Still I don’t think Pantydraco can be beat. Prove me wrong people. I dare you.
Hellasaurus is still available as far as I know.
minor musings on the macrocosm
There is an old cliché amongst journalists, which I am sure you have heard before, “If it bleeds, it leads.” There is a slightly less familiar version: “If it ate baby dinosaurs it…well I can’t think of a rhyme but trust me, people go crazy for this stuff.”
Okay, so maybe nobody has ever actually said that, but it’s true. Witness the widely celebrated accusations of dino infanticide recently leveled against the corpulent Jabba the Hutt wannabe Beelzebufo, those protarded Azhdarchoids, and some middling theropod I cannot seem to remember the name of right now. Each of these charges is built more or less on sound scientific inference, based on comparisons with living animals, but they aren’t exactly trial-worthy. Even more compelling is the case against the dino-munching Mesozoic mammal Repenomamus, discovered with a chewed up and partially digested juvenile Psittacosaurus (sort of a low-rent Triceratops knockoff) in its gut.
And then there’s Oviraptor, whose very name transliterates to “egg-thief”, branded for half a century as a heartless baby killer when it was discovered near a clutch of dinosaur eggs, until scientists worked out that the eggs were actually its own. This PR transformation is nicely, uh, summed up by this YouTube Tribute:
Which, now that we have veered so radically off track, is a good enough time as any to drop the news about this un-FREAKING-believable fossil described today in PLoS Biology:
In 1984(!) this fossil was first uncovered in the Indian state of Gujarat. In 2007, the Geological Survey of India announced the discovery. Three short years, and who knows how many hours of preparation and study, later this new paper finally presents a full description of the fossil and gives it a name: Sanajeh indicus. The genus name is derived from Sanskrit for “giant gape” for those of you keeping score at home. In fact, by the strict rules of zo0logical nomenclature, electronic publications don’t count at valid descriptions to establish a new name. Following a lesson learned during the Darwinius debacle, PLoS is selling a limited run of print copies of the paper: $10 a pop if you want to invest in a little paleophiliogical memorabilia.
While certainly not the oldest snake fossil yet discovered as erroneously claimed in the 2007 report (we’ll see if any enterprising journalists pick up this non-fact), Sanajeh indicus does have important implications for the early evolutionary history and paleobiogeographic origins of snakes. Snakes evolved from lizard ancestors some time in the Mesozoic, but precisely where, when, how and from whom has been a matter of some debate. Sanajeh probably won’t settle any of these questions, but it certainly will allow us to push them a bit further.
But, who cares really, because, oh yeah did I mention? IT ATE BABY DINOSAURS! Expect to hear plenty on this elsewhere so I won’t belabor the issue but, something to think about the next time you reach for the carton of cage-free AA dinosaur eggs in your fridge:
We behold the face of nature bright with gladness, we often see superabundance of food; we do not see or we forget that the birds which are idly singing round us mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life; or we forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs, or their nestlings, are destroyed by birds and beasts of prey. – some dude.
Originally uploaded by Anauxite
A bit distracted today, for reasons that will become clear. But I didn’t want to deprive you of your weekly taxidermy dose, so I ducked over to the UC Davis Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology and snapped this shot from their hallway display with my new phone (p.s. thanks for the phone Jessica and sorry I won’t be talking to you anymore).
This is a Yellow-rumped Warbler study skin (Dendroica coronata) creatively repurposed to demonstrate the field biology technique of mist-netting. In related news, warblers are quite a bit more bad-ass than you might have realized.
I was going to cobble together one of those insufferable “hold on a minute, let’s consider the broader historical context of this discovery” type posts, highlighting some of the hundreds of other cases of color preservation in the fossil record (mostly among plants, insects and marine invertebrates). Blah blah blah, Grès à Voltzia blah blah Clarkia flora blah blah Burgess Shale! &c.
But, you know, it’s Friday afternoon, so let’s just watch this Animal Collective video instead. I’m pretty sure that this song, “Peacebone” is about the Jehol biota. That, or taking LSD. Which, by the way, if you are on acid you probably shouldn’t watch this video. Otherwise, enjoy the Toxicodendron cameo at 0:30!
I’m taking the weekend off to grade papers, see you next week!
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.
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?
Last time, we looked at various portraits of a weak-ass minor planet getting effed up by our atmosphere before getting royally bitch slapped by our lithosphere. Anyone with a passing interest in dinosaurs will know that strike of the space-junk, while widely accepted (though see recent meso-profile critiques), is but one of countless etiologies proposed for terminal Cretaceous bummer days.
You might think that protracted catastrophes like pestilence, climate change and famine offer less in the way of dramatic potential than a body of a certain mass rapidly attempting to occupy the same space as a much more massive body. If so, you should probably read more.
At all points the dinosaurs that had trampled the earth till the grasses grew, the most superb of all vertebrates, the creatures that fix the imagination above all others, are seen to fail. The growth forces and the responses to environment were no longer in adjustment. Eggs were few, their loss from attack devastating, life slow. The young were the prey of their own kind, and the race had lived long enough for reptiles lower in life’s scale to threaten. If new enemies were needed they were at the jungle-edge. Geologic change that once would have meant mere fluctuation in habitat affected the declining numbers disastrously, and what such change and the reptiles soon to rule in the forests of the Eocence may have failed to accomplish, senility did. That long dinosaurian day was done. Its sun was sinking beneath the horizon forever. (Wieland 1925).
15 years later Disney took a stab, note that it anticipated Bataan by at least a year. Talk about zeitgeist. While drought and desertification deal the fatal blow (with some help from miring), major geologic upheaval kicks in as an epilogue. We can talk about this and Lyell, and Agassiz some time.
Now, assuming you are are as sick of asteroid porn and dinosaurs as I am you will want to hear about the mass dysphoria induced by Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring courtesy of radio lab.
Chris Norris recently deployed the term “asteroid porn” for a certain gratuitous style employed by those writing about meteoric catastrophe:
Here is a brief summary of a typical piece of asteroid porn. Dinosaurs are peacefully grazing (or browsing, or doing whatever) on a warm sunny day (or at sunset, or some other time of peacefullness) when they see a big fireball fall out of the sky. It hits the Earth so hard that larva comes out, like a big bursting geological zit. The larva shoots up hundreds of miles into the air and comes down, setting fire to, like, the whole planet. All the forests are on fire, and all the dinosaurs are on fire as well. Then there’s this big blast wave, and it’s so big it goes round the world, like, 5 times at the speed of Concorde, and when it hits the burning dinosaurs they all get blown into burning pieces…
Not all porn is so literate though. Books, television, film and, most especially the internet abound with visual artworks that operate in the same vein. One well-worn style adopts a “dinosaur-eye view,” typically peppering the foreground with a tyrannosaur, hadrosaur or ceratopsian or some combination thereof. A few enterprising artists even manage a nod to Charles Knight.
The players in these epic finales span a comical range of emotive reaction to the impact, from “wha?” to “HOLY EFF!” to “screw extinction–I’M GOING TO EAT YOU!!!” A few contemplative dinosaurs, cast in silhouette, even appear rather philosophical about their impending demise.
And of course, it’s a nearly irresistible vehicle for a one-liner:
Large pterosaurs offer a convenient excuse to adopt an aerial perspective that permits a more graphic celebration of “the junk” (the bolide that is). Plus there must be a sense of clever satisfaction tat comes when you work Quetzalcoatlus into a painting of Mesoamerican Armageddon.
This view shifts the victim role from the dinosaurs to the planet itself. It also lends a certain historical anonymity to the event–this could be a catastrophe in the distant past, or the not-so-remote future. In fact, some even depict an anachronistic geography that necessarily implies the latter to the careful observer.
It’s tempting to speculate that this orbital perspective might not have occurred to an artist working prior to the advent of satellite photography. A similar argument has been made regarding the link between the Victorian “aquarium craze” and the subsequent proliferation of artworks adopting an underwater perspective (Clary and Wandersee 2005).
With their melodramatic flair, stereotyped compositions and limited pool of motifs, these images might easily be regarded as derivative at best and sure, pornographic at worst. Much like metal album art. However, these depictions will also afford ample fodder for a future, likely poor, overeducated and underemployed, generation of science/art historians interested in the cultural impact of late 20th Century neo-catastrophism. Unless we are all wiped out by an asteroid first.
Coming up: Stravinsky, climate change and the Bataan march
postscripto: Huh, look at that. 300 microecos posts in just over 3 years. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
A note on the images: All are thumbnails gleaned from Google Image searches of “asteroid impact”, “dinosaur extinction” etc. They are reproduced here for the purposes of discussion only. This is a cultural studies blog. Deal.