Mark Witton's secret: finally out

First of all, I've been away (speaking about fossil cats again), though - as previously - you might not have known this given that a list of posts were scheduled to appear in my absence. Is there more on mesonychians to come? There might be, but I haven't yet had the time to finish it. Meanwhile....

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For months and months now my esteemed colleague and coauthor Mark Witton has been working on a secret project. It's pretty incredible and the temptation to blab about it and post some of the neat photos I have has been overwhelming (one of the photos is shown below: it was taken back in May). Well, I need bite my lip no longer it seems, as Mark was officially outed over the last few days, and if you want to know more you'll have to go here on the BBC News website to see the little movie How to Build a Giant Winged Reptile.

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The animals that Mark is building are azhdarchid pterosaurs (though, as you can see from the picture at the top, cravat-wearing baby titanosaurs get a look-in too). Just in case you don't know about azhdarchids already, visit Terrestrial stalking azhdarchids, the paper. More on all of this in the future, I hope. It's all too awesome for words.

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A very large Azhdarchid shown with a human for scale. Azhdarchids were pterosaurs (flying reptile-like creatures) of the Cretaceous. These included some gigantic critters with up to a 10 meter wing span, but also some little ones (2.5 meters or so). Most reconstructions of these flying animals…
Regular readers of Tet Zoo will have seen the little clues given here and there to a big, infinitely cool project that's been months and months in the making (here's the first big hint, from August 2009). For some time now my colleagues Dave Martill, Bob Loveridge, Mark Witton and others at the…
Today see the launch of an outstanding new website devoted entirely to pterosaurs, the flying reptiles of the Mesozoic. What makes the site different from many specialist sources on the internet is that it was created, written and designed by specialists in the field. As such, it should prove an…
During the June and July of 2010 I and a host of friends and colleagues based at, or affiliated with, the University of Portsmouth attended the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition. As you'll know if you saw the articles and pictures I posted here at Tet Zoo, our research group set up and…

Well that is extremely cool indeed. Mark's a natural in front of camera too, perhaps you two could bump some of the beeb's less interesting wildlife presenters out of the schedules for next year? At a time when scienceblogs is again turning itself inside out over how best to present science to the public this is a prime example of how best to present science to the public.

Giant Winged Reptiles gotta eat.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 18 Aug 2009 #permalink

I want one of those for my yard...

This looks really awesome! I find it especially interesting that the construction of the models is shown in the video. I have to try this method too by using hard styrofoam for a bigger model.

The coolest thing for me is that this will just around the corner from where I work! IU plan to make frequent visits!

By Steve White (not verified) on 18 Aug 2009 #permalink

Wow, I just caught Ed Yong's presentation of Jean-Michel Mazin's azhdarchid landing trackway. Wow again.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 18 Aug 2009 #permalink

I want one of those for my yard...

"I want one of those for my yard..."

Flamingos are so cliche. Everyone knows having giant azdarchid pterosaurs in your yard is the hottest thing! Not to mention they scare away the pests...

By Anonymous (not verified) on 18 Aug 2009 #permalink

Interesting snapshot in the Sept issue of Nat`l Geographic under Fossils. Tupuxuara, a type of pterosaur, lived 112 million years ago in present day Brazil.a new theory on flight has been postulated by a John Hopkins Doctoral student Michael Habib," these dragon-like creatures-the largest of which may have weighed well over 500 lbs-had the power to take off from flat ground. Habib, who used to study bird flight, says pterosaurs wing bones were too massive for them to have simply been frail gliders. But beefy wings make sense if they flew tipping forward off comparatively spindly back legs, then using their front limbs to explosively leapfrog into the air. It that theory takes wing, petrosaurs could gain a muscular new profile in Mesozoic history"
By Chris Carroll Nat`l Geo.

By Bob Michaels (not verified) on 18 Aug 2009 #permalink

What in the heck is that giant "Ramphorhynchoid" silhouette shown?

By Karl Zimmerman (not verified) on 18 Aug 2009 #permalink

I'm going to have to save up my money so I can travel to London to see Mark's pterosaurs.

Mark does a very nice job presenting. Simple and understandable and showing more than saying.

It would be nice if the BBC would make the series of clips available for download as a single video once they're done.

By Mike from Ottawa (not verified) on 18 Aug 2009 #permalink

A titanosaur with a sore throat has a real problem.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 18 Aug 2009 #permalink

"Interesting snapshot in the Sept issue of Nat`l Geographic under Fossils. Tupuxuara, a type of pterosaur, lived 112 million years ago in present day Brazil.a new theory on flight has been postulated by a John Hopkins Doctoral student Michael Habib," these dragon-like creatures-the largest of which may have weighed well over 500 lbs-had the power to take off from flat ground. Habib, who used to study bird flight, says pterosaurs wing bones were too massive for them to have simply been frail gliders. But beefy wings make sense if they flew tipping forward off comparatively spindly back legs, then using their front limbs to explosively leapfrog into the air. It that theory takes wing, petrosaurs could gain a muscular new profile in Mesozoic history"
By Chris Carroll Nat`l Geo."

Whut teh? :-|

By Anonymous (not verified) on 18 Aug 2009 #permalink

Wicked. Just wicked.
Hats off, Sir.

Congratulations to Mark on some awesome work. I am just about drooling over the possibility of visiting the exhibit when it opens to see the models in all their glory. The video was a nice introduction; as others have indicated, Mark is very adept in front of the camera.

Thanks for the plug on the National Geo article, as well. I am actually rather surprised how much popular science mileage there has been out of that launch research. Amusingly enough, as often happens, the article took long enough to go to print that I have since left Hopkins for a faculty job in Pittsburgh. Ah, how time flies. Almost as well as pterosaurs...

By Mike Habib (not verified) on 19 Aug 2009 #permalink

Congratulations, too, Mike, on your appointment in Pittsburgh.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 19 Aug 2009 #permalink