Tetrapod Zoology

Tet Zoo picture of the day # 27

i-4a025c9357cfb88cc55d97d4c130455d-Steve's future.jpg

Among the most popular of areas I’ve covered on Tet Zoo ver 2 has been speculative zoology. Those of you who know the articles in question (go here) might recall Steve White’s picture of future animals, which I’m posting here again. I’ve recently learnt that Steve now has his own blog, Thunderlizard, and in this article he explains some of the thinking behind the animals in the piece. I must elaborate on my own contribution some time: surely you all want to hear more about the future evolution of eusocial miniaturised naked mole rats. I blame Chris Lavers (see Lavers 2001)…

The finches are there because of an idea (formerly semi-popular but not heard so widely today) that House finches Carpodacus mexicanus were going to take over the world, replacing native passerines and thereby flattening out the diversity gradient.

Anyway, while I’ve posted the picture before, I couldn’t resist doing it again: I hope that’s ok Steve. Steve has also used his blog to showcase various others of his pieces, including those depicting fossil sharks, Pleistocene megafauna, and more.

Ref – –

Lavers, C. P. 2001. Why Elephants Have Big Ears. Phoenix, London.


  1. #1 cameron
    August 5, 2007

    Aha, so that may explain Stephen Baxter speculating that finches will occupy the niche of hawk-like creatures preying upon our unfortunate descendants. I still have no idea why an aeronautical engineer came up with a 300 foot “air whale” though, yowza.

    Wonderful paintings too by the way.

  2. #2 Alan Kellogg
    August 5, 2007

    Apropos of the picture…

    “And they were kung fu squawkin’!”

  3. #3 Nathan Myers
    August 6, 2007

    No aquatic bats? Hmph. Well, it’s a big world.

    You might be thinking, “Give him aquatic bats, he’ll want arborial plesiosaurids next.” (You’d be wrong, but since you asked, a scrupulous judiciary would do nicely.)

    Aren’t bats past due for social organization, along mole-rat lines? If in fact this or that bat species already had it, would anyone know?

    Also, what is it about social organization of this sort that demands a queen? What keeps a bull bat/rat/termite enforcing exclusive fertilization privileges from maintaining the necessary genetic uniformity?

  4. #4 neil
    August 6, 2007

    Ah perfect timing. I’ve just finshed watching ‘the future is wild’ and now have an appetite for this sort of thing

  5. #5 Zach Miller
    August 6, 2007

    I, too, have wondered what how genetic diversity is retained when you’ve only got one breeding female.

  6. #6 Alan
    August 6, 2007

    Vmpire bats have some tendencies towards social organizatiion – the colony is related and succesful animals returning with full stomachs share blood by regurgitation – even to other adults. This is as I recall it anyway from old Wildlife programmes

  7. #7 Darren Naish
    August 6, 2007

    Excuse for gratuitous self-promotion: the vampire bat ‘buddy system’ was covered in a Tet Zoo article here.

  8. #8 Nathan Myers
    August 6, 2007

    I haven’t wondered “how genetic diversity is retained when you’ve only got one breeding female”. In a termite or bee colony (as in your own body), genetic diversity would be a disaster. I do wonder how just one viviparous female can produce enough pups to maintain the population.

    What I was asking about, though, was why it had to be a female… Is it because the queen can bank a single male’s seed, making her offspring more closely related than would (e.g.) the offspring of a king male and lots of females? But do mole rat queens do that?

  9. #9 TheBrummell
    August 7, 2007

    I may be wrong (I often am), but I think a male-based eusocial system would be more vulnerable to sexual conflict and “cheating” than a female-based one.

    Female queens (ants, bees, termites… don’t know about mole rats) can control the phenotypes of their offspring in response to environmental cues. A queen bee can “decide” (not arguing for consciousness here) to produce workers, new queens, or drones (males). Some ants also produce multiple types of workers, some of which we term “soldiers”. I know that some of these decisions are actually made by the workers in honey bees (Apis mellifera), but they don’t have absolute control as far as I know, and I don’t know what’s going on in other species.

    In contrast, a male “king” bee could not determine the characteristics of his offspring in the same way – hormonal inputs to the developing embryo are not an option. In Hymenoptera (ants, wasps, bees), most species have an odd sex determination system known as haplodiploidy – males are haploid, females are diploid, and there is no sex chromosome. This means a male can produce only one type of sperm, all of which will be genetically identical to each other. So he can only generate diversity in his offspring by mating with multiple females (good for him) who can make their own decisions regarding their offspring (bad for him).

    Anyway, that’s a very cool picture, it’s good to hear that Steve White is still making stuff like this.

  10. #10 Anthony Docimo
    August 8, 2007

    I have a funny feeling that those horned critters are carnivorous…or at least as predatory as giant sloths.

  11. #11 johannes
    August 9, 2007

    > I have a funny feeling that those horned critters are carnivorous…or at least as predatory
    > as giant sloths.:)

    The same thing seems to be true for the “raptor chicken”. Chickens are quite omnivorous, I saw some of them killing and eating a mouse. Obviously, this future ecosystem seems to be rather predator- or at least omnivore-heavy… 🙂

  12. #12 David Marjanovi?
    August 12, 2007

    Sloths? Predatory? In the complete absence of incisors, canines, and a beak?

  13. #13 Metalraptor
    March 10, 2009

    Not to mention that petrified (not fossilized) dung of the ground sloth Nothrotheriops has been found…no animal matter present. And adding insult to injury, Nothotheriops is in the same group with the most oft hypothesized “killer sloths”, Megatherium and Eremotherium. Sloths were badass, but they weren’t carnivores. Think of elephants or ankylosaurs, they had wicked tusks, spikes, and armor, but they didn’t use them to go and kill animals to eat.

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