Posts Tagged ‘convergence’

Ours is not to look back. Ours is to continue the crack.

14 May 2010

Our traditionalist is now beginning to worry, but he will grant this one last point pour mieux sauter.  OK, the very first Cambrian fauna included a plethora of alternative possibilities, all equally sensible and none leading to us.  But, surely, once the modern fauna arose in the next phase of the Cambrian, called Atdabanian after another Russian locality, then the boundaries and channels were finally set.  The arrival of trilobites, those familiar symbols of the Cambrian, must mark the end of craziness and the inception of predictability.  Let the good times roll.

This book is quite long enough already, and you do not want a “second verse, same as the first.” I merely point out that the Burgess Shale represents the early and maximal extent of the Atdabanian radiation.  The story of the Burgess Shale is the tale of life itself, not a unique and peculiar episode of possibilities gone wild.SJ Gould Wonderful Life (1989)

Had it in my head, tindered by a typically turgid comment I left over at Jerry Coyne’s blog, to write something about the phantasmic Fezouata fauna. About contingency and determinism and prehistoriography.

The first god had, in his garden, one of these I'm sure. Ordovician marrellomorph from the cover of this week's Nature / Van Roy et al. 2010. A strong contender for my next paleo-ink.

About Wonderful Life and Crucible of Creation. About broken molds and Technicolor films. About checking the guy’s rock record and replaying life’s wobbly mistracked tape.

this is what the late eighties was like

[I biked over the library after Schluter's talk and grabbed some books.  "That's a small book," the librarian remarked about the paperback version of WL, recut into hardback form, "but I'm sure it's filled with big ideas"]

And about GOBE and rocks from space. About evolutionary anachronism and steampunk anomalocaridids and Schinderhannes. About Chengjiang and Emu Bay and Orsten.

[I Googled.]

About Caratacus and the Ordovices and predictable outcomes. About the Cincinnati arch and Creation Museum atop it. About how those that ignore history are doomed to not worry about it too much, along the way.

[I read.]

And yes about the other big and massively under-celebrated early Paleozoic news this week: Cambrian Bryozoans (!) and Gondwanan echinoderms.

[I typed.]

And ultimately about how, really, all of this maybe shows not so much about the fickle nature of history or the inevitability of intelligence or even about foolish it is to draw deep philosophical lessons from a crappy fossil record.  But that, well, the Earth was a really weird place 550, 450, 250, 50, 5 million years ago and that we have a lot more surprises in store and a lot more to learn.  But we will, in fits and starts, and what we do discover will change our picture of our place in the universe.  Or maybe it won’t.

[I hit delete.]

Because it’s Friday afternoon, and that all sounds pretty damn pretentious and sappy and inconclusive.  Why not throw together a link-heavy meta-post [I thought], then sit back and watch the links decay over the years until all that’s left is an ambiguous smear that’s difficult to make any sense of.

Then I remembered that it’s post a Fall song on your blog day.

Hypselorhachis sues National Geographic for Defamation of Character

5 March 2010

In a surprising move, the extinct archosaur Hypselorhachis filed an unprecedented post-mortem lawsuit against the National Geographic Society on Friday.  The enigmatic Triassic reptile was offended by being mistakenly labeled a “dinosaur” in an article that appeared on the National Geographic Website earlier this week (“Dinosaurs Ten Million Years Older Than Thought” March, 3, 2010 National Geographic News).

The focus of the article was the recent description of another non-dinosaur, Asilisaurus, a close dinosaur relative in the latest issue of the scientific journal Nature (Nesbitt et al. 2010 “Ecologically distinct dinosaurian sister group shows early diversification of Ornithodira” Nature 464, 95-98doi:10.1038/nature08718).

In a statement released today Hypselorhachis asserts that the passing reference to “an early sail-backed dinosaur” in the caption of an illustration that accompanied the article was, “an underhanded attempt to smear my character and associate me with unsavory elements.”

“I just don’t understand.  They could have called me a ‘ctenosauriscid‘ a ‘poposaur‘ a ‘rauisuchian‘ a ‘pseudosuchian‘ a ‘crurotarsan‘  even an ‘archosaur’ without dragging my name through the gutter like this.  Hell, I would even have been fine with ‘hellasaur.’  But ‘dinosaur‘?  That’s just not right.  Someone has to put a stop to this sort of thing.”

Strange Bedfellows

The crusade has attracted some surprising allies.  Dimetrodon, a sail-backed synapsid from the Permian, has previously accused Hypselorhachis of being an “imposter,” a “total ripoff” and “less-original than Spinosaurus, really.”

Tensions between the two extinct animals flared last summer when Kanye  West interrupted Dimetrodon’s acceptance speech at the “Virgin Teen’s Choice Awards” for the category “Best Backbone.”  West grabbed the microphone saying, “Congratulations D’meet and I’mma let you finish, but Hypselorhachis had the best elongated neural arches of ALL TIME.”

In spite of the rivalry, Dimetrodon defends the merits of the lawsuit.  “As a frequent victim of false-dinosaur defamation, I wholeheartedly support Hypselorhachis on this one.  We non-dinosaurs have to stick together.”  Dimetrodon says that it will donate the proceeds from sales of its popular T-shirt to the Hypselorhachis legal defense fund.

Several pterosaurs and marine reptiles have also voiced their support for Hypselorhachis. National Geographic was not available for comment.

[um. yeah.  sorry.]

Nice Baculum! (and other thoughts on Puijila)

22 April 2009

baculumToo much?  Sorry it’s really hot and my brain is addled–and uh, I mean, I was just following orders.  Also, I’ve already beaten the “sexy little otter” joke to death right?

Anyway, far be it from me to try and tell you something about Puijila darwini the putative transitional seal taking his star turn in this weeks Nature (Rybczynski, Dawson and Tedford 2009).  Brohan’s already got his own pimped out, interactive, 3D, trilingual website.  I imagine the Twitter feed is in the works.

Um so rather than plagiarize the press-release here are some random, certainly minor, musings as I sit in 100 F Davis, CA and ponder freshwater proto-seals frolicking in a balmy Arctic lake one million score years ago today…

Melting Poles and the coming Paleontological Bonanza?

H.P. Lovecraft’s 1931 novella At The Mountains of Madness begins as a paleontological expedition to Antarctica and gradually (predictably) in an orgy of hallucinatory amoral undead tentacular horror and carnage.  Two decades before, R. F. Scott’s infamously ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition succumbed to exposure and starvation rather than murderous ambulatory crinoids.  However, as in the Lovecraft story, Scott’s mission was, in part to collect fossils from Antarctica in order to better understand the geological and biological history of the now-frozen continent.  Some of these were recovered along with the remains of the crew:  Scott had refused to abandon the collections, and the crew was dragging 35 lbs of Permo-Triassic plant fossils around with them until the bitter end. Around the same time, Carl Wiman and Eric Stensiö, among others were making important fossil discoveries at the opposite end of the globe on the Arctic island of Spitsbergen.

The pace of important fossil discoveries at high latitudes (including Antarctica and Spitsbergen as well as Greenland, Nunavut, and Siberia) has seemed to quicken–Tiktaalik and Kryostega providing just two recent, high-profile examples.

So far this has probably been driven by technological advances that make it easier to get to these remote locations and work under polar conditions.  However, given recent climatic projections it’s interesting to wonder how a reduction in ice at the poles might affect polar paleontology.  Not only might the recession of glaciers expose fossil bearing strata, but reduction of ice on land and sea might permit easier access to known localities.

I certainly don’t mean this as some kind of apologia for anthropogenic warming of the planet–obviously any paleontological rewards will likely come at deep expense to the living ecosystems in these regions.  And rising global sea-levels might destroy important existing coastal fossil localities.  Even under the most optimistic scenarios however, we will almost certainly sea a waning of ice at least in the Arctic.  Indeed, despite of truth-bending denials by folks like George Will it’s already happening. It will be interesting, in a sick, doom-filled, quasi-Lovecraftian way to watch how a changing climate might reveal new secrets of our past…even if we don’t turn up evidence of a lost race of sentient malicious Paleozoic invertebrates.

Damn! I knew I should have taken Inuktikut instead of Latin

For a while now, I have been interested in the introgression of nonIndo-European languages into taxonomic nomenclature, especially those that derive from “indigenous” cultures (whatever that means…)  Like Tiktaalik, “Puijila” is of Inuktikut origin, in this case referring to a small seal.  Tiktaalik means “burbot”, a type of fish.  I am, for the record, wholly in favor of this practice but if I was writing a paper about this in college I would probably raise the question of whether this amounted to some form of “cultural appropriation.” Incidentally, I like the fact that Puijila has some vague phonic resonance with  the names of extant northern hemisphere seals (or phocine phocid phocoids for those of you keeping score at home) Phoca, Pusa, Pagophilus, Histriophoca.  Whatever.

Research Publication Figure of the Week (1 week late)

21 April 2009
Figure 3. from Hagadorn and Seilacher 2009 - original caption: <i>Figure 3. Cartoon model of hermit arthropod with a crustacean versus chelicerate mode of abdominal bending. Model is not intended to represent details of track maker's anatomy.</i>

Figure 3. from Hagadorn and Seilacher 2009

What an interrogative week, huh?  National Geographic mused, koanically, “First Tool Users Were Sea Scorpions?” Discover’s online news mashup engine 80 Beats pondered, prosaically, “Did ‘Hermit’ Sea Creature Hide Under Borrowed Shells in First Forays Onto Land?”  Neither of which really even approach the telegraphic glory of Hagadorn and Seilacher’s rhetorical paper title “Hermit Arthropods 500 million years ago?” which appears in this month’s issue of Geology.

All of which would seem to beg the same answer, because the only thing more badass than a sea scorpion is a sea scorpion with a van!

Hagadorn, JW and A Seilacher 2009. “Hermit arthropods 500 millon years ago?” Geology 37(4):295-298

Fun with Fake Tilt-Shift

15 January 2009

Tilt-shift is a relatively sophisticated photography technique that allows photographers to play with perspective creating dizzying, fantastic images that confound our expectations about scale.

Tilt-shift maker is a fun, and easy to use website that allows you to simulate the effect (albeit imperfectly) on your own photos or things you find on the web.  I knew there was a reason I was taking so many photos of rooftops while I was in China… (click for larger versions)





Third Eye Vision

13 October 2008

Many have pondered the reception of the steady stream of e-m message bottles we’ve been casting into the cosmic lagoon for a century or so.  What are the aliens making of The Honeymooners, The Brady Bunch, the numbers stations, That 70s Show?  Are they amused? perplexed? outraged?

The best, I suppose that we can hope for is that they might find some sense of aesthetic beauty in the radiation pouring off our planet–as we get from the flash of a lampyrid; a solar glint off the gorget of hummingbird or the belly of lizard.  Beautiful and stripped of meaning.

The worst is that they might eventually swing by and try to clean up the stain.

All of which is a silly way to try to direct you to one of the best blog posts that I have read in ages.

Time’s Spiral in Arrow Canyon

6 October 2008

On an autumn afternoon, Earl Wadsworth climbed up to the top of a ledge in a remote slot canyon in Nevada.  With a knife or a nail or some other tool Earl scratched a large cursive “E” into the limestone wall.  After some consideration the graffiti-artist gave up on the formal script and printed his full name across the rock.

Just below he added the date: “November, 14th 1920.”

Eighty-six years later, to the day, I found myself on the same ledge admiring Wadsworth’s handiwork.  Read the rest of this entry »


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