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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
For previous Tet Zoo birthday articles see…
- Happy first birthday Tetrapod Zoology (part I)
- Happy first birthday Tetrapod Zoology (part II)
- Happy second birthday Tetrapod Zoology (part I)
- Tetrapods of 2007 (happy birthday Tet Zoo part II)
- Happy THIRD birthday Tet Zoo
- Tet Zoo = 4 years old today
- 2009, a year of Tet Zooery
- Four years of Tet Zoo: to infinity… and beyond!
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.