Posts Tagged ‘amphibians’

Election Day Special Edition: Which U.S. Congressional districts look like salamanders

2 November 2010

The apparently inevitable “yes we can’t” pendulum swing promises to radically transform the spirit of the U.S. Congress from hand-wringing tooth-pulling incremental CHANGE to blustery obstinance-only unchange.

But arguably what happens at the state level could be of even greater lasting consequence since (in most cases) the state governments elected today will be using the results of this year’s census to redraw congressional districts following reapportionment.  Or something.

Anyway this seems as good a time as any to try to draw out the urodelan affinities of some of the slipperier districts at least as they now stand.

Of course the original ‘Gerrymander’ (which, if you want to be pedantic I guess, should be pronounced “gary-mander”) was a salamander in the mythological, rather than zoological, sense.  But whatever.

First off, we have Illinois’s 4th Congressional District which is truly a thing of beauty:

It doesn’t not look like a Slender SalamanderBatrachoseps.  I guess.

These dudes don’t have lungs! Which helps when you want to maintain your contiguity when slithering along the interstate.

Sticking with the Praire State, the chunky build of IL 17 is more reminiscent of the handsome and fearful Tiger Salamander, Ambystoma tigrinum.

Heading down to Upper Cackleackle the serpentine grace of NC 12 recalls of course the anguilline Greater Siren (Siren lacertina)

Texas’s 29th District looks sort of like the original Gerrymander

but is a good excuse to plug the Texas Blind Salamander (Eurycea rathburni):

Here’s Maryland’s 4th District

whose pasty orientation earns it a passing resemblance to the charming Four-toed Salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum) at least in ventral view.

Finally, what do we got?

Oh yeah, California’s 38th District

Which doesn’t really look that much like the California Newt, (Taricha torosa), except perhaps for the bloated belly of La Punte (too many donuts?) but, anyway, I’m off to bed.  Rock on Nevada.

p.s. All images courtesy USGS, USFWS, and USFS … nice knowing you guys.

Luck o’ the Lepospondyls

17 March 2010

By Nobu Tamura / Creative Commons 2.5 Attribution Generic

There once was a beast from Kilkenny

Whose legs were so few there waren’t any

You could call him a snake

But tha’d be a mistake:

‘Though scaly, the beast was amphibiany

Yeah, I know, that last line could use some work.  But, you try rhyming something with “aïstopod.”

The critter in question is Ophiderpeton the closest thing that Ireland has (or rather, has had) to a snake, so far as we know.  It’s quite possible that there were snakes in Ireland before the Pleistocene but so far no one has produced the fossil evidence to prove it.  At any rate, there’s no real reason to blame Roman-Briton missionaries for the depauperate herpetofauna of the Emerald Isle.

The genus was described by T.H. Huxley in 1866 based on Carboniferous fossils found in an Irish Coal Mine.  Huxley wrote a letter to geologist Charles Lyell about the discovery:

My dear Sir Charles–I returned last night from a hasty journey to Ireland, whither I betook myself on Thursday night, being attracted vulture-wise by the scent of a quantity of carboniferous corpses. The journey was as well worth the trouble as any I ever undertook, seeing that in a morning’s work I turned out ten genera of vertebrate animals of which five are certainly new; and of these four are Labyrinthodonts, amphibia of new types. These four are baptised Ophiderpeton, Lepterpeton, Ichthyerpeton, Keraterpeton. They have ossified spinal columns and limbs. The special interest atttaching to the two first is that they represent a type of Labyrinthodonts hitherto unknown, and corresponding with Siren and Amphiuma among living Amphbia. Ophiderpeton, for example, is like an eel, about three feet long with small fore legs and rudimentary hind ones.

In the year of grace 1861, there were three genera of European carboniferous Labyrinthodonts known, Archegosaurus, Scleroceplus, Parabatrachus.

The vertebral column of Archegosaurus was alone known, and it was in a remarkably imperfect state of ossification. Since that date, by a succession of odd chances, seven new genera have come into my hands, and of these six certainly have well-ossified and developed vertebral columns.

I reckon there are now about thirty genera of Labyrinthodonts known from all parts of the world and all deposits. Of these eleven have been established by myself in the course of the last half-dozen years, upon remains which have come into my hands by the merest chance.

Five and twenty years ago, all the world but yourself believed that a vertebrate animal of higher organisation than a fish in the carboniferous rocks never existed. I think the whole story is not a bad comment upon negative evidence. (T.H. Huxley to C. Lyell 1865)

I would love to tell you more about Aïstopods, a bizarre group of limbless amphibians that invented “snakiness” about 200 million years before actual snakes came along, but, I’ve got a St. Patrick’s Day party to go to.  So why don’t I just take the easy way out and divert you over to TetZoo.  Have fun, but please come back safe.

1 Word Wednesday

20 January 2010

The word of the day is, “bogus” :

“If there is one color that is most decidedly not a classic Earth tone, one that is least associated with living things, it might just be neon blue.”  – Carol Kaesuk Yoon “Luminous 3-D Jungle Is a Biologist’s DreamNew York Times January 18, 2010

See also: Glaucus and Porpita, Blue Morpho, Sailfish, Blue-tailed Skink, William’s Electric Blue Gecko, a whole mess of Cichlids, Hyacinth Macaw, oh yeah and whatever the hell this is supposed to be.

Likewise, (watch to the end if you haven’t seen this before):

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.

Niche Market Cultural Studies Blogger Still On Strike

26 February 2008


and dip for that matter [groan].

Ironically, I’m holding out for fair compensation when microecos material appears on television. Go figure right?

Otherwise I’d be griping up and down about how “no compelling evidence for echolocation” turned into “NEW BAT FOSSIL PROVES FLIGHT EVOLVED BEFORE ECHOLOCATION” (check out where Icaronycteris and Rousettus fall on their non-logged plots) and “it’s not impossible that Beelzebufo might have munched on hatchling dinosaurs” turned into “GIANT FROG ATE BABY DINOSAURS” (it’s also not physically impossible that dubya likes to wash down his stem-cell shooters with civet urine) etc. etc.

In short, you ain’t missing much.


It’s Not Easy Being a Urodele…

4 January 2008


Sure, it may be the Year of the Frog, but what is this dude, chopped limb? No. He’s a Southern Two-Lined Salamander, Eurceya cirrigera, that I found beneath the leaf litter in the woods behind Jessica’s old (okay, not that old) Kentucky Home. He showed up on New Years Eve as if to remind us that if 2008 is a year to celebrate hopping croakers, 2007 was a great year for writhing squirmers:

All 3 Taricha torosa pics = J. Lo.

That last nerdy pic seems an appropriate segue to a Schrutian diatribe:

THESIS: The various magical powers attributed to salamanders by classical and medieval authorities [Paracelsus, I’m looking at you] can barely hold a candle to the actual feats of urodeles and their skin-snacking cousins the caecilians.

FACT: Urodeles can regrow entire limbs (snap!)

FACT: Dudeski once ate a Taricha newt (in my hand above) on a dare and DIED.

FACT: All salamanders respire across their skin and some (like the Eurycea in the first picture) have lost their lungs entirely.

FACT: Woah.

NOT-FACT: Salamanders spring-forth fully formed from stones cast into a fire.

Terminal Bracket

12 December 2007


I credit the readers of microecos for not being taken in by false content.

discontent, malcontent, supercontent whatever.

’tis better to be oblique than elliptical.

or maybe it’s verse visa.