Posts Tagged ‘cetaceans’

Short in the tooth

24 April 2009

Ol' Gummy's teeth

To Call a Spade a Spade.

4 August 2008

Mesoplodon traversii – by Jennifer Rae Atkins.

The internets are an inspiring place. Inspired by the alignment of Tetrapod Zoology’s Week of Seriously Frickin’ Weird Cetacean Skulls and the final installment of The Lord Geekington’s expansive beaked whale treatise, I’ve dusted off a draft that has been adrift in the tubular doldrums since December. Seriously.

But, inspired mostly by The Daily Mammal’s Jennifer Rae Atkins:

Solstice is Over Man!

23 December 2007

So, I won’t waste my time wishing y’all a happy holiday. I converted to animism on I-5 just south of Lodi, beneath a wheeling gyre of White Pelicans. Mahayana blows
dude. Sorry.

Those pelicans then shall be our collective mascot this holy season, their holding pattern a gleaming metaphor for our soul. Which is to say, don’t be surprised if things are pretty quiet around here for the rest of the week.

In the mean time:

– Jennifer Rae Atkins pulled of the astonishing feat of drawing twenty-four mammals in twenty-four hours and in the process raised $800 for Defenders of Wildlife. With the help of several gallons of vanilla DP, she even managed to slam my “diabolical” curve-ball request out of the park. Go check out her awesome work!

– Entomologist, photographer and one-time Davisite, Alex Wild has launched an awesome ant-blog Myrmecos. Wild’s photography is truly amazing and has often made me want to chuck my camera off a cliff. Fortunately, since the camera doesn’t belong to me, there aren’t many cliffs in Davis. His blog may well drive me to lob my laptop into the Interstate though.

Mechanical insect art by Mike Libby! Crazy…

Tai’s tales of auspicious animal encounters reveals the patent grayness of my animistic sphere. But I saw an octopus! and cranes! and like, multiple scorpions some of which I held so cut me some slack.

– I was desperately hoping to take up the Schmitz et al. paper in the inaugural issue of Nature Geoscience and the broader issue of the Ordovician radiation and the growing impulse to invoke bolides as a causal agent for all dramatic biotic events… But, well we’re gonna have to wait for that.

So, here’s your homework – “What are the benefits and dangers of applying neoecology notions like disturbance ecology or island biogeography to evolutionary or extinction events in the fossil record?” Write a three to five page review of the issue including at least six primary references and one figure, due January 15th 2008.

okay, we’ll leave it at that, if I haven’t had cause or opportunity to apologize to you in person this year, I’m sorry.  There’s always next year!

Er…How about Mink-tailed Muntjac with Marfan’s?

19 December 2007

Okay, I’m going on record in defense of our favorite AP word-smith, science writer Seth Borenstein.

In a nice blogpost on Indohyus, [the sexiest new raoellid on the block] Brian takes Borenstein to task for some awkward animalian analogizing:

writer Seth Borenstein can’t seem to figure out just what Indohyus is. His confusion is apparent from the first line of the article;

It sounds like a stretch, but a new study suggests that the missing evolutionary link between whales and land animals is an odd raccoon-sized animal that looks like a long-tailed deer without antlers. Or an overgrown long-legged rat.

Borenstein scrabbles1 to lump Indohyus in with some modern animals in a feeble attempt to get people to understand the fossil find, but I can’t help but wonder if such a comparison does more harm than good.

As I noted in a comment on Brian’s blog however, Borenstein cribbed his ungainly comparison from the lead author on the Indohyus paper Hans Thewissen, at least in part:

“The earliest whales didn’t look like whales at all,” Thewissen said. “It looked like a cross between a pig and a dog.” They lost their legs and ability to walk on land about 40 million years ago, he said.

And the Indohyus? “A tiny little deer maybe the size of a raccoon and no antlers,” Thewissen said. He said it most resembles the current African mousedeer, which has a rat-like nose and “when danger approaches, it jumps in the water and hides.”

Sure, maybe it’s a misleading oversimplification to cast the cetacean ancestry debate as a war between the “racoon-deer campus” and the “hippo campus2.” Sure, trying to shoehorn every strange animal into this or that familiar category or combo of categories is a dubious (though longstanding and universal) habit. But, as long as we’re not ‘calling whale evolution into question’ hey, I’m pretty happy.

Sometimes, words just fail. Good thing we have Carl Buell. Check out Buell’s awesome reconstruction on Laelaps.

1 – Note the awesome verbing of the word “scrabble”.
2 – sorry.

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.