Archive for August, 2007


28 August 2007

The ethical paleontologist has a list up of her top-five dinosaur songs and, given my recent penchant for posting rock videos…how can I resist a list of my own?

First, place crests down, is the haunting song of Parasaurolophus as reconstructed by Dr. Carl Diegert of Sandia National Lab and Dr. Thomas E. Williamson of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science (seen above). I won’t even go into how they did it although these pics give clues, click ’em for more info.

It sort of reminds me of Close Encounters…maybe Parasaurolophus is trying to communicate to us across the depths of time. What’s that girl? A well?

What? Oh, never mind I guess you want drums and guitars and stuff? The rest in all their wetubey goodness are below the…


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To the First Whale

25 August 2007


There is a lot wrong that is wrong about this (n.b. QED!). But I couldn’t resist. Click for the sound clip.

Brian a.k.a Laelaps has cursored his latest epic, tracing whale evolution from Sarcopterygian to Flipper, or thereabouts. Those looking for a cetacean overdose should also check out Carl Zimmer’s post about the evolution of baleen.

One of these days I’m going to write about monophyly in river dolphins, and now I’m thinking about afrotheria, desmostylians and sirenians…Damn it, when am I going to write all of this??

The Crosby/Nash song that inspired the title of this post is admittedly sappy, but has new relevance with the demise of the Baiji. Those with a strong stomach can watch the youtube video.

Not again…

24 August 2007

National Geographic is reporting on the Choroapithecus abyssinicus, with this nails-on-the chalkboard headline: “New Fossil Ape May Shatter Human Evolution Theory.” Guys. Come on?

The shattering find: a 10 million year-old african ape that may push the human-gorilla split back well before what genetic studies have predicted, appearing in this week’s Nature (abstract here).

Two weeks ago we were “questioning” and now we’re “shattering” human evolution??? By finding ancient fossils that shed new light on the radiation and ramification of our clade? It’s enough to make you want to cover your body in hoodia diet patches and wait for the rapture.

Pharyngula and Afarensis have already taken this horribly sloppy headline writing to task, while John Hawks strikes back with an equally ambitious, but not blatantly false, headline: Did Gen Suwa just save paleoanthropology?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a letter to write.

Oh, eff.

23 August 2007

Gulper 2

Great. Cristopher Taylor, goes and insults gulper eels and this is what we get. Way to piss off the Cosmic Gulper, Christopher, thanks a lot.

Actually, Christopher’s post is great and while I knew about gulpers and their decidedly goofier-looking cousins the bobtailed snipe eels, I was unaware of the weirdest of the lot the aptly-named one-jawed eels. And reading the post inspired me to dust off a forgotten favorite of my personal bestiary.

I dreamed up the CG during freshman year Marine Science. When the lecture strayed into fictitious fancies like Ekman flow and Ferrel cells, I got to inventing myself. I sketched this guy many times trying to entertain the cute redhead that sat next to me. I had no idea that her hair color was a fiction too!

Okay, babe, let’s go take the dog for a walk.

Lace Crab

22 August 2007

I may be loathed by AP science reporters but I’m a favorite with the Times. Or, rather, this photo of my Marrella splendens tattoo has been marked as a flickr favorite by Times science reporter Carl Zimmer. I’m honored!

I sent him the photo as an entry for his collection of science tattoos, you can read his post about the project at his blog, the Loom. Or, check out his Flickr gallery of science tats.

Funny things, fossil inkjobs. Tattoos have an aura of permanence, but compared to its subject mine is positively ephemeral. But now, it has achieved cyber-immortality. Well at least until the next mass extinction.

Here’s a creative commons photo of the real deal from wikipedia for comparison, a google image search will turn up many more as well as the Marianne Collins drawing that inspired my badge o’ stem arthropod honor.

Auklets Ooze with Affection

22 August 2007

Alcids by Audubon from here. Crested Auklet is lower right.

While Secret Sex Lives estivates we’ll try to pick up some of the slack.  Science Daily has a story on Crested Auklets (Aethia cristatella) that gives new meaning to the old pickup line “Hey baby is that aldehydes I smell or are you just happy to see me?”

Breeding pairs of these small seabirds smear a citrus-smelling secretion on each other as a part of their nuptial rites.  Researchers have found that the compound contains chemicals with anti-parasite properties.  According to Sibley’s Bird Life & Behavior the compound is so pungent that it can be smelled by birders on a boat some distance from the breeding colony.

Like many pelagic birds, alcids have elaborate mating behaviors, no doubt because breeding is a crowded affair with thousands of individuals converging on a few limited breeding sites.  In such conditions it’s paramount to winnow the hunks from chaff relatively quickly.  And, since any offspring are bound to have a rough life ahead out on the open ocean, getting some good genes for your babies is key.

Interestingly the elaborate sexual signals of alcids (e.g. the eponymous crest in A. cristatella, or the clownish beaks of their more familiar cousins the puffins) are seen in both sexes, in contrast to dimorphic sexual displays in many other species. I recently saw a talk by Kevin Padian discounting sexual selection as a good explanation for elaborate dinosaur structures since there is little evidence of sexual dimorphism in these creatures.  The crests and tufts and whiskers and bills of Alcids, and their citrusey love juices, would seem non-dimorphic sexual selection in action.

[Note that the Audubon painting appears to show some dimorphism in the two individuals at left, IDed as male and female ‘Ancient Murrelets’ (Synthlibrorampus antiquus) but I’m pretty sure the brown one is a different species, maybe a Marbled Murrelet (Bracyramphus marmoratus).]

Dude, these nuggs are like totally enriched

21 August 2007

A few days ago, in the post about vampire bat breath, I pondered:

Oh those stable istopists what will they drop into the mass spec next??

Well, now we have our answer.

That’s right, reefer, herbage, kali, slang tang, chronic, da shiz, cheeba, kronic, the danky dank, ganja, I could go on but I won’t.

Every so often, a package of marijuana arrives in Jason B. West’s mail at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. While Dr. West may not be the only one on campus receiving deliveries of illegal drugs, he is probably the only one getting them compliments of the federal government.

Dr. West’s marijuana supply is decidedly not for consumption. It is meticulously cataloged and managed, repeatedly weighed to make sure none disappears, and returned to the sender (a laboratory at the University of Mississippi) or destroyed when he is done with it.

But, you just know they’re shotgunning the ICPMS.

Dr. West said his involvement in the project was not tied to any particular policy judgment. “I strongly believe that part of the picture in any policy development has to be the best possible science, and in cases where my work can contribute to that, I think that’s great,” he wrote in an e-mail message.

Yeah, whatever, narc.