Today is January 21st which means, believe it or don’t, that it’s Tet Zoo’s birthday, the 4th no less. Holy crap… have I really been blogging for four years? Yikes, and there is still so much to do, so little ground I’ve covered. This is despite more than 635 (count ‘em) Tet Zoo articles here on ScienceBlogs alone. As on some (but not all) of the previous occasions, this article is going to be a personal look back at the year, not a proper review of all the Tet Zoo-relevant stuff that happened in 2009 (wow, wish I had time for that). Actually, this is just about the worst time to write a review like this, as I’m having a particularly crap time of it at the moment and am thinking about giving up on blogging, on research, and on everything in general (yes, yes, the ever-present financial problems). Anyway, you don’t want to hear about that… [adjacent image: a Rana temporaria that was living in my front garden. Finding a frog is, these days, a huge big deal for me].
Rather than discuss the happenings of the year on a subject-by-subject basis, I decided to go through things in rough chronological order. Because it’s best to jumble things up and leave the audience to work it out for themselves, right? And… after all, everything is inter-connected and life is chaotic. Did I have a plan for the year that was 2009? Well, we had a baby on the way, and I’d been working on two books during 2008, both of which were due to be published in 2009. My plan to continue work as a free-lancing author and consultant mostly worked out, mostly, and I was also able to carry on attending conferences and doing the odd bit of academic research on the side. Projects on giraffes and various pterosaurs and dinosaurs rumbled on during the year, but I never did complete the big cat field sign paper (still in preparation).
January started with me working hard on finishing some book projects, visiting local museums (purely for fun), and hoping that my next leap would be the leap home. I met up with my good friend Dave Hone in February and went to Marwell Zoo, where we looked at Siberian tigers. Later on, I met up with David Unwin and Michael Woodley for collaborative reasons, and later in the year went to London Zoo with John Conway [adjacent picture: me at London Zoo]. Michael Woodley, Hugh Shanahan and I published our paper on discovery rates in pinnipeds in March (Woodley et al. 2009): the first of several technical contributions on marine cryptozoology we have in preparation. More on marine cryptozoology in part II. Rhynchosaurs were finally covered in January and February, and I’m pleased to report that a recommendation I made in one of my articles affected a decision soon to be reported in the technical literature (more on this in time). The ‘How to rot down dead bodies’ article from March was one of the year’s highlights. I also enjoyed analysing the alleged Russian ‘archaeocete’ carcass. Another article from March – the one about the fighting behaviour of passerine birds – resulted in a huge bun-fight as one of Tet Zoo’s local fringe lunatics reared his head and worked hard to tell us that we were wrong about everything. Ahh, I love people like that! Said insane individual still sends me long, ranting emails, despite requests that he piss off and die.
Dinosaurs, ‘snake guilt’ and Nature Blog Network
As regular readers will know (and, sorry… I’m sure I say the following far too often), I tend not to cover dinosaurs all that much on Tet Zoo because I feel they get an inordinate amount of coverage already. I mean, there are quite a lot of good blogs now devoted to Mesozoic reptiles (shout-outs to Archosaur Musings, Chinleana, DinoGoss, Dracovenator, Paleo Errata, Theropoda and Why I Hate Theropods… other Mesozoic-themed blogs are available), but not all that many on the toads of the world, burrowing snakes, Asian jerboas, xenodontine colubrids, temnospondyls, or caecilians. Having said all this, dinosaurs – and pterosaurs – figure prominently on Tet Zoo. Highlights for the past year include the brief series on new finds from January (this series of articles might give you some idea of how many new dinosaur and pterosaur papers come out every single month at the moment… would you believe that over 50 new dinosaur genera were named in 2009?), the trunked sauropod smack-down, the ceratopsian series from April, the Birds Come First articles, the new Wealden theropod piece, and the Majungasaurus, Limusaurus and Tethyshadros articles. I also blogged on some major pterosaur news stories, including the publication of Claessens et al.’s work on pneumaticity (this sparked a huge debate in the comments section on the still-controversial topic of ornithodiran physiology), the ‘transitional’ pterosaur Darwinopterus, and the news that Mark Witton is up to something really rather interesting… [adjacent image shows a pterosaur I found on the Isle of Wight in August 2009].
I had ‘snake guilt’ during the year and tried to sample some of the diversity of this enormously successful group of reptiles. Examples: the horned snake article, the anaconda one, and the xenodontine and Micropechis posts. Hoofed megamammals got some coverage in April what with the stuffed megamammal and great Asian cattle articles. I want to write more about lesser-known hoofed mammals, and some time I will.
I get asked to do quite a few interviews for other blogs. Four such requests have been made over the past few months, and I haven’t had time to deal with any of them (when I have ‘spare’ time on the computer, I need to use it to write posts for my own blog!). However, in May an interview with yours truly was featured on Nature Blog Network. I think it makes pretty good reading and I enjoyed doing it… though, I have to say that I remain surprised that some people apparently don’t like the fact that Tet Zoo is listed so high on the NBN rankings. Err, hell-o-o… Tet Zoo is devoted to animals, animals, animals and animals. You know, like Greg Laden’s blog (currently # 1 on NBN… sorry Greg) [for no reason at all, here's David Marjanović. Note his t-shirt and red, piercing eyes].
I also wrote about the ‘Jaws’ carcass in May and showed (to my satisfaction, at least) that it was a dead domestic cat, thereby ending yet another of those Montauk-esque carcass ‘mysteries’. Montauk monster # 2 was also covered in May, and the Cerro Azul monster – a sloth denuded of most of its hair – was featured here in September. Some have said that I’ve made a cottage industry out of debunking weird carcasses (indeed, I’ve received several photos of additional unidentified dead things since doing the Montauk carcass); so be it. Plans for field work in Libya came to fruition by May, and we said goodbye to Cyril Walker in this month.
The sauropod neck posture event
In happier news, Mike P. Taylor, Matt Wedel and I published our paper on head and neck posture in sauropod dinosaurs in May as well. Our paper (free pdf here) received a small (cough cough) amount of publicity (see also the substantial coverage on SV-POW!). This paper had its genesis a few years earlier. We had all thought that the data on head and neck posture in extant animals flatly contradicted some of the claims made in the dinosaur literature, and planned some time to write this up. But we were also aware of the fact that this data was so ‘out there’ (as in, easy to see and find) in the literature that we were likely to be beaten to it. Mark Witton and I even cited some of the several relevant articles (Vidal et al. 1986, Graf et al. 1995) in our 2008 paper on azhdarchid pterosaur palaeobiology (Witton & Naish 2008), and I was kind of worried that archosaur workers might see the references then and jump to the obvious conclusion (this being that the ‘osteological neutral pose’ hypothesis was flat wrong) [adjacent image by Mark Witton].
One day, Mike, Matt and I were having one of our usual discussions (I mean, over email) and the whole Vidal et al. neck posture thing came up again. We decided there and then to start the paper and knocked up the first draft – and the rest is history. As is the case with so many technical papers, our article went through a long, complicated and frustrating series of to-ings and fro-ings before eventual acceptance. This isn’t because it ever got properly rejected, but because some of the journals we submitted it to jerked us around… Stories like this are not uncommon: part of the game we play in publishing academic research.
We had a poster about our neck posture research at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting held at Bristol in September, and it went down a storm [in image below: from left to right, Taylor, Witton, Naish and Wedel]. Also looked very cool (the poster is supposed to be up on a wall somewhere at the University of Portsmouth, but if so I haven’t seen it there yet).
Here endeth part I. More in the next article.
For the previous birthday articles see…
- Happy first birthday Tetrapod Zoology (part I)
- Happy first birthday Tetrapod Zoology (part II)
- Happy second birthday Tetrapod Zoology (part I)
- Tetrapods of 2007 (happy birthday Tet Zoo part II)
- Happy THIRD birthday Tet Zoo
Refs – -
Graf, W., de Waele, C. & Vidal, P. P. 1995. Functional anatomy of the head-neck movement system of quadrupedal and bipedal mammals. Journal of Anatomy 186, 55-74.
Vidal, P. P., Graf, W. & Berthoz, A. 1986. The orientation of the cervical vertebral column in unrestrained awake animals. Experimental Brain Research 61, 549-559.
Woodley, M. A., Naish, D. & Shanahan, H. P. 2009. How many extant pinniped species remain to be described? Historical Biology 20, 225-235.