Tetrapod Zoology

Science meets the Mokele-Mbembe!

PLEASE NOTE (ADDED 2012): IT SHOULD BE EXTREMELY OBVIOUS THAT THIS ARTICLE IS AN APRIL FOOL’S JOKE, NOT A DESCRIPTION OF REAL RESEARCH.

ResearchBlogging.org

Today sees the publication of what is surely the century’s most significant zoological discovery. After decades of searching, Africa’s mystery Congolese swamp monster, the Mokele-Mbembe, has been discovered – it is a living sauropod dinosaur, and it radically alters our understanding of archosaur phylogeny, sauropod biology and diversity, and indeed the evolutionary process as a whole.

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As is fitting for the discovery of a brand new, extant, hitherto cryptic megabeast represented by complete carcasses, the Mokele-Mbembe – officially christened Chipekwe lackadaisicalus Brill et al., 2011 – is described in a two-page, 1000-word paper.

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Previous expeditions to search for the Mokele-Mbembe have been unsuccessful, at most involving fleeting glimpses and indeterminate photos of the beast. A 2010 research effort based at Mazylacrony, Republic of the Congo, led by E. J. Brill of the University of Leiden, initially resulted in still-photo images obtained by camera-traps. Two of the better of these photos (one showing an adult in its aquatic habitat [above] and one showing a juvenile) are featured here (more camera-trap images are included below). Camera-trap data shows that Mokele-Mbembes are herbivores, and that (despite their size: upwards of 15 m) the females dig burrows in river-banks where they give birth to a single, slow-growing baby. All of the previously established ecological and behavioural traits (Mackal 1987, Heuvelmans 1995) of the Mokele-Mbembe are true. Oh, and Bakker was right about sauropods being viviparous. Huh.

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Further exploration at Mazylacrony a week later resulted in the fortuitous discovery of not one, but two Mokele-Mbembe carcasses. I was lucky enough to participate in the expedition set up to retrieve information from the carcasses, and was joined by an elite international team of scientists and explorers including Rachael Allen of Saint Xavier University, Max Blake of the University of Bristol, Markus Bühler of the University of Tübingen, Andrea Cau of the Museo Geologico e Paleontologico “Giovanni Capellini”, Roger Close of Monash University, Marcus Good, Phil Hore of Prehistoric Times, David Hubble of The Open University, Ted R. Kahn of the Neotropical Conservation Foundation, Bevin Kelley of Brown University, Hanneke Meijer and Jorge Moreno-Bernal of The Smithsonian Institution, Daniel Najib of St. John’s University, Joy Reidenberg of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Blake Smith of Kennesaw State University, and a shitload of others; jesus, the number of people involved became ridiculous after a while (for a complete list see the authorship on the paper)…. oh, and Sean Young, the actress who played Rachel in Blade Runner – yeah, she came along as well.

The two Mokele-Mbembe carcasses – representing an adult and juvenile – died in close association, perhaps due to lightning strike, perhaps due to ingestion of toxic algae, or perhaps due to the hail of gunfire put in their general direction by our research team. Their skulls were unfortunately lost during this “collection procedure”. Despite the similarity of the animals to the stocky, fat-legged, rubber-necked brontosaurs depicted in Peter Jackson’s King Kong, it was immediately obvious that they represented a new species of extant sauropod. [Images below show neck structure in juvenile specimen; read on].

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We were inspired in our quest for the Mokele-Mbembe by Jonathan Kingdon’s book Island Africa (Kingdon 1990): after all, doesn’t he say that little chunks of habitat in tropical Africa have remained unchanged since the Mesozoic?*. In discussing the cichlids of Lake Malawi, Kingdon noted that English-speaking scientists rightly acknowledged the names used for these fish by local people. We wanted to do the same for the Mokele-Mbembe, so officially named it the Mokele-Mbembe. We used one of many local names for the creature – Chipekwe – in the binomial.

* He categorically and certainly did not, but let’s not let the details get in the way.

It was always predicted (Naish 2000, 2002) that – when the inevitable discovery of modern-day sauropods occurred – the cutting up of a dead one would pose great problems. The sheer size of such a beast renders dissection difficult, especially when (as is the case here) the animals had been decomposing in a humid, tropical environment. Remember that many aspects of whale and elephant anatomy remain controversial or scarcely known due to the practical difficulties associated with their dissection, and these animals are known from hundreds of specimens and have been the subject of scientific attention for centuries. In a desperate but text-book example of ‘smash and grab’ dissection, salient details were recorded or hastily ripped from the carcasses prior to the confiscation of our team’s equipment and belongings by Congolese biologist and competing Mokele-Mbembe investigator Dr Aarcellin Magnagna and Danish author and scientist Dr Lars Thomas. We are pursuing legal action against these individuals.

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Due to the healthy bushmeat trade flourishing across tropical Africa we were, however, able to smuggle out part of the smaller individual (the thorax and neck) and later dissect them in the laboratory. Various of our dissection photos and resulting anatomical diagrams are shown here (for more, see the online supplementary info, currently of unknown whereabouts). We started by CT-scanning the carcass: one of the resultant images is shown above. As you can see from the dissection pics shown above, the dorsal surface of the ribcage exhibits the strongly corrugated morphology seen elsewhere in birds. An enlarged resonating chamber at the base of the neck indicates an ability to generate loud, low-frequency (possibly infrasonic) noises of the sort recorded by Herman Regusters during his 1981 expedition to Lake Tele. We were able to answer most of the questions people have posed about the soft-tissue anatomy of sauropod necks, but don’t plan to publish them for a few decades, if at all.

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As you can see from the adjacent image, the cervical vertebrae of Chipekwe are bizarre in being amphicoelous, rather than opisthocoelous as is typical for sauropod necks. Lacking the ball-and-socket joints of other sauropod vertebrae, it might be predicted that Mokele-Mbembe has a less flexible neck than Mesozoic sauropods, but this is not supported by compelling eyewitness accounts of Mokele-Mbembe behaviour. Sean Young is helpfully holding the vertebrae for the photo. Since she stars in both Dune and Blade Runner – where she plays the seductive replicant Rachel – her involvement in the 2010 expedition seemed only natural. She was brilliant in the field and proved a dab hand at fixing jeep axles and outboard motors. Did I mention that she played Rachel in Blade Runner?

Phylotardation in extant sauropods

The great surprise about the anatomy of these animals is that they are highly anachronistic – or phylotarded – compared to Mesozoic sauropods. In fact, Mokele-Mbembe more resembles artistic restorations of sauropods from the decades preceding the 1960s. The skin of Chipekwe lackadaisicalus is smooth and devoid of both the vertebral spines present in fossil diplodocoids and the dermal ossicles and spines present in titanosaurs. The articulated limb skeletons of Mesozoic sauropods, combined with many thousands of well-preserved trackways, show that these animals had columnar hands where the back of the hand was concave. Claws were absent but for a single thumb claw, and even this was absent in many titanosaurs. Meanwhile, the oval feet had three (occasionally two, occasionally four) large, curved claws.

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In contrast, Chipekwe lackadaisicalus has huge, rounded, spreading, semi-plantigrade hands and feet, with four large claws on both [as is obvious in the image above of the larger Mazylacrony carcass]. And while osteological evidence shows that Mesozoic sauropods typically held their tails in a horizontal pose (or even with an elevated tail-base in some species), the tail of the Mokele-Mbembe slants down towards the ground in true, phylotarded fashion. The animal looks fat, rubbery, bulky, and altogether way less cool than those kickass sauropods shown kicking the shit out of unfortunate theropods, or rearing up bipedally to nibble at pine needles, or box with one another, or whatever. [Below: 'modern' sauropod rendition on the left from dontmesswithdinosaurs.com; more realistic phylotarded version on right from Roy Mackal's classic, perceptive work A Living Dinosaur? In Search of Mokele-Mbembe].

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Chipekwe preserves no evidence of feathers nor of a semi-lunate carpal bone in the wrist and therefore verifies previous observations based on the skin of the Cretaceous ceratopsian Psittacosaurus and ornithopod Edmontosaurus that such features were absent in dinosaurs (Lingham-Soliar 2008). It therefore makes a mockery of the Hollywood-inspired idea that dinosaurs had feathers, or evolved into birds. The ‘birds are dinosaurs’ movement is evidently kept alive by museum staff who need to remain employed, especially during these desperate economic times.

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Several possibilities might account for the anatomic phylotardation present in this animal. The first – that our modern conception of Mesozoic sauropod anatomy is wrong, and that Zdeněk Burian was right on the money in 1955 – is unlikely to be correct, since it’s generally admitted that, by now, we know what we’re doing. I mean, come on, Greg Paul is far cleverer than Zdeněk Burian or Charles Knight. A second possibility is that the lineage including Chipekwe lackadaisicalus was subject to wholesale taxic atavism of the sort seen elsewhere in gharials (Gatesy et al. 2003). In other words, the animal’s phenotype and, oh yeah, genotype have gone all atavistic on us: just what this means, if anything, for its essence/soul is uncertain, but we remain confident that, at its core, the animal is Mesozoicy. A third possibility is that the ACF (= aesthetic coolness factor) of the characters concerned is low, and hence subject to deletion during phylogeny. We didn’t explore that last option since it would have meant adding an extra paragraph to our paper.

Finding an extant member of a fossil group can really screw with your data

The enormous amount of skeletal, soft tissue and genomic data available from the Mazylacrony carcasses allows the construction of a new, massive character database; the information we now have available for the analysis of sauropod phylogenetics has just increased one-hundred-fold. Brill et al. (2011) approached this situation in an entirely novel way.

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As knowledge about organisms (modern and extinct) has increased, and as evolving software has allowed the rapid processing of ever-larger data sets, lists of characters and tabulations of character codings have grown and grown and grown. Many phylogeneticists now work with character lists that exceed or approach 1000 in number, and they’ve generated endless, boring pages of character states. This stuff is really, really boring, and – let me tell you – a real pain in the ass should you need to re-format it when re-submitting your rejected manuscript for another journal. While the phylogenetic analyses generated by these studies have produced well-resolved trees with good statistical support across nodes, and while independent teams of authors have increasingly converged on trees with similar topologies, it’s been clear for, oh, a while now that things need to change: it’s just all too complicated for anyone to keep track of [the adjacent image - from Sereno (1999) - shows a typical, run-of-the-mill, modern dinosaur cladogram. Do you realise how much work is involved in producing something like this?]. I mean, come on, there’s no way any person could carry around all that information in their head and those tables of characters are just so boring.

Brill et al. (2011) employ a new phylogenetic method termed mihaldification. Inspired by the pioneering work of the great palaeozoologist Dean-Pierre J’Amour, this technique incorporates hundreds of taxa, but requires that just two or three characters – or perhaps even just one – are tabulated for each group. The new mihaldified data generated for Archosauria by Brill et al. (2011) indicates rampant phylotardation across Archosauria and reveals a few surprises, including non-monophyly of Dinosauria, non-monophyly of Saurischia, non-monophyly of Ornithischia, non-monophyly of Theropoda, non-monophyly of Coelurosauria but – oh – monophyly of Prosauropoda [see newly generated mihaldigram shown below]. Sauropoda in the mihaldified data set falls obviously and neatly into a broad-toothed, camarasaurish clade and a narrow-toothed, diplodocish clade (though with cetiosaurs, turiasaurs, mamenchisaurs, most titanosaurs and most Triassic and Lower Jurassic taxa being of unresolved position). The approximately 6000 phylogenetic studies published on sauropods in recent years, virtually all of which find sauropod phylogeny to be far more complex than thought prior to the 1980s, were dispensed with following our ‘safe citation deletion’ protocol. We admit that we also opted to employ ‘safe citation deletion’ when reviewing the work of others; an action required in order that we establish the novelty of our assertions.

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Anyone who’s followed Mokele-Mbembe research will be familiar with the substantial creationist literature on this animal. Brave, plucky missionaries have done a sterling job in accurately collecting natural history data on this animal, and brilliant creation scientists have used the existence of the Mokele-Mbembe and other phylotards to poke holes in the increasingly weakly supported, flimsy, tissue-like tattered shred of a once-dreamt notion that is Mr Darwin’s theory of Darwinian evolution.

So – does the existence of the Mokele-Mbembe verify one of the core creationist beliefs? Namely, that the very existence of such creatures nullifies the hundreds of independent, repeatable, testable, technically published, peer-reviewed observations and hypotheses that provide irrefutable support for evolutionary theory? Yes, it does. The existence of a kind of animal belonging to a group otherwise thought long-extinct demonstrates beyond question that evolution does not and cannot happen. The existence of sharks, crocodilians, lizards, frogs, salamanders, bats, ostriches, hoatzins, shellfish, coelacanths, crayfish, bush-babies, owls, pandas, the Okapi, moles, clouded leopards, ducks, monitor lizards, invertebrates, the Spangled drongo, the Brown antechinus, coelacanths, coelacanths, coelacanths, sharks, crocodilians, sharks, crocodilians, coelacanths, sharks, crocodilians and humans and coelacanths also provides damning evidence that animals known from the fossil record are more or less similar to the animals of today, and hence that living things do not change – or evolve – over generations, though obviously they do, quite a lot, if not loads, but not enough for us to worry about. Indeed this one single discovery has already sent ripples of shock and awe through the scientific community. “I guess we’ll have to go back to the drawing board – looks like the creationists were right after all!”, said noted phylogeneticist Dr Filo Genetissust.

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But – I hear you cry – how is the over-arching philosophy of scientific creationism consistent with our proposal of phylotardation? After all, scientific creationism (or intelligent design) proposes that living things sprung into existence by magic, not via some sort of process whereby heritable features, affected by external selection pressures, are passed down through the generations. The answer lies in retardosity, a previously overlooked phenomenon that works well when applied to mihaldified data sets. Using the repeatable procedure known as reliable inference, we found that phylotarded taxa could both spring into existence by magic and be linked to others by way of a mihaldified analysis involving single characters. The resultant clades evidently correspond to the baramins defined with clarity in archaic sources.

So it’s thanks to mihaldification, retardosity and creationism that we have finally ushered in a new age of enlightenment. As soon as our paper on the Mokele-Mbembe came out, I went and held a big bonfire of all my pro-evilution books. Of course, some of our colleagues say that the existence of Chipekwe lackadaisicalus is perfectly consistent with evolution and existing phylogenetic schemes published for Sauropoda, but, well, yeah, blah blah blah.

Refs – -

Brill, E. J., Albright, J. C., Allen, R., Akridge, B., Blake, M., Bühler, M., Cau, A., Clark, E. M., Close, R., Cosmos, P., Farke, A. A., Good, M., Hanson, M., Hore, P., Hubble, D., Kahn, T. R., Kelley, B., Kosemen, C. M., Kwan, I., Lucas, G., Maltese, A., Meijer, H., Miller, Z., Moreno-Bernal, J. W., Mustill, T., Naish, D., Najib, D., Nelson, H., Pearce, L., Pharo, R., Phillips, N., Reidenberg, J., Robbins, Z., Smith, B., Stiles, J., Sutor, L., Van Tomme, M. A., Young, S. & Ziegler, K. 2011. Retardosity and phylotardation in extant sauropods demonstrates lackadaisical nature of phylogenetic change. Science 332, 133-134.

Gatesy, J., Amato, G., Norell, M., DeSalle, R., & Hayashi, C. (2003). Combined Support for Wholesale Taxic Atavism in Gavialine Crocodylians Systematic Biology, 52 (3), 403-422 DOI: 10.1080/10635150309329

Heuvelmans, B. 1995. On the Track of Unknown Animals. Kegan Paul International, London.

Lingham-Soliar, T. 2008. A unique cross section through the skin of the dinosaur Psittacosaurus from china showing a complex fibre architecture. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 275, 2207-2212.

Kingdon, J. 1990. Island Africa: the Evolution of Africa’s Rare Animals and Plants. Collins, London.

Mackal, R. P. 1987. A Living Dinosaur? In Search of Mokele-Mbembe. Trill, Meiden.

Naish, D. 2000. Predictions. Predictions Today 34, 67-70.

- . 2002. More predictions. Predictions Today 36, 77-80.

Sereno, P. C. 1999. The evolution of dinosaurs. Science 284, 2137-2147.

Comments

  1. #1 Jaime Headden
    April 1, 2011

    [from Darren: this comment was held in quarantine until April 2nd, my apologies to its author.]

    Perhaps it would have been a better joke had you not included images from the juvenile giraffe dissection you and Mike did from SV-POW!, Darren! ;)

    Stills from Babe were certainly memorable, though, as they were of course inspired by the myth you’re “verifying.”

    Very fun, and reminiscent of that work you did on the DML.

  2. #2 Gavin Golden
    April 1, 2011

    I look forward to their domestication and subsequent addition to Asian cuisine.

  3. #3 Andrea Cau
    April 1, 2011

    YES! THIS IS SCIENCE!
    Thanks, Darren.
    Down with those big and boring phylogenetic analyses!

    Now, I’m updating my CV with this great event…

  4. #4 Dartian
    April 1, 2011

    Sean Young is helpfully holding the vertebrae for the photo [...] she stars in both Dune and Blade Runner

    As it happens, she was also in Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend.

  5. #5 I.B. Bentonite
    April 1, 2011

    Dartian: purely coincidental. That film was a work of fiction.

  6. #6 tai haku
    April 1, 2011

    I knew this day would come and this has more than met my best expectations! True Story.

  7. #7 informania
    April 1, 2011

    Sorry to say I discovered a living specimen of Mokele-Mbembe – floating around in my toilet – about three years ago. It was actually of a deep brown colour, so it might represent a different subspecies..
    I called it Bankeri Privatii, a description of which can be found in Porcelain Pot Zoology (Volume 69, Issue 3, 2007).

  8. #8 David Marjanović
    April 1, 2011

    The two Mokele-Mbembe carcasses – representing an adult and juvenile – died in close association, perhaps due to lightning strike, perhaps due to ingestion of toxic algae, or perhaps due to the hail of gunfire put in their general direction by our research team. Their skulls were unfortunately lost during this “collection procedure”.

    So you mean to say they actually died of head-asplodey syndrome?

    Zdenĕk

    ě, not ĕ. V-shaped, not U-shaped. It, uh, modifies the pronunciation of the preceding consonant.

    Many phylogeneticists now work with character lists that exceed or approach 1000 in number

    I wish. I’m working on a matrix that had 339 characters when published — the biggest published analysis of where the modern amphibians belong. Of these 339 characters, only 333 were parsimony-informative, and of those, only 289 (maybe fewer) aren’t correlated to others!

    Sauropoda in the mihaldified data set falls obviously and neatly into a broad-toothed, camarasaurish clade and a narrow-toothed, diplodocish clade (though with cetiosaurs, turiasaurs, mamenchisaurs, most titanosaurs and most Triassic and Lower Jurassic taxa being of unresolved position).

    And where is the Mokele-Mbembe in this tree???

    Brill, E. J., Albright, J. C., Allen, R., Akridge, B., Blake, M., Bühler, M., Cau, A., Clark, E. M., Close, R., Cosmos, P., Farke, A. A., Good, M., Hanson, M., Hore, P., Hubble, D., Kahn, T. R., Kelley, B., Koseman, C. M., Kwan, I., Lucas, G., Maltese, A., Meijer, H., Miller, Z., Moreno-Bernal, J. W., Mustill, T., Naish, D., Najib, D., Nelson, H., Pearce, L., Pharo, R., Phillips, N., Reidenberg, J., Robbins, Z., Smith, B., Stiles, J., Sutor, L., Van Tomme, M. A., Young, S. & Ziegler, K. 2011. Retardosity and phylotardation in extant sauropods demonstrates lackadaisical nature of phylogenetic change. Science 332, 133-134.

    HA HA!!! Your manuscript was rejected by Nature!!!

  9. #9 David Marjanović
    April 1, 2011

    only 333 were parsimony-informative

    (Well, and at least one of those was only parsimony-informative because it was miscoded in one taxon. But I digress.)

  10. #10 Darren Naish
    April 1, 2011

    Thanks for corrections, David. Yes, head-asplodey synodrome was observed. The photos are a bit gory. On big data sets – hey, just because your amphibian data set is sucky, doesn’t mean our archosaur set has to be. And we weren’t rejected by Nature, we went straight to Science. This is because we’d already swamped Nature with ten manuscripts on other new taxa (ropens, new gorgonopsians etc.), and didn’t want Science to think that we didn’t love them too.

  11. #11 Mike Walley
    April 1, 2011

    Fascinating, I think this date will go down as a very significant date in the history of Earth sciences.

  12. #12 JesseS
    April 1, 2011

    Great. Thanks a lot Darren. Now I DESPERATELY want to find my old VHS copy of Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend.

    I’m going to be scrounging through the attic fr a WEEK now.

  13. #13 Phillip IV
    April 1, 2011

    or perhaps due to the hail of gunfire put in their general direction by our research team

    That’s a very doubtful theory. If creationists were right about evolution, they’re probably also right about guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens never killing anything other than criminals within the boundaries of legitimate self-defense.

    Also: Why didn’t you mention coelacanths?

  14. #14 Stu Pond
    April 1, 2011

    Fantastic! Ever since reading a review of Dr. Archibald Scruttock’s excellent book “On the Slimy Track of Gastropods in the Sublittoral Zone” (an exciting account of his ongoing search for the suspiciously elusive singing Whelk of the upper Ventor basin) I knew this day would come.

    Great post by the way. I especially liked the first paragraph and the bit about the hail of gunfire but after that there were too many long words and I went to draw some pictures of dinosaurs instead.

  15. #15 Lee
    April 1, 2011

    awesomesauce!

    “coelacanths, coelacanths, coelacanths, sharks, crocodilians, sharks, crocodilians, coelacanths, sharks, crocodilians and humans and coelacanths”

    is my new mantra

  16. #16 Jaime Headden
    April 1, 2011

    I got a lot of laughs from this, largely because it brought back memories of watching Baby (which I willingly watched twice).

    Just as a quick note, while “retardosity” is not a new word (see here) it would seem that “phylotardation” and “phylotard-”anything would be. Might want to define that one for posterity: I don’t think “high anachronistic” would work, as that’s just a superlative, and you seem to be trying for a “phylogenetic” sense with the prefix.

  17. #17 J.S. Lopes
    April 1, 2011

    Today President Obama will communicate that American troops will invade Congo to “protect” the extant dinosaurs.

  18. #18 Lassi Hippeläinen
    April 1, 2011

    @12: I doubt it too, because “…especially when (as is the case here) the animals had been decomposing in a humid, tropical environment.”

    I know that African Jungle Rot can be fast, but it isn’t that fast. Unless the animals were decomposing while they were still alive. (I need a research grant to examine this possibility.)

  19. #19 Rob
    April 1, 2011

    E. J. Brill of Leiden … brilliant. Is he going to author another paper about Mokele-Mbembe to appear in +Behaviour+ or +Amphibia-Reptilia+ ?

  20. #20 C. M. Kosemen
    April 1, 2011

    So many new memes in just one post… awesome!

  21. #21 Dr. Schneckenberg
    April 1, 2011

    “In fact, Mokele-Mbembe more resembles artistic restorations of sauropods from the decades preceding the 1960s.”

    It seems obvious that these old artists were actually inspired by the Mokele, which was known to be a real animal by then, before this creepy ‘science’ trend began to take over the world ; -)

  22. #22 Onychomys
    April 1, 2011

    Phylotardation should totally be the word we actually use for that sort of thing.

  23. #23 Vladimir Dinets
    April 1, 2011

    Now it is suddenly obvious that the thought-to-be-mythical creature called “da tzy bao” in ancient Chinese chronicles is, in fact, Mokele-Mbembe.

  24. #24 Tim Morris
    April 1, 2011

    The world’s population of over-sized monitors are crying into their non-existent beards about not being related to this paragon of intelligent design…

  25. #25 Sven DiMilo
    April 1, 2011

    Suggested title for press release: ‘Scientists prove Darwin wrong: African dinosaur parts prove that birds might be coelacanths.’

  26. #26 Albertonykus
    April 1, 2011

    Tet Zoo has the greatest April Fools’ posts of all time. Period. We have living sauropods, BAND, Gregory Paul, creationists, the obsession with Lazarus taxa (I was laughing out loud when I saw how many times “coelacanths” were listed), Peter Mihalda all in one post combined.

  27. #27 CS Shelton
    April 1, 2011

    I knew post 7 was by Marjanovic before I hit his name when I saw “ě, not ĕ.” You devil.
    The “Phylotardocline” killed me. I am now dead.
    -

  28. #28 Marcus Good
    April 1, 2011

    I’mma proudly cite this publication to my family.

    Also, yes, phylotarded SHOULD be a word.

  29. #29 Janice in Toronto
    April 1, 2011

    Will these be made available as household pets soon?

  30. #30 Nice Ogress
    April 1, 2011

    Daren got me for at least a good 30 seconds when I saw the teaseline in the Scienceblogs top banner. “Mokele Mbembe! REALLY?”. And it was only AFTER I’d clicked the link that I remembered the date.

    I offer no excuse other than that I haven’t had my coffee yet (And I am, apparently, a sucker). Well-played, good sir!

  31. #31 Mike Keesey
    April 1, 2011

    My goodness Sean Young has aged well. Is she ontotarded?

  32. #32 Toni Mininni-Totin
    April 1, 2011

    Brilliantly executed.

  33. #33 Dartian
    April 1, 2011

    Mike:

    My goodness Sean Young has aged well.

    Well, her name is ‘Young’…

  34. #34 Joseph Hewitt
    April 1, 2011

    Trouble is, this news came out in the same week they finally sequenced the Moomin genome, meaning that it’s not going to get the attention it deserves.

  35. #35 Charlie B.
    April 1, 2011

    Fantastic work. Love your effort. I saw this film in the Odeon Wimbledon… :-) I have a copy of “A Living Dinosaur?” which is I think the definitive text on wandering around the Congo with wishful thinking. Oh I wish it were true. :-)

  36. #36 Charlie B.
    April 1, 2011

    …by the way, “phylotarded” is just bloody brilliant and my sides hurt now.

  37. #37 anarchosauromorpha
    April 1, 2011

    Best Tet Zoo April Fool’s joke ever. Made my day from

    “Chipekwe preserves no evidence of feathers nor of a semi-lunate carpal bone in the wrist and therefore verifies previous observations based on the skin of the Cretaceous ceratopsian Psittacosaurus and ornithopod Edmontosaurus that such features were absent in dinosaurs (Lingham-Soliar 2008).”

    on. :D :D :D

  38. #38 metridia
    April 1, 2011

    I have no sense of humor. This post disturbs and annoys me.

  39. #39 metridia
    April 1, 2011

    HA HA!!! Your manuscript was rejected by Nature!!!

    Ah, you think Nature is better than Science. You must not be from the country that produces the mostest, bestest science, the US of A.

  40. #40 Robert
    April 1, 2011

    The Headline got me interested, but I realised what was going on in the first sentance – far too good to be true!

  41. #41 heteromeles
    April 1, 2011

    Excellent science as usual. However, I must protest that it isn’t consistent with the latest Hawkian cosmology, which says that time travel is possible.

    I therefore propose that phylotardation is not the effect of long devolution, but of a time warp that hit the earth at the Jurassic-Cretaceous boundary, and came out again in 1908, the Tunguska event being ignited by one of the perpendicular particle sprays that occur when warps encounter a solid object. Some sauropods were trapped in the warp, and ended up in the Congo. That they are still extant argues for the tremendous adaptive capabilities of their gut microbiomes, something they exhibited by surviving so much of the Mesozoic despite having very simple nervous systems.

    Bravo for your discovery!

  42. #42 Andrew O'Donnell
    April 1, 2011

    Chipekwe is interesting and all, but I’m really curious about your revised Archosaur taxonomy. How does it affect the position of Archosauria relative to the Zoriformes and related taxa? Was Seazoria sp. included in your mihaldified matrix?

    I know, morphologically, that Archosauria lacks many supposedly-diagnostic characters found in Seazoria, most crucially the the so-called ‘Zoria repeat’- the distinctive five-sided growth pattern found in Seazoria teeth and osteoderms (Hallett, 2008). But isn’t it possible that this represents a systemic phylotardation within Archosauria- or even Archosauromorpha as a whole?

    The (comparatively) small size of basal Archosauromorphs could be another such phylotardation, with only the largest of the aquatic diplodocoid sauropods converging on anything approaching Zorian giganticism.

    Clearly, if this is the case, should expect to find evidence of a ghost lineage (and thus further evidence for the theorylaw of retardosity) in post-Hallettestonion strata. Hell, maybe we already have, and these remains have been ignored, due either to the frequently-cryptic nature of Zorian fossils or the well-documented tendency of the scientific community to suppress data that contradicts established theories.

    - Hallett, M. 2008. The Discovery of the Halletestonion Sea Zorias: Advanced Pre-historic Marine Biology. Hallettestoneion Research Project, Layton, UT.

  43. #43 Bill Gibbons
    April 1, 2011

    Nice to see I didn’t get a mention, Darren. However, as this is April 1st, I forgive you. However, i remember seeing the film, ‘Baby, secret of the Lost Legend,’ in 1985, before our first expedition.

    We are currently planning a November expedition with the French Mokele-mbembe researcher, Michel Ballot (no joke)and hope to bring back something tangible!

  44. #44 Ness
    April 1, 2011

    One one level, I hate that this is the only thing I can think of saying in light of this post, which is a thing of beauty. Anyway, here goes:

    LOL, “Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend”.

    (Seriously, though. I thought I was the only one who remembered that movie. Click my name for more.)

  45. #45 Anonymous
    April 1, 2011

    “Yes, head-asplodey synodrome was observed.”

    So THAT’s why we never find the skulls in sauropods.

    Huh, I always thought that Mokele-Mbembe’s were late-surviving forest-adapted indricotherine rhinoceroses. The more you know I guess.

  46. #46 Sili
    April 1, 2011

    I know that African Jungle Rot can be fast, but it isn’t that fast. Unless the animals were decomposing while they were still alive. (I need a research grant to examine this possibility.)

    Please don’t tell me there’s such a thing as zombie dinosaurs (zombiesaurs?).

  47. #47 Jack Perkins
    April 1, 2011

    Wait, this is a joke…right? Oh, April Fool’s! God, how thick am I?

  48. #48 Rosel
    April 1, 2011

    But what we really need to know is how many units of Joy Reidenberg fit in the main arteries of this animal.

  49. #49 Amanda
    April 1, 2011

    Ok, now I’m mad because this article made a ‘fool’ of me. I scanned it quickly and was so excited i linked it to facebook. Then i read the full article… There really should have been a disclaimer for the less educated, like me. Thanks for the humiliation.

  50. #50 Bob O`Bob
    April 1, 2011

    @#1: sadly, it tastes EXACTLY like chicken, therefore any effect on cuisine would be negligable.

  51. #51 Danniel Soares
    April 1, 2011

    First joke of the day I’ve actually found funny, perhaps specially because I recognize the movie stills, I think it adds to the absurdity and funniness.

  52. #52 David Marjanović
    April 1, 2011

    This is because we’d already swamped Nature with ten manuscripts on other new taxa (ropens, new gorgonopsians etc.), and didn’t want Science to think that we didn’t love them too.

    Oh, sorry. That makes sense!

    Generous of you to (no doubt!) actually increase the impact factor of Science. :-)

    Tet Zoo has the greatest April Fools’ posts of all time. Period. We have living sauropods, BAND, Gregory Paul, creationists, the obsession with Lazarus taxa (I was laughing out loud when I saw how many times “coelacanths” were listed), Peter Mihalda all in one post combined.

    Quite. All that’s missing is a citation of the mighty Remor.

    Ah, you think Nature is better than Science. You must not be from the country that produces the mostest, bestest science, the US of A.

    Indeed I’m not — but I’m talking about the impact factor. Ironically, the impact factor is taken much more seriously in THE BIG ONE than in the UK.

    Hallett, 2008

    In case anyone isn’t familiar with him yet, he’s not Mark. He’s the guy with hyperthyroidism who… well… watch his YouTube video, and you’ll get hyperthyroidism too.

    Ok, now I’m mad because this article made a ‘fool’ of me. I scanned it quickly and was so excited i linked it to facebook. Then i read the full article…

    Take-home message: read first, farcebook later.

    sadly, it tastes EXACTLY like chicken

    ROTFL!!!

    I recognize the movie stills

    I don’t. On the other hand, the phylotardocline… X-D :-D :-D :-D :-D

  53. #53 Mr Clearup
    April 1, 2011

    Is this for real?

  54. #54 Danniel Soares
    April 1, 2011

    Although a great find, we can’t let it obscure the fact that this revolutionary method to reconstruct phylogenies was plagiarized from someone that appears on the comments of some paleontologically-related blogs, if I’m not mistaken. I don’t remember the name (I don’t think he’s the one being credited), but he was the first to suggest to the world that ankylosaurus is actually a descendent from aetosaurs, and possibly an ancestor of both turtles and glyptodons.

    And this find also adds to the pile of paleontological evidence to creationism, toegether with Therezinosaurus, the site with human and dinosaur footprints side by side, the allosaurus-that-ate-a-human fossil, and Scrotum humanum.

  55. #55 Allen Hazen
    April 1, 2011

    Superb! Absence of nasal horn in the live photo suggests that the Ishtar Gate specimen is a different species. (Though perhaps Chipekwe is sexually dimorphic?)

    Just… superb!

  56. #56 Anthony Docimo
    April 1, 2011

    > I was lucky enough to participate in the expedition set up to retrieve information from the carcasses,
    Ahh, so that’s why you were silent for so long recently.

    glad to have you back.

    Based on the final illustration, have we returned to having _Pachyderm_ as a valid clade for tapirs, rhinos, and elephants?

  57. #57 Tracy Ford
    April 1, 2011

    Decades ago I belonged to the LA Dinosaur club. We’d meet every other month and either talk about dinosaurs or have a guest speaker. One time we had the guy who went to look for Mokele-Mbembe. I thought, yea sure, what ever. Turns out it was a very interesting talk. His ordeal, trip, etc was very interesting. The ‘lake’ has no shore. Fresh water just bubbles up. No one knew/knows how deep it is. He tied a rock with a string and just let it drop. He never found the bottom. There new genera of several clades of animals that know one knows about. He did get sound from some animal,that might be Mokele-Mbembe.

    But, he did tell us something he said he didn’t tell the media. Not only did he show the natives pictures of sauropods, he also showed them pictures of a giraffe and they said Mokele-Mbembe. IF it exisits, its probably just some sort of mammal. Someone/or a group of people needs to study the lake and surrounding area.

    Oh, yea. The natives took him and his group to the lake, buy boat, then they had to slosh through the water. Once there they were told that no one goes to the other side of the lake, no one!

  58. #58 Rich W.
    April 1, 2011

    Tracy, was that J. Richard Greenwell?

  59. #59 Christine Janis
    April 1, 2011

    Not as funny as those Antarctic killer naked mole rats that Carl Zimmer got published in Discover mag (~ 1995)

  60. #60 Joy Reidenberg
    April 1, 2011

    #47 “But what we really need to know is how many units of Joy Reidenberg fit in the main arteries of this animal.”

    Hey Rosel:
    I’ll let you know once I crawl out – I got left behind in the remains of that decomposing carcass. Got though the abdomen, but having trouble in the thorax now. Damn that thick double-arching aorta! …Being on this expedition as the “in situ” anatomist is so much fun!!

    Oh, and about that smaller carcass we smuggled back earlier … the cute little beagles at the airport tagged my suitcase! Now, my name has been blacklisted at customs, and the agriculture/wildlife inspectors want to know whether I have any contaminants I have introduced into the country. It’s bad enough they don’t know whether to regulate the specimen as a CITES controlled species, because the population count is under 500, yet it is not officially listed on the endangered species list.

  61. #61 Ophu
    April 2, 2011

    If this is for real, don’t run the story on April first. OK?

  62. #62 David Marjanović
    April 2, 2011

    Based on the final illustration, have we returned to having _Pachyderm_ as a valid clade for tapirs, rhinos, and elephants?

    And hippos!!! :-)

    If this is for real, don’t run the story on April first. OK?

    *sigh*

    OF COURSE it’s not for real!

    To really prove this, go over to http://www.sciencemag.org and check out what’s on pp. 133 and 134 of volume 332.

  63. #63 Richard Forrest
    April 2, 2011

    …and now let’s just wait to see how long it takes for some creationist to report this in all seriousness as proof against evolution.

  64. #64 Darren Naish
    April 2, 2011

    If creationists are happy being associated with an article that talks at length about retardosity and phylotardation, then good luck to them :)

  65. #65 Bryan Clifford
    April 2, 2011

    “To really prove this, go over to http://www.sciencemag.org and check out what’s on pp. 133 and 134 of volume 332.

    Posted by: David Marjanović | April 2, 2011 3:16 AM”

    The search yields no results, there is nothing on those pages, or it has been removed.

  66. #66 DMA
    April 2, 2011

    The creationist won’t mention retardosity, they’ll make you the net victim of quote mining (whatever that means). Great April Fools day article. Darren, I recently saw a show called dinosapien. Once your done with gremlin bats it might make a good article in your humanoid dinosaur series.

  67. #67 Darren Naish
    April 2, 2011

    Sad to say, I’ve seen Dinosapien (I have kids, that’s my excuse). Guess who they credit for technical advice? Gregory S. Paul.

  68. #68 Diego
    April 2, 2011

    I am elated to see our work in cryptozoology and phyloretardation getting the recognition it deserves! Here’s to my wonderful co-authors and the editors of [i]Nature[/i], who finally relented to our desperate pleas and constant barrage of manuscripts and bribes. The advance of retrograde science cannot be stopped!

    -J.C. Albright

  69. #69 Dale Drinnon
    April 2, 2011

    Actually, I was not interested in the photographs at all. What caught my eye was the first family tree at the top. Rausuchans are directly related to Carnosaurs and Aetosaurs are directly related to Ankylosaurs? Really?? REALLY???

    Some preschoolers must feel vindicated that their preferred taxonomy has prevailed.

    And as to comment #59–yes, I remember the Antarctic naked mole rat with a heat-grnerating head tumor. UGH.I wondered at the time if it could possibly be necessary to tell readers afterwards it was a joke because I never saw any retraction notice or explanation that it was in the 1st April issue. Of course I might have missed it; but let’s face facts, there might be some readers that might not recognise a naked mole rat on sight and they might just go on quoting the story forever afterwards as if it were gospel. And some poor resercher any number of years later wouldn’t have a clue as to the origin of the bizzare “Cryptozoological” allegation in a letter that just crossed their desk, as penned by some elderly reader who vaguely remembered there was once this notice in a reputable Science magazine and it told about this mammalian maggot that preyed upon Anaractic pengooines.

    Worst of all, they might even try to make a SKETCH of it.

  70. #70 Dale Drinnon
    April 2, 2011

    The cladogram at top is the mihaldification chart at the bottom, I see now. I guess I saw the small version first and was immediately impressed so much I did not check to see if it was larger later on in the blog. So now at least I see what the reference was to. You’ll have to admit that it strikes you right in the cognitive dissonance area.

    And it DOES look like something you might see in a preschooler’s “Baby Book of Dinosaurs”-along with the pre-1960 Sauropod reconstructions (recycled from obsolete publications for economic reasons)

    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  71. #71 MartinB
    April 2, 2011

    Sorry to spoil the party, but this pales compared to the discovery that humans are descended from pterosaurs (the site is in German, though):
    http://www.scienceblogs.de/hier-wohnen-drachen/2011/04/stammt-der-mensch-vom-flugsaurier-ab.php

  72. #72 anon
    April 2, 2011

    Now that you have jettisoned cryptozoology your career should skyrocket.

  73. #73 Vladimir Dinets
    April 2, 2011

    Darren, may I ask you an unrelated question, if you don’t mind?
    I developed a pet theory explaining why there are no small crocodiles (adult males in all extant spp. are >120 cm). But what about the fossil record? Are there any fossil crocs known to be adults, but less than 1 m in size?
    Thank you!

  74. #74 Vladimir Dinets
    April 2, 2011

    Oops, my last sentence got eaten by Mokele-Mbembe. I meant, Are there any fossil crocs known to be adults, but less than 1 m long? Thanks!

  75. #75 Darren Naish
    April 2, 2011

    Hi Vlad – I edited comment 73; the publishing platform does not like the ‘less than’ symbol. Yes, there are fossil crocodilians where adult length was less than 1 m. Notable are the atoposaurids, various of which were apparently adult at between 40 and 70 cm total length. And there are others, including various sphenosuchians, protosuchians and notosuchians (the notosuchian Pakasuchus, named last year, was perhaps 50 cm long). However, none of these animals are part of the crocodilian crown-group (that is, the clade that includes living species and all descendants of their most recent common ancestor) and they may have been quite different from modern crocodilians in biology and/or behaviour.

  76. #76 Vladimir Dinets
    April 2, 2011

    Thanks! That fits my theory perfectly :-)

  77. #77 DMA
    April 3, 2011

    If they didn’t make eno walk in that half erect position (and lengthen his tail, and shorten his head feathers) he might not look so human. And why did they have the mythology all mixed in. Also they made those weird ornithosapien things more carnivorous than eno. Add in bad the acting and you have complete package. No wonder the canceled the second season. I cannot believe that Gregory S. Paul, who basically created the modern portrayal of dinosaurs, made that. Remember those papers he wrote about religion. That seems to go against some of the stuff in dinosapien (the thunderbird).

  78. #78 metridia
    April 3, 2011

    Indeed I’m not — but I’m talking about the impact factor. Ironically, the impact factor is taken much more seriously in THE BIG ONE than in the UK.

    According to ISI, there are a number of more specialized journals with higher impact factor than Nature, for what that’s worth. Not saying you’re wrong about people in the US putting more value on impact rankings…but it can be sort of cultural. I know of big-wig scientists at US public universities who esteem Science higher, while at a private, Old-World-leaning university, it’s Nature or bust.

  79. #79 David Marjanović
    April 3, 2011

    The search yields no results, there is nothing on those pages, or it has been removed.

    That’s because the issue ends at p. 116. There is no p. 132.

    the site is in German, though

    Regulars of this blog who don’t speak German will still understand a lot from just looking at the pictures. Trust me.

    there are a number of more specialized journals with higher impact factor than Nature

    *gathering eyes from floor*

    what is this I don’t even

    What?

    I know of big-wig scientists at US public universities who esteem Science higher, while at a private, Old-World-leaning university, it’s Nature or bust.

    Well, what does “esteem” mean? Is this about hiring/promoting decisions?

  80. #80 metridia
    April 3, 2011

    Well, what does “esteem” mean? Is this about hiring/promoting decisions?

    I just mean it’s where they prefer to submit their major papers, because they hold it in higher esteem. At least one has actually said this, reportedly.
    A fairly unscientific sampling though, and it may come down to idiosyncratic personal preferences.

    Just my personal anecdote and impression.

  81. #81 Van
    April 3, 2011

    NICE April’s Fools joke!!
    Emu evolved in to Dinosaur!

  82. #82 Graham Peter King
    April 4, 2011

    A fine piece in the style to which we have become accustomed!

  83. #83 Stevo Darkly
    April 4, 2011

    Fascinating and enlightening post about these remarkable cousins of the coelacanth!

    I look forward to more Sean Young-related posts in the future.

  84. #84 kris
    April 5, 2011

    Mihaldification, retardosity, creationism? *squeee!*
    (And “Baby”! More squeeing!)

  85. #85 Jamie Stearns
    April 5, 2011

    Is there any application of this discovery to the question, “What kind of dinosaur did Jesus ride?”

  86. #86 Jamie Stearns
    April 5, 2011

    Also, lol@”mihaldification”.

  87. #87 Justin Shanahan
    April 5, 2011

    I understand from these comments that the stills up there are from movies. That doesn’t change anything though. I don’t know if the autopsy is a still from the movie. If it’s not, then I guess they only found the corpse… I obviously never saw the movie. I do believe in Mokele-Mbembe though. I do believe it’s out there. Since I never saw the movie these ppl mentioned, I can’t say this article is real or not only because I don’t know if the autopsy still is from the movie. I believe the live still is from movies because the skin looks so digital. Only one live still fools me, is where the Animal is sticking it’s head out of the water…..

  88. #88 Hai~Ren
    April 5, 2011

    Justin Shanahan: See date of the post, and look up Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend.

    You should have read the older comments…

  89. #89 Allen Hazen
    April 5, 2011

    Justin (#87)– The post was an April Fool’s Day Joke. (Darren Naish is English: there’s more of a tradition in England than in the U.S., I think, of elaborate April Fool’s hoaxes.) The autopsy photos are of real autopsies… of other animals. One is a giraffe neck, recently shown on SV-POW (one of the “The ones I participate in” links in the lefthand-column).

  90. #90 minmi96
    April 5, 2011

    did they even do DNA testing on the corpses?

  91. #91 David Marjanović
    April 6, 2011

    Only one live still fools me, is where the Animal is sticking it’s head out of the water…..

    Come on, that one is obviously made of rubber.

  92. #92 Dartian
    April 6, 2011

    David:

    that one is obviously made of rubber

    …by special effects people working for the Walt Disney Company in ca. 1984.

  93. #93 Sean
    April 8, 2011

    I’m have to say, I totally got fooled here. It wasn’t until I saw phylotardation a third time before I thought, “OI!” Not even the part saying the possible causes of death of the creature made me realize the joke. Oh…I’m so gullible.

  94. #94 Dino
    April 10, 2011

    xD
    cool April’s Fool joke!!!

  95. #95 Tony Bonno
    July 11, 2011

    I heard the recording Herman Regusters made. It made a whole room full of people go silent…. I believe it was real and so did everyone in the room.

  96. #96 SpookySr
    July 20, 2011

    Wow really good joke. However, how do you explain that not only is there several native eyewitness and explorer photographic evidence of living prehistoric long-necked herbivore creatures in Congo and Cameroon but the US military Special Ops have photographic evidence of close encounters in Congo River (Likoula Swamp off of Lake Tele) during Operation Guardian Retrieval in 1997. They US Navy Seals can only describe it as “dinosaur”-like creature that eats fruit from trees hanging over the river. Also the US NRO has live surveillance satellite feeds that see the creatures routinely during ground observation runs of DRC region looking for insurgents.

  97. #97 David Marjanović
    July 21, 2011

    So? Why don’t they publish? How do you even know about that apparently secret stuff?

  98. #98 Pontus Kawalec
    July 24, 2011

    Whilst I believed it, I was one very VERY happy person. But then I saw that it was posted April 1…

  99. #99 Owlmirror
    July 25, 2011

    I really have to wonder if anyone read the whole thing and believed it (before checking for/noticing the date). I mean, Darren loaded the text with not-very-subtle-at-all jokes. You don’t even have to be a reader of Tet Zoo to find something suspicious, like “noted phylogeneticist Dr Filo Genetissust”.

  100. #100 Scary Israel
    July 26, 2011

    Owlmirror: You don’t even have to be a reader of Tet Zoo to find something suspicious, like “noted phylogeneticist Dr Filo Genetissust”.

    that was my favourite bit! I seriously was surprised, reading all the comments, how many people actually thought it was a real article until they got part way through.

    Brilliant by the way.

    (Just discovered Tetrapod Zoology: cannot… stop…. reading….)

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