On January 23rd 2007, Tet Zoo ver 2 – the ScienceBlogs version of Tetrapod Zoology – graced the intertoobz for the first time. There was rapturous applause, swooning, the delight of millions. Looking back at it now, that very first ver 2 post is rather odd. It’s on the blood-feeding behaviour of oxpeckers (Buphagus) and it only really mentions the move to ScienceBlogs in passing, as if it wasn’t a big deal.
In reality, being invited in to join the ScienceBlogs collective was a big deal, and were I to go back in time and re-live the writing of that particular article I’d do much more of a “Hello, welcome to Tetrapod Zoology, this is me and this is what I do”. Oh well, never mind. Incidentally, I never did finish writing everything that I wanted to on the evolution of blood-feeding in tetrapods…
Over the four-and-a-bit years that followed that January 2007 article, the Tetrapod Zoology blog went from strength to strength. Readership increased exponentially [mostly: see hilarious counter fail below], as did its reputation as a (mostly) reliable online source regarding all things tetrapod. Today, a significant percentage of interested people (including amateurs, media-types and professional researchers) are at least aware of Tetrapod Zoology, and some of them read it or even leave comments on it.
Within the ScienceBlogs franchise, Tet Zoo has been – I blushingly and humbly admit – one of the most popular blogs for a while, frequently if not typically being in the top 10 most visited, and with a consistent and notable presence in the ‘reader’s pick’ selection. It’s consistently been in the top 5 at Nature Blog Network. I can’t compete with the ScienceBlog bloggers who write about religion, politics and global warming denialism, but that not a fair comparison, as I wouldn’t try and compete with anyone who writes about ‘X Factor’ or which females celebrities have been photographed in bikinis lately either.
Tet Zoo ver 2: edited highlights
It’s been a long, strange trip. Things I’ve chosen to blog about have fed back into my academic research and popular writing, and vice versa. Many subjects have been visited repeatedly to the extent that they’ve become blogosphere memes. Terrestrial stalking azhdarchids, big-brained dinosauroids, shoebills, matamatas, babirusas, the toads of the world, sea monsters, ‘mystery’ carcasses. Let’s use this as an opportunity to look back at just some of the more notable topics that I’ve blogged about at Tet Zoo ver 2…
- One of the earliest of Tet Zoo ver 2’s articles – that on the science of Godzilla – proved a big draw. I’ve done a few more articles on Godzilla since then, and even did a radio interview on the subject for Sceptically Speaking.
- The Australian megacat article of March 2007 was also astonishingly popular. More work needs to done before we have a better handle on the situation with these enormous Australian feral cats. I’m convinced that they’re a genuine phenomenon (I’m due to review the Williams and Lang Australian Big Cats book at some stage, so will be revisiting this issue in time).
- In April 2007, Aetogate kicked off: a case wherein a team of palaeontologists in New Mexico were accused of plagiarising and knowingly pre-empting the work of others (the work concerned the Triassic archosaurs called aetosaurs). It even got brief coverage in Nature (Dalton 2008). It remains arguable whether the eventual outcome of this whole case was favourable or not.
- In December 2007, I did my bit to raise awareness of the global amphibian crisis. I’d tried in previous months to review all the main anuran groups of the world, but failed. I succeeded on salamanders and caecilians though. Anyway, the global amphibian crisis is something I would visit several times later on.
- Ankylosaur week (February 2008) was an enjoyable and memorable event
- In March 2008 the speculative (and entirely hypothetical) big-brained theropod Avisapiens hit the big time: i.e., the mainstream published literature. It provided a good opportunity to review Tet Zoo’s contribution to the whole ‘smart dinosaur’ meme. Most of my thoughts made it into the printed literature (Naish 2008).
- The May 2008 article on stiletto snakes is a personal favourite, not only because it covers a fascinating group of snakes that deserve more coverage, but also because it inspired responses from people who had had personal experience with these snakes, and those who had done some of the research I was writing about (in particular Alexandra Deufel).
- In May 2008, Mark Witton and I published our paper on terrestrial stalking in azhdarchid pterosaurs (Witton & Naish 2008). The media loved the story, and the publication of the paper in the 100% open-access PLoS ONE might mean that it has become one of the most-read technical papers on pterosaurs of all time.
- Sea monster week (July 2008) was hugely popular and great fun.
- The series on weird odontocete skulls – published here in the July and August of 2008 – provides a nice overview of odontocete diversity and covers a lot of material not much discussed in the popular literature.
- My coverage in August 2008 of the decomposing raccoon nicknamed the ‘Montauk monster’ was far and away the most visited blog article I’ve written so far. It led to numerous mentions in the media and appearances on TV and so on.
- The ‘sauropod neck posture’ event of May 2009 sparked a lot of discussion. It was timed to coincide with the publication of an open-access paper I co-authored with Mike P. Taylor and Mathew Wedel (Taylor et al. 2009).
- Many people enjoyed the coverage of George Olshevsky’s ‘birds come first’ model, reviewed here in June 2009.
- The July 2009 coverage of series I of Inside Nature’s Giants should be a useful resource to anyone who wants to know about much of the technical stuff covered in that most excellent series.
- The series on mesonychians – and on taxa often regarded as mesonychians even though they may very well not be – was pretty cool, if I say so myself. It appeared here in August 2009.
- In June 2010 I wrote about the paper that Don Henderson and I had just published on the possible swimming and floating behaviour of giraffes (Henderson & Naish 2010).
- The completion in April 2011 of the vesper bat series was important, not only because it marked a significant personal achievement (that is, completion of an entire lengthy series) but also because the series may well represent the only comprehensive, plain-language review of this enormous and important bat group.
- Tet Zoo has – fairly consistently – featured ground-breaking, revelatory review articles that just happened to published on April 1st. More notable April 1st articles includes the ones on rhinogradentians (part II here) (2007), amphisbaenians as mammal ancestors (2008), winged cat history (2010), and the discovery of Mokele-mbembe (2011).
I tried my hardest to cover such issues as amphibian diversity and conservation, those all-too-neglected Palaeozoic tetrapods, and tetrapod-relevant issues relating to environmental degradation and conservation. But, even after those several years and 860 separate blog entries, these subject areas and many others remain woefully under-represented.
One problem is that sexy, attention-grabbing topics like new dinosaurs, giraffe biology, cryptozoology and recently discovered mega-mammals have frequently diverted my attention and caused me to waste time [adjacent image shows a prasinoid monitor lizard – they’re sexy, why didn’t I ever write about them?]. I shouldn’t have been writing about Montauk monsters or Mesozoic dinosaurs: small brown birds, rodents, tropical frogs and colubroid snakes – that’s where the action is. My coverage of my own research output, publications and TV appearances also caused me to fail to make time for more important things that need better internet coverage. But then, I don’t think you can blame me for this sort of thing. And Tet Zoo is ‘only’ a blog, existing in entirety to serve me and not anyone else anyway (no matter what they think).
I really tried so very hard to finish so many of the series I started: temnospondyls, toads, gekkotans, pouches and pockets in the heads and chests of mammals. But, dammit, I failed on all of those. If you think this is bad… well, what about the series where I wrote loads, yet never even got to post the first part? Yes, there is tons of un-published text sitting here on my hard-drive, and concerning such topics as the squirrels of the world, fossil proboscideans, Paleogene mammals, petrels and other seabirds, and so much more. Often, there just is literally not the time to fit blog-writing into life, not when you have a family, a modest social life, a need to work to pay the bills, and choose to prioritise academic output.
Why I love Tet Zoo
I’ve said a few times over the years that I write Tet Zoo for me. Evidently, I benefit very much from a large readership and from the informed and wonderful community of colleagues and commenters that now contribute to the site, but the most important reader is me. Even if my readership consisted of a lonely handful of friendly sympathisers, I’d still be doing it. So, the topics I’ve covered have had to be things that I’ve really wanted to cover; it’s for this reason that Tet Zoo has veered around from one subject to another, often in whimsical and undirected fashion. The benefit of being interested in all tetrapods is that I can appeal to people interested in such diverse animals as Jurassic dinosaurs, modern birds, obscure tropical lizards and the anatomy of marine mammals. Stick around, and something you like will appear, I suppose. [Adjacent montage of model azhdarchid, shoebill and hypothetical big-brained theropod Nemoramjetia mostly irrelevant.]
It’s by happy coincidence that many of those topics I’ve wanted to write about have been the ones that haven’t had much of an internet presence already. Such animals as dibamids, didymoconids, borhyaenoids, amphiumas and giraffe-necked giant tortoises haven’t been much covered outside of the specialised, technical literature. So you could, if you want to, think that Tet Zoo serves an important role in helping to disseminate information and awareness regarding such animals to a wider audience. I’m hardly the only one doing this, of course: lots of other excellent bloggers are also doing their bit to bring all kinds of animals, living and fossils, to better attention. But I hope people think that I’ve done more than my fair share.
I’ve worked hard to make Tet Zoo attractive in visual terms, taking time to find (and sometimes generate) relevant pictures [adjacent pic shows me as once depicted on a Christmas card, honest]. I’ve sometimes gotten* into trouble as a result, but mostly this has worked out. The significance that I place upon pictures relates mostly to my own immaturity. I’m bored to tears by large chunks of text and often can’t bring myself to read articles by other people (especially online articles) if they aren’t accompanied by images of some sort.
I have the impression that Tet Zoo ver 2 has become more picture-led over the years but I’m not entirely sure that’s true: even those early articles of January 2007, for example, are quite well illustrated. I wish I’d been in the habit of posting pictures at larger sizes though. On that note, one annoying constraint of the ScienceBlogs platform is that images can only be posted at maximum column width – a mere c. 500 pixels. No doubt this has often annoyed readers who’ve wanted to see diagrams at larger size – well, sorry, I did the best I could.
I forget the point I wanted to make here. But, whatever, I hope that visiting Tet Zoo ver 2 has not only been informative and perhaps even important in terms of outreach and education, but also fun and easy on the eye.
Quit the rambling and get to the point – – why are we here, right now?
So, what’s the point of all this navel-gazing? I normally do this sort of thing on Tet Zoo’s birthday. Well, the reason we’re here is that now, my friends, Tet Zoo ver 2 must come to an end. I’m not kidding – this really is it. The end. Yes, those four years of Tet Zoo ver 2 have been great fun. I wish to thank everyone who’s visited, or – even better – has accompanied me on my academic journey across the tetrapod cladogram. I hope you’ve learnt from the site, and I hope you’ve enjoyed visiting. But it’s time to say goodbye.
Goodbye Tet Zoo ver 2, you served us well.
Buuuuut…. I mean, of course, that this is ‘only’ the end of Tet Zoo ver 2, not of Tet Zoo altogether. So, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to usher in the age of Tet Zoo ver 3. Take a deep breath, wipe the tears from your eyes, and click here.
Refs – –
Dalton, R. 2008. Fossil reptiles mired in controversy. Nature 451, 510
Henderson, D. M. & Naish, D. 2010. Predicting the buoyancy, equilibrium and potential swimming ability of giraffes by computational analysis. Journal of Theoretical Biology
Naish, D. 2008. Intelligent dinosaurs. Fortean Times 239, 52-53.