Posts Tagged ‘theropods’

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

Looking For Shit on Google Earth

3 June 2009

Naturally, shortly after reading about Fretwell and Trathan’s success locating emperor penguin breeding colonies by searching satellite imagery for Antarctic skid marks, I fired up Google Earth to have a shot at shite-site sighting myself.  Generally, Google Earth’s coverage of Antarctica is fairly low res, understandably.  So I was actually slightly surprised that plugging in the coordinates provided by Fretwell and Trathan yielded astonishingly good results.

Picture 6

Picture 7

Picture 8

Picture 9

Amazingly, a few of these are even among the newly discovered sites noted in the new study.

In fact, one wonders if there might yet be undiscovered colonies waiting to be found by intrepid Google Earth explorers, as has already been done with Roman villas, impact craters, and Cannabis plantations &c.

Next up: Google Earth, guano mining and seal hunting.

Faces of Death

28 April 2009

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…

You’ll want to read the entire post.

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.

picture-4The 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:

picture-5Large 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.

picture-6Another popular technique takes yet another step back to show what the hypothetical Troodon cosmonauts would have seen.

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.

picture-8It’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.

LIFE, with reptiles

20 November 2008


Photo Tony Linck,  1948

Matt from HMNH recently posted some gems from the amazing LIFE photo collection that is going up on Google.

Here are some amazing images filed under “Reptiles.”  Each, warrants pages of minor musings, but of course each is worth volumes alone so I’ll spare you.  Keep your eye out for gliders in glight and stone, safety-conscious crocodilians, A. S. Romer in a jam, and of course various feats of snake handlin.    Happy Hunting!


Photo Ralph Crane, Los Angeles 1972

Death Throes pt. 2: Opisthomonotony.

9 February 2008

In the incursive preamble we spiroambulated about the corpses of mummified dinosaurs, pickled pelicans, time and a piss-covered pseudo-esker of rock, rock salt and dust. So, what does all of this have to do with experimental taphonomy?

Read the rest of this entry »

Al-Aqsa Lovers Brigade

6 January 2008

Wax Brigade
Seen at the Maker’s Mark distillery, included for no particular reason…

Way back in the mid 1990s, I cut my teeth as a “science writer” in the pages of the Atascadero Junior High School newspaper with the editorial “What’s wrong with Jurassic Park?” It hit all the usual talking points: over-sized Velociraptors, the under-sized Dilophosaur with its unlikely frill and venomous saliva, the unrealistic presentation of field paleontology.

In short, the editorial had the same tone of self-righteous futility that regular readers of microecos will be all too familiar with; though, to be fair I prefaced the piece with a note that I wasn’t challenging the artistic license of the film-makers, but merely trying to correct any scientific misconceptions fostered by the film.

I’d like to think, all evidence to the contrary, that I’ve loosened-up considerably since my adolescent years–I mean, hey, at least I’m not publishing rants in nationally syndicated teen advice columns railing against “elitist” high school girls1.

All this navel gazing is sparked by two interestingly divergent recent posts by Messers. Wedel and Naish. First, Matt single-handedly attempts to dislodge a deeply implanted stick in “Get your giant robotic dinosaur on“:

The granddaddy of all ex-paleo objections to pop culture dinosaurs, though, is that…

“That’s so unrealistic! Why, just look at the external nostril! It must be at least two-thirds of the way back in the bony naris–it’s nowhere near Witmer-compliant!”

Yes, it’s true, pop culture dinosaurs always fall short of full scientific respectability. Always. If you can show me a counter-example, I can give you at least half a dozen reasons why it actually sucks.

it’s an excellent read full of the usual seething hilarity we’ve all come to expect from Wedel’s rants. It also earned him free tickets to the Sacramento showing of Walking With Dinosaurs: The Live Experience (which I’m missing as we speak for want of $70 US …bastard!) At any rate it’s an excellent essay, well worth the read, even if you’ve never mocked a three-fingered T. rex or howled at a pterosaur carrying off a buxom cave-girl.

Then–as if to reclaim the honor of sullen paleo-nerds everywhere–Darren Naish published a stinging critique of Robert Mash’s How to Keep Dinosaurs:

This could have been a really interesting experiment in the reconstruction of behaviour, and on whatever imaginary perils and pitfalls might befall any attempt to bring dinosaurs into the human world. But no, it’s just silly. The animals are not portrayed realistically, but as daft caricatures that perform to classical music, do silly dances, play cards and so on.

In this season of political double-speak and bet hedging, I’ll make my position on the importance of scientific accuracy in paleo-pop crystal clear. Art is art and we shouldn’t expect scientific perfection from every plastic cereal toy or stadium robotic dinosaur show, BUT inaccurate portrayal of paleontology in pop-culture offers a wonderful opportunity to correct popular misconceptions through critique and review. Scientists just shouldn’t take themselves too seriously – because then their experiments are probably going to run amok and eat people.

1 – Oh god, don’t ask. Needless to say, I did not get a lot of play in high school.

That, my child, Was Where I Ditched You…

26 October 2007

last summer’s footprints are walkin’
walkin’ dove walkin’ dove walkin’ dove
through last summer’s sand
a dove walkin’ dove walkin’ dove
and where the footprints end
where the footprints end
what happened then?

Footprints“, Bill Callahan

I stepped into wet paint at the Hartman gardens, Lorin said “Dude you just stepped in the man’s paint.” You only get one shot (give or take) to get your body into the fossil record. There’s ample opportunity to leave your mark in other ways however.

Photo: Simon Sharville

As we traipse and course across the planet we frict against various materials. Most are outside the goldilocks zone, either too resilient or too ephemeral to mark our passing. In the urban environment wet paint and wet cement serve as tremendous media for tracking a few short hours in the life of a city.

Photo: Mr. Bullitt

Naturally occuring regolith can perform much the same function although the Earth’s surface is a dynamic place and these traces generally have a short lifespan. As with body fossils however, with untold billions of organisms dragging their selves hither and yon across the greater part of the planet it’s hardly a surprise that some of these tracks find their way into the rock record.

Ichnology is the study of second-hand structures that record the passing of a living organism. This encompasses borings, burrows, trails and crap. For all the appeal of coprolites, the most familiar vertebrate ichnofossils are surely trackways, footprints left in a soft substrate preserved by some accident of sedimentary history.

Fossil footprints have been in the news lately with not one but three important fossil footprint discoveries announced in recent weeks. To treat each with appropriate nuance would guarantee fatal miring, so with only cursorial commentary here they are:

Tyrannosaurus rex footprint? Snap! Here’s the National Geographic story. Actually, eff the footprint, one wants to get down on hands and knees and look for mammal teeth right? (I’m so over dinosaurs btw).

Unfortunately, I missed the SVP talk concerning Australian theropod tracks, but like we said: “eh, theropods. Who cares?” They probably had parkas. Brian does a better job with it.

Okay, now this is really interesting: pictured at top are 315 million year old tracks probably made by some of the earliest amniotes. And, apparently they’re greedy to get their paws on some sweet Canadian dollars.