Tetrapod Zoology

To begin with, I want to thank everyone who continued to visit Tet Zoo while I was away – you managed to keep Tet Zoo in the top 5 on Nature Blog Network – and I was surprised and pleased that several long-running conversations developed in the comments section of the bunny-killing heron article. Awesome, thanks so much. My trip away was great and I had an excellent time, though what wasn’t so excellent is that it was literally sandwiched in between two family funerals. I’m ok now though…


For now, all I want to do is showcase the incredible new fossil sperm whale Acrophyseter deinodon, just described from the Pisco Formation by Lambert et al. (2008) and kindly brought to my attention by Tet Zoo regular Bobby Boessenecker (scale bar = 20 cm). I spent time at SVPCA talking with Felix Marx about ziphiids and mysticetes and with Yasmin Tulu about kentriodontids, so had a reasonable amount of cetacean exposure at the meeting. Like the killer sperm whales we looked at a while back, Acrophyseter deinodon is interpreted as a macropredator that predated smaller odontocetes, pinnipeds and penguins. It seems to be a stem-physeteroid outside of the kogiid-physeterid crown-group, and its specific name, which of course means ‘terrible tooth’, is very fitting (though was not deliberately coined with reference to the (now obsolete) generic name Deinodon).


Anyway, lots to deal with, but I’ll have more new stuff on the site soon. If you want stuff to do in the meantime, you could have fun by voting in the Dixie State College mascot selection process. To help publicise the amazing dinosaur tracks preserved at the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm Museum, we want the college to have a dinosaur as a mascot: this is one of those public outreach, improve-dissemination-of-science things. Simply go here and suggest that dinosaurs (or, a dinosaur) be used as mascots. You know it would be wrong not to. Or, you could check out the extremely awesome interview with Mark Witton recently posted here at Go Flying Turtle (Mark’s own thoughts on this – and on other matters – can be found here. Mark’s flickr site is called, rather unimaginatively, Mark Witton’s Photostream, but I want it renamed Wittoniana). Incidentally, Mark and I were recently informed by the lovely people at PLoS ONE that our azhdarchid article has so far been visited more than 3000 times, which is – to say the least – pretty good even by PLoS ONE standards. This makes us the Most Famous Palaeozoologists Of All Time, the champions and heroes of our peers. Of course… it doesn’t, but it would be good.

Ref – –

Lambert, O., Bianucci, G. & de Muizon, C. 2008. A new stem-sperm whale (Cetacea, Odontoceti, Physeteroidea) from the latest Miocene of Peru. C. R. Palevol 7, 361-369.


  1. #1 Jerzy
    September 9, 2008

    Keep well, man!

    And which cetaceans could potentially fight with Megalodon? To make sort of post-Mesozoic fight club.

  2. #2 johannes
    September 9, 2008

    > And which cetaceans could potentially fight with
    > Megalodon? To make sort of post-Mesozoic fight club.


    The History Channel actually had an Megalodon vs. killer sperm whale episode in its Jurassic Fight Club miniseries. I think the cetacean featuring in this episode is *Brygmophyseter*. I haven’t seen this episode yet, so I don’t know who is winning. I can’t say anything about the quality of this episode, either, but judging by those episodes of Jurassic Fight Club that I have seen (naked dromaeosaurs *shudder*), don’t expect to much.

  3. #3 Jonathan Lubin
    September 9, 2008

    If, in the phrase “suggest that dinosaurs … are used as mascots”, you’re making a recommendation, then since Dixie State is in the US, you have to say, “suggest the dinosaurs be used…”. A very interesting difference between US and Brit. usage. And this use of subjunctive is not a learned affectation here–it’s universal.

  4. #4 Darren Naish
    September 9, 2008

    Err, ok, I’ll change it. Thanks.

  5. #5 Nathan Myers
    September 9, 2008

    Under the circumstances, shouldn’t the Dixies use a pterosaur for their mascot, rather than a dinosaur?

    Speaking of macropredators, http://www.partiallyclips.com/pclipslite.php?id=1165 .

  6. #6 Blue Frackle
    September 9, 2008

    Must be a mesozoic dinosaur? Or can I suggest my absolute favorite Dinosauria: the kiwi bird?

  7. #7 Tony Lucas
    September 9, 2008

    Sorry to hear of your losses Darren, never an easy time.
    Out thoughts are with you.

    Tony Lucas
    Nz Cryptozoologist
    Director New Zealand Un-Natural Mystery Centre.

  8. #8 Tengu
    September 9, 2008

    That must be the biggest, scariest smile on your blog.

    (Says she whos just rereading `Moby Dick`)

    As for the bottom picture, is that of the Kenyan wood carver saying `Oh no! not another request for an elephant!`

    Im sorry to hear of your loss.

  9. #9 David Marjanovi?
    September 9, 2008

    this use of subjunctive is not a learned affectation here–it’s universal.

    Except apparently in Alaska — Sarah Palin telling people to pray that the soldiers are sent on a task that is from God. Bizarre video on YouTube.

  10. #10 Craig York
    September 9, 2008

    The abomidable Snow woman? I don’t believe she exists.

    My condolences on your loss, Darren, for what its worth.

  11. #11 Nathan Myers
    September 9, 2008

    David M: No, her grammar is correct, if revealing: The soldiers have already been sent, and she knows their task is unholy; hence the prayer, for a miracle, to change reality. Magical thinking doesn’t stop at the meaninglessness boundary, it charges right on past without even slowing down.

  12. #12 Carmen Vj
    September 10, 2008

    This is a site my son would love. He loves dinosaurs. I will let him know about this tyrannosaur you have here.

  13. #13 Tengu
    September 10, 2008

    A Dinosaura, oh yeah, like (nudges others) a Bailosaurus??

    (How I hate that name.)

  14. #14 William Miller
    September 10, 2008

    How big was the whole animal?

  15. #15 Darren Naish
    September 10, 2008

    How big was the whole animal?

    The authors estimate 3.9-4.3 m long, so not that big at all. That’s why the suggested prey were odontocetes, pinnipeds and penguins and not, say, mysticetes.

  16. #16 David Marjanovi?
    September 10, 2008

    The abomidable Snow woman? I don’t believe she exists.

    LOL! Priceless. :-)

    No, her grammar is correct, if revealing:

    Agreed. That makes more sense.

  17. #17 Darby
    September 10, 2008

    I’m curious as to whether this is just me –

    I read “predated smaller odontocetes, pinnipeds and penguins” and my internal processor reads came before odonotocetes… And then I’m confused as the sentence continues, and have to mentally fix the statement to what it actually said.

    Anybody else?

  18. #18 Sordes
    September 10, 2008

    Wow, this skull is really breathtaking! It is especially interesting that it is much smaller than the other killer sperm whales like Brygmophyseter, Zygophyseter or Hoplocetus, and more in the size-range of Janjucetus. But can you be completely sure if the did not hunted mysticetes too? There was a whole bunch of very small mysticetes similar to modern pygmy right whales, and some populations of modern minke whales have also a very small average size, so I would not completely rule out that they attacked at packs the calves or even adults of very small mysticetes.
    BTW, would it be possible to send me the paper?

  19. #19 Neil
    September 10, 2008

    Sorry to hear about your loss Darren

    On a lighter note I agree that Mark HAS to change his flickr site to ‘Wittoniana’ – its just too good a name to not use it!

  20. #20 Chris
    September 10, 2008

    In the Jurassic Fight Club Episode:

    The Megalodon nearly kills one of the whales (it ambushes it from below). The whale calls for help, and a pod shows up. They literally knock and bite the crap out of the Megalodon, who retreats after taking a pretty brutal beating (and the whales do not pursue). The initial whale dies from I believe, not having a working tail.

  21. #21 Boesse
    September 11, 2008

    Darby: The authors meant “preyed”, or a better usage would have been “predated upon” said marine critters.

    Sordes: I can’t remember how large Brygomophyseter is… although sperm whales of the “Scaldicetus” tooth morph (which includes Brygmo.) have fairly large teeth. Then again, I believe just by looking at the figures that Acrophyseter would probably qualify as Scaldicetus as well, based on its teeth (and possibly Zygophyseter, come to think of it).

    There was an extremely small mysticete, Piscobalaena, with a skull only a little bigger than a meter; probably only about a ~15ish foot animal, not much larger than Acrophyseter. Then again, most Mio-Pliocene whales were in the 25-35 foot range, and many that got down to the 10-15 foot range (e.g. Cetotherium, Herpetocetus, Nannocetus, Piscobalaena, Balaenella, etc. etc.)

    I’m not sure that any extant physeterids cooperatively forage, so I’d be careful about suggesting that for extinct ones.

    Lastly… jesus christ, that is one mean-ass looking beast. Those teeth are just kind of ridiculous… downright ugly is all I’ll say. The Pisco Fm. is home to some reaallly incredible fossils, thats for sure…

  22. #22 Allen Hazen
    September 13, 2008

    Basic terrestrial post-Mesozoic Eutherian has 11 teeth on each side of each jaw. Last upper molar lost in dogs and (i.i.r.c.) later Archeocetes (independently, of course), leaving ten upper and eleven lower: which is what Acrophyseter shows (as preserved: are we missing something at the front end?).

    Modern Odontocetes differ wildly in their numbers of teeth, and as far as I know it is difficult to homologize positions in their tooth rows with those of terrestrial mammals. Should I take the picture of Acrophyseter as evidence that some Odontocetes (stem Physeteroids, at least) preserved an ancestral “program” for producing a tooth row of primitive length long after the morphology of individual teeth was simplified? Or is this just a coincidence.

    (Hey: blame Asher, mentioned in one of your next two posts, for suggesting to me the idea that the timing and sequence of tooth development could count as a “morphological” trait! A little knowledge….)

  23. #23 Lars Dietz
    September 13, 2008

    Allen: Maybe I’m misinterpreting the photo, but aren’t there 2 teeth in the premaxilla and 8 in the maxilla? The basic eutherian formula has 3 incisors on each side of each jaw, so according to what you suggested there should be 3 teeth in the premaxilla and 7 in the maxilla.

  24. #24 Allen Hazen
    September 14, 2008

    Well, if that really is the premaxillary/maxillary suture and not just a post-mortem crack…
    Very good point!

    What I OUGHT to do is to look at a whole bunch more Odontocete fossils. Starting with some of the lovelies Darren posted a few weeks ago.

  25. #25 Allen Hazen
    September 14, 2008

    Right. What I SHOULD have done, before wasting everyone’s time, was to (at the very least) look at the “killer sperm whale” skull Darren posted in early August and linked to in this post.
    Eleven uppers and thirteen lowers (with the uppers occluding in front of the lowers). So Acrophyseter’s ten uppers and eleven lowers is probably just a coincidence.
    (Idiocy doesn’t call for apology, but I apologize for being a LAZY idiot.)

  26. #26 Dinosaurzzz
    September 11, 2010

    In fact, Megalodons might well have gone extinct due to these hyped-up sperm whales. Yeah.
    Brygmophyseter in Japan, Zygophyseter in Italy, Livyatan in Peru (most importantly, as being the super-monster; good bet for Moby Dick, eh?) and the Acrophyseter.
    Awesome! Poor Megalodon!!!

  27. #27 David Marjanović
    September 12, 2010

    In fact, Megalodons might well have gone extinct due to these hyped-up sperm whales. Yeah.

    Didn’t it die out after them?

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