I have immense respect and awe for people with artistic talent. Since I have have absolutely none to speak of, the process of developing a piece of art from sketch to completion (and making it look beautiful) is something that baffles me. Artists who focus on the illustration of specimins, science, and natural history art are particularly awesome and rare.
I am lucky enough to consider as friends two talented natural history artists, Glendon Mellow and Carl Buell, who have both designed the beautiful banners which rotate on the masthead above. I have another to add though, reader John Perry Baumlin who emailed this gorgeous original watercolor (below) of a lion skull and invited me to post it.
This piece was included in Focus on Nature IX at the New York State Museum in Albany, New York during the summer of 2006. The juried exhibition featured the work of 69 artists from 12 countries. The Focus on Nature exhibition began 19 years ago and is held every two years, in conjunction with the Northeast Natural History Conference. I’ve always had a special fascination with bones and especially skull morphology. To me they are like natural sculpture, objects of great beauty. ~John Perry Baumlin ~
Seeing this skull piqued my curiousity as to what was once *in* it. What does a lion’s brain look like, and how big is it? The BrainMuseum answered both.
This specimen was an adult male lion, which was perfused with fixative, and obtained from the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin. The first thing I noticed about this brain was the prominence of the olfactory bulbs (the bulb-like structures protruding from the front of the brain), which makes sense given the importance of the sense of smell to lions in tracking prey. Generally, the brain was more folded (containing many gyri and sulci) than I expected.\
UPDATE: I received an email from John Baumlin which adds a bit more information about the olfactory abilities of lions.
…while lions have pretty good olfactory abilities, as you noted from their brain anatomy, it is used mostly in communicating with others of their own kind rather than in tracking prey. All cats leave scent markings which can be read by others. Here’s what George Schaller (whose study of lions in the Serengeti is one of the great works in field biology) says: “Males mark not only their trails, but also the vicinity of estrous lionesses and kill sites; they squirt after fights and during meetings with friends and, in fact, during any situation in which their claim to ownership or right to be there might be questioned. Scent marks are in effect physical extensions of the animals themselves, in that they communicate to others that a lion lives there, how recently it has passed, perhaps who it was, and, in the case of a lioness, whether or not she was in heat.” They have a whole language of smells that is completely foreign to us more visually oriented creatures.