Tetrapod Zoology

Ahh, life is sweet

I have to take a break. I may be gone for some time… I may not. Here are some cool photos.

i-e5cf1aee47ee042b158c3948a8d9635e-pelican_eats _pigeon_Jan-2010.jpg






  1. #1 Dartian
    January 27, 2010

    From top to bottom:

    Pelican swallows pigeon.

    Python is trying to eat a wallaby.

    Two Odocoileus deer in deep snow.

    Polar bear making friends with a dog.

    Bald eagle catches Bewick’s swan in flight.

  2. #2 retrieverman
    January 27, 2010

    Life may be sweet, but three out of five of these photos are scenes of predation. The pelican is eating that pigeon. The python is eating that kangaroo, and the trumpeter swan is being preyed upon by a bald eagle.

    The Qimmiq dog (Inuit dog) and the polar bear are playing. This is a famous photo that appeared in National Geographic in the 90’s. It’s been filmed many times: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JE-Nyt4Bmi8

    The North American deer (which are either Mule deer or white-tailed deer, it’s hard to tell from the resolution of the photo) are in deep trouble. Not only can they not move around in the deep snow very well, they can’t find food easily without expending lots of calories digging. Plus, it’s very easy for predators to run them down in the deep snow, especially as they become weakened from lack of nutrition. This is the time when bobcats are likely to become successful deer predators.

    I think only one of those photos is really a “life is sweet” moment, and that’s the polar bear and dog.

  3. #3 Darren Naish
    January 27, 2010

    Retrieverman: there may, or may not, be an implied irony in my choice of pictures and words. I leave you to decide.

  4. #4 retrieverman
    January 27, 2010

    I think that’s a Trumpeter swan. It’s very big compared to the bald eagle, and its bill is entirely black, both top and bottom.

    Bewiok’s and other tundra swans are smaller, and they have yellow around the base of their bills.

    1. Trumpeters: http://icor.uvic.ca/viwilds/img/wildlife/trumpeter-swan/mike-yip-aaaanov0721127tswans.jpg

    2. Bewick’s: http://www.birdwatchireland.ie/Portals/0/speciesprofiles_large/BEWICKS%20SWAN%2001%20%28M%20CARMODY%29_lge.PNG

  5. #5 retrieverman
    January 27, 2010

    No irony needed.

    There is always a kind of sweetness in natural selection.

  6. #6 randomnut
    January 27, 2010

    I agree. Evolution is sweet!

  7. #7 Dartian
    January 27, 2010


    the trumpeter swan

    Yeah, on closer look that’s what it seems to be (rather than a Bewick’s/tundra swan). Thanks for the correction.

  8. #8 dmaas
    January 27, 2010

    Well, grab some relaxation, if that’s what you’re in need of. I thank you for the wonderful inspirations you’ve shared here.

  9. #9 slugg
    January 27, 2010

    I have seen the python/wallaby picture before and wondered if it was “real”.It absolutely fascinates me, from a distance!

  10. #10 Ubermoogle
    January 27, 2010

    Amazing pictures Darren, thanks for sharing!

    As a relatively new subscriber to your RSS feed (but long time sporadic lurker) I do hope your break is a short one. I don’t know how you professional scientists manage to keep up with the blogging, teaching AND groundbreaking research without burning out quickly. Keep up the good work. This is probably one of my absolutely favourite blogs of all time.

  11. #11 Joel
    January 27, 2010

    Hey, most of the predated probably have a higher sugar content than is typical for arrangements of non-life.

  12. #12 Christopher Collinson
    January 27, 2010

    I live just a 20min drive from the lake where that Eagle vs Swan picture was taken In Terrace, British Columbia. It is indeed a Trumpeter swan, they over winter on the lake.

  13. #13 William Miller
    January 27, 2010

    Um, is that pelican actually eating a pigeon? And if so, is this an unique freak event? I thought they were highly specialized fish eaters … never really thought of them as eating anything else.

  14. #14 retrieverman
    January 27, 2010

    Footage of a Pelican eating pigeons:


  15. #15 Oll Lewis
    January 27, 2010

    Don’t stay away from blog-land too long if you can help it, reading tetzoo is good for my sanity (what’s left of it anyway).

  16. #16 acbarrentine
    January 27, 2010

    Good luck, Darren. I hope you are well, and will miss you in the downtime.

  17. #17 deerhunter
    January 27, 2010

    Comment #2 (Retrieverman)

    Yeah … definitely white-tailed deer. Mule deer have wider and deeper ears.

  18. #18 Bob Michaels
    January 27, 2010

    Take a break and Dig up some Bones along the Sea shores cliffs.

  19. #19 Zach hawkins
    January 27, 2010

    If Polar bears have started making freinds with husky’s, I shuder to think what else is goign wrong with the world.

  20. #20 Anthony Docimo
    January 27, 2010

    Take as long as you need – we’ll be here when you come back.

    Have nice days, and may you and yours be well.

  21. #21 Kevin Schreck
    January 27, 2010

    Best of wishes, Darren. Thank you so much for all of your work and contributions.

  22. #22 jake
    January 27, 2010

    darren naish i’ve been reading your blog since before you moved to science blogs and take lots of time off if you want i mean jiminy christmas you’ve done a lot of posts

  23. #23 Robert
    January 28, 2010

    I hope you have a good break – I read this blog every day, and you will be missed.

  24. #24 pomposa
    January 28, 2010

    No harm in taking a break to sort things out; it’s obvious from the comments that people (including lurkers like myself) will continue to check in. Good luck with it all.

  25. #25 Dartian
    January 28, 2010

    A specific indentification of the python and its prey, anyone? I’m guessing it’s an olive python Liasis olivaceus that has caught some rock wallaby Petrogale species.

  26. #26 retrieverman
    January 28, 2010

    Nothing wrong with taking a break.

    Sometimes we can become burned out when writing our blogs.

    I know that I have been several times.

  27. #27 craig york
    January 28, 2010

    I doubt its burn-out so much as some new and hopefully
    lucrative project. Good luck with what ever it is, Darren,
    and not to worry, we’ll be here when you get back. ( Unless
    some red-eyed fiend gets us first.)

  28. #28 Derek R
    January 28, 2010

    Reminded me of this: footage of turtle eating bird

  29. #29 John Scanlon FCD
    January 28, 2010

    Dartian, you have the right python species and macropodid genus (rock wallabies all look the same to me). The gorgeously weathered stratigraphy would be highly unusual anywhere but the Kimberley or Pilbara regions of WA, but I can’t be positive which of the two. Pilbara olives are geographically isolated and have been described as a subspecies L. olivaceus barroni, and stated (I think originally in the taxonomy paper by Laurie Smith) to reach 6 m in length, which would probably be bigger than any northern ones. The snake (about 4 m in this case, I think) is pulling hard, but will probably end up swallowing the thing close to water level, rather than dragging it up to a ledge first.

    Also note that the genus-species combo was originally Liasis olivacea, showing that (like many of the other generic names coined by J.E. Gray) he intended it to be a feminine noun. Unfortunately, the only other gendered species-name in his original list was amethistinus, originally described in another (masculine) genus and not changed to agree by Gray. Whatever reasons have been given for supposing Liasis to be masculine are bogus, and apparently derive from ignorance of Latin and of Gray’s other work; so I stick with olivacea. Go thou and do likewise.

  30. #30 Nathan Myers
    January 29, 2010

    Take your break in peace, Darren. When you come back, the event will be heralded far and wide, and your readership will return alacritously.

  31. #31 Dr. Nick
    January 30, 2010

    William Miller wrote:

    Um, is that pelican actually eating a pigeon?

    If it is, the pigeon seems to be taking it remarkably well…

  32. #32 Dartian
    January 30, 2010


    The gorgeously weathered stratigraphy would be highly unusual anywhere but the Kimberley or Pilbara regions of WA, but I can’t be positive which of the two.

    If it’s Kimberley, the macropodid might be either a black-flanked rock wallaby Petrogale lateralis or a Rothschild’s rock wallaby Petrogale rothschildi (although the dark-ish pelage colouration would seem to rule out the latter). If it’s Pilbara, it’s most likely a short-eared rock wallaby Petrogale brachyotis. But it’s hard to tell for sure from that photo.

  33. #33 Rob
    January 30, 2010

    Darren, don’t be away too long (unless you _have_ to be). This is a wonderful blog and I check it several times a week. In the meantime I’ll be starting on your dinosaur book that I received for Christmas.

  34. #34 HalfMooner
    January 31, 2010

    I was kind of hoping that the pelican-pigeon thing was an attempt at some sort of two-stage intercontinental bird. But no.

    The dog-polar bear match-up was interesting. Seems quite a few critters play cross-species at times. I’ve seen a deer and a rabbit playing. I wonder how the polar bear and the dog, or the deer and the bunny read one another’s body language and know that playful socializing is in order.

  35. #35 Jura
    January 31, 2010

    The full story behind the python wallaby picture: http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/cowsnake.asp

  36. #36 Dartian
    February 1, 2010

    Thanks for the link to the Snopes page, Jura. According to the information there, the picture is indeed taken in the Kimberley region, and the snake is an olive python, as John Scanlon said. It is also stated that the macropodid is a wallaroo Macropus robustus (although confusingly, it is also called a wallaby a couple of times).

    I enlarged the image on the Snopes page; the resolution is still not great, but enough to show that the macropodid is quite uniformly coloured; i.e., there are no obvious white stripes on the face, or (unlike what I first thought I could faintly see) on the shoulders or the flanks. Enlarging the picture also shows that the tail’s blackness and apparent thickening toward the end, which was what initially suggested Petrogale to me, is probably only a watery distortion. The animal’s rather short arms, largish ears and overall robustness also seem right for a wallaroo. Wallaroo it is, then (and, specifically, a northern wallaroo Macropus robustus woodwardii).

  37. #37 JV
    February 1, 2010

    Hope to see you back here soon again, Darren! I too have been reading your blog since before Scienceblogs and you have really rekindled my interest in animals; I’m grateful.

  38. #38 John Scanlon FCD
    February 1, 2010

    If that’s a wallaroo (one of those big, stocky, rock-haunting roos that I keep having ‘yowie’-encounters with), the snake’s even bigger than I thought. A 3 m Olive is marginal, safety-wise, for handling by a single person (if it gets round your neck and you can’t find the tail to unwind it…). I’ve helped hold one that was about 4.5. Over 5 m, I probably wouldn’t touch it.

  39. #39 Neil
    February 2, 2010

    I’m glad there’s some bear/dog hope amongst the predation and snowing under. Thousands of people will be hoping that whatever’s keeping you occupied elsewhere is neither unpleasant nor onerous.

    It’s not just the tetrapods that keep us coming back, it’s the clever, exacting, entertaining man behind them.

  40. #40 petersteel
    February 3, 2010

    that was really awesome post… that’s great….

  41. #41 Blind Squirrel
    February 4, 2010

    Enjoy. Do what you need to do. I appreciate the effort you have been making to educate . Thanks.


  42. #43 Neil p
    February 4, 2010

    Just written a blog post about green lizards in The UK, guess which blog was:
    a) the best source of background info on the net
    b) the only reference that wasn’t a paper or book

    In fact if it wasn’t for a study in 2008 (the post was 2006) there probably would have been no point writing a post!

    Its best stop for invasive animals/vert palaeo/tetrapod goodness on the net

  43. #44 brook
    February 4, 2010

    Thank you. We’ll keep on reading and reareading your books in the interim.

  44. #45 Bob Michaels
    February 8, 2010

    While patiently waiting for Darren to return, i have read a news scan by Michael Tennesen in the Feb 2010 issue of Scientific American entitled “Python Boom”
    Big Snakes poised to change U.S ecosystems.

    “It`s not just the Burmese Python, but the northern and southern african Pythons,reticulated pythons, Boa Constrictors and Four species of Anacondas”

    Needless to say they are reproducing and have no natural enemies. Biologists belive that Tens of thousands are now in the Everglades

  45. #46 David Marjanović
    February 9, 2010

    and have no natural enemies

    …when they’re grown up, which takes a while.

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