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Tetrapod Zoology

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Naish_profile_70_px.jpg With six years of phd work on theropod dinosaurs behind him, Darren Naish mostly spends long hours in the library, hunched over his laptop. But he gets out sometimes, and picks up litter and pursues exotic lizards across the British countryside, aiming all the while to publish his technical work on obscure Cretaceous dinosaurs. He also messes around with pterosaurs, swimming giraffes, British big cats and stuff like that. He has given up on the stupid idea of being a dedicated academic and ekes out a living as a technical consultant, editor and author. He can be contacted intermittently at eotyrannus (at) gmail dot com. For more biographical info go here.

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December 15, 2008

Attack of the flying steamer ducks

Category: from the archivesornithology

I like ducks, and I particularly like steamer ducks. Again, here we revisit some Tet Zoo ver 1 text that was originally published in 2006 as part of the Ten Birds Meme.


The most widely distributed of the four Tachyeres species*, the Flying steamer duck T. patachonicus inhabits both the fresh and marine waters of the Falklands and southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. While all other steamer-ducks are flightless, T. patachonicus is (obviously) not, and in contrast to its flightless relatives it has proportionally bigger pectoral muscles and lower wing loadings. But what makes the species especially interesting is that some males within the species actually have wing loadings that are too high to permit flight, and are thus flightless (Humphrey & Livezey 1982, Livezey & Humphrey 1986). So, within a single species, there are both flighted and flightless individuals. It is almost as if the species is poised in the transition to full flightlessness, and indeed both morphological and genetic studies (Corbin et al. 1988) agree that T. patachonicus is the most basal member of its otherwise flightless genus. Flighted and flightless individuals are known to have also occurred in some recently extinct anseriform species, incidentally.

December 12, 2008

Don't do that Dave

Category: frivolous nonsense

All three tetrapods shown here all work on tetrapods. But what the hell Dave Martill was doing I can't recall. Eric Buffetaut appears over my shoulder. I look bemused.


Mo Hussan - of The Disillusioned Taxonomist - took this photo on the Isle of Wight. Thanks Mo, I think. Something about Tet Zoo has been different over the past couple of weeks - have you noticed what it is?

December 10, 2008

Pseudopodoces, the corvid that wasn't

Category: from the archivesornithology

More from the archives - and again this is from the Ten Bird Meme of 2006.


If convergence is one of the most interesting evolutionary phenomena, then the Ground tit Pseudopodoces humilis should become a text-book example of it, on par with thylacines vs wolves and ichthyosaurs vs dolphins [adjacent photo from here]. Described in 1871 by A. Hume, the Ground tit is a weak-flying brown passerine of the Tibetan plateau, often superficially likened to a wheatear. But for most of the time that we've known of it, it has not gone by the name Ground tit at all: rather, it has been termed Hume's ground-jay (or Little ground-jay or Tibetan ground-jay or Hume's ground-pecker). This is because, you see, it was always regarded as a ground-jay, that is, as a terrestrial corvid. While superficially similar to true ground-jays (the four Podoces species), it was always regarded as a highly aberrant member of Corvidae, and as the smallest member of the group. Hume in fact initially described P. humilis as a member of Podoces. Like Podoces, P. humilis possesses a slender, decurved bill, pale brown plumage and a dry, open-country habitat. However, they're also highly different. While ground-jays run, P. humilis hops, and while ground-jays use stick nests, P. humilis nests in tunnels or burrows. Ground-jays are also much larger than P. humilis and exhibit white wing patches and dark, iridescent plumage patches. In recognition of these differences, P. humilis was given its own subgenus within Podoces in 1902, and in 1928 this was elevated to generic status.

December 8, 2008

The Cultured Ape, and Attenborough on gorillas

Category: from the archivesmammalogy

Another article from the archives, written back on April 19th 2006. Two days earlier I'd sat up watching BBC4's night of primate documentaries, and that where our story begins...


I've sat up and watched such things as 'Natural History Night' and 'Dr Who Night' before - usually they're a con, the programmes fizzling out round about 10-30, but 'Primates Night' (err, if that's what it was called) wasn't so thrifty, keeping me in front of the TV until past 01-00 at least. And it was brilliant - the best assortment of TV programmes I've seen since, well, ever.

December 5, 2008

The domes of wisdom


Here's an interesting photo provided by Markus Bühler (of Bestiarium): it shows a bull Asian elephant Elephas maximus at Hagenbeck Zoo, Hamburg.


The picture is neat for a few reasons. For one, it emphasises the agility of elephants: despite their size and 'graviportal' specialisations, they can still do some pretty impressive bending and stooping. They're not bad at climbing slopes, albeit ones much shallower than the zoo trench shown here. Actually, people have reported (and even illustrated) elephants clambering down precipitous slopes. Tennent (1867) showed an Asian elephant clambering down a slope on its elbows, belly and knees, and quoted a report from 1844 that described this behaviour. The 1844 report even states that this 'is done at more than an angle of 45°' (Carrington 1958). I admit to being slightly sceptical however.

What also interests me is the shape of the bull's head...

December 3, 2008

B. rex!

Category: from the archivesornithology


Another bit of text from the Ten Bird Meme of 2006. This time: well, you already know... also called the Shoe-billed stork, She-billed stork [not a typo], Whale-bill or Whale-headed stork, Balaeniceps rex is a long-legged big-billed waterbird of central Africa, and a specialist denizen of papyrus swamps. Though known to the ancient Egyptians, it wasn't described by science until John Gould named it in 1851. Before that time it was a cryptid, as an 1840 sighting of this as-of-then-unidentified bird had been published by Ferdinand Werne in 1849 (Shuker 1991).

December 1, 2008

Giant furry pets of the Incas

Category: from the archivesmammalogy


Another one from the archives. It's one of several articles I wrote in 2006 on obscure tropical rodents, was originally published here, and appears here with new pics and a few new details...

If you've read Scott Weidensaul's excellent book The Ghost With Trembling Wings (2002), you'll recall the story of Louise Emmons and the giant Peruvian rodent she discovered. But before I get to that, let me say that The Ghost With Trembling Wings isn't about ghosts at all, but about the search for cryptic or supposedly extinct species. Think thylacines, British big cats, Ivory-billed woodpeckers, Cone-billed tanagers, the resurrection of the aurochs, Night parrots, Richard Meinertzhagen and the Indian forest owlet. It begins with Weidensaul's search for Semper's warbler Leucopeza semperi, an enigmatic parulid endemic to St. Lucia, discovered in 1870 and last seen alive in 1969 (although with a trickle of post-1969 sightings, some reliable and some not so reliable). If you're interested in the hunt for cryptic species and zoological field work and its history, it is mandatory that you obtain and read this inexpensive book (its cover is shown below).

November 26, 2008

My mummified fox

Category: mammalogy

I think everyone seriously interested in animals collects dead animals, or bits of dead animals. Over the years I've built up a reasonably good collection of bones, teeth, antlers and carcasses, most of which are used 'academically' (in teaching and research) and not just kept for fun. Some of the specimens I have are amazing, like the robin Erithacus rubecula still attached to the twig and the wind-dried squirrel (both discussed here on Tet Zoo ver 1). One specimen above all others might be regarded as the centre-piece of my collection...


November 24, 2008

New, obscure, and nearly extinct rodents of South America, and... when fossils come alive

Category: from the archivesmammalogy


Another one from the archives, and another one from my rodent phase of 2006 (originally published here): despite efforts, I was simply unable to even scratch the surface of what is the largest extant mammalian clade. Where appropriate I've added updates and have uploaded new images.

Though new rodents are described from all over the place (yes, even from North America and Europe*), I had a recollection of the greatest percentage coming from South America. And indeed there are quite a few (note that some of the following don't have common names), with a randomly-selected list of my favourites being:-

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