Archive for November, 2007

X Boneyard X

26 November 2007

Props to Amanda, the Self-designed Student, for emerging from the national tryptophan coma long enough to compile the decamerate edition of the Boneyard.  It yawns under the astonishing mass of recent sauropod-o-mania and I’m honored to provide the fossil-impregnated foundation.

Okay, apologies on the local estivation…I’m hard at work on a top secret project.

But soon, a coda.

Wedged In

16 November 2007

Almost forgot! Go read the latest issue of the

Accretionary Wedge geology blog carnival appearing at The other 95%

“Between a rock and a squishy face”

exploring the multifaceted intersection of geospheric joy and biospheric bliss!

Time to go learn about some neotectonics!

Pod People

16 November 2007

Mmm…ice cream cake…

Dinosaurs are totally absurd. Sauropods in particular. And it just gets worse.

Yesterday was a 1-2 punch of overwrought sauropodian redonkulusness:

First, the unveiling of Xenoposeidon, which co-describer Darren Naish modestly dubs, “the world’s most amazing sauropod.” The little white blip in the figure below is the type material: one lone, scrappy chunk-o-vertebrae that had been collecting dust on a shelf for over a century. Despite the fact that the skeleton is rather, ahem, incomplete this fossil has the potential to be extraordinarily important based on its location, age and apparent taxonomic independence. The new dino has become something of an internet event so if your curious to know more check out the Naish link above, Matt’s hilarious writeup (I’ll bet you didn’t know “poseidon” means “based on very few vertebrae”), lead author Mike Taylor’s entire website devoted to the critter (which has a .pdf copy of the original paper), and of course Sauropod Vertebrae Picture of the Week which will soon be changing it’s name to Xenoposeidon clearing house.

As if all that wasn’t enough to get your head spinning faster than Linda Blair at an Aleister Crowley book-signing, yesterdy ALSO saw the formal description of the more prosaically named, but not less nonsensicalNigersaurus. The paper, authored by my good buddy Paul Sereno and co, appeared on the supremely kickass open access journal PLOSOne.

Figure 1 from Sereno et al. 2007

Aside from the general wackiness in the jaws, the are some other strange things about this critter. The skull is exceptionally lightly built, the paper describes it as “semi-translucent”, it must have been a bitch to prepare. The skull holds more than 500 teeth, when you include the replacement teeth buried in the skull, and the authors estimate a tooth replacement interval of approximately one month (i.e. teeth lasted about a month before they were shed and replaced)! The skull structure suggests a downward orientation of the skull (as shown in the bottom of figure 1), which is consistent with apparent ‘grazing’ form of the jaw. The wear patterns on the teeth also make some interesting indications about how the jaw processed food.

Someone likened the mouth to a vacuum cleaner, and now the popular press is accusing Nigersaurus of being a suction feeder which is certainly not the case. I think a better functional analogy would be a pooper-scooper:

But then I suppose we’d be learning that Nigersaurus was a coprophage…

Like Xenoposeidon, Nigersaurus is stomping all over the interwebs: Brian penned a nice piece yesterday about how the new beastie fits into our changing views of sauropods in general, Anne-Marie has her take over at Pondering Pikaia, and Project Exploration has a whole pageful of amazing photos of Nigersaurus.

And if all this doesn’t make you want to go bang your head against a wall, thenI don’t know what will.

What Planet Do You People Live On?

15 November 2007

Biking home today, I almost crashed into a tree when a small Accipiter clutching a ginormous Fox Squirrel flew just overhead and into a cork oak.  I glanced around to see who else might have seen to share my amazement.  Among the fifty or so cyclists and pedestrians who should have had as clear a view as I did, not a single person had noticed.  Or if they had, they simply didn’t care, which is worse.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t an eagle taking out a deer but still.  Massive, awesome carnage taking place just overhead and you people don’t even notice?

During a 5th grade dodge ball match I glanced up and noticed a strange bird circling with the omnipresent Turkey Condors.  White head, white tail, dark body.  I had never seen a Bald Eagle before.  I leaped up and down and shouted “Everyone, look!  A Bald Eagle.”  Then I got tagged in the face.

Sports suck.  Animals rule.  Wake the hell up folks.

Decimating Birds: Episode V – Toward a new microethos

15 November 2007

[Decimating Birds is a fitful series about beautiful birds. We’re working on 10. Actually this entry pushes the total to 11, but who’s counting? Previous installments are here: i, here: ii, here: iii, here: iv, and here: vi]

5) Fiveway tie:

Small-headed Flycatcher (Muscicapa minuta),

Blue Mountain Warbler (Sylvia montana),

Carbonated Swamp Warbler (Sylvia carbonata),

Cuvier’s Kinglet (Regulus cuvierii),

Townsend’s Bunting (Emberiza townsendi) all nomina dubia


Small-headed Flycatcher.

All paintings originally from Audubon’s Birds of North America 1827-1838.

Many of the prints shown are available for purchase at Minnesland.

Blue Mountain Warbler.

Carbonated Swamp Warbler.

Cuvier’s Kinglet.

Townsend’s Bunting.

I have, in fact, a draft screenplay worked up. Ewan McGregor should probably play Alexander Wilson. Audubon is an open call, but I’d be willing to audition Brian Ellis.

Dear Hollywood: trust me, this has A LOT more staying power than Costner’s Kentucky Cycle. But how can you be more beautiful than something that doesn’t exist?

Last Call!

14 November 2007

Okay folks, time put down the hammer and write bio-geo blog post for tomorrow’s Accretionary Wedge carnival at the other 95%. Go forth!

Tu es Petrus

14 November 2007


Students find purchase atop a glacial erratic in Central Park NYC.

Waiting in the lobby of the Austin Hilton, I glanced at my feet. I noticed that I was standing square atop a beautifully sectioned and polished Turritella embedded in the floor tile. Suddenly, the “pop-out”effect clicked in, an experience familiar to anyone who has searched for fossils, foraged for mushrooms or read Martin Hanford. Snail fossils began leaping out of the floor tiles left and right.

In an entire hotel full of paleontologists1, how many realized that every time they went for a free refill from Starbucks were trodding across fossilferous strata? Well, one at least.

We are creatures of the crust, not just elements upon it. Our ancestors, immediate and ancient, have been tilled into the lithosphere, the lucky ones, and their remainders poke out here and there. We dwell in mud and gypsum pockets, build cities of marble and granite, aggregate and lime. We drive down ribbons asphalt impregnated river gravels, burning vintage carbohydrates cooked up in Tethyan lagoons. We draw wires and hone tools, set foundations and fire vessels. We exchange bits of metal for goods, labor, love and status. We place them with great speed into the cells and organs of our livestock and adversaries. We eat Total.

Look up. Chances are good that some mineral veneer hovers over your head. Nummulitic limestone, spun glass, reinforced concrete…it won’t hang forever.

Some 530 million years ago, give or take, organisms began to make shells like nobody’s business. Brachiopods in their crenulated valves and molluscs their tortured cones, arthropods in chitinous armor, corals and bryozoans in whatever condominimal style that suited. Echinoderms with pentameral beauty and, and of course, vertebrates with chunks of apatite scattered amidst the myomeres.

Like the Parthenon and Chichen Itza, the Great Wall and Gizeh, evolutionary monuments linger long after their utility has passed. Crinoids litter the ground. We found our creation musuems atop Paleozoic mausoleums and call it good.

Every step hits a grave, a million lives, five billion years, a living, dying planet. Where will you settle?

1 – Granted, they were vertebrate paleontologists and most couldn’t have given a multituberculate’s ass about some snail shells.


Funny how things resonate.  Nigel Hughes popped up this photo during a talk about Himalayan stratigraphy and noted that Mallory was “clinging to the Cambrian.” He said that a search of the rocks around the corpse would probably turn up ample trilobites.  An “old English dead” freeze-dried amongst petrified Cambrian seafood at the roof of the world.  How poetic?