Archive for October, 2007

Is That a Moustache?

18 October 2007

I bought Paul Sereno a beer.  It was a Shiner Bock.  I also participated, peripherally, in a scheme to get him to pose for photo shoot…well, perhaps I shouldn’t go into that.

And I saw some college bros try to get Bob Bakker to come to their party.  Ah, the mania that is SVP…

I also got to head over to the Hartman Prehistoric Garden with Julia and Lorin this afternoon.  The butterflies were AMAZING, and me without the camera–damn it!

Julia got some photos though, some of them were appropriately enough, of Julias (Dryas julia) although I didn’t realize that at the time.  We also saw Monarchs, Zebra Longwings, and several different Swallowtails including a Pipevine.  Lots of little butterflies, moths, dragons and damsels too although I have no idea what they were, and a huge-ass, er abdomen Argiope orb weaver.

We saw lots of verts too and Chickadees of some type, lots of Great Tailed Grackles (the local weed bird), a Red-Shouldered Hawk being mobbed by some Blue Jays, Squirrels and Turtles.  Snap!

Oh yeah, and there’s some pretty awesome science going on to, but my head is spinning way too fast to write about any of it.  And the night hasn’t even begun yet…

Okay, off to see some bats.


15 October 2007

But, how many London bus lengths is it?” – J.O.

Here’s the BBC on Futalognkosaurus dukei a recently described, absurdly large Titanosaur from Argentina:

Calvo, JO et al. 2007 “A new Cretaceous terrestrial ecosystem from Gondwana with the description of a new sauropod dinosaur” Anais Academia Brasileira Ciencia, 79(3): 529-41.

The name means something like “giant chief lizard…brought to you by Duke Energy.” The genus name comes from Mapudungun, the indigenous South American language that also gave us Mapusaurus, yet another example of the trend to defer to local linguistic traditions when christening (linnaeusing?) a new fossil taxon.

The species name is an example of somewhat older tradition of naming fossils for financial patrons. There’s at least one other dinosaur with a corporate name Atlascopcosaurus and there may well be others. In the 19th century it was quite common to name fossils after wealthy benafactors, as seen in Futalognkosaurus‘ distant cousin Diplodocus carnegiei.

Sauropodophile Matt Wedel recently blogged about the auctioning off scientific names to the highest bidder. Perhaps he’ll weigh in on the titanosaur, if we’re lucky.

Masikasaurus knopfleri is the only dinosaur I know of that’s named after a rock star. Each of the Sex Pistols have an Articalymene trilobite named after them, and just to keep things balanced each Ramone has a Mackenziurus trilobite (I don’t know if this is the work of the same equi-continental punk rock paleontologist or not). Frank’s got a fossil snail: Amaurotoma zappa as well as an extant jellyfish, spider and an entire genus of fish.

Trust me, Markesmithosaurus is just a few years away. Wait, make that Markesmithoraptor!

Oh yeah, and Futalognkosaurus was almost certainly arboreal.

Boneyard #7

14 October 2007

Welcome to the Boneyard #7 featuring the best of the last two weeks of blogging about the last ~3000 million years of life on our planet. Illustration for this edition has been kindly supplied by Dan McCarthy, prints, posters, paintings and more are available at, each image links to the site as well.

Let’s start with the oldest at top, those searching for geologic integrity can flip their monitors over…

Kevin at The Other 95% writes about the discovery of a Lower Cambrian crustacean, Yicaris dianensis, and its implications for the evolution of the most important group of animals on Earth: New Fossil Crustacean Pushes Back Arthropod Origins…you may know that this has direct implications for my dermis

In honor of last week’s much lauded International Cephalopod Awareness Day, Christopher from Catalogue of Organisms offers up not one but two absurdly large cephalopods: Day of the Tentacle and More giant cephalopods…along with a ‘buxom wench with a rapier.’

Also inspired by ICAD, Ben from Principles of Parsimony muses upon the tales told by one punctured ammonite: Cephalopods, mosasaurs, and Cretaceous parenting

Speaking of Cretaceous…Julia, the ethical palaeontologist, hopefully enjoying a tasty margarita under New Mexican skies as we speak, writes about one of many dinosaurs you wouldn’t want to get your arm stuck in: New Hadrosaur!

Gryposaurus has received a fair bit of attention across the’s Dr. Ryan’s summary: New Hadrosaur, Gryposaurus monumentensis and Dr. Bridger’s elegy is here: R.I.P.

Elsewhere amongst Cretaceous dinos, Therizinosaurs are some of the weirdest of the lot and perpetual paleo-blogger Brian Switek wrote about the recently published Suzhousarus megatherioides at his brand new Science Blogs site: Suzhousaurus and its strange relatives…were they, in fact giant ground sloth analogues?

No! in fact they were giant arboreal sloth analogues climbing around giant trees and tearing into super proto-bee hives…you see it all has to do with the tensile strenth of lignin at high O2 concentrations…oh never mind…


Of course no K dino is as emblematic as T. rex, perhaps the only organism known familiarly by its abbreviated genus, and we all know T. rexo had two fingers right? Right? Zach from When Pigs Fly Returns copes with the unsettling news: Tyrannosaurus rex has three fingers?! while Brian posits atavism: A Tyrannosaurus with three fingers?

Wait a minute! Actually, the most important dinosaur post of the last two weeks is Hairy Museum of Natural History curator Matt’s post: A wish for coelophysis, which pushes us way back into the Triassic…I wish for world peace and a whole bunch of thalattosaur skulls, or maybe a Hupehsuchus with gut contents. Oh, nevermind.

Moving into the Cainozoic…
Vintage, collectors item Laelaps looks at hyperdentition among mammals: What big teeth you have

Greg Laden examines the overlooked animals that are in fact at the core of the modern petroleum defense cabal: Hyracoidea.

Zach lays out some core knowledge: Evolution for dummies. Not that you, dear reader, are in fact a dummy.

The Boneyard Sells Out:

Various gifty holidays are coming up, and those looking for presents in the paleo theme are in luck:

Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway the new Kirk Johnson/Ray Troll book.

Trilobite Clothing

Dan McCarthy’s Website (prints, posters and t-shirts)

News Flash!

12 October 2007

Or…another one for the “No Shit Sherlock” file:

Fossil Data Plugs Gaps In Current Knowledge, Study shows

Researchers have shown for the first time that fossils can be used as effectively as living species in understanding the complex branching in the evolutionary tree of life.

I’ll spare Science Daily the usual ire, the story itself is fine although as usual could use a bit more context. Likewise nothing but mad props, as it were, to Andrea Cobbett and co. for an interesting, nuanced paper which appears in a recent edition of Systematic Biology: Fossils Impact as Hard as Living Taxa in Parsimony Analyses of Morphology. I dearly hope their work is taken to heart by neotaxonomists.

I will however shovel multiple cubic acres (following Selach’s conversion [1973] where 1 cubic acre = 75.3 shit tons) of ire upon those “others [who] have been reluctant to use extinct species because the data they offer is often less complete.” …as opposed to the totally fucking comprehended living taxa?

Okay, so maybe we’re tilting at paper tigers, or straw men, or whatever, please don’t break my stride.

As molecular phylogeny was coming into its own surely some smirkholes were predicting that paleontology was entering its autumn at least as a source of evolutionary understanding. No doubt, the alarming number of 0/1 matrices, strict consensuses (man, I really wanted to type “consensi”), and leathery boot straps awaiting me at next week’s SVP are to some extent a direct response to this attitude.

Anyway, I hope those paper tigers are spinning in their effing, i mean fucking, ergonomic office chairs.

Old Chuck D. himself was, as much as we’d like to forget it, a sometime paleontologist. While in South America, en voyage with the Beagle, Darwin made a number of important paleontological discoveries. Per his enumeration:

First, parts of three heads and other bones of the Megatherium, the huge dimensions of which are expressed by its name. Secondly, the Megalonyx, a great allied animal. Thirdly, the Scelidotherium, also an allied animal, of which I obtained a nearly perfect skeleton. It must have been as large as a rhinoceros: in the structure of its head it comes, according to Mr. Owen, nearest to the Cape Anteater, but in some other respects it approaches to the armadilloes. Fourthly, the Mylodon Darwinii, a closely related genus of little inferior size. Fifthly, another gigantic edental quadruped. Sixthly, a large animal, with an osseous coat in compartments, very like that of an armadillo. Seventhly, an extinct kind of horse, to which I shall have again to refer. Eighthly, a tooth of a Pachydermatous animal, probably the same with the Macrauchenia, a huge beast with a long neck like a camel, which I shall also refer to again. Lastly, the Toxodon, perhaps one of the strangest animals ever discovered: in size it equalled an elephant or megatherium, but the structure of its teeth, as Mr. Owen states, proves indisputably that it was intimately related to the Gnawers, the order which, at the present day, includes most of the smallest quadrupeds: in many details it is allied to the Pachydermata: judging from the position of its eyes, ears, and nostrils, it was probably aquatic, like the Dugong and Manatee, to which it is also allied. How wonderfully are the different Orders, at the present time so well separated, blended together in different points of the structure of the Toxodon! (1839)

Thanks to Owen that paragraph is laced with the kind of errors that the molecularists have wasted a lot of palm sweat over.  And yet…here we see Darwin starting to gain some FUCKING important insights into biogeography, extinction, mosaic evolution and convergence.



9 October 2007

Photo: Jessica Oster.

Get those Boneyard posts in…coming this Saturday!

neil.kelleyca a

Also you might want to get a jump start on birthday shopping:



The Squid and the Bus

8 October 2007

Okay, I’ve been sitting on this one for awhile, waiting for:

a) BBC to run another squid story, and

b) The chance to stage a photo holding an uncooked calamari squid against one of Davis’ infamous (and hazardous!) double-decker buses

Lo! Much as Darwin was forced to rush his theory of natural selection to publication after a few short decades of musing, I’ve been goaded into action by an irresistible outside force that demands my immediate attention.

So in honor of the First Annual Cephalopod Awareness Day (!) please enjoy this ‘brief abstract’ of which I will someday provide a deep and thorough elaboration upon more befitting the quality writing you’ve come to expect here at microecos. Just think of it as my personal Origin .

Without any further ado, then, let us explore the evolution of the BBC’s celebrated Mesonychoteuthis v. London Double-Decker Bus diagram or as I like to call it, “The Incredible Shrinking ‘Colossal’ Squid”:

BBC NEWS, 2 April 2003 — “Super squid surfaces in Antarctica

That Sperm Whale looks freaked out.


BBC NEWS, 8 January 2004 — “New giant squid predator found

Oooh-look a border! Hey, where’d the whale go? Oh, eaten by a sleeper shark no doubt.

BBC NEWS, 28 September 2005 — “Live giant squid caught on camera

Wait, maybe the whale ate the shark. Giant and ‘Colossal’ both get downsized, and makeovers. Who’s the little guy?

BBC NEWS, 28 February 2006 — “Giant squid grabs London audience

New color scheme! Whale shrinks, Colossal grows back to ? size. Ominous caption: “Scientists admit they know little about the largest of the squid”

BBC NEWS, 14 February 2007 — “Large squid lights up for attack

Little guy’s back…actually mentioned in the text this time. What he lacks in brawn he makes up for in special effects, apparently swimming the wrong way though.

BBC NEWS, 15 March 2007 — “Colossal squid’s headache for science


BBC NEWS, 22 March 2007 — “Microwave plan for colossal squid

“Arghhh! They microwaved me down to shark bait!” Shouldn’t the mass figures be expressed in elephant equivalents?

And just to prove that everything is scarier in Russian:

Hmm, so if ?=20 and ???=25 then ??=uh, carry the one … invert the denominator … cross multiply. Damn, I never was any good at algebra.

Fortunately there’s a handy online calculator that allows me to convert any length into london-bus equivalents: the Size of Wales calculator!

An inky Cephalopod Day to all, go check out the tentacley goodness over at Cephalopodcast.

Whenever I Get Dressed Up…I Feel Like an Ex-Con Trying to Make Good

7 October 2007

I wonder if by ditching the (smog) moniker, Bill Callahan is suggesting that he has in fact finally made good?

Yesterday afternoon, as I was biking down to the garden to fetch some oregano for the posole, a gigantic male raccoon came waddling up beside me.

“Hey!” I shouted, bringing the bike to a squeaking stop “What are you doing out this time of day?” The raccoon gave me a sneer then loped across the street and disappeared into a storm drain.

I rode over to the drain and peered down through the metal grate. I could see a pointy nose, and two beady eyes staring back up at me for a moment then they disappeared and I heard him clamber down the culvert.

“See you at the Bill Callahan show!” I shouted into the drain.

POSTSCRIPTO:  Sad news, the little bugger didn’t make it.  We saw him creamed on the center-line of Turk street.  All the way from Davis to San Francisco…so close, so far, so it goes.  The show was amazing though.

Photo: Cynthia Dall nicked from here.