Tetrapod Zoology

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Readers with good memories will recall both that January 21st 2010 was Tet Zoo’s fourth birthday, and that I wrote about ‘four years of operation’ on that day. I had more to say about the subject in 2009, a year of Tet Zooery. Buuut… then things went downhill, and I had to take that break, and then all that other stuff happened, and – well – I ended up not finishing the 4th birthday series. Purely in the interests of publishing it and getting it out of the way (better late than never), herewith find the last, very belated, instalment in my thoughts on the whole fourth birthday thing [the adjacent image is completely irrelevant; it’s a stone angel I walk past at least twice a day]. Remember that I’m looking back at the year Jan 2009 to Jan 2010 (and you might need to refresh your memory by reading part 1 and part 2)…

Work-wise, 2009 represented the sort of combination I’ve become used to since 2007: a mixture of writing books, doing TV research, and acting as a technical consultant and editor. I worked with some smart, experienced authors, editors, TV people and artists during the year (shout-outs to Julius Csotonyi, Paul Docherty, Davide Bonnadonna, Francisco Gascó, Peter Minister and Luis Rey [pic below shows Luis getting his first look at The Great Dinosaur Discoveries… wow, what a great book!])… but, on the negative side of things, I continue to be dismayed and upset by the piss-poor artwork that makes it into the popular ‘prehistoric animal’ literature. I was going to say a lot more about this subject – in fact, my initial plan was to publish an open letter on the matter – but having spoken with colleagues I’ve been advised against this course of action. You might like to read between the lines and see the comment here. Things really need to change, but no-one has the guts, or cares enough, to do anything about it.

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I’ve continued in my capacity as a handling editor for Cretaceous Research and (am I insane?) have also taken on commitments for Historical Biology. I’ve also been working with colleagues to put together the multi-authored volume resulting from the ‘Dinosaurs and Other Saurians – A Historical Perspective’ meeting, held in London in May 2008. The volume has been somewhat delayed (sigh… I won’t say why) but is on schedule to appear soon in 2010. I will talk about it a lot when it’s out [image below shows mice photographed on the London underground in December 2009. Completely irrelevant, but… awwww :) A serious question: the House mice on the underground seem particularly small. Has anyone ever studied them?].

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I’ve also continued to do local conservation work and fieldwork where possible (I spent time in October in Libya). Another blog I contribute to – SV-POW! – had an outstanding year in 2009, though I have to say that my input there has diminished to the point of non-participation over the last few months. More on that soon (at SV-POW!, rather than here). In January 2010 a bunch of us set up Pterosaur.net. I have stuff there, but I can’t see myself finding the time to contribute much more, if anything. Pterosaur.net now has its own blog, and you should definitely keep an eye on this for hot pterosaur news. As you can, hopefully, imagine, any ‘spare’ writing time I have these days has to be spent on Tet Zoo: so, my apologies to all those people who ask me to do interviews and such for other blogs. I just cannot fit this in as well [image below: evidence that you can look at Tet Zoo’s toad articles while in Libya].

4 million hits can’t be wrong (does that make sense?)

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Tet Zoo has been a successful venture. In the article on the site’s second birthday, you’ll note that I referred to 2400-2700 hits per day (hpd). About 4000 hpd was more typical by the time of the third birthday, and by then I was making noises that ‘audience saturation’ may have been reached, and that there were no new readers to be had. Well, that wasn’t true, as the average number of daily hits has continued to climb, and is now more like 6000 hpd, with over 8000 hpd not being uncommon [graph below dates to 15th October 2009]. If you’re interested in seeing the site stats any time, check the bravenet counter at below left. Yes, I know that ‘number of hits’ does not = ‘number of readers’, but I also use google analytics and this all seems to be fairly reliable.

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In fact, Tet Zoo ver 2 had its 4 millionth hit on the 10th January 2010. This works out to an average of (gets out calculator)…. about 1 million hits a year, and that ain’t bad for a site that covers technical zoology and nothing else. As some have noted, I think that Tet Zoo has demonstrated that fairly heavy, fully referenced articles on (often) arcane topics can still have mass appeal, I think in part because this stuff just isn’t out there anywhere else (well, except on the increasing number of other excellent zoology blogs) [image below: my 2009 birthday present, from my brother. Completely irrelevant, but neat, huh?].

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Tet Zoo Club (you DO NOT TALK about Tet Zoo Club)

I don’t know everyone who visits Tet Zoo, of course (maybe this is your chance to say hi), but I do know that a significant percentage of interested non-scientists visit and comment, and this is in addition to the wonderful specialised audience who help make the site so popular. I wish to thank all the commenters – regular or otherwise – who make Tet Zoo more interesting that it might otherwise be. The regular commenters – the ones whose names you’ll recognise, if you’re a regular reader – form a sort of Tet Zoo club or posse. Maybe we should all wear badges, or have Tet Zoo membership cards or something. Given the site’s success, I do get disappointed and a bit surprised when Tet Zoo fails to get mentioned by journalists who list ‘good science blogs’, or fails to get nominated or short-listed for awards, but I suppose this is because it’s rather ‘niche’, and there’s nothing I can do about it [below shows me and a Mandalorian, photographed at a sci-fi convention in December 2009. Jeremy Bulloch was at the same meeting, but I didn’t get any pics of him. Also completely irrelevant… hmm, there’s a theme here].

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As some of my friends and correspondents know, things are not particularly easy for me at the moment. Hassles like scraping together money, keeping up with deadlines and dealing with extraordinary correspondence have lately provided enormous obstacles that get in the way of things like blogging, and stress has been so great lately that I’ve been thinking about killing Tet Zoo off [NOTE: all of this was written BEFORE the Death of Tet Zoo article, and things are generally ok at the time of writing], though I realise that this idea is more inspired by seething frustration than anything else. John Conway (B.Sc. – congrats John) said to me recently that blogging is like crack addiction, and I think he’s right… I have a horrible feeling that – no bad how things get – blogging for Tet Zoo is a habit I can’t shake. And this seems like a good point on which to end.

For previous Tet Zoo birthday articles see…

Comments

  1. #1 Taisha
    April 9, 2010

    If it were not for Tet Zoo, I would not be going to college this fall. Thank you for your crack-like addiction to blogging! It made a difference in my life :)

  2. #2 Adellaide
    April 9, 2010

    This longtime lurker would just like to say Congrats! for 4 years and counting. Keep up the good work!

  3. #3 Brett Booth
    April 9, 2010

    I totally agree that the art in most dinosaur/paleontology books is WAY below sub par. I have a similar problem right now and have also been told to not say anything (cough, cough, Jurassic Park comic, cough, cough.)
    I’ve been reading TetZoo since 2007 and will continue on until you stop. The amount of knowledge about animals you posses astounds me and I’m always interested to learn new things, so thank you!

    Best,

    Brett

  4. #4 Austin
    April 9, 2010

    Nice Toy Story reference, we’ll take all the advertising we can get!

    This blog is awesome, man. Here’s to 4 more years of dinos and duck rape!

  5. #5 doug l
    April 9, 2010

    I know it’s a little pre-mature but happy 5th anniversary.

  6. #6 bryan
    April 9, 2010

    Longtime lurker here, followed you over from your old site and if you ever move again I’ll follow you over there too. Just wanted to express my thanks for the hours of fascinating reading, my appreciation for your efforts to present science stories in an approachable and entertaining way, and my deepest respect that manage to do so without sacrificing the ‘science’ part of the equation.

    looking forward to the next four years (and onward!)

    cheers

  7. #7 kris
    April 9, 2010

    Many happy returns, tetzoo! This is just the stuff that makes surfing the internet worthwhile — its the vitamins and fiber between the empty calories of forum chitchat and facebook status! :)

  8. #8 Nathan Myers
    April 9, 2010

    It would be criminal to abandon Sauropod Vertebrae Picture of the Week without properly treating sauropod polycephalia. Polycephalia is found in diverse tetrapod lineages, so must surely have occurred at least occasionally in sauropods. Given non-pathological plumbing hookups, it would have offered serious adaptive advantages if, in fact, the bigger sauropods were limited primarily by how much greenery they were physically able to cram down their gullets in a day. That we don’t find polycephalic fossils might just be because most bones found are not from the parts that would be diagnostic, or because the condition (sadly) didn’t breed true.

    I share your despair at the condition of dinosaur artwork. Whatever the condition of the fossils, lavishly illustrated publications could certainly benefit by including, in herds of foraging sauropods, the occasional two- or four-necked specimen, visibly better fed than the rest. Besides other obvious benefits to such a presentation, necks take up much less space on the page than bodies. Perhaps Luis can lead the charge?

  9. #9 strangetruther
    April 9, 2010

    One commendable point is your mentioning, twice, the names of two workers who would be, on their own, game changing, if the field wasn’t sick:
    Janice Koler-Matznick, who has effectively turned the dog bowl upside down, and…
    Aaron Filler, one of the one’s who changed the ape-man game with the upright chimp ancestor…information.
    Both of these of course totally ignored over and over again. (In fact, Zimmer seems to suggest of the authors of the Sediba paper in Science this week – can’t check now if it’s him or them giving the impression – that we started walking upright 6mya!!) And neither of these had I heard of before you blogged on them! So that’s something for you to be proud of.
    If you were looking for a development in future years, you will have to decide whether your expertise entitles you to be opinionated or not, and not just when it’s safe but when it’s unsafe. If you agree with Koler-Matznick for example, say you think she’s right, not that she might be right…and help propagate the consequences within the field. It is the duty of an expert not to urge caution and say “on the other hand”, but to make a decision, often a difficult decision, and sometimes a wrong one, but finally of course, usually being right. It’s also vital to understand that what might be called “inertia” has to be dealt with if the field is to work, and you are one of those responsible for acknowledging and dealing with that inertia.

  10. #10 Andreas Johansson
    April 9, 2010

    I don’t recall if I thanked you in the first 4th b’day thread, but if so I’ll do it again: Tet Zoo is a long-standing part of my online routine and the most consistently interesting blog on ScienceBlogs.

  11. #11 Craig York
    April 9, 2010

    Congratulations, Darren-here’s to another four!

  12. #12 John Harshman
    April 9, 2010

    Hooray for TetZoo. I’ve only been reading it for a short time (at least it seems short), but I now keep the window perpetually open on my browser. More stories about extant theropods, please.

    While we’re on the subject, I’m just back from a week in Belize (birding: excellent), and I see that in my absence you talked about Leptosomus. I think the Early Bird (e.g. Hackett et al. 2008) position on this is fairly conclusive. It’s not a roller, but it is in the coraciiform neighborhood, though outside all other coraciiforms (and piciforms, and bucerotiforms). Most importantly, it’s in the “land bird” clade, and so nowhere near cuckoos or frogmouths.

    Also, there is really no support for Metaves except from beta fibrinogen, the gene used by Fain & Houde, and also part of the Early Bird and Ericson et al. data sets. In both these cases, analyses of the same data that omit beta fibrinogen didn’t find Metaves or anything similar. That doesn’t mean Metaves doesn’t exist, just that we have very little evidence that it does. Then again, we have no evidence for any contradictory groups.

  13. #13 Dawn Gilkison
    April 9, 2010

    I have read that authors bemoan the quality/relevance of book cover art frequently. But about the mice who live in the underground, I have noticed on a few visits to undergrounds in either London or New York(vacations only, not in my home place) the very dark, yes melanistic quality of the rodent’s coats which seemed to help them blend into the black substrate of the ground under the track. I also remember seeing cats underground and assumed they were predators of the mice, this was during the 1980s.

  14. #14 Anonymous
    April 9, 2010

    “it’s a stone angel I walk past at least twice a day”

    I hope you don’t blink when you look at it…

  15. #15 Anonymous
    April 9, 2010

    On a more serious note, I think the best way you can improve the accuracy of paleo-art is to bring to attention some of the more common flaws in paleo-art, and give positive reinforcement for how people can fix their art and do it right. Indeed, some mistakes in paleo-art are simply because the artists don’t know that archosaurs are only supposed to have three toe claws or whatnot, most of that information like you oftentimes say being “locked away in the technical literature”. In fact this blog has been a huge help for some aspiring paleoartists already. I can’t speak for everyone, but I use to always draw my sauropods with elephantine nailed feet before I read this blog and found out that sauropods don’t have nails on their forefeet whatsoever (except for the big hooked digit I). Now I always make sure my sauropod feet are nail-free.

  16. #16 Andrew
    April 10, 2010

    Hi Darren, great stuff man! Keep it going! In the spirit of cross-pollination, I’ve linked your old post on Night Stalkers to a fantasy MMORPG blog on intelligent pterodactyloids with the same body-plan, see here and here:

    http://fabledlands.blogspot.com/2010/04/dragon-warriors-of-lost-continent.html

    and here

    http://fabledlands.blogspot.com/2010/04/abraxas-rivals-of-man.html

    cheers!

  17. #17 Neil
    April 10, 2010

    Tube mice. I’m always chuffed by people’s delight in them. Even in the Square Mile, staid businessmen smile down at them.

    In about 1997 I saw a very grubby, less-than golden hamster among the tracks at Belsize Park Tube. It seemed pretty calm and it’s cheek pouches appeared full. I was astonished. Even though it’s a stop and three quarters (about 2 miles) from where that branch of the Northern Line goes overground, I couldn’t think of any good reason for it to be there unless it had been deliberately released/dumped.

  18. #18 David Marjanović
    April 10, 2010

    A serious question: the House mice on the underground seem particularly small. Has anyone ever studied them?

    You mean they could turn out to be a separate species, like the endemic mosquito Culex molestus?

    if, in fact, the bigger sauropods were limited primarily by how much greenery they were physically able to cram down their gullets in a day.

    Doesn’t look like that was the case.

  19. #19 anon
    April 10, 2010

    Congrats, Darren, and once again a heartfelt THANK YOU for Tet Zoo (and for everything else that you’re doing, for that matter).
    We need more people like you.

    You write that “Tet Zoo [is] a site that covers technical zoology and nothing else.”

    If that’s true, then all I can say is that technical zoology must be a very broad field indeed.

  20. #20 Mike from Ottawa
    April 10, 2010

    I have a horrible feeling that – no bad how things get – blogging for Tet Zoo is a habit I can’t shake.

    I sure hope nobody comes up with a 12 step program for that ailment.

  21. #21 Nick
    April 10, 2010

    Your posts on duck rape were actually a conversation point the other day with a friend when we were out walking around at the park, lol….

    Keep up the posting, you’re one of the highest quality natural history blogs out there… :)

    Nick

  22. #22 Hai~Ren
    April 11, 2010

    Tetrapod Zoology has always been one of my favourite blogs on natural history, and your dedication and attention to detail has always been an inspiration for all of us.

    I agree that blogging is a lot like an addiction, but there is so much information and knowledge that is worthy of sharing.

    May Tetrapod Zoology continue to live long and prosper.

  23. #23 Bee
    April 11, 2010

    I lurk mostly, but I read every article you write for Tet Zoo with pleasure, and the comments as well. I just really hope your projects will prosper greatly and stress levels will fall sufficiently that I don’t feel guilty for wanting more all the time.

    I’m happy to be one of the millions propping up your stats.

  24. #24 Rosel
    April 11, 2010

    You are a great inspiration and heres to many more years of Tet Zoo blogging. Have I really been reading for 3 years ?

    @ Dawn Gilkison, I noticed that mice in the Paris metro seemed very dark, although I’m still not sure if they were melanistic or just dirty.

  25. #25 Nathan Myers
    April 11, 2010
    if, in fact, the bigger sauropods were limited primarily by how much greenery they were physically able to cram down their gullets in a day.

    Doesn’t look like that was the case.

    Really? That was supposed to be the reason they didn’t chew — there wasn’t time. What’s the line now?

  26. #26 Dartian
    April 12, 2010

    If you’re interested in seeing the site stats any time, check the bravenet counter at below left. Yes, I know that ‘number of hits’ does not = ‘number of readers’, but I also use google analytics and this all seems to be fairly reliable.

    Is there any place where one can see the statistics for how many comments have been posted by individual commenters?

    Given the site’s success, I do get disappointed and a bit surprised when Tet Zoo fails to get mentioned by journalists who list ‘good science blogs’, or fails to get nominated or short-listed for awards

    That is indeed both strange and unfair. Has anyone in the know ever offered any good explanation as to why Tet Zoo seemingly never makes the ‘good science blog’ shortlists?

  27. #27 David Marjanović
    April 12, 2010

    That was supposed to be the reason they didn’t chew — there wasn’t time.

    The other way around: their ancestors had never chewed. Because they didn’t chew, they were able to get away with not spending 30 h/day eating.

    Do you know how big the skull of Giraffatitan is?

  28. #28 Nathan Myers
    April 13, 2010

    DM: Pretty small, right? The moment arm of grinding teeth out there on the end would seem prohibitive without some buoyant support. Likewise, more brains than a newt.

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