Tetrapod Zoology

2009, a year of Tet Zooery

So, if you read the previous article, you’ll know that we’re here because Tet Zoo was four years old on January 21st. In that article, I got as far as discussing blog-relevant events that happened up to the end of May or so. Time to crack on…

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During June I had a particularly bizarre job – I did a day’s worth of radio interviews on behalf of The Sun newspaper. They were running a promotional event that tied in with the British tour of the Walking With Dinosaurs Live show (incidentally, I was fact-checker for the script of WWD Live when I worked at Impossible Pictures). Felt a bit weird promoting both WWD and The Sun, but it was a nice opportunity to talk to lots of people about dinosaurs, palaeontology and science. Most of the DJs were actually well informed on dinosaurs and also interested in stuff like the evidence for evolution… though I was a bit surprised by the lady who’d never heard of Diplodocus. While at News Group Newspapers HQ I took loads of photos of stuff like Rupert Murdoch’s office and the porn-corner they have at The Sun offices… but I later managed to delete them before downloading, which is a real shame as I would otherwise be sharing them here [assorted Tet Zoo-relevant images above and below: you get Tet Zoo dollars for saying smart or interesting things about them!].

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July saw the ‘Sea Dragons of Avalon’ conference. The ball had gotten rolling many, many months previously when I suggested to Jeff Liston that it might be time to think about arranging a festschrift volume for our esteemed colleague Arthur Cruickshank. The idea of a festschrift volume eventually died, but one thing led to another and, with Mike A. Taylor at the helm (aided and abetted by Jeff, Lez Noè and David Hill), we ended up with an excellent Jurassic marine conference held at Street in Somerset (and with field trips to Dorset). As I’ve said before – if you were interested in Jurassic marine reptiles and weren’t there… where were you? In keeping with the Jurassic marine theme, I did the unthinkable in that month and blogged about a non-tetrapod. I know, I know… I’m still trying to scrub off the filth every time I have a shower. But it needed doing.

I tried to keep the amphibian thing going through 2009. The global amphibian crisis hasn’t gone away, and I also wrote about microhylid-spider associations, new salamanders from the USA, and toads toads toads toads toads toads toads toads. Tet Zoo, at last, better reflects tetrapod diversity by now including so many amphibian articles… but there is still so much to do. Even the series introducing all the major anuran clades has yet to be completed.

In July, Channel 4 TV screened the outstandingly good series Inside Nature’s Giants. Inspired and enthused – I mean, were talking about an entire series of programmes devoted to tetrapod anatomy – I ended up writing several articles about the series, and I gushed about it an awful lot. There’s still no news as to whether there will be a second series, but hopefully there will be. A series of articles on mesonychians graced the pages of Tet Zoo during the summer, and the ‘predatory animals are bad’ article brought in a lot of coverage during August. Ducks featured heavily at Tet Zoo during the summer, as is only right. I was filmed as a talking head for some TV series about extinct predators (I spoke about Deinonychus), but don’t know if it’s been screened yet.

In August I attended the Weird Weekend meeting (I go for the cryptozoology) where I gave my talk on the deep-time history of European cats. At the meeting I finished the better part of another paper with Michael Woodley (Cameron McCormick – aka Lord Geekington – is on the authorship too), hung out with Max ‘to the Max’ Blake, and discovered that Clare-Elizabeth Clancy looks (in my opinion) like Cameron* from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (I can’t believe they cancelled that show… everything I like on TV gets cancelled). Joined Facebook in August. Oooh, the regret. In keeping with the whole amphibian conservation thing, I dug two ponds during August.

* Actress Summer Glau, also in Serenity and various other stuff.

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In September, John Conway and I attended the seminar ‘The Evolution of Monsters in the Garden of England’, held at the University of Surrey.

We went because our mutual friend C. M. Kosemen (of Snaiad fame) was meant to be hosting an exhibition and giving a talk, but the less said about all this the better. Anyway, it was good to see Tim Haines again [adjacent pic: me and Tim]. He spoke about the development of ‘Primeval’ and other projects, and there were also talks on H. G. Wells and ‘Quatermass and the Pit’. The discussion afterwards involved feathered dinosaurs, Dougal Dixon’s After Man and all kinds of other stuff.

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A somewhat larger meeting – the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting – was held at Bristol, UK, in September: the first time the meeting has ever been held outside of North America. I had a great time, though the several concurrent sessions, long journeys between buildings, and Bristolian topography meant that I only saw a small fraction of the talks I wanted to. I met up with many old friends and met lots of people for the first time ever. Attending David Attenborough’s talk on birds of paradise was a highlight. The question and answer session at the end was spectacular; I mostly say this because I’m always impressed by people who can produce cogent, well crafted, authoritative responses to questions when put ‘on the spot’. Sir David is, evidently, the master at this. Other SVP highlights – this time involving the talks and posters – included the new ichthyosaurs, the news on Tsintaosaurus and Leaellynasaura (errr… wow), the Spanish tapejarid, the data on the postcranium of Simosuchus, and the new giant marabou from Flores. Thanks to Mike P. Taylor and Matt Wedel for helping support my attendance at the meeting. A bunch of us went to Bristol Zoo afterwards, which was cool. Saw Justin Lee-Collins. [Image above, from left to right: Roger Close, Chris Glen, Dave Hone (holding cast of Scipionyx), Cristiano dal Sasso, Darren Naish. John Merck took the photo; thanks John].

Babies and books

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The biggest personal event of the year was, of course, the birth of my beautiful little daughter, Emma, in February. It’s hard to believe that she’s going to be a year old in a couple of weeks. Having children (Emma is our second) changes your priorities, your outlook on life, and your approach to humanitarian issues. Or, it changed me in that way anyway. Sounds mushy, but it’s true.

Another big deal for 2009 was the publication of my book The Great Dinosaur Discoveries (A & C Black in the UK; University of California Press in the USA: shown below) (Naish 2009). I’ve authored three books previously (though I also have chapters and small sections in a few others), but this is by far the one I’m happiest with. Ok, so some of the artwork is a bit dated (we had to use Steve Kirk paintings originally produced during the 1980s), and the text had to be pruned hard in a few places, but overall I think it’s pretty good and reviewers have said nice things about it (one exampleand another). I have no idea how the book is selling but see indications that things are good. The Great Dinosaur Discoveries is soon to appear in several non-English languages. Another book I was involved in – Dorling Kindersley’s Prehistoric, or Prehistoric Life – came out in October.

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Research-wise, a major project on azhdarchoid pterosaurs chugged along in the background for the entire duration of 2009. It meant looking at bird skulls a lot (like auks), err, as well as those of azhdarchoids. An exciting project on tropical big cats began its long gestation during the year… more on this in time. In November, I participated in the ‘Monsters From the Deep!’ conference, hosted by the Centre For Inquiry in London. Talks were by myself, Charles Paxton and Michael Woodley. A write-up of the meeting is due to appear in Fortean Times soon (possibly the next issue); I never got round to discussing the meeting here at Tet Zoo, but I meant to. The ZSL caecilians meeting in December was excellent, but became doubly memorable seeing as Tet Zoo was referred to in one of the talks. More ZSL-related news coming up later this year!

Believe it or don’t, that’s still not all: another birthday article still yet to come. Sorry this sickening navel-gazing is going on for so long, I guess I had a lot to say.

For the previous birthday articles see…

Ref – -

Naish, D. 2009. The Great Dinosaur Discoveries. A & C Black (London).

Comments

  1. #1 Dartian
    January 23, 2010

    the porn-corner they have at The Sun offices

    They have one? What a non-surprise.

    A series of articles on mesonychians graced the pages of Tet Zoo during the summer

    FYI (in case you keep tally of such things): in Dartian’s opinion, the mesonychid series was the best thing to appear on Tet Zoo in 2009 (there was some stiff competition, though).

    the new giant marabou from Flores

    Whaaat?!?

    Giant storks ate hobbitses? Say it isn’t so!

  2. #2 David Marjanović
    January 23, 2010

    assorted Tet Zoo-relevant images above and below: you get Tet Zoo dollars for saying smart or interesting things about them!

    Ooh, sniny!

    (…Oops, sorry, wrong blog. <creeps away in shame>

    the news on [...] Leaellynasaura (errr… wow)

    Exactly.

  3. #3 David Marjanović
    January 23, 2010

    <and shamefully forgets to close the parenthesis>)

  4. #4 John H
    January 23, 2010

    Inside Nature’s Giants is doing a 2nd series, yes. They had already filmed 1 episode last year (one they didn’t use but said they’d use in next series). I don’t know what is happening with that now, but last I heard it was confirmed.

  5. #5 Cameron
    January 23, 2010

    At the meeting I finished the better part of another paper with Michael Woodley (Cameron McCormick – aka Lord Geekington – is on the authorship too)

    Which ultimately had its genesis in the Tet Zoo comments!

  6. #6 Michael O. Erickson
    January 23, 2010

    Assorted Tet Zoo-relevant images above and below: you get Tet Zoo dollars for saying smart or interesting things about them!

    Cool-looking Cyclura cornuta at the left there.

    HOW MANY TET ZOO DOLLARS DO I GET?????

    :o)

  7. #7 Brian
    January 23, 2010

    So…what is the exciting news about *Leaellynasaura*? It appears to have escaped my attention.

  8. #8 Neil
    January 23, 2010

    Some interesting stuff, some that Ive somehow managed to miss/forget. I didn realise you fact checked WWD the live show, it explains why I didnt spot any mistakes when watching it (it lived up to the spectacular title!)

  9. #9 Michael O. Erickson
    January 23, 2010

    So…what is the exciting news about *Leaellynasaura*? It appears to have escaped my attention.

    Mine as well. No one’s even made a peep about it on the DML, which is peculiar. I wonder what it’s all about?

  10. #10 Bob Michaels
    January 24, 2010

    Darren, i recently purchased Prehistoric Life, i looked for your name in the acknowledgments but failed to note it.

  11. #11 Tim Morris
    January 24, 2010

    I think I know what the thing about Leallynosaura. I heard through my sources that the skull is apparently not from an ornithopod, but a theropod.

  12. #12 David Marjanović
    January 24, 2010

    I heard through my sources that the skull is apparently not from an ornithopod, but a theropod.

    What? Are you thinking of Yaverlandia?

    Anyway, here’s the SVP meeting abstract:

    Matthew Herne: Postcranial osteology of Leaellynasaura amicagraphica (Dinosauria; Ornithischia) from the Early Cretaceous of southeastern Australia, supplement to JVP 29(3), 113A (September 2009)

    Leaellynasaura amicagraphica, a small bipedal ornithischian dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous (late Aptian-early Albian) of Victoria, Australia, is based on an articulated partial upper jaw and infratemporal region (the holotype). A skull roof (including a partial cranial endocast) and a partial, articulated postcranium have also been referred to this taxon, and have been regarded as belonging to holotype individual. Another partial postcranium, NMV P186047, is also considered to be referrable to L. amigraphica. The taxon was originally assigned to ‘Hypsilophodontidae’, but more recently has been considered a nondryomorphan iguanodontian. Of the postcranium, only isolated referred femora and a tibial pathology have been described.

    In this work I describe the osteology of two articulated postcrania referred to L. amicagraphica. Autapomorphies in the haemal arches unite individuals. A caudoventrally expanded postpubic process is shared with Macrogryphosaurus and Camptosaurus, and asymmetrically expanded terminal haemal arches with Macrogryphosaurus, Gasparinisaura and Parksosaurus. Iguanodontian affinities are further supported by the caudoventral expansion of the ischium and femoral morphology. Pes morphology and the lack of ossified caudal tendons in L. amicagraphica is plesiomorphic at the level of Ornithischia. The lack of a tab-shaped obturator process, extended ischial shaft symphysis and high caudal vertebrae number with protracted vertebral body elongation are shared with basal thyreophorans; thus, past referral of L. amicagraphica postcrania to Ornithopoda may be problematic, and the postcranial material is at best referrable to Genasauria. Caudal vertebral count in L. amicagraphica (>70) is the highest recorded for a non-hadrosaurid ornithischian. Dorsoventral and cranial expansion of postzygapophyses (up to 44% of vertebral body length) on vertebrae in the terminal half of the tail of L. amicagraphica suggests an alternative to ossified tendons to provide caudal axial rigidity. Caudal vertebral morphology suggests a hyper-extended tail of approximately three times estimated pre-caudal body length.

    The reconstruction looks completely insane. Don’t ask me how the tail didn’t simply freeze off in winter.

  13. #13 Max Blake
    January 24, 2010

    An interesting thing about the _Camarasaurus_ front leg and shoulder in the Wills building in Bristol uni is that it is missing most of it’s 1st digit. This includes of course the large “claw”.
    Why it’s missing though, I have no idea.

  14. #14 Darren Naish
    January 24, 2010

    Thanks much to you all for further positive comments. Dartian: the giant marabou from Flores (studied by Hanneke Meijer and Rokus Due) has yet to be published so far as I know. It was over 1.8 m tall!! Bob (comment 10): I was an author, so am listed on p. 5.

    Max (comment 13): it’s not a camarasaur, but apparently a turiasaur. And it’s missing its pollex claw because someone nicked it – it was there until recently.

  15. #15 Bob Michaels
    January 24, 2010

    My Bad Darren. Your one of tha authors In DK Prehistoric life, under Vertebrates.

  16. #16 Anthony Docimo
    January 24, 2010

    #1 – Happy Birthday, Emma!!

    #2 – am looking for your book in my local bookstores.
    #3 – its neither sickening nor navel-gazing to look over your accomplishments.

  17. #17 William Miller
    January 25, 2010

    Is the giant Flores marabou fossil, or recent? And if fossil, is it a different species from Leptoptilos titan known from Java?

    Don’t ask me how the tail didn’t simply freeze off in winter.

    Possibly it didn’t get all that cold? Is the climate of Early Cretaceous Australia well-known? I would imagine that the polar nights would make it quite cold… but Koolasuchus survived, which would seem to imply that the bodies of water generally remained unfrozen.

  18. #18 Dave Hughes
    January 25, 2010

    A reconstruction of the giant marabou of Flores (standing next to a hobbit)is shown in:

    Van den Bergh, G.D. et al., 2009. The Liang Bua faunal remains: a 95 kyr sequence from Flores, East Indonesia. Journal of Human Evolution 57: 527-537.

    And yes, it looks big enough to have gobbled down a baby hobbit at least!

  19. #19 Dartian
    January 25, 2010

    Dave:

    And yes, it looks big enough to have gobbled down a baby hobbit at least!

    That visual is enough to give one, ahem, marabou stork nightmares.

    And I can’t resist quoting here a passage from Rudyard Kipling’s The Undertakers (if only for the reason that it is, to my knowledge at least, the only piece of English-language literature to feature a Leptoptilos dubius as one of its main protagonists):

    The Adjutant half turned his head, sheered a little in the direction of the voice, and landed stiffly on the sand-bar below the bridge. Then you saw what a ruffianly brute he really was. His back view was immensely respectable, for he stood nearly six feet high, and looked rather like a very proper bald-headed parson. In front it was different, for his Ally Sloper-like head and neck had not a feather to them, and there was a horrible raw-skin pouch on his neck under his chin–a hold-all for the things his pick-axe beak might steal.

    Darren:

    this sickening navel-gazing

    To be able to gaze at your own navel, you must first adopt a very humble posture.

  20. #20 Zach Miller
    January 26, 2010

    I missed the Leaellynasaura talk (poster?) as well. I’m very interested in the reconstruction…could somebody describe it? Are all the old reconstructions wrong?

  21. #21 David Marjanović
    January 26, 2010

    could somebody describe it?

    Like Hypsilophodon, except for the insanely long tail.

  22. #22 Tim Morris
    January 30, 2010

    I have it on some degree of authority that the referred braincase is actually a theropod, in the case of Leallynosaura. Which really isnt that surprising, keen vision and high intelligence inferred, of course it’s a theropod.

    Of course, the Vickers-Riches are so precious about their polar hyspies that this distinction might not be made official.