, I went to Buckinghamshire County Museum in Aylesbury for Katrina van Grouw’s Unfeathered Bird exhibition – more on that in a moment. The magpie pair that I wrote about in June 2013 began nesting again (in the same place: my front garden), but this year I never had the chance to really photograph them all that much. A magazine article I published in May was devoted to another of my favourite subjects: the life appearance of Mesozoic dinosaurs (Naish 2014f), with azhdarchids getting a cameo appearance. The article – published in the (sadly) now defunct Science Uncovered – featured artwork by John Conway, Julius Csotonyi, Emily Willoughby and Mark Witton. It was pretty sweet.

Lauren McGough wears Tet Zoo t-shirt while holding a Golden eagle. I'll repeat that so you remember it. Lauren McGough wears Tet Zoo t-shirt while holding a Golden eagle. Photo provided by Lauren, used with permission.

It was also in May that we (myself and John) announced the now semi-finalised plans for the first ever TetZooCon, on which more in a moment. I also started selling Tet Zoo-themed t-shirts at about this time, and it’s the massive, soaraway success in t-shirt sales that’s given me the splendid financial security that I rely on today. Bwa-ha-ha!!! Rolls around on floor...

More humans wearing Tet Zoo t-shirts! From left to right: Amy Ricketts, Albert Chen, Catherine Fowler, Pete Buchholz.

June featured articles on Lower Cretaceous theropod dinosaurs, cave-dwelling salamanders, fossil crocodylomorph diversity, alleged early members of the pinniped lineage, fighting behaviour in passerines, and duikers. I finished writing numerous text entries for another of those big books on prehistoric animals. The book concerned isn’t out at the time of writing and I’ll probably discuss it here when it does see print. My Fortean Times article on the SpecBio/cryptozoology crossover appeared (Naish 2014g). The article was initially planned as a discussion of the feedback John, Memo and I received following the 2013 publication of Cryptozoologicon Volume I, but it more or less ended up being a two-page advert for the book. Don’t forget that volume II of Cryptozoologicon is soon to appear!

The Age of TetZooCon

July was an epic and important month in the TetZooniverse. Why? Because TetZooCon, that’s why.

A slide from a TetZooCon talk. What could it possibly mean?

Yes, the imaginary event that I’d mentioned in jest back in... I dunno, whenever had now become a reality. It was a huge success in terms of turnout, feedback and quality of content and we broke even financially, which is better than losing money, at least. Thoughts on the meeting can be read here. At the time of writing we’re at the stage where TetZooCon 2015 comes up in conversation every now and again, but we’re a long way away from anything being arranged, let alone finalised. Something will happen in time – watch this space.

Images from TetZooCon: Paolo Viscardi talks mermaids at left, TetZooCon schedule (with Rebecca Groom palaeoplushie and Mark Witton art) at right. Photos by Natee Himmapaan.

The ‘Cretaceous Ichthyosaur Revolution’ continues, and shrinking theropods

July also saw articles on choeropotamids (an obscure group of fossil artiodactyls), De Loys’ Ape (part of which was an extract from Cryptozoologicon Volume I), and the very popular Humans among the primates. The last two articles of the month focused on new papers that I’d been involved in. The first of these revolved around research – led by my excellent colleague Valentin Fischer – on platypterygiine ichthyosaurs, specifically Simbirskiasaurus and Pervushovisaurus, two taxa previously uncritically synonymised with Platypterygius but now shown to warrant recognition as distinct taxa (Fischer et al. 2014a).

Montage depicting several of the taxa involved in the Cretaceous Ichthyosaur Revolution; background image by Frank Knight depicts Platypterygius australis. Graph at bottom - from Fischer et al. (2014b) - shows our present understanding of ichthyosaur diversity over time. Note that Cretaceous 'genus'-level diversity is now as high as that of the Early Jurassic.

This article is the latest in the slow-burning ‘Cretaceous Ichthyosaur Revolution’ series, part of an ichthyosaur-themed research programme I (and others) have going on in the background. More on that at some point in the future – various papers are in assorted stages of completion. 2014 was also the year in which we got to see how other ichthyosaur researchers would respond to our controversial 2013 paper in which we proposed that the Ichthyosaurus-like Lower Cretaceous ichthyosaur from Iraq – Malawania anachronus – was a late-surviving relict of a ‘Lower Jurassic’-style phase in ichthyosaur evolution. Some analyses included Malawania and found it to occupy the same position we’d initially suggested. Others excluded it, preferring to pretend that it didn’t exist. Hmm...

Moving on, July’s final article – 50 million years of incredible shrinking theropod dinosaurs – focused on the paper that Mike Lee, Andrea Cau, Gareth Dyke and myself published in Science (Lee et al. 2014a). This was the second collaboration we published during the year: a previous study (I never did get to discuss it at Tet Zoo) looked at the timing of Mesozoic bird evolution (Lee et al. 2014b). Several papers appeared in 2014 on large-scale trends in theropod evolution, all agreeing on the general point that we can now demonstrate a trend towards smaller size, more gracile proportions, and increasingly rapid rates of evolution in the theropod lineage leading to birds.

Flame the bearded dragon clambers about on things. I hope Paul Sweet and Keiron Pim appreciate the valuable promotion I'm giving their books.

It was also during this part of the year that we acquired a pet Central bearded dragon Pogona vitticeps belonging to one of those domestic morphs, a leatherback. She’s called Flame and it’s been fun to watch her increasingly amusing and informative behavioural shenanigans. I’m planning to gather my thoughts and write them up for the blog at some stage. My friend and colleague Ben Moon – known affectionately as Moono – represented Bristol University on University Challenge. Well done that Ben.

The LonCon SpecBio event

During early August, I attended LonCon3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention (Tet Zoo thoughts here)... not exactly the sort of meeting I usually get involved in. But some months earlier, Gert van Dijk (of Furahan Biology and Allied Matters) had gotten the ball rolling on a planned speculative evolution seminar that would involve Dougal Dixon, Lewis Dartnell, and my friend and colleague Memo Kosemen. LonCon3 as a whole wasn’t as great as I’d hoped it would be (even though the sheer size of the meeting was incredible: over 10,000 attendees and more than 15 parallel sessions). However, the speculative evolution event was great and all the feedback we received was very positive. Other SpecBio events are planned for the future.

L to r: Darren Naish, Linda Antonsson, Elio García, photographed at LonCon3. This photo will mean something to some of you.

Memo created this montage of LonCon3 SpecBio images. The photo at lower left shows Gert van Dijk (l) and Memo Kosemen (r). Seated: Darren Naish (l) and Dougal Dixon (r).

What with Memo, me and John Conway all in the same place at the same time, we elected to try a bold and innovative thing and – on the evening of August 20th – aimed to do a live-broadcast episode of the Tet Zoo podcast from a London pub. We were supposed to be doing everything from Hammersmith’s Black Lion pub, but their wifi wasn’t working and we ended up at The Ship Inn... where the wifi signal wasn’t good enough, causing two of us to drop offline after we'd started broadcasting. Unable to do anything live, we recorded stuff for later release. What a disaster.

Another of those big Dorling Kindersley prehistoric animal books – Dinosaur!, written by John Woodward – arrived at Tet Zoo Towers in August (Woodward 2014). I was consultant for this book and, as usual, worked with the artists (Peter Minister, Andrew Kerr, Vlad Konstantinov and others) to get things looking as ‘right’ as possible. Some of the included art is fantastic: this is by far the most visually spectacular DK dinosaur book yet produced. Ok, there are lots of little errors as goes the reconstructions (it's just impossible to keep on top of things when you have so many people champing at the bit and completing work before you can get all your comments in... and I'm not especially happy with the Tyrannosaurus model they decided to go with in the end) but it's a major improvement on just about all previous efforts. I mean, look at the feathery theropods and fuzzy psittacosaurs...

Dorling Kindersley's 2014 Dinosaur! The psittacosaur (top right) is by Vlad Konstantinov; the therizinosaur (lower right) is by Peter Minister (I think). Therizinosaurs seemingly do NOT have rectricial fans as shown here.

August at Tet Zoo saw more passerine-themed articles (chiffchaffs, blue tits, great tits and nuthatches), and a revamped version of my piece on the Blue whale model at London’s Natural History Museum. That latter article was inspired by a (business-themed) trip to London which I combined with a meeting with Tet Zoo super-fan Felix Bridel (and his dad, Dan). It’s always great to meet the fans.

Unfortunate stumpy-footed pigeon, photographed in Lisbon. Photo by Darren Naish.

A popular article published here during September focused on our changing ideas about the life appearance of fossil dinosaurs – a piece with obvious links to the published article mentioned above (Naish 2014f). An effort to write more about rodents during the year led to September’s muskrat article and I also covered footless urbanite pigeons – that is, on feral pigeons that lack some, most or even all of their toes. I asked in that article how globally widespread a phenomenon this is. Are there poor, footless pigeons in towns and cities worldwide, or is it just a British or European thing? While in Lisbon (Portugal) during December, I photographed this unfortunate bird, so at least I can say that I’ve now seen the footless condition in non-British pigeons. I also (finally) published my thoughts on Don Prothero and Jason Loxton’s 2013 book Abominable Science! during September. I can tell you that Abominable Science! is going to be cited extensively in several in-progress reviews of the state of cryptozoology.

Changyuraptor article, featuring artwork by Emily Willoughby.

Several other things worthy of mention here also happened in September. Mike Taylor’s awesome dinosaur art was unleashed upon the world – it’s difficult to appreciate what it is, you’ll just have to see it for yourself. A magazine article on the new large microraptorine Changyuraptor appeared in print (Naish 2014h), and I’m very pleased to say that it featured an excellent reconstruction by maniraptoran-themed artist Emily Willoughby.

My Tet Zoo review of recent-ish pterosaur discoveries appeared at Tet Zoo during late September. Among the several technical articles discussed in that piece was the recently paper co-authored study in which I and 19 co-authors contested the pterosaurian identity of Thalassodromeus sebesensis, a recently named alleged azhdarchoid from the Upper Cretaceous of Romania. The specimen is a turtle plastron (Dyke et al. 2014). Several papers on real Romanian pterosaurs are due to be published this year; some of it is real game-changer stuff.

The Witton-Naish-Conway palaeoart badge. To be used as widely as possible.

An article co-authored with Mark Witton (him again) and John Conway was also published at about this time, appearing in the online journal Palaeontologia Electronica (Witton et al. 2014). It’s on the direction, trends and themes of palaeoart and is meant to be something of a call to arms. I still haven’t written specifically about the subject of our article here on the blog... but one day soon, I will! If you can't wait until then, Mark wrote about the issue here. Some of you will know that some seriously wayward behaviour from consultant palaeontologists, marketing people and artists very much brought the ethics and business of palaeoart into the spotlight during 2014.

Rigorously accurate life reconstruction of Shanklin croc, by Vladimir Dinets.

The publication of the ‘Shanklin croc’ in October in Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society (Young et al. 2014) was also covered here on the blog; the paper (describing a new tethysuchian crocodyliform known only from a tantalising fragment of lower jaw) was co-authored by Mark Young, Lorna Steel, Davide Foffa, John Tennant and myself. As explained in the Tet Zoo article (and in an episode of the podcats), we don’t know enough about ‘Shanklin croc’ to say for sure what it would have looked like when alive. However, it’s always fun to speculate and you’ll be delighted to know, I’m sure, that Vladimir Dinets kindly knocked up the adjacent rigorous life reconstruction. The ‘Shanklin croc’ article reminded me that of my on-going and very much incomplete plans to review all the fossil crocodylomorph groups here at Tet Zoo. Yeah. I’m working on it.

The Chickensaurus event of October was good fun – this was a twitter campaign in which people were invited to create and submit their own versions of Jack Horner’s planned ‘chickensaurus’ creature. Again, io9 picked up on this and ran with it. I like io9.

Assorted chickensaurus images from the twitter event of October 2014, a recently created Rebecca Groom image superimposed at right (dammit, Rebecca - you always make the chickensauruses look too good!).

We’re gonna need a montage

Front cover of Birkhead et al. (2014). If you're interested in the history of ornithology, you must obtain this book.

On that subject, during October I once again sold my crocodylomorph montage to people who wanted it for an installation at a herpetologically-themed visitor attraction. I sold a few other illustrations (most bizarrely, my redrawing of a certain rendition of Longisquama) during the year as well. I’m especially happy with the fact that my depiction of the famous Sibley and Ahlquist tapestry was used in Tim Birkhead, Jo Wimpenny and Bob Montgomerie’s excellent book Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology Since Darwin (Birkhead et al. 2014). Another bird-themed image of mine – a photo showing gang rape behaviour in mallards (published at Tet Zoo ver 2 in March 2010) – was used in Tommaso Pizzari’s paper on sexual selection (Pizzari et al. 2014). Yes!! Tet Zoo at the forefront of sexual selection research.

That crocodylomorph montage, incidentally, is one of a huge number of like illustrations that will be published in my in-progress book on the vertebrate fossil record. Those of you who support me at patreon will have seen some of these illustrations at various stages of completion. Lecturing season at the university started up again... with fish.

Reptile groups that I’ve been planning to write about for years now – skinks and the Triassic, crocodile-shaped phytosaurs – were both covered on Tet Zoo during October and November. I also wrote about the Triassic ‘proto-ichthyosaur’ Cartorhynchus, sending out a plea for more artwork on said beast. I’ve seen several efforts via social media – remind me if you’ve done won and we’ll collate them for an article. I made an attempt at about this time to (once again) get through my over-long list of Books Needing Reviews but didn’t get all that far. At least I finally wrote about Chet can Duzer’s Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps (Van Duzer 2013). Mice and deer were also discussed here during November.

The Jurassic World event of late November

Nerds hate dinosaur-nerds, or something.

At the end of November, I happened to tweet a few thoughts about the then brand-new Jurassic World trailer. The movie looks lame in several respects, with crappy dinosaurs (and a mosasaur) that have deliberately been done to look like those of the first Jurassic Park, progress and discovery and reality be damned. Yes, I know it’s “just a movie”, but what dumb, lazy storytelling: they could so easily have written a story that allows for the idea that the theme-park dinosaurs/pterosaurs/mosasaurs of ‘today’ have been tweaked to keep pace with discovery. But, no, we get lame old scaly ‘raptors’ that are historic artifacts, not depictions of reality.

The tweets concerned got retweeted a lot, and then sort of went viral as screengrabs of the tweets were featured on websites, which then got copied by other websites, and so on. Wow, screengrabs of tweets – I’m so impressed with the state of modern online journalism. My tweeted musings ended up being featured in The Independent and Guardian newspapers, at CBC, Mary Sue, and Gizmodo, at Nat Geo, and got read out by DJ Greg James on the UK’s BBC Radio One. I turned down offers to write articles on this issue for various online ‘cool news’-type sites, and I’m glad I did. There’s a lot more I’d like to say about this whole event but enough has been said already. I advise those interested to read John Conway’s very thoughtful article on the issue here.

Cameron McCormick, with fetching t-shirt and turtle.

Early November saw the appearance of yet another wing of the expanding TetZooniverse: the Tet Zoo wiki project, fronted by Cameron McCormick (of Lord Geekington fame). The wiki is already proving tremendously useful: thanks to everyone who’s contributed to it – it looks great! It does get overrun by spam accounts every now and again and hence there’s always a need for admins and assistants able to help keep on top of things. If you’re inclined to help out, you know what to do.

The end of 2014: all at sea, cassowaries, and the Big 300

Birds photographed on my voyages across the Canary Islands and Portugal. Top to bottom: hugely gnarly male Muscovy, La Palma raven, Sanderling and mussels. Photos by Darren Naish.

December was a very special month for me – for the first two weeks of the month I worked as a lecturer on the Queen Mary II, visiting Madeira, Gran Canaria, La Palma, Lanzarote and Portugal during the course of the journey. I met many interesting people and saw a reasonable array of wildlife though, alas, none of the obscure cetaceans or seabirds that you might hope to see in the Bay of Biscay or in the Macaronesian region. I was also surprised to discover that Brian J. Ford – the ‘dinosaurs were aquatic’ guy – was lecturing on the ship. More about that later. Several articles were scheduled to appear here in my absence but that didn’t work out for technical reasons.

December also saw the near-completion of some technical projects on multituberculate mammals, theropods and azhdarchids, and my paper on the evolutionary biology and anatomy of cassowaries – co-authored with Richard Perron – saw publication (Naish & Perron 2014). I haven’t had time to blog about that research yet but will do so soon. Round about the middle of December, the Scientific American blog network underwent a major revision. The entire network was extensively streamlined, with something like 50% of the blogs being axed forever. Tet Zoo – obviously – was not affected by the purge.

Oh yeah, this.

Subjects covered on the blog in that month included African toads, confrontational and bipedal behaviour in deer, and European robins (the latest in the ‘passerines from the peripheries’ series). The 300th Tet Zoo ver 3 article also appeared in December. As stated in that article, I resisted the urge to turn it into some sort of introspective in view of the soon-to-appear article that you’re reading now. So, I did something very odd... I blogged about fish. Yes, thanks to The Big Book, I now know far more about fish than I ever thought I would, and I also have a vast amount of fish-themed illustrations and diagrams to hand.

Fair taxonomic balance.... or not

Finally, we come to January 2015. Writing these birthday articles takes a while – they’re pieced together, slowly, over the weeks preceding the event. One of the things I really like doing is totting up group coverage over the year, since I’m always interested in finding out how ‘fair’ I’ve been as goes which groups gets covered and which don’t. I completed an initial sweep during December and was shocked and saddened to see that lissamphibians – the modern animals most frequently termed amphibians – had scarcely been given any coverage. Well, this just had to be remedied. And thus we find a continuous stream of amphibian-themed articles appearing on Tet Zoo across the latter part of December 2014, and throughout most of January 2015. Yup, fair and taxonomically balanced coverage, that’s Tet Zoo!

A famous hillside sign in Los Angeles, CA.

And on that note, how did things pan out in terms of group coverage? As per previous years, we look at a list of links and then at a graph...

Miscellaneous musings

Lissamphibians (extant amphibians)


Squamates (snakes, lizards, amphisbaenians)

Mesozoic swimming reptiles


Crocodile-group archosaurs and other archosauriforms


Non-avialan dinosaurs



Speculative Zoology (SpecBio)

Now for the graph...

I’m not happy with the pattern we’re seeing here. Yet again mammals and birds win the bulk of coverage. Ok, lissamphibians come third – which is great – but this is only because I saw what was happening and worked hard to pointlessly cheat my own system. Squamates are next: as per lissamphians, their rate of coverage is reasonable (and shows that I made some effort to give them fair representation) but it’s still not as good as it should be. Non-lissamphibian anamniotes (that is, the fossil tetrapods conventionally termed ‘prehistoric amphibians’) were never covered at all, nor were non-mammalian synapsids.

A Seebright hen, drawn for Shoshanna McCarthy by Darren Naish.

Gaaah – this all makes me so angry! In conclusion, the broad pattern of coverage here is much like that of 2012 and 2013. So I’ve decided that 2015 is going to be different.

On that note, a huge number of things are scheduled to appear on Tet Zoo in the coming months. I’d start talking about them, but making promises about things set to appear seems increasingly like a bad idea. I’m set to speak at assorted conferences, to attend fieldwork in far-flung places, and several exciting papers on obscure fossil tetrapods are set to appear in print and hence get discussed here.

Once again, all that's left is for me to say thanks to everyone who visits and reads Tet Zoo, and especially to my network of helpers, assistants, supporters, minions, and regulars. In particular, I want to say thanks to Alberta Claw, John Conway, Dartian, Irene Delse, Dougal Dixon, ectodysplasin, Rebecca Groom, Ethan Kocak, C. M. Kosemen, David Marjanović, Cameron McCormick, Gareth Monger, Bob Nicholls, Richard Nicklin, Llewellyn Reese, Jenny Taylor, Mike P. Taylor, Michael Traynor, John Turmelle, Matt Wedel, Mark Witton, Katrina van Grouw, Glyn Young, the podcats supporters and donaters, the Southampton VP crew (you know who you are), and all wonderful people who support me at patreon (especially Angela Conner, who also needs your kind patronage)... you have all helped, or do all help, make Tet Zoo what it is. I hope you enjoy the way things are going, and here's to nine years of operation.

For previous Tet Zoo birthday articles see...

Refs - -

Birkhead, T., Wimpenny, J. & Montgomerie, B. 2014. Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology Since Darwin. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Blake, M., Naish, D., Larson, G., King, C. L., Nowell, G., Sakamoto, M. & Barnett, R. 2013. Multidisciplinary investigation of a ‘British big cat’: a lynx killed in southern England c. 1903. Historical Biology doi:10.1080/08912963.2013.785541

Dyke, G. J., Vremir, M., Brusatte, S., Bever, G., Buffetaut, E., Chapman, S., Csiki-Sava, Z., Kellner, A. W. A., Martin, E., Naish, D., Norell, M., Ősi, A., Pinheiro, F. L., Prondvai, E., Rabi, M., Rodrigues, T., Steel, L., Tong, H., Vila Nova, B. C. & Witton, M. 2014. Thalassodromeus sebesensis – a new name for an old turtle. Comment on “Thalassodromeus sebesensis, an out of place and out of time Gondwanan tapejarid pterosaur”, Grellet-Tinner and Codrea. Gondwana Research doi: 10.1016/j.gr.2014.08.004

Edwards, C. J. & Barnett, R. 2015. Himalayan ‘yeti’ DNA: polar bear or DNA degradation? A comment on ‘Genetic analysis of hair samples attributed to yeti’ by Sykes et al. (2014). Proceedings of the Royal Society B 20141712. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2014.1712

Fischer, V., Arkangelsky, M. S., Naish, D., Stenshin, I. M., Uspensky, G. N. & & Godefroit, P. 2014a. Simbirskiasaurus and Pervushovisaurus reassessed: implications for the taxonomy and cranial osteology of Cretaceous platypterygiine ichthyosaurs. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 171, 822-841.

- ., Bardet, N., Guiomar, M. & Godefroit, P. 2014b. High diversity in Cretaceous ichthyosaurs from Europe prior to their extinction. PLoS ONE 9(1): e84709. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084709

Kosemen, C. M. 2013. All Your Yesterdays. Irregular Books.

Lee, M. S. Y., Cau, A., Naish, D. & Dyke, G. J. 2014a. Sustained miniaturization and anatomical innovation in the dinosaurian ancestors of birds. Science 345, 562-565.

- ., Cau, A., Naish, D. & Dyke, G. 2014b. Morphological clocks in paleontology, and a Mid-Cretaceous origin of crown Aves. Systematic Biology 63, 442-449.

Loxton, D. 2014. Plesiosaur Peril. Kids Can Press, Toronto.

Naish, D. 2014a. A Review of ‘The Dodo and the Solitaire: A Natural History’. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 34, 489-490.

- . 2014b. [Review of] Pterosaurs, by Mark P. Witton. Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2013, 291 pp., ISBN 978-0-691-15061-1. Historical Biology doi: 10.1080/08912963.2014.882099

- . 2014c. [Review of] The ecology and conservation of Asian hornbills: farmers of the forest, by Margaret F. Kinnaird and Timothy G. O’Brien. University of Chicago Press, 2007, 315 pp., ISBN 978-0-226-43712-5. Historical Biology doi: 10.1080/08912963.2014.919757

- . 2014d. The fossil record of bird behaviour. Journal of Zoology 292, 268-280.

- . 2014e. The hunt for strange beasts. Science Uncovered 4 (March 2014), 67-69.

- . 2014f. Rediscovering the dinosaurs. Science Uncovered 7 (June 2014), 68-72.

- . 2014g. Speculative zoology. Fortean Times 316, 52-53.

- . 2014h. Four-winged dino provides insight into flight. Science Uncovered 11 (October 2014), 17.

- . & Perron, R. 2014. Structure and function of the cassowary’s casque and its implications for cassowary history, biology and evolution. Historical Biology 10.1080/08912963.2014.985669

- ., Sakamoto, M., Hocking, P. & Sanchez, G. 2014. ‘Mystery big cats’ in the Peruvian Amazon: morphometrics solve a cryptozoological mystery. PeerJ 2:e291; doi:10.7717/peerj.291

Pizzari, T., Biernaskie, J. M. & Carazo, P. 2014. Inclusive fitness and sexual conflict: how population structure can modulate the battle of the sexes. Bioessays 36 doi: 10.1002/bies.201400130

Salusbury, M. 2014. Pygmy Elephants: On the Track of the World’s Largest Dwarfs. CFZ Press, Bideford.

Sykes, B. C., Mullis, R. A., Hagenmuller, C., Melton, T. W., Sartori, M. 2014. Genetic analysis of hair samples attributed to yeti, bigfoot and other anomalous primates. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 281, 20140161 doi: 10.1098/rspb.2014.0161

Van Duzer, C. 2013. Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps. The British Library, London.

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

Witton, M. P., Naish, D. & Conway, J. 2014. State of the palaeoart. Palaeontologia Electronica 17, Issue 3; 5E: 10p.

Woodward, J. 2014. Dinosaur! Dorling Kindersley, London.

Young, M. T., Steel, L., Foffa, D., Price, T., Naish, D. & Tennant, J. P. 2014. Marine tethysuchian crocodyliform from the ?Aptian-Albian (Lower Cretaceous) of the Isle of Wight, UK. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 113, 854-871.