Tetrapod Zoology

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Another book with my name on it has just appeared. Again it’s a kid’s book: Dorling Kindersley’s Know It All (Baines 2010) – a fantastically well illustrated, fact-packed encylopedia of everything science (and the successor to the highly successful 2009 Ask Me Anything). It’s a multi-authored book (authors: Simone Bos, Julie Ferris, Ian Graham, Susan Kennedy, Darren Naish, Jim Pipe, Carole Stott and John Woodward). My section – titled ‘Dinosaurs’ – isn’t just on dinosaurs; it also includes spreads on Palaeozoic tetrapods, ichthyosaurs, pterosaurs, Pleistocene mammals, and hominids. Does it really tell the Tet Zoo reader anything they don’t already know? No, of course not. But it’s still worth talking about, as I find it interesting that I’m increasingly able to get ‘new’ ideas on prehistoric tetrapods into popular books, and hence into ‘mainstream’ culture…

Look at the spread on sauropod necks, for example (‘How did dino giants hold up their necks’). This is basically Taylor et al. (2009), retold for kids. It discusses the presence of skeletal pneumaticity (well known to everyone properly interested in archosaurs, but thoroughly alien to the public at large) and promotes the idea that sauropods held their necks aloft (reference is made to head and neck posture in living animals). Diplodocoid rearing behaviour also gets coverage. This is far from a dumb idea: in fact, there’s every indication that diplodocoids could engage in bipedal feeding regularly and without difficulty (sigh… when is Heinrich Mallison going to publish?).

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The pages on non-avian maniraptorans [shown above] promote another unarguable fact that should be more widely known than it is: that the earliest birds were NOT ‘special’, ‘different’ animals compared to other contemporaneous theropods. Rather, archaeopterygids and such were pretty much indistinguishable from early troodontids, dromaeosaurids and such, and were merely one among many lineages of small, feathered Jurassic theropod.

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The pterosaur spread covers the Wittonesque idea that pterosaurs didn’t just hang around on beaches and fly over oceans, but refers to the strong terrestriality of such groups as anurognathids and azhdarchids (ironically, however, the main illustration shows Eudimorphodon out at sea. I protested, but it was too late). Research on pterosaur brain anatomy (based on Witmer et al. (2003)) is summarised, as is the Claessens et al. (2009) hypothesis on the mechanics of pterosaur respiration. A grounded, quadrupedal azhdarchid is shown (kudos to Peter Minister for the CG art: the adjacent picture by Peter is actually from another book… Dinosaurs Eye to Eye, also published 2010): in keeping with the meme, the pterosaur has a little baby sauropod in between its jaws. I tell you, grounded, terrestrial-stalking, sauropod-eating azhdarchids are everywhere these days… I know I’ve done my part :)

A spread on ichthyosaurs does more than talk about live birth in Stenopterygius and mention big eyes in Ophthalmosaurus (as seems to be typical for prehistoric animal books): it does a reasonable job of covering ichthyosaur diversity, with mention being made of Tholodus, Himalayasaurus, leptonectoids and such. And then there’s stuff on Pleistocene mammals, hominids and ‘bringing fossils back to life’ (read: reconstructing life appearance). None of this is as novel, I suppose because most of the big ideas in these fields are already well covered in the popular literature. I’m secretly pleased that I managed to get John Conway’s favoured term for ‘palaeo-art’ – viz, palaeontography – into the book. And – ha ha – a brief biography of Greg Paul is included in the ‘bringing fossils back to life’ section.

We, the revolution

Some years ago a highly respected senior palaeontologist said to me that we (as in, we who publish technical palaeontological literature) would do well to keep our heads down and stay humble, because the hypotheses and discoveries of the present day will be written about, by others, in the future.

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I feel it’s slightly ironic – and I don’t mean this to sound at all arrogant – that I now find myself being one among several who plays the role of ‘scientific messenger’, passing on the Big New Ideas of the technical community (like terrestrial stalking in azhdarchids, pneumaticity and erect necks in sauropods, and morphological and behavioural diversity in ichthyosaurs) to children and other non-scientists. To those few who hate, or disagree vehemently, with these Big New Ideas, I’ve no doubt this is frustrating. But most of us who pay attention are on the same team, and hence (I hope!!) will enjoy seeing the promotion of such things. At the risk of sticking my neck out, I think that most popular books on prehistoric animals have been too conservative – or just plain boring – on such things as dinosaur biology, bird origins, and certainly on such topics as marine reptile diversity and behaviour, and pterosaur anatomy. I like the way things are turning out, and I like being part of it.

All going well, I’ll have two – or possibly three – book-related announcements to come over the next few days, weeks and months.

You can read more about Know It All at the Dorling Kindersley website here and can order it from amazon.co.uk here (it’s here on amazon.com, but doesn’t seem available at the moment). Seriously: if you know a child interested in science, the natural world, or the pursuit of knowledge in general, I strongly recommend you buy it for them.

For previous self-promotional articles on books see…

And if you need more information on some of the subjects mentioned in this article, try…

Refs – –

Baines, F. 2010. Know It All: Facts, Stats, Lists, Records and More. Dorling Kindersley, London.

Claessens, L. P. A. M., O’Connor, P. M. & Unwin, D. M. 2009. Respiratory evolution facilitated the origin of pterosaur flight and aerial gigantism. PLoS ONE 4 (2): e4497. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004497

Taylor, M. P., Wedel, M. J. & Naish, D. 2009. Head and neck posture in sauropod dinosaurs inferred from extant animals. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 54, 213-220.

Witmer, L. M., Chatterjee, S., Franzosa, J. & Rowe, T. 2003. Neuroanatomy of flying reptiles and implications for flight, posture and behaviour. Nature 425, 950-953.

Comments

  1. #1 Albertonykus
    July 29, 2010

    Good job publicizing these new finds in a kid’s book!

  2. #2 Abyssal
    July 29, 2010

    Do I recognize an illustration by fellow Wikipedian ArthurWeasley in that first spread? I think so. Congrats, if you’re reading this!

    Also, is it just me, or is Azhdarchids-eating-titanosaur-hatchlings becoming one of those dreaded paleo-art memes we like to discuss here?

  3. #3 Brian
    July 29, 2010

    This book looks really good! I wish I’d had it when I was a kid. One can only hope a lot of dinosaurophiliac kids today will get to read it!

  4. #4 Nick Gardner
    July 29, 2010

    It’d be great if the scans you’d posted had been larger… I can barely read anything =X

  5. #5 laura ostrenga
    July 29, 2010

    hey darren, well off-topic, but a new buzz on the CZ sites is a tale of “speaking elephants”. well, what i want to know is if an elephant’s physiological vocal/sound producing anatomical organs can produce “speech-like” sounds, in any human language. doesn’t this seem like the number one thing to skeptically investigate in a case like this?

    here’s a link about the story:

    http://hubpages.com/hub/Real-Animals-That-Really-Talk

    many thanks if you get a chance to address “the talking elephants”.

    best, laura

  6. #6 Tim Morris
    July 30, 2010

    I have to say, a Diplodocus with an S curve in its neck, to me, is the sexiest thing since Rock Hudson.

  7. #7 Kilian Hekhuis
    July 30, 2010

    Now all we need is a translation in Dutch, and it subsequently being available in the Netherlands. Most kids’ science books here are not that good, and rather outdated.

  8. #8 Dartian
    July 30, 2010

    Abyssal:

    is Azhdarchids-eating-titanosaur-hatchlings becoming one of those dreaded paleo-art memes we like to discuss here?

    Yes. And it’s surely intentional, too. If you can’t beat them, join them.

  9. #9 chris y
    July 30, 2010

    Another book? Wow! Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, and your indefatigability.

    Would this suit a bright 8 year old with a penchant for science?

  10. #10 Darren Naish
    July 30, 2010

    Thanks Chris :) It’s definitely good for 8-yr-olds, yes (my son field-tested it for me: he’s 8).

    Thanks to others for comments. No immediate plans to cover talking elephants, but Hoover the seal has been on the back-burner for years (and his voice is even used as a ringtone on my phone – I’m serious!).

  11. #11 David Marjanović
    July 30, 2010

    What is Tholodus?

    sigh… when is Heinrich Mallison going to publish?

    Patience, patience, my fellow young padawan (I said while twisting the sword around for the next cut in seppuku). His first paper, on Plateosaurus the obligate biped, came out yesterday in Palaeontologia Electronica.

  12. #12 Mike from Ottawa
    July 31, 2010

    The pterosaur spread covers the Wittonesque idea …

    Please, “Wittonian” is more Mark’s due, an appropriate mark of respect, echoing, for instance, “Newtonian”.

    [Mark: Ok, I've done my bit, where's my 5 pounds?]

  13. #13 tdh
    July 31, 2010

    “Colour” or “color”?

  14. #14 John Conway
    August 2, 2010

    It’s a real word! In a book! Nobody can stop me now!!

  15. #15 Jerzy
    August 3, 2010

    Congrats for the new book!

    BTW – your blog might well reach more people than your book. Not sure how to turn it into bucks, though.

    And please, write more about the bipedal walking diplodocids. Since this is a blog, you are not counted as stealing anybody’s publication. You might well actually make an ad campaign generatingh interest in the real publication (if it ever appears).

    BTW2 – actually, from the biomechanical point of view, bipedal walking is more efficient for the big animal. No need to invest in extra pair of legs, and biomechanical constraints really start to play role at the size above the largest dinosaurs.

  16. #16 David Marjanović
    August 3, 2010

    Since this is a blog, you are not counted as stealing anybody’s publication.

    Wrong! The pickier journals, like Nature, don’t publish anything that has already reached the public.

    No need to invest in extra pair of legs,

    …but the other pair needs to be correspondingly stronger, and the same holds for the vertebral column.

    Maths, or it didn’t happen.

    and biomechanical constraints really start to play role at the size above the largest dinosaurs.

    Details, please. Numbers.

  17. #17 Jerzy
    August 3, 2010

    @David
    1) Cannot be. Otherwise famously mean paleontologists would be blogging and posting on mailing list just to harm competition.

    2) In a biped, you are saving on pectoral girdle and all that machinery.

    3) Source find yourself, somebody calculated long ago. I remember reading that a quadruped could reach 100 tons to really start eating into the safety margin. Largest sauropods are less or about 50 tons.

  18. #18 David Marjanović
    August 4, 2010

    Cannot be. Otherwise famously mean paleontologists would be blogging and posting on mailing list just to harm competition.

    Then they would suddenly commit suicide by driving two rock hammers into the back of their heads, and everyone would fall over themselves lamenting how tragic an accident that was.

    In a biped, you are saving on pectoral girdle and all that machinery.

    Don’t you have to invest all of that in the pelvic girdle and all that machinery? Also, supporting the vertebral column becomes more difficult.

    somebody calculated long ago. I remember reading that a quadruped could reach 100 tons to really start eating into the safety margin. Largest sauropods are less or about 50 tons.

    Oh, I didn’t know you meant only one particular biomechanical constraint. Yes, it’s only at 140 t that the legs need to be so thick they touch in the middle, and Carpenter’s estimate of Amphicoelias fragillimus is 122 t (and may still underestimate the amount of pneumaticity, who knows).

  19. #19 Darren Naish
    August 4, 2010

    There’s more than one way to estimate the size of a gigantic sauropod known from a single bone, and A. fragillimus might only have weighed a pathetic 78.5 tonnes (77.2 tons) or so: see this article on SV-POW!

  20. #20 Stuart
    August 6, 2010

    Fantastic! Might upgrade from my Collins Guide to Dinosaurs c1983…

  21. #21 Eric
    August 8, 2010

    Wait a minute…

    I just had a thought, what if the claws on the diplodocids feet were actually used to attach themselves to the tree or whatever it is that they were rearing up to.

    Any other opinions?

  22. #22 Michael P. Taylor
    August 10, 2010

    David wrote:

    Oh, I didn’t know you meant only one particular biomechanical constraint. Yes, it’s only at 140 t that the legs need to be so thick they touch in the middle, and Carpenter’s estimate of Amphicoelias fragillimus is 122 t (and may still underestimate the amount of pneumaticity, who knows).

    Reference?

  23. #23 David Marjanović
    August 11, 2010

    I just had a thought, what if the claws on the diplodocids feet were actually used to attach themselves to the tree or whatever it is that they were rearing up to.

    Has been suggested in the literature, but of course only for the thumb claw, not for those on the hindfeet.

    Reference?

    Reference for what, that Carpenter could have underestimated the amount of pneumaticity? That’s just my extrapolation from the fact that pneumaticity increases faster than body size. Or for the 140-t limit? I have that on paper somewhere, I can look for it…

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