Posts Tagged ‘tetrapods’

Hypselorhachis sues National Geographic for Defamation of Character

5 March 2010

In a surprising move, the extinct archosaur Hypselorhachis filed an unprecedented post-mortem lawsuit against the National Geographic Society on Friday.  The enigmatic Triassic reptile was offended by being mistakenly labeled a “dinosaur” in an article that appeared on the National Geographic Website earlier this week (“Dinosaurs Ten Million Years Older Than Thought” March, 3, 2010 National Geographic News).

The focus of the article was the recent description of another non-dinosaur, Asilisaurus, a close dinosaur relative in the latest issue of the scientific journal Nature (Nesbitt et al. 2010 “Ecologically distinct dinosaurian sister group shows early diversification of Ornithodira” Nature 464, 95-98doi:10.1038/nature08718).

In a statement released today Hypselorhachis asserts that the passing reference to “an early sail-backed dinosaur” in the caption of an illustration that accompanied the article was, “an underhanded attempt to smear my character and associate me with unsavory elements.”

“I just don’t understand.  They could have called me a ‘ctenosauriscid‘ a ‘poposaur‘ a ‘rauisuchian‘ a ‘pseudosuchian‘ a ‘crurotarsan‘  even an ‘archosaur’ without dragging my name through the gutter like this.  Hell, I would even have been fine with ‘hellasaur.’  But ‘dinosaur‘?  That’s just not right.  Someone has to put a stop to this sort of thing.”

Strange Bedfellows

The crusade has attracted some surprising allies.  Dimetrodon, a sail-backed synapsid from the Permian, has previously accused Hypselorhachis of being an “imposter,” a “total ripoff” and “less-original than Spinosaurus, really.”

Tensions between the two extinct animals flared last summer when Kanye  West interrupted Dimetrodon’s acceptance speech at the “Virgin Teen’s Choice Awards” for the category “Best Backbone.”  West grabbed the microphone saying, “Congratulations D’meet and I’mma let you finish, but Hypselorhachis had the best elongated neural arches of ALL TIME.”

In spite of the rivalry, Dimetrodon defends the merits of the lawsuit.  “As a frequent victim of false-dinosaur defamation, I wholeheartedly support Hypselorhachis on this one.  We non-dinosaurs have to stick together.”  Dimetrodon says that it will donate the proceeds from sales of its popular T-shirt to the Hypselorhachis legal defense fund.

Several pterosaurs and marine reptiles have also voiced their support for Hypselorhachis. National Geographic was not available for comment.

[um. yeah.  sorry.]

I kill children, can hardly wait for yours…

1 March 2010

Sculpture by Tyler Keillor and original photography by Ximena Erickson (image modified by Bonnie Miljour and, uh, me).

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:

Figures 1 (top) and 2 (bottom) from Wilson et al. 2010 'Predation upon Hatchling Dinosaurs by a New Snake from the Late Cretaceous of India' 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.


Wilson JA, Mohabey DM, Peters SE, Head JJ, 2010 Predation upon Hatchling Dinosaurs by a New Snake from the Late Cretaceous of India. PLoS Biol 8(3): e1000322. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000322

When Bacula Attack

5 February 2010

A few weeks back I invited microecos readers to identify this.

Almost immediately, and simultaneously, Mo and Valin correctly deduced that it was a baculum, otherwise known as an os penis or “penis bone.”  This rapid response says something encouraging about the readers of this blog, and their familiarity with the anatomy of animal genitals.

For those not in the know: the baculum is a “heterotopic” bone that, like the patella, forms from the ossification of connective tissue in the penis of many mammals.  You could sorta think of a baculum as a knee-cap in your penis — except that you, as  human, don’t have one, even if you’re a boy.  Many other primates do have a baculum as do most bats, rodents, carnivorans etc. There is a wonderful (but sadly, probably apocryphal) reading of the Genesis creation narrative that suggests the “rib” (צלע or tzela in Hebrew) removed from Adam to make Eve in Genesis 2 was actually a baculum – which would explain why humans don’t have one.

Anyway, the critter from whence this baculum came has remained elusive.  Kari and Gretchen in turn were able to work out that it came from a carnivoran and more specifically from a mustelid–the family that includes badgers, wolverines and weasels. But my “hint” about its potential lethality proved unhelpful.  Various guesses that it came from a marine mammal also deserve partial credit, though it’s worth noting that cetaceans, like their artiodactyl relatives (cows, hippos, muntjacs and the lot), lack penis bones.

So to whom does this impressive piece of equipment belong (or used belong to anyway)?

I’m sure the suspense is just killing you.  Below, the big reveal:

Read the rest of this entry »

Bat Macumba, Hey.

3 February 2010

First it was the oral sex.  Then with the boozing.

Now they’re joining gangs?

Someone has got to put a stop to this madness….

Yet another cool bat paper in PLoS today:

Dechmann DKN, Kranstauber B, Gibbs D, Wikelski M, 2010 Group Hunting—A Reason for Sociality in Molossid Bats?. PLoS ONE 5(2): e9012.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009012

I want to make a scansion joke here, but I’ve got nothing.  Here’s this instead:

Central American Bats Know How to Hold Their Liquor

1 February 2010

Friends do let Artibeus fly drunk. Lovingly adapted from a photo by Flickr user J-Fi.

PLoS ONE appears to be trying to corner the market on Bats Gone Wild research. Last year there was this gem which introduced us to the, ahem, catholic sexual proclivities of Asian fruit bats. Today everyone’s favorite open-access web journal brings a sort of thematic squeakuel (yeah, you heard me):

Orbach DN, Veselka N, Dzal Y, Lazure L, Fenton MB, 2010 Drinking and Flying: Does Alcohol Consumption Affect the Flight and Echolocation Performance of Phyllostomid Bats? PLoS ONE 5(2): e8993. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008993

Fruit and nectar eating animals occasionally ingest fermented food. Light-weight Waxwings get drunk and interfere with air traffic.  Tree shrews tough it out like George W. at a Skull and Bones initiation.  Which leaves an obvious question:  what about bats? Pansies or Panzers?

To address this nagging conundrum, researchers dosed several species of fruit-eating Central American bats with enough booze (actually an ethanol and sugar solution–you know, like Smirnoff Ice) to bring them to a Blood Alcohol Concentration of 0.11.  For comparision, driving with a BAC over 0.08 will land you in jail in most states.  Given their small size, some bats got scheißed, with several individuals testing above 0.30 BAC – which, for normal humans, is black-out, piss-your-pants, you’re-going-to-die-if-your-frat-bros-don’t-call-an-ambulance territory.

Nevertheless, compared to control bats that were fed only sugar water, the soused bats showed no greater difficulty navigating an obstacle course.  Likewise, the bats’ echolocation did not appear to be affected by the libations.  Presumably, they also had no trouble reciting the alphabet backwards.

Prior studies of another fruit-eating bat species, Rousettus aegyptiacus, native to Africa and parts of Asia, did find that alcohol intake reduced their ability to navigate similar obstacle courses.  This suggests that alcohol tolerance might vary by species or region–the authors suggest that fruit ferments more quickly in the American tropics requiring the bats living there to better hold their liquor.  Insert obligatory racist joke about the Irish here.

Incidentally, there are a number of bat-themed cocktails floating around on the internet out there.  This one seems especially disgusting:


– 33 cl energy drink (red bull,battery,gatorade…)
– 4 cl gin
– 10 ice cubes

Mix all. Serve cold.

And if you can still fly straight after one of those – well, more power to you.

Taxidermy tuesday: Lepus cornutus

26 January 2010

Lepus cornutus Zoologisches Museum‎, Zürich Switzerland

Body clothed in a no-cloth robe,

Feet clad in turtle’s fur boots,

I seize my bow of rabbit horn

And prepare to shoot the devil of Ignorance

Hanshan, Cold Mountain Poem 91

Jackalope are a dime a dozen out here in the American West, but I had to go to Switzerland to see a Rasselbock.  Or is it a flightless Wolpertinger?  Or maybe a Raurackl?  Hard to say, really.

Joris Hoefnagel Animalia Qvadrvpedia et Reptilia (Terra): Plate XLVII, c. 1575/1580

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):