Archive for July, 2009


31 July 2009

Prehistoric animals are an astonishingly popular subject for postage stamps, almost always featuring animals never found in the country which issued them,  and most of which are really, really terrible.  However, I really like these ca. 1966 Polish stamps designed by Andrzej Heidrich.  I suppose it’s just my inner communist coming out.

A Sexy Little Otter

30 July 2009


“That’s an otter.”  The furry brown head slipped below the water just as I realized what I was looking at, leaving behind an ever-expanding set of concentric rings.  My wife, perhaps justifiably, figured I was full of shite.  After several frustrating minutes of fruitless searching I was beginning to feel like someone who had seen a sasquatch after a few beers, “no, no, I swear I saw it.”

Then, there it was.  Three of them actually; frolicking, cavorting, chomping down fish with gusto and generally displaying that uniquely lutrine joy de vivre.  They appeared to be herding fish into the chain-link erosion control barriers that line the bank of the heavily manicured, eutrophied waterway formerly known as Putah Creek.  Every so often they would look at us and cough disapprovingly.

OttersThe wood ducks were not amused.  The carp sucked air anxiously.  The jumping galls bounced about like gutter punks.  The jackrabbits raced to and fro like robotic hares off their tracks.  The joggers trotted by powered by Lady GaGa oblivious to it all.  All a few hundred meters away from my office on an unseasonably mild late July afternoon.

Man, does this read like an Oryctology post or what?

Follow My Nose It Always…uh I think I’m having a hot flash

23 July 2009

toucan_sam2 Very cool paper out in Science today demonstrating that the Toco Toucan (Ramphastos toco) uses its bill for thermoregulation.

The story seems to be getting some good traction with the popular press, unsprisingly given the winning combination of outside the box thinking, novel application of hi-tech toy tool (an infrared camera) and charismatic megafauna.

Check out LiveScience for an awesome video (or if you are lucky enough to have access to Science you can watch the video–commercial free–in the supplementary info for the new paper).

Picture 1

Adapted from Figure 1 - Tattersall et al. 2009

Note that the new study does not explicitly rule out sexual selection or foraging strategies as important factors in the evolution of the Toucan bill.  Multifunction is ubiquitous in nature (something paleontologists who argue that X structure evolved for Y reason would be well-served to remember).  Nevertheless the Tatterall et al. paper poses an interesting question as to whether thermoregulation has been an overlooked factor in the evolution of other bird groups. The Hornbills of tropical Asia and Africa–often claimed as ecological analogues of Neotropical Toucans–would be a logical candidate for similar study.

Oh yeah, here’s some hive mind Wikipedia brilliance on Toucan Sam:

Biologically speaking, Toucan Sam appears to be a Keel-billed Toucan parrot. Keel-billed Toucan Parrots are well-known for their colorful beaks and propensity for fruit in their diets, two features which are very consistent with the character.

Really Wikipedia?  Toucans are parrots?  RU SURE? And anyway I thought he was a Mountain Toucan you know, biologically speaking.  He is blue after all.

And before anyone calls me out for complaining about a Wikipedia entry without fixing it, I mean, come on, it’s really too awesome to amend isn’t it?

Tattersall, GJ, DV Andrade and A Abe Science 24 July 2009 Vol. 325. no. 5939, pp. 468 – 470 DOI: 10.1126/science.1175553

Tanystrophic Theatrics

21 July 2009

…with apologies to the Theatrical Tanystropheus.  Lots of “work” to keep me “busy” and away from “blogging” this “summer.”  But I did return from Europe with a steamer trunk of full of chocolate, some knives, and a shit-ton of pictures–so I’ll try to post a steady trickle of the latter over the next few weeks.

Ah, Tanystropheus: proof that the Creator has either a sense of humor or a cannabis habit.  Tanstropheus seems to be the only protorosaur that gets any play and generally I’m loathe to reinforce such hegemony, but one must admit the dude is wholly protarded in the best possible sense of the word.

While perhaps a bit out of date–and arguably biomechanically impossible–these diorama reconstructions at least convey to the museum visitor to check it: some crazy-ass critters called this planet home in the past. You can pierce your labrum, or whatever, but basically your species is pretty weakly conventional. Srry.

Eating fossiliferous limestone is bad for your dental health.

17 July 2009

Actually, I think it’s cement but same difference really.  In case you were wondering/haven’t been keeping up with my semi-urban wildlife/food processing updates on Twitter I am in fact still alive and back from my peri-alpine odyssey.  Saw some incredible fossils and took some amazing photos, you should really see them sometime.

Also, making some tremendous leaps and bounds with the whole dissertation thing: for instance it turns out the enigmatic placodont Henodus actually ate 2x4s (or 38x89s, or whatever).

Who would have guessed?