Tetrapod Zoology

Today, my friends, is January 21st 2011. Do you know what this means? It means (drumroll)… that Tet Zoo is five years old today. Wow. Five years. With apologies to those who’ve heard the story before, things started in 2006 over at blogspot, and in 2007 Tet Zoo ver 2 kicked off here on ScienceBlogs. So: happy birthday Tet Zoo!

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The fact that I’ve now been blogging about hardcore zoology for five years is a little scary; it makes me worried that things here might have become stale or blasé. To be honest, if that’s so I haven’t noticed and, anyway, my motivations for blogging are almost entirely personal – we’ll get to that later (to be specific: at the end of part II).

As per usual, my aim here is to review all the Tet Zoo-relevant things that happened during 2010, whether those are personal, public, technical or community-wide. And as per at least a few of the previous blogoversaries, I won’t be doing a review of 2010’s discoveries. Oh for the time to do that: I did it back in 2007 and haven’t managed a repeat performance since.

2010 in review, the beginning

The year at Tet Zoo started with the launch of yet another new tetrapodiferous website and blog: Pterosaur.net, the brainchild of Dave Hone, John Conway and others. Like SV-POW!, this is another one that I’m supposed to contribute to. So far, my input has been rather minimal to say the least: I hope people can forgive me for the fact that what ‘blogging time’ I have is eaten up by the demanding yet alluring mistress that is Tet Zoo (aaand, I’ve just noticed that I already mentioned all of this in one of the 4th birthday articles, sorry). The cinematic phenomenon/extended advert for the CG industry that is Avatar got some discussion here in January – well, come on, at least some of the creatures were pretty neat. In case you haven’t heard, a sequel is in the works. James Cameron so liked my article that he’s asked me to design some of the animals. No, I kid. Below: some dentures I found on Weston Shore in April. This is the second set of dentures I’ve found on a beach. The other set (found on Anglesey) is an antique one made from porcelain.

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Major, overlapping crises in January and February meant that I became very serious about giving up on everything, especially blogging. But I got through this little stage. Ironically, I started (re)publishing the babirusa material because I didn’t have time to produce anything new. I ended up augmenting the original babirusa articles so much that Tet Zoo became essentially babirusa-themed for much of February and March (all the articles are listed here, should you need to go through them again). If you like babirusas this must have great. If you don’t… well, too bad. I love the fact that, at the end of the series, some brand-new, personally ‘meaningful’ babirusa material could be published: photos of a specimen that really had been stabbed in the head by its own tooth, a cartoon featuring your humble author on a babirusa steed, and a knitted woollen babirusa.

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In March I watched ducks indulging in brutal gang rape; in an entirely separate event I looked on with sadness as my local Slow-worm Anguis fragilis patch was destroyed [shown here], all without appropriate prior surveying (slow-worms are legally protected, but that doesn’t mean anything when their presence is claimed unknown by the relevant parties).

April, and I went in (successful) quest of the Great bustards Otis tarda reintroduced to Salisbury Plain. The bustard story is awesome (at the end of 2010 I attended a talk on the same subject, and bought a bustard drinking mug): one reason for this is that (though rarely touted as such) it forms part of the re-wilding movement, something I find perpetually interesting (and something I mentioned just the other day when considering the appearance of a White-tailed eagle Haliaeetus albicilla here in southern England). If you don’t live in the UK, remember that just about all of our megafauna was driven into extinction within the last few thousand years. Consequently, the reappearance here and/or spread of Common crane Grus grus, Eurasian eagle owl Bubo bubo, Wild boar Sus scrofa, Eurasian beaver Castor fiber, White-tailed eagle, European pine marten Martes martes and Eurasian lynx Lynx lynx (some of it via planned introduction, some of it via natural recolonisation, some of it accidental and/or covert) is great news. I seem to have looked at a lot of waterfowl in 2010, some of which I let bite me (as usual). In the montage below, some species are easy to identify, others less so. Feel free to impress me.

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A brief series on Mesozoic birds – more content from that aborted field guide I don’t like to talk about – appeared here in April (go here for list of links), and the series on gekkotans started in the same month. More about that later. The incredible discovery of a live Grey whale Eschrichtius robustus in the Mediterranean got rightful coverage on Tet Zoo in May: bizarrely, at almost exactly the same time as I republished an article on how manatees once swam across the Atlantic. Quite how that whale got from the north Pacific to the eastern end of the Mediterranean still seems unknown, though some people say that sightings of a peculiar whale seen swimming westwards across the Indian Ocean may show that the animal entered the Mediterranean via the Red Sea and Suez Canal, rather than by the seemingly more likely Northwest Passage route.

On the subject of mysterious, large marine tetrapods, I presented a poster – titled ‘Sea monsters and the prehistoric survivor paradigm’ – at the 9th European Symposium of Cryptozoology in April. This was held at Engreux, Belgium, though I was unable to attend in person. In May, I gave a public talk on the same subject at the Horniman Museum in London and also published an article on it, again asking the “is it time for cryptozoology to come in from the cold?” question while also denouncing the prehistoric survivor paradigm (Naish 2010a: readable online here). There’s an awful lot of hypothesis testing that can be done on the large body of sea monster eyewitness accounts. While the possibility certainly remains that people reporting sea monsters have indeed seen as-yet-unknown species, those of us involved in the ‘scientific cryptozoology’ movement should by now have made it clear that you don’t need to be a ‘believer’ in sea monsters to find much here that’s worthy of study.

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Oh, I made t-shirts in May and April (see photo at top). I looked at some neat captive lizards (like this Water monitor Varanus salvator) and I went to Cornwall and Devon, my favourite bits of the UK. A photo taken in Cornwall appears right at the bottom of the article (thanks to Stratz).

Summer: a time of floating giraffes and life-size pterosaurs

Like babirusas and giraffes, azhdarchid pterosaurs have definitely become Tet Zoo stalwarts, and during 2010 they were featured here in a whole new light. Twice. Definitely unfamiliar to most people (even those who know pterosaurs) is the fact that Quetzalcoatlus was once depicted as a very peculiar, short-headed, toothy creature… or, it was unfamiliar until I wrote about this subject in May (and June). The concept of memes in artistic depictions of prehistoric animals proved so appealing that I used this approach again – this time focusing on the sauropod Barosaurus – in June. I have plans to look at various others of these ‘artistic memes': as I’ve said before, there could even be a book in it if only I could get round the copyright issues.

June was also official ‘floating giraffe’ month: the paper that I’d written with Don Henderson (Henderson & Naish 2010) finally appeared in Journal of Theoretical Biology (unsurprisingly, it took us a little while before we could get a journal to take it on, and then a little while more to get it through review). Understandably (I think) it received a fair bit of attention in the global media, and I ended up getting an article in Scientific American about it as well (Naish 2010b: read it online here). I also covered waterfowl, matamatas, and Gary Kaiser’s The Inner Bird in June. The Kaiser review was published in Historical Biology (Naish 2010c). My review of Evolution of Tertiary Mammals of North America. Volume 2: Small Mammals, Xenarthrans, and Marine Mammals also appeared in print, this time in Geological Magazine (Naish 2010d). As I think I said at the time, I was happy to see that the back cover of this most impressive volume includes a quote from my own review of volume 1. Geological Magazine also featured my review of Sargis and Dagosto’s Mammalian Evolutionary Morphology. A Tribute to Frederick S. Szalay (Naish 2010e).

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I said above that azhdarchids were featured “in a whole new way” twice during 2010. The second “whole new way” concerns, of course, the University of Portsmouth pterosaur exhibition at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, hosted at Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank, London, between late June and early July. I’ve already said most things worth saying about that exhibition. I’m really grateful for having had the opportunity to be involved, and I think everybody who participated has fond memories of a fun, neat event that served well as a truly awesome bit of public outreach. I don’t know all the details (Dave Martill or Mark Witton might like to comment, if they’re around), but I believe that the exhibition has since been hosted at some other venues, and that things are in progress as goes similar events in the future. Our life-sized azhdarchids, and Dr Witton himself, are (I believe) featured in the Sky movie Flying Monsters 3D. This premiered on TV over Christmas 2010, though I can’t pretend to know anything about it: the azhdarchids and some of the other pterosaurs featured in the film do definitely have a Wittonesque look about them.

During July, two of the several books I’d been working on – Dinosaurs Life Size (Naish 2010e) and Dorling Kindersley’s Know It All (Baines 2010) – hit the bookshops. As frequently seems typical for books, I have no idea whatsoever how well (or otherwise) they’re doing, but people have mostly been nice about them (see part II for more book news). I did an interview for MonsterTalk at the end of July. At about that time, great excitement surrounded new discoveries concerning both Sumatra’s orang-pendek and the British big cat phenomenon. I touched on both areas but couldn’t say everything: I will say now (I don’t think any of this is secret anymore) that hairs supposed to be from orang-pendek have been identified as those of an orangutan-like hominid (though not from an orangutan), and that hairs collected from the English countryside have been identified (on both morphological and molecular grounds) as those of a leopard.

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On the subject of British mystery cats, that whole story concerning the lynx kicked off in August. Yes, it turns out that a stuffed lynx, killed in England in the early 1900s, has sat, ignored, in a well known museum without anyone paying it much attention (and, yes, we know it isn’t a Eurasian lynx… so no possibility of it being a late-surviving native). Max Blake and I are currently working on a paper about it [Max is shown here: he's the one on the left], though we live in constant fear of being scooped ever since the BBC featured the specimen on Autumnwatch in October. They even brought it into the studio; presenter Martin Hughes-Games said that he “wasn’t allowed to say much about it” but neglected to say that this is because the specimen is under study!

Ok, there’s lot more to come – part II will be published tomorrow real soon.

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For previous Tet Zoo birthday articles see…

Refs – –

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

Henderson, D. M. & Naish, D. 2010. Predicting the buoyancy, equilibrium and potential swimming ability of giraffes by computational analysis. Journal of Theoretical Biology 265, 151-159.

Naish, D. 2010a. Monsters of the deep! Fortean Times 262, 36-37.

– . 2010b. Will it float? Scientific American 304 (1), 22

– . 2010c. Book review: The Inner Bird: Anatomy and Evolution, by Gary W. Kaiser. Historical Biology, DOI: 10.1080/08912963.2010.506741

– . 2010d. [Review of] C. M. Janis, G. F. Gunnell & M. D. Uhen (eds) 2008. Evolution of Tertiary Mammals of North America. Volume 2: Small Mammals, Xenarthrans, and Marine Mammals. viii + 795 pp. Cambridge, New York, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. Price £150.00 (hard covers). ISBN 9780 521 78117 6. Geological Magazine 147, 317.

– . 2010e. [Review of] Sargis, E. J. & Dagosto, M. (eds) 2008. Mammalian Evolutionary Morphology. A Tribute to Frederick S. Szalay. Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology Series. xxviii + 439 pp. Berlin, Heidelberg, New York: Springer-Verlag. Price Euros 94.95, SFr 158.00, US $139.00, £75.00 (hard covers). ISBN 9781 4020 6996 3. doi:10.1017/S0016756809990860. Geological Magazine 147, 797.

– . 2010e. Dinosaurs Life Size. Barron’s Educational Series, New York.

Comments

  1. #1 David Marjanović
    January 21, 2011

    What does it say on the last photo?

    I touched on both areas but couldn’t say everything: I will say now (I don’t think any of this is secret anymore) that hairs supposed to be from orang-pendek have been identified as those of an orangutan-like hominid (though not from an orangutan), and that hairs collected from the English countryside have been identified (on both morphological and molecular grounds) as those of a leopard.

    Well, if those amazing findings were going to be published in Nature, they were of course still secret. “Orang-utan-like, but not an orang-utan” strikes me as Nature-worthy. :-|

  2. #2 Darren Naish
    January 21, 2011

    A paper was indeed submitted to one of the top-flight journals (I was not involved). But it can be difficult to convince people of anything when all you have is hairs (even if there are compelling morphological and/or molecular features). Some of the conclusions on the orang-pendek hairs aren’t secret as they’ve already been published all over the place in the cryptozoological/fortean literature. I keep telling my friends in the cryptozoological community to publish in the technical literature _first_ and then go public. But – get this – because they quickly get attacked (by other people in the cryptozoological community!!) for withholding data, they always get browbeaten into swift public announcement. Keeping the lynx secret was absolutely impossible.

  3. #3 David Marjanović
    January 21, 2011

    But – get this – because they quickly get attacked (by other people in the cryptozoological community!!) for withholding data, they always get browbeaten into swift public announcement.

    Ah. Doesn’t surprise me at all. :-(

  4. #4 Mark Witton
    January 21, 2011

    Aw, gosh: Tet Zoo’s turned five. I remember being there when it all started: this feels strangely like watching your friend’s kids growing up.

    The Southbank pterosaur models are currently in Rotterdam’s Natuurhistorisch Museum and may be set to travel further, but exactly where isn’t clear at present. Disappointingly, they only feature briefly in the ‘making of’ film of the Attenborough pterosaur documentary and didn’t make the cut of the actual film at all, despite the production crew spending an entire day filming them with SDA in attendance in the summer (and, frankly, no small amount of disruption to our end, either). Them’s the breaks, I guess.

    And speaking of said documentary, I joined the elite few who’ve actually seen the film last night (seriously, noone has seen it because of it’s exclusive showing on a premium TV channel that requires a sexy new 3D TV to enjoy) and, despite the fancy visuals and Attenborough’s involvement, was a quite disappointed. I’ll save my precise thoughts for a Pterosaur.Net blogpost: it will suffice to say that the programme was a let-down in many areas. Anyone who wasn’t keen on the other recent Attenborough/Atlantic Production documentary First Life will recognise the same flaws with Flying Monsters. Thinking about it, weren’t Atlantic and Attenborough also involved with the recent, substanceless ‘Ida’ PR fiasco, too? There may be a trend developing here…

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    January 21, 2011

    Happy Major Blogoversary!

  6. #6 Martin R
    January 21, 2011

    Congrats, Darren! Yours is a spot of rock-solid quality in blogdom.

  7. #7 Coturnix
    January 21, 2011

    Happy Blogiversary!

  8. #8 Dartian
    January 21, 2011

    Nobody has had a go at identifying the anatids yet? OK, here goes:

    Top row: (domestic) swan goose Anser cygnoides, Pacific black duck Anas superciliosa, Sunda teals Anas gibberifrons. Bottom row: Mandarin duck Aix galericulata, upland goose Chloephaga picta, black swan Cygnus atrata.

  9. #9 Dartian
    January 21, 2011

    Cygnus atrata

    Er, Cygnus atratus. And ‘Happy blogiversary!’ from me, too! Glad you didn’t give up on blogging when things were tough a year ago; the Internet wouldn’t have been the same without you.

  10. #10 Darren Naish
    January 21, 2011

    Thank you all for your nice words, much appreciated.

    Dartian: 4 out of 6, not bad :) (though one of them is particularly nasty).

  11. #11 Ian
    January 21, 2011

    congratulations, and very much looking forward to another five years (we hope you’ll keep it up!).

  12. #12 darwinsdog
    January 21, 2011

    Congrats on turning five! I’m glad you’re here Darren. Tet Zoo is the most interesting blog on SB, by far. Please keep it up!

    (I wish there was a blog of equivalent quality on fishes.)

  13. #13 Heather
    January 21, 2011

    Congratulations and happy birthday! Tet Zoo is one of my favourite blogs – thank you for the many interesting and entertaining articles!

  14. #14 Raymond Minton
    January 21, 2011

    Although I haven’t been a subscriber for the whole time your blog has been in existence, I’ve found it fascinating and informative,you’ve covered topics that can’t easily be found elsewhere. Congratulations on your first 5 years, and I wish you many more!

  15. #15 Lydia
    January 21, 2011

    I’ve been a subscriber for a bit less than a year now. This is one of my favourite blogs. Happy blogiversary!

  16. #16 Jeffrey Toney
    January 21, 2011

    Congratulations! You are to be commended for such longevity in the blogosphere. I appreciate your contributions and am dubious whether I could maintain such activity without burning out. All the best, and keep up the great work!

  17. #17 Robert
    January 21, 2011

    “I will say….that hairs supposed to be from orang-pendek have been identified as those of an orangutan-like hominid (though not from an orangutan), and that hairs collected from the English countryside have been identified (on both morphological and molecular grounds) as those of a leopard”

    Wow.

    More information please!

  18. #18 Robert
    January 21, 2011

    And, let me add, I read your blog every day and find it endlessly fascinating.

    Congratulations on your 5th Anniversary!

  19. #19 Jerzy
    January 21, 2011

    Happy anniversary, too!

  20. #20 Neil
    January 21, 2011

    Congrats Darren

    Haven’t been commenting much recently but Ive still been reading.

    Do you have any plans to post more on those Waxwings? Ive had a LOT more luck with them recently if you need some photos to use ;)

    Ill have a crack at the ducks, clockwise from top left: Chinese goose, female mallard, One of those New Zealand ducks?, Mandarin, Snow goose?, Black Swan – perhaps I shouldnt have bothered!

  21. #21 Mike from Ottawa
    January 21, 2011

    Congrats on 5 years, Darren. I echo Robert’s description of TetZoo as “endlessly fascinating” and that’s because you are yourself endlessly fascinated and have a wonderful facility for sharing that fascination. My reading of TetZoo over the last 5 years has hugely enriched my life.

    And I’ll also say congrats to the excellent commenters here who add such depth to TetZoo, best commenters any blog has, IMO and TetZoo best blog.

  22. #22 cicely
    January 21, 2011

    Happy Hemidecade. :)

  23. #23 Alec T
    January 21, 2011

    The best blog around! Here’s to another five years!

  24. #24 Bill Unzen
    January 21, 2011

    Waterfowl pics:

    Top: Domestic Swan Goose, Spot-billed Duck(Anas poecilorhyncha zonorhyncha), Grey Teals(Anas gracilis).

    Bottom: Mandarin Duck, Upland Goose, Black Swan.

  25. #25 Marco Tedesco
    January 21, 2011

    Happy anniversary to one of the best blogs ever to be seen!

  26. #26 Chris Clark
    January 21, 2011

    I’m always amazed by the way you manage to produce high-quality stuff every couple of days: sustaining it for 5 years is extra impressive.
    Did we really harangue our megafauna into extinction? Obviously jaw-jaw can sometimes be more dangerous than war-war!

  27. #27 Anthony Docimo
    January 21, 2011

    Congrats on 5 years – its all great work you’ve posted.

    though Cameron should have hired you!

  28. #28 Darren Naish
    January 21, 2011

    Ah, it seems ‘harangue’ does not mean what I thought it did :) I will go and change the text. Thanks to all for further comments. On those waterfowl, nobody has got all six correct yet.

  29. #29 Vladimir Dinets
    January 21, 2011

    Congratulations! I only stumbled upon this blog a few months ago, but I’m enjoying it immensely.

  30. #30 Orangutan Outreach
    January 22, 2011

    Hello,
    I stumbled on your site purely by accident and felt compelled to tell you how impressive it is. If you ever want to spend a holiday with a flock of cassowary, let me know. My organization cares for several dozen of them in our wildlife rescue centers in Indonesia. Are you familiar with a place called Tasikoki? It’s in North Sulawesi and was built by Willie Smits. We’ve got some cassowary roaming around there… Brilliant predators, though ours are pretty mellow…

    I also invite you to take a look at the Orangutan Outreach website: redapes.org

    Keep up the great work! Rich {:(|}

  31. #31 Bill Unzen
    January 22, 2011

    Domestic Swan Goose/Spot-billed Duck/Madagascar Teals(Anas bernieri).
    Mandarin Duck/Upland Goose/Black Swan.

  32. #32 Brian
    January 22, 2011

    Congratulations!

  33. #33 Hai~Ren
    January 22, 2011

    Congratulations Darren! It’s been a really wonderful and educational journey learning so much from you and the other commenters.

  34. #34 Squiddhartha
    January 22, 2011

    Many congratulations and best wishes for a healthy future for the blog! As I think I’ve said before, when a new post shows up in my RSS reader, I immediately think, “Ooh, new TetZoo!” but then I have to bide my time before reading it to allow the always-excellent comment thread to grow.

  35. #35 PennyBright
    January 22, 2011

    Happy Blogoversary Darren! You are my favorite blogger on ScienceBlogs. Every time I tell someone to check out the site, your blog is at the top of the list of recommended reads.

  36. #36 Lucy
    January 23, 2011

    Congratulations! 5 years is an enough period to evaluate the outcome of what you guys have done to protect the animals. Hope everything go on well and we may see a greater Tet Zoo in the 5 years to come.

  37. #37 JCK
    January 23, 2011

    Darren, I’ve been reading TetZoo since the blogspot days and I want to thank you for so many excellent articles.

  38. #38 John Harshman
    January 23, 2011

    OK, the Chinese goose, Mandarin duck, Megellan goose, and black swan are all gimmes. It’s the two Anas that are the problem. So. Dark bill, prominent striped face, dark scapulars with white edges: nothing seems great, but I’m going with a female garganey. Next, ambiguously-toned bill, gray head, dark back & wings with what appears to be a white speculum, spotted breast: I got nothin’, but just to have something to say I’ll go with Cape teal.

    I try to ignore Anas as a genus whenever possible. But here’s something fun: a couple of years ago I found a Magellan goose (female, though) hanging out with a flock of Canada geese. How it got there I have no idea, though presumably it was an escape.

  39. #39 Darren Naish
    January 24, 2011

    Thanks for everyone for further supportive and kind comments. And time to put you out of your misery on those waterfowl. As John says, Swan goose Anser cygnoides, male Mandarin duck Aix galericulata, male Upland/Magellan goose Chloephaga picta and Black swan Cygnus atratus are all easy. The peculiar Anas at top-middle is one of two identical females discovered on an ornamental lake here in Southampton. They were associating with male Mallard A. platyrhynchos, and seemed after all just to be aberrant members of that species. The two small duck at top right are both Madagascan or Bernier’s teal A. bernieri. Well done to those who did the guessing.

  40. #40 John Harshman
    January 24, 2011

    On the supposed aberrant mallard, I’m still holding out for garganey until you tell me how big it was and what color the legs are. And even if you tell me it was mallard-sized and the legs were bright orange, I’ll have to claim it’s some kind of hybrid. There’s not even a trace of yellow in that bill.

    As for the other one, I should have gone with Madagascar teal, given the clearly buff rather than white edges on the breast feathers. But all the illustrations give them orange legs and clear contrast between the dark eye/cap and light cheek. Still, the speculum, which is the best clue, fits.

    In my excitement over duck ID, did I forget to congratulate/commiserate on the matter of your 5-year anniversary?

  41. #41 Darren Naish
    January 24, 2011

    I just dug out all my photos of the two weird ducks: I’ll post them here if you want. Hey, why not… I’ve always wanted to cover the phylogeny of Anas (even though I’ve been told to leave well alone). Both birds were definitely mallard-size, both had orange legs and also an iridescent, very dark blue speculum. Yeah, I’ll post more of the photos tomorrow (time permitting).

    And thanks for the congrats/commiserations :)

  42. #42 John Harshman
    January 25, 2011

    I would be interested in closeups of the head, especially from other angles, because that’s the part that doesn’t match the rest. Not that I’m an expert on duck hybridization or anything, but mallard-garganey hybrids are known, according to Tubaro & Lijtmaer 2002. Mallard-just-about-anything hybrids are known. Male mallards apparently are not picky.

    Tubaro, P. L., and D. A. Lijtmaer. 2002. Hybridization patterns and the evolution of reproductive isolation in ducks. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 77:193-200.

  43. #43 Francisco Gascó
    February 8, 2011

    Hi Darren! I just realised that I had forgotten about our blogs’ birthday! And I say “our blogs” because Pakozoic just turned 5 years on January 19. So I suppose I should celebrate a hemi-decade too… Oh man, it’s just a pity it is February now! I imagine I have too many things on my head these days…

    Cheers,

    Paco

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