Welcome to part II of my musings on the 2010 blogging year. You’ll need to have read the first part to make sense of it. The article you’re reading now is extraordinarily long and I’d normally break up a piece of this length into two, three or even more separate articles. This year I want to get the birthday stuff out of the way as quickly as possible, however, so bear with me. Hey, you don’t HAVE to read any of it. And so, off we go…
One of the bigger Tet Zoo-relevant issues of the year was the publication in September of Tetrapod Zoology Book One (Naish 2010a). Already I’ve seen several reviews (one in-press for a technical journal, the others on amazon or on blogs like Catalogue of Organisms and Geomythologica). All agree in being generally positive about the volume (which is great), but all also agree in noting that the book’s chapters often include comments that – while they look fine on a blog – don’t really work in a book. Also noted by reviewers is that the inclusion of chapters seems random (that’s because it was) and that a phylogenetic structure would be preferable.
These points have been very much noted: if subsequent volumes appear (and this very much depends on whether the first one has sold enough copies to make the effort worth my time) I’m definitely going to arrange the text in phylogenetic fashion. Which is good, as it provides strong incentive to finish such things as the series of articles on anurans.
September is always my busiest month
Moving on, the new Spanish carcharodontosaurian allosauroid Concavenator was also published in September: nothing to do with me, but of great personal interest since I feel that Concavenator‘s morphology (it’s known from a near-complete, articulated skeleton) vindicates one of my apparently stupid ideas about Becklespinax (this being that the animal had a mini-sail restricted to the posterior part of the back and sacrum: see the reconstruction in Naish & Martill (2007)).
I attended the 58th Symposium on Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy at Cambridge in September. It’s always a real pleasure to see the brilliant collection at the university’s zoology museum [the adjacent small Okapi was photographed there]. The meeting was made all the more ‘special’ by the fact that several of the presentations were very much germane/direct responses to work I’ve been involved in. Don Henderson’s take on the flight ability and size of Quetzalcoatlus (Henderson 2010) – he regards the animal as weighing over 500 kg and of being incapable of flight – is of course highly relevant to the Witton & Naish (2008) ‘terrestrial stalker’ hypothesis (a response to Don’s conclusions appeared as part of Witton & Habib’s (2010) paper on giant pterosaurs). And Kent Stevens and John Martin both gave talks that were responses to the Taylor et al. (2009) sauropod neck posture work. I didn’t speak at the meeting, but a Cretaceous maniraptoran specimen discussed by Steve Sweetman has since been written up by the two of us and is due to be published soon. It’s only a single bone, but it’s still remarkable. I’ll say why when the paper is out. [Composite image below: Martillites (and Bob Nicholls) at SVPCA 2010 (l-to-r: J. Liston, L. Steel, B. Nicholls, M. P. Taylor and D. Naish), a misty Cornish scene, and longhorn cattle, photographed at Came Down (yes, really), Dorset, in August]
September also saw publication of the paper (co-written with Gareth Dyke, Mike Benton and Erika Posmosanu) on the birds and pterosaurs of the Cretaceous rocks of Cornet, Romania (Dyke et al. 2010). Involvement in this project was great, in part because I’ve been asking Mike and Gareth about the material since the early 1990s, and also because the Cornet assemblage includes… an azhdarchid. And now that we’re back on pterosaurs, also in September came news on a much-anticipated new volume about pterosaurs… though exactly when it’ll appear is somewhat, err, uncertain. Charles Paxton, Michael Woodley and I also learnt in that month that we’d been successful in pitching our ‘Cryptozoology: science or pseudoscience?’ symposium to the ZSL. The meeting will happen on July 12th 2011 and I’ll advertise it properly some time soon.
Later in 2010, I started the series on pockets, pouches and sacs (go here for list of the articles published so far), I mused a lot about Caperea (the pygmy right whale), and I wrote some stuff about iguanodontian ornithopods for the Scientific American blog. In October I went to a London cinema screening of the Inside Nature’s Giants giant squid episode and got to meet Joy Reidenberg. The photo below shows Norman the Gambian pouched rat Cricetomys gambianus with his co-star James McKay, photographed at the Live ‘n’ Deadly roadshow, in November.
More on books
Quite some months of 2010 (and 2009) were spent editing, proof-reading and sorting out the Geological Society’s multi-authored volume Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective (the book was co-edited with Eric Buffetaut, Dick Moody and Dave Martill). As is usual for big books like this, a few problems arose and caused delays. Anyway, the book was published in November and included my articles on early ideas about dinosaur pneumaticity (Naish 2010b) and (co-authored with Dick Moody) a biography of Alan Charig (Moody & Naish 2010). So, four books got published in 2010 – not bad at all. But things could have been better…
As you’ll know if you follow my stuff, for a few years now I’ve eked out a living from freelance authoring, consultancy and editing. While work came in constantly during 2010, the global economic situation hit the world of freelance writing and publishing pretty hard. Three major projects scheduled for the latter months of the year all failed for economic reasons, and several people I was due to work with lost their jobs and essentially went off the grid. At the time of writing I’m manically busy with several concurrent, independent book projects, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that things are picking up. Fingers crossed for the future. I really do need some sort of
improved financial security, but who doesn’t.
I spent some of the last months of 2010 working hard on two large review manuscripts for a book, one on Lower Cretaceous theropods and one (with Steve Salisbury) on Lower Cretaceous crocodilians. Many people in academia know that publishing chapters in multi-authored books is actually a really bad idea: you’re working hard on something that won’t get an impact factor, it takes months of your time away from publications that will get you an impact factor, and its publication will often be delayed by months or even years by other authors. Alas, I never got this advice when doing my PhD and ended up spending literally years of PhD time writing chapters for books. Oh well, water under the bridge and all that.
I don’t just write books, I work as a book consultant as well. I don’t talk about these projects: partly because they’re written by other people, and partly because the books concerned are written for children and hence aren’t of direct interest to the majority of Tet Zoo readers. Among those that appeared in 2010 was Dorling Kindersley’s Dinosaurs Eye to Eye, by John Woodward. I really dislike the cover [shown above, at left], but I acted too late to get anything done about it. But don’t let the cover put you off the book as a whole: Peter Minister’s CG dinosaurs and pterosaurs are very good. Among my favourite spreads is the one where a Therizinosaurus is claw-striking a tarbosaur, splattering blood everywhere. It’s also shown above (© DK/Peter Minister) – note that the Therizinosaurus possesses both vaned feathers and those spiny structures known for Beipiaosaurus. And from The Usborne Big Book of Big Dinosaurs and Some Little Ones Too (written by Alex Frith) – – ooh, look – another azhdarchid! (the artist kinda screwed up on the whole pteroid region).
Having mentioned Usborne, another project I acted as consultant for – a series of dinosaur fact cards – has just been published. It took a lot of work to get the art looking good, but I really like the results – here are some of the feathery theropods and, oh no, ANOTHER azhdarchid.
Regular readers will know that I wrote a large popular book on dinosaurs – The Great Dinosaur Discoveries – in 2009. I’ve received surprisingly little feedback on this volume and have a possibly unrealistic concern that it might have sunk without trace: a shame, as I tried to do something that hasn’t been done much before (that is, look at the evolution of knowledge about dinosaurs, rather than the evolution of dinosaurs themselves). My understanding is that the publishers (A & C Black in the UK) had/have plans to translate the book into several different languages. I know that editions in at least a few non-English languages appeared in 2010 (and/or 2009), but it’s hard to know as publishers are notoriously bad at keeping authors informed on this sort of thing.
Why blogging = perpetual burning frustration
Blogging at Tet Zoo is hugely rewarding and I love doing it. I also love a lot (but not all) of the stuff I’ve done in the past, and (at the risk of sounding grotesquely arrogant) I would rather read my own stuff than much of the other material out there in the blogosphere. That sounds bad/makes me sound like a douche, but it shouldn’t: after all, I blog for me, and if others enjoy it too – well, that’s an added bonus. I know that at least a few other people seem to be reading Tet Zoo: some time during the last few months of 2010, Tet Zoo ver 2 received its 6 millionth hit. By January 2010, Tet Zoo ver 2 had received 4 million hits, and my calculator reveals that this all translates to 2 million hits over the course of 2010. That can’t be bad. [Adjacent image shows Sunbittern Eurypyga helias, the stuffed Qatar goat mascot William of Windsor (or Billy) of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, and what I think are Brecon buff geese].
But running Tet Zoo is also a bit of a negative experience, and whenever I think about it I am mostly dominated by feelings of frustration. Why? Because’s there so much to do, and so little chance to do it. I can say without exaggeration that there are currently about 200 incomplete Tet Zoo articles here in my files, and many more ideas in my head. I just do not have the time to be as productive, and to get through as much material, as I’d like to.
Remember that I would do so much more if I could, and I’m still in quest of that wealthy sponsor or benefactor.
During 2010 you might have noticed that I ran several series of articles devoted to explorations of particular topics, like babirusas, matamatas, bird hands, gekkotans and mammalian ‘sacs, pouches and pockets’. Understand that I hardly ever start out with the intention of producing a series of articles on any given topic – quite the contrary – it’s just that there’s so much to say that things quickly get out of hand. And, because other things get in the way, virtually all of these series remain unfinished, and for this reason I’ve tried to refrain from starting any more. Gekkotans: still unfinished, with pygopodids and a phylogenetic overview awaiting publication. Matamatas: still unfinished, with fossil species and a discussion of alleged giantism awaiting publication. Bird hands: still unfinished, with text on solitaires, ibises and a few others awaiting publication. Toads: still very much unfinished, with African, Asian and ‘ver 2’ South American groups awaiting publication. Don’t get me started on temnospondyls. Most distressing of all, the series on anuran diversity that I started in 2007 is still incomplete.
Pepsipocalyse 2010, belatedly
There’s one big thing I haven’t mentioned in these 5th birthday articles, nor in fact at all, and this is the near-meltdown of and mass exodus from the ScienceBlogs network as a result of summer’s Pepsipocalyse event (hat-tip to Ed Yong for that term, though sorry if anyone else used it beforehand). Herewith my few thoughts on what happened. The fact that quite a few ScienceBlogs bloggers were so pissed off that they felt the need to quit ScienceBlogs almost immediately put me in a difficult position – should I show solidarity and leave as well, or wait it out and risk seeming cowardly or even unconcerned? In the end I decided to wait it out, a decision mitigated in part by the fact that it wasn’t obvious to me how events would affect Tet Zoo’s credibility. I can see, however, that this would definitely be more of a concern to some bloggers than others, and I can also appreciate that things would be different if the planned Pepsi blog had set up home here. [Below: zombie Triceratops!].
As many have already said, the Pepsi thing wasn’t the only reason for the exodus – for some bloggers it was merely the last straw. I don’t want to say much more than that about the status and health of ScienceBlogs: from a purely selfish point of view, I don’t think that leaving the network would have been to my advantage. As for why I didn’t comment on any of the stuff when it happened… I’m here to write about tetrapod zoology: something I do for fun in my so-called ‘spare’ time. I’m sorry, but I honestly just don’t have enough interest in other stuff to spend time writing about it. Call me narrow-minded or blinkered if you want. Again, I will apologise for not caring enough about the non-Tet Zoo stuff.
A brief rant about Mesozoic archosaurs on the blogosphere
Because I’m supposed to be a dinosaur specialist, people often want me to blog about new dinosaur (and pterosaur) discoveries [adjacent image: Pinacosaurus mephistocephalus at Brussels]. Let me say again that I like Mesozoic archosaurs more than anyone, and I spend a large proportion of my time thinking and reading about them. But – when it comes to blogging – Mesozoic archosaurs drive me insane, to the extent where I sometimes deliberately avoid mentioning them. Why? Because so many other people cover the same stuff before I can get to it. This isn’t anyone’s ‘fault’ (and other bloggers should, of course, blog about whatever it is they want to blog about), it’s merely a reflection of how sexy archosaurs are. The fact that it bothers me says more about my personal psychoses than anything else.
But I don’t see the value in covering something that 10, 20 or 30 other bloggers have covered as well. I often get sent advance copies of neat new papers on Mesozoic animals with an invitation to blog about them. When I then learn that this same material has been sent out to just about everybody else in the world of scientific blogging, I lose the motivation to cover it. Again, I really apologise if this sounds arrogant, but I’m being honest.
So I feel better writing about obscure lizards and snakes, little rodents and toads [adjacent image: a Common toad Bufo bufo I encountered in August]: at least no-one else is saying everything worth saying about them as soon as it’s published. These subjects don’t quite pull in the same numbers of visitors, however, and getting hold of images I can use is often a problem. As always, cryptozoology remains a big draw on Tet Zoo. The Big Trout Lake monster coverage in May generated a lot of interest, as did the (totally inconclusive) look at the Ozenkadnook tiger photo in August.
An aim I’ve had at Tet Zoo since 2008 has been to provide adequate coverage of modern amphibians. In part this is because this fascinating tetrapod group requires representation proportional to its size and diversity, but it’s also reflective of the fact that the global amphibian crisis warrants extensive coverage. This issue hasn’t gone away, of course, and remains of critical concern (even though it’s been thought since 2009 that some anurans are developing immunity to Bd (= Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, the chytrid fungus that is spreading, infecting and killing amphibians). In the end, Tet Zoo was quieter on amphibians during 2010 than it should have been – other subjects just got in the way. I wrote about amphiumas in May and Old World giant salamanders in November, and the toads series continued. As it will. For years.
A load of personal stuff that you shouldn’t read if you’re only here for the hardcore zoology
My honest plan at the start of the year was to attend exactly zero conferences and meetings; I think I say this most years. In the end I only went to two or three international meetings. A particularly neat little research trip involved a visit to Brussels where Gareth Dyke and I got to work on something amazing (with Pascal Godefroit and François Escuillié). Hopefully I’ll be able to talk about it soon. And on the subject of technical projects currently in progress, 2010 proved to be an extraordinarily productive year. If things go to plan, some major things I’ve been involved in will be discussed here later in 2011. The history of birds, more on pterosaurs, Mesozoic dinosaur palaeobiology, Wealden theropods, new plesiosaurs, and oh those ichthyosaurs…
Two major, unconnected media projects (one of which involved working together with C. M. Kosemen) both died in 2010, but will hopefully get picked up in the future. I really wish I could talk about them. During May I was filmed for a documentary on the Montauk monster (it should be screened some time this year). Throughout the year I spoke with BBC researchers about a big Mesozoic-themed project, but I’m sure most people involved in the world of Mesozoic palaeontology did likewise.
I didn’t get to travel much in 2010, though I did move around the UK quite a bit. I also stayed happy in terms of wildlife fixes by visiting a lot of zoos and other collections, and by getting out and looking at a lot of stuff in the field. I went bat-watching in August, and also pursued (sometimes successfully) Water voles Arvicola amphibius, grebes, waders, tadpoles, newts, leaf warblers, longhorn cattle [see photo above], Bohemian waxwings Bombycilla garrulus, those Great bustards and, ha ha, White-tailed eagles. A Wood pigeon Columba palumbus fell down inside the second of our house’s chimneys in August – I wonder if it was the same bird that fell down the first chimney in 2007? The dark areas on the sides of its face show where I had to wash dust out of its eyes.
Oh, I helped dissect a crocodile (that reminds me, I still have to write it up for Tet Zoo) and I got hold of one of the most amazing zoological specimens I’ve ever seen (I’ll be showing pictures of it within the next week or so). The skulls of swans, kestrels and squirrels became added to my collection of dead things [part of the Tet Zoo skull collection is shown near the top]. [I seem to have looked at quite a few xenarthrans in 2010 (all in captivity). Three different Giant anteaters Myrmecophaga tridactyla are shown in the composite below.]
Sadly, our pet cat, Tigger Mamum-Ra, had to be euthanised in October following a rapid and catastrophic decline in health. Tone and I had owned her since July 1998 when, desperate for attention and in poor condition, she followed us home from the cinema one night. We never found out whether she was lost or had been deliberately abandoned, but she was a great family pet. She was one of those extraordinarily friendly, talkative cats. She was also physically large, and with particularly big upper canine teeth.
Anyway, I think that just about sums it all up. It only remains to once again say thank you to all my readers, and especially to my community of brilliant and thoughtful commenters. Thanks for continuing to read and visit Tet Zoo. As I’ve said, a lot is due to happen in 2011 – it should be an exciting year – and there is still absolutely tons of stuff that needs to be covered here. Here’s to five years of Tet Zoo.
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!
- It is with some dismay that I announce Tet Zoo’s first hemi-decade
Refs – –
Dyke, G., Benton, M., Posmosanu, E., & Naish, D. 2010. Early Cretaceous (Berriasian) birds and pterosaurs from the Cornet bauxite mine, Romania. Palaeontology, DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4983.2010.00997.x
Henderson, D. M. 2010. Pterosaur body mass estimates from three-dimensional mathematical slicing. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 30, 768-785.
Moody, R. T. J. & Naish, D. 2010. Alan Jack Charig (1927-1997): an overview of his academic accomplishments and role in the world of fossil reptile research. In Moody, R. T. J., Buffetaut, E., Naish, D. & Martill, D. M. (eds) Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 343, pp. 89-109.
Naish, D. 2010a. Tetrapod Zoology Book One. CFZ Press, Bideford.
– . 2010b. Pneumaticity, the early years: Wealden Supergroup dinosaurs and the hypothesis of saurischian pneumaticity. In Moody, R. T. J., Buffetaut, E., Naish, D. &Martill, D. M. (eds) Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 343, 229-236.
– . & Martill, D. 2007. Dinosaurs of Great Britain and the role of the Geological Society of London in their discovery: basal Dinosauria and Saurischia. Journal of the Geological Society 164, 493-510.
Witton, M. P. & Habib, M. B. 2010. On the size and flight diversity of giant pterosaurs, the use of birds as pterosaur analogues and comments on pterosaur flightlessness. PLoS ONE 5(11): e13982. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0013982