Posts Tagged ‘vertebrates’

Grin without a cat (- grin) (+ smile)

27 November 2010

This is what happens when I am amused by modern day marginalia, sorry.

I saw the Felids open for the Nimravids back in the early Oligocene.  It was crazy.  Nobody knew what was going on.  We all came out, tie-dyed, ready to groove to the mellow, mental vibes of Holophoneus. Frankly, we were blazed.  Then there were these crazy cats tearing shit up, pouncing, retracting their claws.  It was nuts.  No one knew what to say.

Anyway though, it seems like everyone is totally into cats these days and hardly anyone (not, of course, to say no one) remembers those crazy psychedelic crusaders, the Nimravids.  But we here, doff our bizarrely elongate post-orbital vaults to the pioneers, to the sparkling technicolor carnivores that were catty before catty was cool.

and here’s the part where I sneak in a Fall clip:

Mr. Mojo Risin’

8 July 2010


Bravo Nick.

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.

Just sayin’.

The Last Tapu

23 June 2010

All images from the fantastic collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library

Got to wondering why my four-year-old post about the Huia, a fascinating and sadly extinct bird from New Zealand, was suddenly seeing a deluge of web traffic (well, by microecos standards), broken links and all.

Turns out, a single Huia feather just went to auction in Auckland and fetched NZ $8400 (about $6800 US), setting a new world record for the auction value of a single feather.

Huia feathers were important status symbols among the Maori.  The variation in the number of feathers worn in the hair of the individuals pictured above probably correlates broadly with their social standing, though it is interesting that the number of feathers in the images appears to dwindle with time.  An echo of the Huia’s decline, or a society in peril?  Perhaps a bit of both, certainly the two seem to have something of a common cause in the influx of European invaders, of the two-legged and four-legged variety.

Also noteworthy is that some of the photographs postdate the last confirmed sighting of a wild Huia in 1907.

One suspects the anonymous winner in the recent auction had status on their mind as they cast their bid.  As, I suppose, did their unnamed adversaries that  helped them drive the price up well above the expected NZ $500.  I mean the Huia’s tail feathers have a striking beauty to them, though I can’t help but find them more beautiful when the rest of the bird is attached:

When seemingly deeply vacuous contemporary status symbols like this fetch $10K, $7K for a Huia feather almost feels like an injustice.

But then, I guess that attitude misses the real injustices at work here.

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.

Peek II

16 March 2010

Getting excited for this.  In the meantime there’s always this.

WWTD (what would Tufte do?)

16 March 2010

In the distant future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation. Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history. some dude.

We are a dreadfully narcissistic lot.  Perhaps nothing in the Origin has inspired more reflection or revulsion than Darwin’s passing reference to the promise that his ideas had to illuminate the origins of our own species.  Creationists might bloviate about bacterial flagella or blood-clotting proteins, but most are surprisingly willing to concede the fairly obvious genetic relations between, say, camels and llamas separated by two oceans and millions (or in the case of YECers maybe six thousand) years.  They even have a wonky pseudoscience, baraminology, that more or less admits that yes sister taxa have a common origin…up to a point.

But when it comes to one particular species, they invariably draw the line.  Of course as Darwin rightly anticipated, much has been learned in the last century and a half about the origins of our own species–it’s not my intention to review the history of these discoveries here, but I highly recommend Brian Switek’s comprehensive historical analysis as a great place to start.  But while much light has been thrown, perhaps an equal measure of ink has been shed in an attempt to visualize the evolutionary history of Homo sapiens.

Darwin’s own back of the envelope attempt seems, perhaps surprisingly, among the most straightforward of the lot, despite the bet-hedging and scratchouts:

It’s mostly been uphill from there, but often up the wrong the hill.  Like a teenager flexing in the mirror, then agonizing for an hour over a newly discovered blackhead.

I was reminded of all of this by this recent post by John Wilkins that reproduced this figure:

As they go, this diagram is not particularly bad, though as Wilkins notes the form does seem a bit dated.  However, I think that the discussion in the comments to that post reveal why this diagram is perhaps at least as confusing as it is revealing: are those truncated side-branches based on fossil data or just hypothetical?  Is the light brownish region supposed to be denoting some area of uncertainty and if so how?  Is there a 3rd dispersal out of Africa implied?  What exatly do those “?”s mean? (To be fair, I haven’t seen the figure caption which may address some or all of these questions.)

So, here then, gleaned from google are various other diagrams each ostensibly depicting more or less the same events: 5 million years of ape evolution in Africa plus some things that came after.  Feel free to leave your Tuftian critiques in the comments, bonus points for dropping fashionable jargon like “chart junk” “data-ink-ratio” &c.

A Trustworthy Pistosaur

8 March 2010

Just to prove that I am, in fact, working:

So it was possible to make a reconstruction of this skeleton with the skull of Pistosaurus.  It has the length of about 3 meters.  There is no doubt, that it represents a primitive Plesiosaur, the same result is also given by the details of the skull.  With exception of interclavicle and clavicle the whole skeleton is drawn from a single individual, the “Strunz skeleton”; the skull is drawn from Pistosaurus longaevus. It is possible that the “Strunz skeleton” is specifically different from the “Geissler skeleton” of which interclavicle and clavicle are taken, but both are Plesiosaurs, and so are both of the same described skulls.  An [sic] eventual difference will be small.  Therefore the reconstruction is a trustworthy Pistosaurus. — Von Huene 1948

Don’t know that I would trust him to give my kids a ride to school….

REF: Friedrich von Huene “Pistosaurus, a middle Triassic plesiosaur” American Journal of Science (January 1948), 246(1):46-52