Welcome to Superoceras, a blog about science and natural history, slightly biased towards paleontology and zoology, but inclusive of all sciences. Started in October of 2009, my goal is to communicate scientific knowledge (and the occasional piece of nonsense) in an informative and entertaining manner. Feel free to contact me with questions, comments, concerns, or criticism at superoceras(at)gmail(dot)com, and follow me on Twitter @Superoceras for all that and more in 140 characters or less!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

One Last Day of Birding for 2011

Despite the fact that we've reached the end of December, it has been quite pleasant here in Edmonston, Maryland.  The last few days have seen temperatures over 12 °C, which is a welcome treat considering some of the colder weather we had a few weeks back.  It was great to get outside and do some yard work without having to put on layers.  It was also great letting my terrapin back out into her pond for a few hours a day (as she normally spends her winter months in an indoor tank).  But the last few days have also been great for birding.  It may have nothing to do with the weather at all, but in the span of about 45 minutes today, I saw a greater variety of birds in my yard than I sometimes do all season long, two species of which were a first for me in my "new" home.  But why tell you about it when I could just show you? In fact, how about an end of the year bird quiz? Leave your guesses in the comments section!


Thursday, December 22, 2011

May your Cephalopodmas be gibbous and bright!

And by bright, of course I mean bioluminescent and chromatophoric!  Here's a tentacular "gift" for you all!

I realize it's not much to look at now, but it's just one piece of a much larger project that I've been working on for a while (and hope to complete soon). Anyway, if there was ever a day to post it to the blog, Cephalopodmas would be that day. So here's to the cephalopods and the teuthologists who study them.  From the tiniest tainoceratid, to the largest lepidoteuthid, happy Cephalopodmas to all, and to all an inky night!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Get out the map!

This is a map of the United States of America I have hanging in my office. Why am I taking a photo of it and posting it to the blog? Good question, and I have a pretty good answer: Blogger FINALLY has a mobile application for your smart phone. Which means that wherever I am in United States, as long as I have mobile service, I can post photos and text to the blog. So when I can't get my thoughts out in 140 characters or less, this is going to be a great alternative.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Gasoline? Where we're going we don't need gasoline.

If you've spent some time here at Superoceras, you may have realized that in addition to being interested in science and natural history, people might consider me a "geek" for a lot of other reasons.  I certainly do fall into more than one geek subgroup, that's for sure.  So when two of my geeky interests intersect, I'm all for shouting from the rooftops about it.  But I don't have a 30 ft ladder which I would need to access said roof, so I'm going to use the blog instead. Here it goes: The DeLorean DMC-12 is coming back, and this sucker's (all) electrical!

Thursday, December 01, 2011


It's Thursday morning.  The weekend is almost here.  Please enjoy this educational film about "the fuel of the modern world" while I go make myself a cup.  It's coffee time!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"My Life as a Turkey", a real Thanksgiving treat.

If you've been around Superoceras for Thanksgiving the last two years, you already know that a staple component of the traditional meal of the day includes a rather aggressive avian dinosaur: Meleagris gallopavo, the domesticated descendants of the wild turkey.  For such a common North American bird, I know surprisingly little about its day to day habits, and what it's really like to be a turkey in the United States today.  Well thank goodness for Nature, the Emmy award winning PBS television series that this Thanksgiving season, brings us "My Life as a Turkey", the story of Joe Hutto and the group of wild turkeys that he raised from egg to adulthood.  The episode can be watched in its entirety at the Nature website, but I figured I'd leave a trailer here as a little treat for everyone.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Watch My Life as a Turkey - Preview on PBS. See more from NATURE.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A film about our HOME.

(So I know I did the same thing last year, but please bear with me as I try and get everything sorted out after my week at SVP so that I can finish up tmy "daily posts from the field".  I'm glad I was able to get up three considering how busy the days are, and the lack of free Wi-Fi in the rooms.  They will come soon, but someone recently sent me this, and I feel like putting it up is pretty important, so here it goes.)

Depending on who you ask, the human population on the planet currently numbers somewhere between 6.973 billion (U. S. Census Beureau) and 7 billion (United nations Population Fund).  That is a lot of people, and sometimes, I don't think we consider the impact a population like that can have on the planet.  Even those of us that do are guilty of contributing to that impact in one way or another.  Many have suggested that we have now reached a critical point in human history; one where we understand what may be before us, and have to act in order to preserve our shared future.  The film HOME does this in a way that is hard to not take seriously.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

SVP 2011 (Epilogue): Leaving Las Vegas

Giant pumpkins at the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.
What a week! I'm always astounded by how quickly it all goes by. Unfortunately, I had to skip out on the final poster session to go to an early dinner before catching a show.  Which also means that I missed out on the first half of the annual Awards Ceremony.  But congratulations to all of this years award winners!  You can check out a full list at the SVP website, but I want to briefly mention the winners of my favorite award, the John J. Lanzendorf PaloeArt Prize.  I'm always eager to see which pieces are selected from all of the incredible entries.   I can't imagine having to select just one from each category: scientific illustration, 2-dimensional art, 3-dimensional art, and the new National Geographic digital modeling and animation.  And the awards go to...

Saturday, November 05, 2011

SVP 2011 (Day 4, Part II): Crocodylomorphs in the Casino

Or "crocodylomorphs in the convention center", if you prefer.  I love alliteration, don't you?

Here it is, one last afternoon of talks.  I planted myself firmly in Technical Session XVIII for this year's round of "croc" talks.  And the crurotarsan branch of the archosaur family tree was just as well represented as their sister clade had been this morning.  By the end of the session, three new crocodylomorphs were described, and some old misconceptions were (hopefully) dispelled.

A Cuban crocodile, Crocodylus rhombifer, basking at the National Zooloigical Park's Reptile Discovery Center.

SVP 2011 (Day 4, Part I): Dinosaurs in the Desert

Eat it up, Interwebs.
What can I say?  I like dinosaurs.  Big dinosaurs, small dinosaurs, dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes.  I know that there are fossil mammals and fish to consider.  And they are really cool too.  But seriously, look at this kid.  He's so happy about the stegosaur on his sweatshirt.  If it wasn't for dinosaurs, he probably wouldn't know a thing about fossil mammals and fish.  So it would be cruel to deny him his dinosaur talks on the last day of SVP, wouldn't it?  Darn right it would.  So that means a morning spent in Technical Session XIV, listening to all of the theropod talks.   And there were some really good ones this year.

Back in July I wrote about a paper by Xu, You, Du, and Han (2011) that described the new paravian, Xiantingia zheng, and what its discovery meant for the relationships of the "first bird", Archaeopteryx, to other dinosaur groups.   Well today I caught another talk, presented by Xing Xu (2011), on the same subject.  He proposed a new eumaniraptoran phylogeny where oviraptorosaurs are more closely allied with avialans, and Archaeopteryx is more closely allied with the deinonychosaurs.  I'm still not quite convinced that this phylogeny is the one that is going to stick, but the hypothesis is interesting, to say the least.  Regardless of how cladogram actually turns out, it is very cool to know that Archaeopteryx (or at least an isolated feather that has been associated with Archaeopteryx) had black upper primary covert feathers (Carney et al., 2011).

Friday, November 04, 2011

SVP 2011 (Day 3): Nerds in Nevada

First and foremost, trust me when I say that I don't mean "nerd" in a derogatory sense.  In fact, it's quite the contrary! There has never been a better time to be a "nerd", "dork", or "geek", especially among a group of people like this:
"Elvisaurus" and the rest of the "Rock Vegas" gang at the SVP 29th Annual Auction.
Viva "Rock Vegas" indeed!  We were all having a hard time trying to figure out what the theme would be for this year's auction, and I don't think anyone saw this coming.  But more on the auction later.  For now, lets talk about talks.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

SVP 2011 (Day 2): Students in the "Silver State"

The second day of SVP is usually a good one, for two reasons.  First, the morning starts off with the Romer Prize Session talks, where original predoctoral student research is selected for presentation because of its scientific value and the high quality of the written abstract.  While there were only six talks in the session this year, I think the competition is still going to be tough, and I can't wait to see who will be taking home the prize.

The second reason day two is usually a good one is because of the Student Roundtable Forum and Reprint Exchange. It's always a great chance for students to network and talk with professionals in the field of paleontology on a wide variety of subjects.  This year was no exception, and I'd like to thank all of the individuals who lent their time and talents to helping all of the students and post-docs.  I'd also like to thank everyone that donated their reprint collections to the exchange.  I noticed it took everyone a lot longer to move through the line this year, which indicated to me that there were a lot of good papers and journals out there, and students were having a hard time choosing.

Dr. John Merck talks to a group of enthralled students about graduate school opportunities at the Student Roundtable Forum. 

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

SVP 2011 (Day 1): Vertebrates in Vegas

A model of Rhabdoderma elegans, an extinct coelacanth, swimming through a Permian reef at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

There's nothing like starting your morning with a hearty does of vertebrate paleontology.  After the opening remarks, the first day of talks began.  I opted to spend some of my earliest time slots in talks on some of the earliest vertebrates during a symposium on fim and limb evolution.  The evolution of paired pectoral and pelvic fins in early vertebrates was a huge innovation.  It would eventually lead to the development of the tetrapod limb, which would be modified time and time again in different vertebrate lineages.  Looking at the arm of a human, the wing of a bird, and the flipper of a whale, one might not immediately see the similarities.  But if you look a little closer, you can see that they all have their roots in the paired lobe fins of a common sarcopterygian ancestor.  I'm not the most sentimental individual, but as I sat in those talks, and sit here now typing this with my extremely dexterous manual digits, I can't help but think about that ancestor, and pay my respects to all of the fins and limbs that came before mine.  Those early pioneers helped make the vertebrates one of the most successful groups of animals on the planet.

SVP 2011 (Prologue): Paleontology in Paris

It may have taken most of the day to get here, but the girlfriend and I arrived at the hotel Paris in the late afternoon on Tuesday.  After settling in our room and hitting up the registration table, we set out to the Las Vegas strip to get our bearings.  I'm sad to report that our wanderings and the distractions of the city caused me to miss the media workshop that the SVP Media Liaison Committee sponsored.  But I'm happy to report that, almost immediately, we encountered our first dinosaur of the trip!

Fulica americana, the American coot, in front of a prominent Las Vegas casino and hotel.  I'm remiss to say that I had to travel all the way to Nevada to see my first coot in the "wild".

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Reminder...

SVP 2011 is just two weeks out!  Am I ready to hit the road and head to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada?  Absolutely not!  But with the abstract book and itinerary builder finally available, that should change soon.  If you haven't registered yet, and you're looking for something to do November 2-5, why not swing by the Paris Las Vegas and register for the meeting on site?  There will be tons of talks, great posters, and some awesome field trips to attend.  Perhaps you want to visit the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, home of the Shonisaurus popularis, Nevada's state fossil?  SVP has got you covered. But don't expect to run into any prehistoricself-portrait creating, highly predatory, super-intelligent cephalopods while you are there.  This is a vertebrate paleontology meeting, after all*.

Regardless, it's sure to be a great meeting, and I'm looking forward to visiting Nevada for the first time, and meeting up with all my fellow paleo-people.  I also plan on tweeting (look for the #2011SVP hashtag) and blogging as much as possible, so long as interweb access is available (but I'm still working that bit out). So be on the lookout in the coming weeks for as much SVP 2011 info as the annual meeting embargo policy will allow!

(*Also, because the chances of prehistoric, self-portrait creating, highly predatory, super-intelligent cephalopods having ever existed are slim to none.)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Two years of Superoceras

I know that things around here have been pretty quiet lately.  But I'm not quite ready to throw in the towel just yet.  In fact, as I begin my third year of blogging, I'm excited by all the possibilities before me, personally, professionally, and academically.  A lot has changed for me over the last year, but the one thing that hasn't is my love of the natural world, and sharing that love with others. So with that, thank you all for another year.  I'm looking forward to the next.
A school of Cooperoceras, colored by my girlfriend's first grade students for National Fossil Day, and presented to me on the second anniversary of the blog. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Happy National Fossil Day!

Another year has past, and with it, we've seen a number of paleontological discoveries. I don't know about you, but I'm in the mood to celebrate!  And what better day than the second annual National Fossil Day™ to do just that! I'm a huge fan of this year's mosasaur/ammonite logo, and of this year's local activities, both in Maryland and the District of Columbia.  I highly encourage all of you to find something to do in your area, as both the American Geological Institute and the National Park Service have gone to great lengths to make sure there are tons of events going on across the country both today, and this week. Can't make it to a National Fossil Day event? Maybe an activity at home or school is a better option for you. The kickoff event begins today on the National Mall at 10:00AM, but regardless of where you are or what you're doing, be sure to take a moment to explore, learn about, and protect our nations prehistoric heritage.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Run, Cryolophosaurus, Run!

Per the directions over at Don't Mess with Dinosaurs, I am very excited to share the following video with you.

Having only seen this video and a few of the rough storyboard images, I'm very excited to see how the "Dinosaurs Reanimated" project evolves.  Be sure to follow all the developments (and give feedback if you have any) over at the Dinosaurs Reanimated Production Blog.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

More Maryland Dinosaurs

Another day, another dinosaur.  At least that is how it seems here in Maryland.  On September 10 at Dinosaur Park in Laurel, amateur paleontologist Dave Hacker discovered a bone fragment that had been weathered out of the sediment by the heavy rains we've been having in the area.  With the help of Steve Jabo of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the bone fragment was removed from the iron rich Muirkirk Deposit of the Arundel Formation.  When first exposed, everyone hoped that they were looking at a complete limb bone, but as it was prepped out, they discovered it was only a fragment, and are now speculating that it is a sauropod claw.  Here's a little video on the find from the local 10:00PM news last night (I cringed a little lot when they referred to Astrodon as a dinosaur that looks like a "Brontosaurus"), which conveniently aired after the two hour season premier of another program about dinosaurs.  Coincidence? I think not.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dino Run

Dino Run logo, from PixelJAM.
The last couple weeks have seen a lot of talk in the dino-blogosphere about Dinosaur Revolution and Planet Dinosaur, so as it stands, I've stayed out of the discussion.  But I'm all for dinosaur distractions, so I thought I'd throw this little gem into the mix for those of you looking for a great way to procrastinate.  Follow the link, put on your running hat, and check out PixelJAM's Dino Run! It's a fast paced race against extinction that any dino fan is sure to love.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ahoy, Paleo Pirates!

As some of ye' may know, today is International Talk Like A Pirate Day.  For buccaneers, privateers, proletarian outlaws, an' Pastafarians alike, today is a day of celbratin' for any an' all who call themselves pirate.  So if ye' haven't yet done your duty, avast! Get yerself a tankard of rum, put on yer finest hat, an' hoist the colors!

The jolly roger of the original Paleo Pirates, a work in progress for far too long. If you can deduce the five animals depicted here (in spite of my crude representations), perhaps you have what it takes to join the crew.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Introducing a new "backyard dinosaur", Propanoplosaurus marylandicus.

It has been entirely too long since I've blogged here at Superoceras.  Shame on me.  But if there is one thing that will get me back in front of the computer screen to write, it's baby ankylosaurs.  I mean, come on, look at how cute this little fella is.

Figure 4 from Stanford et al. 2011, showing two stereo photographs (top) and a drawing (bottom) of  the dorsum of the head of USNM 540686.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Things that are not dinosaurs birds: Archaeopteryx?

Since its discovery 150 years ago, Archaeopteryx has been considered the most basal bird ever discovered.  In fact, current phylogenies show Aves (birds) comprises Archaeopteryx and Pygostylia (every other bird ever), meaning Archaeopteryx comes as close to "not-being-a-bird" as a bird can get.  Its discovery also initially helped support the now firmly established notion that modern birds evolved from within a group of theropod dinosaurs.  In my opinion, Archaeopterxy is as close as you are going to get to finding a "missing link", as it possessed traits found in both non-avian dinosaurs and birds.

The infamous "Berlin Specimen" of Archaeopteryx lithographica (HMN 1880) on display at the Humboldt Museum für Naturkunde. Photograph  by H. Raab, from Wikimedia  Commons.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Backyard Botany: Native Maryland vines

As I mentioned in my last post, I spend quite a good deal of time fighting the growth of invasive vines in my yard.  I'll admit, I always feel guilty killing off any plants, invasive or not.  But controlling invasive species and making sure they do not spread is essential to protecting and preserving the local ecosystem.  That is why as I tear non-native plants out, I always try and replace them with species that can be found growing naturally in my area.  And lucky for me, there are several such species that can be found in the region of Maryland that I call home.

Parthenocissus quinquefolia, working its way up my gutters.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Backyard Botany: Invasive vines

Invasive vines: climbing fences and choking out bushes like a boss.

My yard is covered in vines.  Terrible, invasive, non-native vines, that seem to grow a lot faster than I can get rid of them.  It has become a serious problem.  Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), English ivy (Hedera helix), and mile-a-minute vine (Polygonum perfoliatum) can all be found on my property in Edmonston, Maryland. Initially brought in for ornamental purposes, their agressive growth have allowed them to take over large portions of  my yard.  They grow over natural groundcover, trees, shrubs, fences, gardens, sheds, and even the house itself.  It makes me very unhappy.  But their is one invasive vine that really gets under my skin, much more so than all the others combined: Porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata).

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Tetrapod Zoology (and a bunch of other blogs), now at Scientific American.

When I got back to my computer this morning after the long weekend, I came to find that Dr. Darren Naish (previously of  Tetrapod Zoology ver 1 and ver 2) has made the move from ScienceBlogs over to Scientific American.  You can now find Tetrapod Zoology (ver 3) at Scientific American Blogs.  Be sure to update your blogrolls... very carefully.

 In my excitement over the move this morning, I inadvertently deleted mine.  Like... the entire widget, with the list of 80 plus blogs I follow.  I found a web cache of the blog, and I think I've managed to rebuild it, but let me know if you're missing or want to be added.  My apologies to all my fellow bloggers!

But back to the topic at hand, please join me in congratulating Dr. Naish on the move, and check out his introductory post here.


It would appear that Eric Michael Johnson of The Primate Diaries and The Primate Diaries in Exile has also joined the gang over at Scientific American Blogs.  Check out The [new] Primate Diaries at Scientific American!


And another great new blog has joined Scientific American.  Check out Symbiartic, where Glendon Mellow and Kalliopi Monoyios write about the "art of science and the science of art".

Friday, July 01, 2011

Backyard Ornithology: House finch breeding

A while back I left a teaser on the end of a post about house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus), and never got around to telling you all the reason that, despite their non-native status, they are a joy to have around the house.  One word: babies!

A house finch nest, conveniently placed in one of my hanging planters.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Time "Outdoors"

Readers who frequent this blog may have noticed that, since March, things have slowed down quite a bit around here.  At work, I've been required to spend less time at my desk (a great place to blog when I can), and more time moving about.  I've been taking courses, which takes up quite a bit of time as well.  But as the weather has gotten warmer, the majority of my free time has been spent outdoors.  This has been the first spring and summer that I've been in my new home after the previous occupants moved out last year, which means I've had a lot of yard work to catch up on.  Getting rid of invasive species, trying to get as many native plants on my property as possible, and keeping my garden take up the majority of my post-work daylight hours.  Quite a bit of energy goes into this, which is both good and bad.  Good because I love working outside, and I'm excited for my home grown foods and the wildlife that native plantscaping will bring to my yard.  Bad because when the sun goes down, I usually do as well.  Blogging, unfortunately, has not been as large of a priority as sleeping, so it has gone by the wayside.

Monday, June 13, 2011

"The Fighting Pair"

Allosaurus fragilis and Stegosaurus stenops face off at the Denver Museum of  Science and Nature.  Photo by Luke Jones, from Wikimedia Commons.
Good news, everyone! I woke this morning to discover that, once and for all, scenes like the one shown above are proven by science! That's right, good old fashioned science, where someone digs up fossils, doesn't publish research on them (someone feel free to correct me if I'm wrong about that bit), and sells them to the highest bidder. Thanks to the diligent work of Heritage Auctions, we now know that Allosaurus and Stegosaurus existed together at the same time.  Huzzah!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

A quick, but important, post.

The Xingu River is a tributary of the Amazon River located in the northeastern Brazilian state of Pará.

It is currently home to fourteen tribes of indigenous peoples that live along its borders.  They get most, if not all of the things they need for survival from the river and the surrounding forest.

The area is home to countless terrestrial and aquatic species, some of which can be found no where else on earth.

The Brazilian government wants to build a dam there. This will result in the diverting of 80% of the rivers waters, the flooding of 400 km2 of forest, and the displacement of indigenous tribes and an additional 20,000 people from the surrounding municipalities.

If this bothers you, please, take the time to have a look at the Amazon Watch website dedicated to informing the global public about the issue, and stopping the construction of the Belo Monte Dam. And if you're so inclined, perhaps you'd like to sign a petition urging the Brazilian government to abandon the project, and instead, search for a more sustainable energy solution.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Problematic passerines.

A breeding pair of Carpodacus mexicanus, also known as house finches.

The house finch, Carpodacus mexicanus, is a little passerine bird that I have a bit of a rocky relationship with.  Don't get me wrong; I love it when any of my "backyard dinosaurs" come to visit the feeders around my house. But I'm still on the fence about these little guys. Now before you label me some kind of finch hater (which I certainly am not), let me explain.  While C. mexicanus is native to North America, it is not exactly native to the east coast, having been introduced to this area from Mexico and the southwestern United States in the 1940s. Populations that were released from illegal captivity quickly became naturalized, and their population has been expanding ever since.  In many places, they have out competed the native species of purple finch, Carpodacus purpureus.  This is a bird that should be at my feeders, but sadly, I have never seen.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Boneyard 2.9 and the ART Evolved Hadrosaur Gallery

Man.  April was intense.  I don't know what happened, but I'm sure at least a few of you noticed my complete lack of blogging for pretty much the entire month.  Things got a little quiet around here, and for that, I apologize.  But now it's May, which means three important things.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Things that are not dinosaurs: Mosasaurs

Discovery of the "grand animal", Mosasaurus hofmani, at Maastricht.  Engraving by G. R. Levillaire, from Wikimedia Commons.
Mosasaurs were a highly successful group of marine squamates that came to rule the seas towards the end of the Late Cretaceous (98-65 million years ago).  Remains of these real life leviathans were some of the first (if not the first) sauropsid fossils ever discovered.  Like their land dwelling cousins, they were air breathers, and secondarily returned to the sea where they became highly adapted to their new marine environment.  They were powerful, streamlined swimmers with long narrow bodies, paddle-like limbs and tails, and gave birth to live young.  Based on an abundance of fossils and a number of different taxa discovered, we have learned a lot about mosasaurs in the more than 200 years since they were first discovered.  This has helped shape a new view of mosasaurs that is radically different from those of the past.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Boneyard 2.8

April is here, and with it come rain showers and a new edition of The Boneyard Blog Carnival.  Head on over to Sorting Out Sciencewhere Sam Wise has written up a fossiliferous Boneyard 2.8. Extremely well done, in my humble opinion.

What can you do to help support The Boneyard?  That's an easy one.  Follow, submit to, or host an edition.  Just send an e-mail to boneyardblogcarnival(at)gmail(dot)com and let them know you want to get in on the action.  Have a great week everyone!

Blogging on the Bay (Part 2)

Sunrise over the Chesapeake Bay, taken on the beach in front of the Philip Merrill Center.

Although I'm a little farther from the Bay at this point, it always remains very close to my heart.  So I just wanted to say a few more words on some of the issues affecting the Chesapeake Bay watershed today.  I know the last time I wrote (which was quite a while ago - my apologies) I spoke of oysters, and some of the problems they've been having over the last hundred years or so.  Disease, poor water quality, and over harvesting are three of the big culprits. This time, I want to home in a little on the poor water quality issue.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Blogging on the Bay (Part 1)

An oyster bed at low tide. Notice the thousands of individual oysters encrusted on top of one another. Photo taken by JohnCub, from Wikimedia Commons.

The Chesapeake Bay is home to a wonderful variety of plants and animals. One of the invertebrates that makes a home here is the Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica.  This bivalve mollusk, which was once abundant in the Bay, has faced many hardships in the recent past. Over-harvesting, poor water quality from over nitrification and pollution, and in increase in sedimentation from runoff has caused populations to decline to less than 2% of their historical numbers. This is a problem for the oysters, and other denizens of the Bay.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Spring Break! Again!

I'm sure that many of you have noticed that my posting here has been intermittent in the last month or so. That is in part because I've been gearing up for another trip with the University of Maryland's Alternative Spring Break program. This time around, me and a group of eager students will be headed to the Chesapeake Bay Foundations headquarters at the Philip Merrill Center for the week to camp out and help clean up the bay! I don't know what my internet situation will be like when we arrive, but I'm going to try to keep active on Twitter via my mobile, posting pictures and info along the way if I can't do it here on the blog. Feel free to keep tabs on us at the official ASB Chesapeake 2011 blog as well.

Photos of the week are starting to flow onto my Flickr account. Check out the set here!

Interweb Science of the Week #10

This week, ISW goes to a website that, like last week's awardee, is primarily aimed at school aged children interested in learning about biology. Ask a Biologist aims to provide the best scientific information to anyone (not just children) interested in learning in the ins and outs of the biological sciences, including paleontology - huzzah! It's a really brilliant concept: go to the website, ask a question, and have a professional scientist answer it. Too easy, right? I know, it's awesome. Lots of questions have already been asked, but there are still plenty more out there. If I was going to ask anyone, it would be this lot.

Coincidentally, ART Evolved is also sponsoring an "Ask a Biologist Initiative" at the request of Dave Hone. They are looking for printable posters and blog icons to be used on their site, so if you want to break out your mad art skills and contribute something in honor of them being awarded with "Interweb Science of the Week", now would be a pretty good time.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The new "Bone Wars": Greg Paul, science, and the art of paleontology.

*Let me start by saying that I have been sitting on and rewriting this post for nearly a week now. As the conversation has been taking place in e-mails and on the web, my opinions on the subject have been all over the place. But I finally feel that I have something to add the conversation, so here it goes.*

The only time I ever met interacted with Greg Paul was at SVP in Pittsburgh in October 2011. I had picked up a copy of his new book, the somewhat controversial The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs, and was thumbing through it, when a voice from behind said, "I hear it's terrible." As I turned around I said, "I don't know, I've always been a fan of his work." I nearly fell over when I realized it was Mr. Paul whom I was speaking with. My girlfriend, who was with me at the time, can attest to this fact. I was speechless for a few seconds, but in the end, I was glad to see that he was capable of having a laugh at himself, and I admired his dry wit as much as I admired his work.

For those of you who don't know Mr. Paul, he is a dinosaur illustrator and researcher who has been influential in establishing the "new look" of dinosaurs over the last several decades. He has published a number of books, scientific papers, magazine and newspaper articles, and illustration guides. He has also hand drawn an extensive collection of skeletal restorations, muscle studies, and life reconstructions that are unparalleled in their accuracy. As is indicated above, I have the utmost respect and appreciation for the work he has done over the years. But my opinion about him started to shift around

a week ago, when he sent to an e-mail to the Dinosaur Mailing List regarding the use of his dinosaur restorations.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Interweb Science of the Week #9

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of science and the natural world. It's also not hard to see that I think that science education, starting at a young age, is one of the most important things that any child can have access to. Sadly, in some places, providing this education is difficult for those responsible for shaping the minds of tomorrow. Low funding, fear of starting a controversy, and lack of proper training for science educators are all roadblocks that teachers today face. It's a sad but simple fact: the United States is falling behind in science education. This is something even President Obama recognized in the State of the Union address in January. He wants "to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math", and "teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair". I could not agree more.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Well, this is long overdue.

A while back, I posted an image on the blog of a few skeletal elements that had been found in the backyard of some friends of mine, and posed a challenge to my readers to try and identify them. About a month has passed, and they are still sitting out on the deck, uncleaned, judging me every day as I walk past them to go work on other things. But I do think it's about time that I get around to talking about them a bit more, describing the process I went through in identifying them, and telling you what animal I believe they came from.

The three bones in question, properly identified by Scott Elyard as a pelvis (top, in left lateral view), femur (bottom left, in anterior view), and tibia (bottom right, in anterior view), all from the left side of the animal.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Interweb Science of the Week #8

This is probably long overdue, even if we're only eight Fridays into "Interweb Science of the Week". This edition features a website that, for the last two years, has been "the home of Paleo-Art online", hosted 12 galleries, written over 450 posts, and showcased the work of more artists than I can count. That's right folks; this week, ISW goes to none other than the "crew" over at ART Evolved: Life's Time Capsule.

The recently updated ART Evolved banner, from ART Evolved, by five different, uncredited artists.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Boneyard 2.7

Welcome to another edition of The Boneyard, a blog carnival specializing in items of paleontological interest. Paleontology, defined, is the study of ancient life and their remains. It seems straightforward. And in many ways it is. But it's also a very eclectic field of study, encompassing geology, chemistry, physics, genetics, mathematics, biology, computer sciences, ecology, engineering, art, systematics and so much more. You don't just find paleontologists in the field digging up bones, or in museums alongside them, but also in labs, studios, classrooms - even on the internet. And paleontology not only has the ability to teach us about the past, but the present and future as well. Is it really any wonder then, that paleontology of all sciences seems to capture the attention of people all over the world, both young and old? I think not. I hope that in this edition of The Boneyard, I manage to share with you, some of the fascinating things happening in the world of paleontology today.

Monday, February 28, 2011

And another thing...

If you don't blog, but you draw, sculpt, paint, etc. (or if you blog and create art), don't forget that ART Evolved: Life's Time Capsule has a new gallery coming up on March 1st as well. This month will be dedicated to the "terror birds", so if you have something you want to submit, send it on to artevolved(at)gmail(dot)com.

A Call for Posts

Alright bloggers, it's that time again. A new month is fast approaching, which means that a new edition of The Boneyard is right around the corner. The Boneyard 2.7 is going to be hosted right here at Superoceras on the first of March, so if you have a post you'd like to submit about paleontology or other relevant natural history topics, just send a link via e-mail to boneyardblogcarnival(at)gmail(dot)come with the word "Boneyard" in the subject line. Anything and everything, new and old, is welcome, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what you all have to offer!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Interweb Science of the Week #7

This week, my selection for ISW was a no brainer. The following website has been making the rounds on the Interwebs, and it's easy to see why. From T. Michael Keesey, the mind behind A Three-Pound Monkey Brain, comes PhyloPic, an open database of life form silhouettes.
My first submission, Triceratops horridus, in silhouette form.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"He says no one's gonna fancy a girl with thighs the size of big tree trunks."

Well that's certainly not true if the interest the media is taking in this lovely lady* is any indication. Meet Brontomerus mcintoshi, a new sauropod from Early Cretaceous of Utah.

*Note: there is no mention that any of the specimens of Brontomerus are in fact female, but I'm going to pretend it's a girl for the sake of title quote.

Speculative life restoration of an adult (female) Brontomerus mcintoshi defending its young from a Utahraptor. Executed by Francisco Gascó under direction from Taylor and Wedel, from Taylor et al. 2011.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Interweb Science of the Week #6

Another Friday, another "Interweb Science of the Week". I love it. And this time, not only will it stimulate the mind, but also tug at the heart strings a little. Meet Riley, the "first grade paleontologist". This kid is awesome. He breaks out his dinosaur toy collection, gets in front of the camera and... well wait, why am I talking about it. Just watch!

Riley the Paleontolgist Show 1 "Carnivores". Check out Rileytalk's YouTube channel for more videos.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love in the Galápagos

In many parts of the word, today is a day set aside to celebrate love and affection. Inspired by last week's posts on the Galápagos (which I know I have yet to finish), I thought I'd share some photos of signs of "love and affection" I saw when I was traveling the islands.

The uniquely shaped pad of the cactus Opuntia galapageia profusa on Isla Rábida .

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin!

On this day, 202 years ago, Charles Robert Darwin FRS was born. What else could I possibly say about this most remarkable of men that I haven't already said? Well I can think of one thing, for sure, but I'll have to sing it.

Please, if you have a moment, take the time to wish my good friend Chuck a happy birthday, and happy Darwin Day to you all!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Interweb Science of the Week #5

Generally speaking, the point of "Interweb Science of the Week" is to showcase something I stumbled across on the web over the course of the last seven days and re-share it with you all. I'd be lying if I said I had done that this week. I've known for a long time what I was going to be featuring today. So without further ado, this edition of ISW is brought to you by YouTube.

YouTube? What? I can hear you all now. "That is certainly interwebs, but where is the science?" Well frankly, if you look for it, you can find science all over YouTube, but since it's Darwin Week, I had a special video I wanted to share. Unfortunately, the official BBC YouTube Channel doesn't have this particular film up, but YouTube user bchetdls has saved the day, and presents Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life, hosted by none other than Sir David Attenborough, in six glorious installments.

The program was originally aired back in 2009 in commemoration of Darwin's 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publication of "On the Origin of Species". In that spirit, it touches on Darwin's (and Attehborough's) personal voyage of discovery, the development of evolutionary theory over the last century and a half, and how important it is today. I think it's a must see, so give it a look, and enjoy!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

In Darwin's Footsteps: Field Studies in the Galápagos Archipelago (Part 2)

A lava gull at the Lobos Islet of Isla San Cristóbal.

If memory serves me, yesterday I left off discussing speciation events that have occurred in the Galápagos Archipelago. Obviously, there is lots of this going on there. Animals and plants, separated from their traditional breeding population, adapt and evolve to better survive in new environments. The lava gull (Leucophaeus fuliginosus) provides the perfect example. The population of this sea bird is only around 400 pairs, and they only live in the Galápagos. However, on and around Pacific coast of South America, many other closely relates species can be found. The lava gull, being isolated from the rest of the parent population, has evolved into a unique species found nowhere else on Earth. But geographical isolation is not the only driving force behind the evolution of new species in the Galápagos.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

In Darwin's Footsteps: Field Studies in the Galápagos Archipelago (Part 1)

A humble explorer, pointing towards the Pinnacle Rock of Isla Bartolomé.

On 27 December, 1831, The HMS Beagle set sail on what would become one of the most influential voyages of all time. On board was a young gentleman naturalist who, despite suffering from seasickness on a regular basis, kept detailed notes, collected valuable specimens, and made keen observations on the geology, biology, anthropology and ecology of many of the southern continents and islands. This man was Charles Darwin, and it was on this second voyage of the Beagle that he first began his musings on his theory of evolution.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Fossils, the Beagle, and Backyard Osteology

Yesterday, Superoceras kicked off Darwin Week with a fantastic guest post from Dr. Tom Holtz on what everyone should know about paleontology. I think he did a wonderful job of sewing together the threads of Earth, Life, and Time to show why the study of fossils is not only relevant to learning about our collective past, but is important for emphasizing our common future as well. The importance of fossils was not lost on Darwin, and while most people tend to associate him and his theory with places like the Galápagos Islands, and animals like finches, during his voyage on the HMS Beagle, he was also quite the fossil collector. While traveling South America, Darwin collected fossils of many extinct mammals that would later go on to be described by Sir Richard Owen including Toxodon platensis, Macrauchenia patagonica, Mylodon darwini, Equus curdivens, Glossotherium sp., and Scelidotherium leptocephalum (Fernicola et al. 2009). Darwin, a man who was very good at connecting the dots, used his understanding of geology and natural history to identify these organisms as having had existed at some time in the past, and having gone extinct. This was one of the many observations he used when formulating his theory of evolution by natural selection.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Guest Cross-Post: "What Should Everyone Know About Paleontology?", by Dr. Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.

As the third annual Darwin Week begins, it's a great day for paleontology, and for Superoceras as well. After a recent question was posed to the Dinosaur Mailing List, a discussion commenced regarding the most important facts and theories for the general public surrounding paleontology. Luckily for all of us, Dr. Thomas Holtz was there to step up to the plate, and present one of the most comprehensive lists on the subject I've ever seen. Paleontology is a very diverse field with an immensely wide scope, and to be perfectly honest, it doesn't always see the respect it deserves when it comes to media portrayal of the subject. Which is why the following information is of the utmost importance to anyone who wants to get to the real heart of the matter. But you don't need me to tell you that - Dr. Holtz has done a fantastic job of that himself. In the spirit of Charles Darwin, I proudly present the first Superoceras guest post. Thanks for letting me be a part of the dialog, Dr. Holtz!

Tyrannosaurus rex at the American Museum of natural History in New York.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Interweb Science of the Week #4

Have you ever been out in nature, and marveled at the wonders of the living world around you? Stopped to look at a flower or critter, and wondered how much you actually have in common? Perhaps you care for a pet at home, and know deep down inside of yourself that there is a connection between you. One of the greatest things about being human is the fact that we can ponder these, and other questions, both from a metaphysical and scientific perspective. I'm not tackle the philosophical questions surrounding the nature of being, but I can tell you that the connections you may feel are grounded in sound scientific reasoning. You and every other living thing on this planet are connected to one another through common ancestry. That is, if you go far back enough through deep time on your family tree, you'll find that you are in fact (very distantly) related not only to other extinct hominids, but to the goldfish in your bowl, the grass you walk on, and the bacteria that make you ill as well. This edition of "Interweb Science of the Week" is brought to you by a website that aims to show you just how related you really are.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Boneyard 2.6 - The Shell Midden

Another month, another Boneyard. But the excitement I experience as I wait for it to be published never seems to fade! This time around, Kevin Zelnio of Deep Sea News collected a great assemblage of posts for the Boneyard 2.6, also known as "The Shell Midden". Don't know what a shell midden is? Well go find out, and check out other editions of The Boneyard Blog Carnival as well. Great job Kevin!

And seriously, if you blog about paleontology, why not submit to The Boneyard? It doesn't have to be about dinosaurs. In fact, it doesn't even have to be about paleontology. All fields of natural history are welcome. Since I'll be hosting the March edition here at Superoceras, you have my personal guarantee that if you submit something in any way, shape, or form regarding science, life on Earth, or natural history, I'll work it into the carnival. Just write your post (or select one from your archives), and submit a link to boneyardblogcarnival(at)gmail(dot)com with the word "Boneyard" in the subject line. Even better, host an edition of the Boneyard at your blog. That's right, consider this a personal challenge. Now step it up!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Happy (Belated) Draw a Dinosaur Day!

Man, after all the promoting I did last year, it was only natural that this year, the 5th annual "Draw A Dinosaur Day" would go under my radar. Celebrated on 30 January of each year, it's probably the greatest holiday of all time. Luckily, I just so happened to have a dinosaur on standby that I had been working on for another project.
A new (and slightly cartoony) look for Triceratops, a dinosaur that isn't going anywhere (so stop talking about it!)

Big thanks to Trish Arnold for posting a reminder over at ART Evolved: Life's Time Capsule. And be sure to stop by the "DADD" archive/gallery website to see all of the great submissions!

Monday, January 31, 2011

On the Origin of Paleocene Dinosaurs, or the Preservation of Favoured Sauropods in the Struggle Against Extinction

If there is one thing (most) scientists agree on, it is the fact that around 65.5 million years ago, dinosaurs (at least the non-avian variety) went extinct. Whether it was the result of a massive bolide impact and its aftermath, long periods of intense volcanism, changes in global sea level and climate, or a combination of factors, life on Earth went through a major extinction event that wiped out around 75% of all species. It is believed that this extinction took place in a geologically short period of time, and left its physical mark across the globe in a band of iridium rich rock known as the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary (formerly referred to as the Cretaceous-Tertiary, or K-T boundary). The K-Pg boundary marks the end of the Cretaceous period, and with it, the end of the age of the dinosaurs. There are abundant dinosaur fossils found below the boundary, but none above, indicating that they all went extinct before the Paleogene period. This fact is further proven through relative and absolute dating techniques that can be used to determine the age of the rock layer in which the fossils are found. If a rock layer is 70 million years old, the fossils in it are probably around that age as well (barring the erosion, transportation, and re-deposition of the fossil to a geologically younger rock layer).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Interweb Science of the Week #3

Wow, another week flew right by didn't it. I blame my absence from the interwebs on thundersnow, and the resulting power-related maladies that accompanied it. But even though I've missed a lot of the week's big paleo stories, I wasn't about to miss Interweb Science of the Week.

In response to my lack of content here on Superoceras, I thought I'd provide my readers with an ISW that would keep them busy clicking away for a while, and I think I've found the perfect way to do just that.

"Duck", from Seduce Me Season 1

A video like that needs no explanation. Green Porno and Seduce Me are a series of short films put together by Isabella Rossellini and a brilliant creative team, that provide both an accurate and entertaining portrayal of sexuality and reproductive techniques across the animal kingdom. I think they are amazing, and if you like art, film, or animal sexuality, I bet you will too. There are enough videos on the Sundance Channel website to keep you busy for a while, so dig in, and have a great weekend!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Interweb Science of the Week #2

If there's one thing I love more than science, it's interweb science! And after following last weeks Science Online 2011 meeting via Twitter, I've been more inspired than ever to do my part and spread scientific knowledge on the web. That being said, let's get right on to this second edition of "Interweb Science of the Week". And this time around, it's going to be a mammoth event.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Don't mess with Darwin.

I'm not going to sugar coat things - my life is pretty much filled to capacity at the moment. But if there's one thing you can bet I'll stop everything for, it's defending the honor of my good friend, Charles Darwin. I happened across this article from, which includes (at the bottom) a "top ten" list of the most ridiculous and offensive things said in the year 2010 by a rather well know, conservative political pundit. This one in particular caught my eye.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Interweb Science of the Week #1

The interwebs are deep and tangled. And there is often so much going on that it's difficult to keep up with all the news pertaining to science and natural history that I see on a daily basis. Be it a great blog post, a phenomenal piece of art, or a recently published electronic journal article, the interwebs are loaded with great material. But every now and again, I'll see something online that really stands out and grabs my full attention. And chances are it will grab yours too. So I figured I'd go ahead and share my favorite internet find of the week with you all here at Superoceras in a new feature I'm calling "Interweb Science of the Week" (ISW). I'm sure this is going to end up being a highly coveted distinction (haha), so I wanted to start out by setting the bar high.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Science Online 2011

Tomorrow begins the fifth annual meeting on science and the web, ScienceOnline2011. This year, attending wasn't in the cards for me, but many of the science bloggers I follow will be there, and I want to wish them all the best of luck on their presentations/lectures/workshops/panels/etc. Among the individuals that you'll find there this year are David Orr of Love in the Time of Chasmosaurus, Brian Switek of Laelaps, Glendon Mellow of The Flying Trilobite, Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science, and Carl Zimmer of The Loom. I know that David will be tweeting from the event, so definitely follow him on Twitter @anatotitan and look for the hashtag #scio11 to keep up to date with the goings on there this year. I know I will. And thanks to all parties involved for making the event possible in the first place. With the web being such a huge part of modern life, having a group dedicated to using this powerful tool to effectively communicate and teach science is a wonderful thing.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cold Fish in the Chesapeake Bay

Dead spot and croaker on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Stevensonville, Maryland. Photo by Charles Poukish, from the Associated Press.

There have been several reports since the beginning of the new year regarding the mass deaths of animals across the globe. Starting with the death of around 5,000 red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) in Arkansas on New year's Eve, media outlets have been quick to pick up on other stories of other mass bird deaths and fish kills. Not only that, but some have been quick to suggest conspiracy theories - from toxic chemicals, to U.F.O.'s, to the coming apocalypse - as the reason for these mass deaths. I'm not going to touch any of that, or perpetuate the notion that these events are in any way, shape, or form related to one another, because they are not. But I do want to talk about one of the instances that hits a little closer to home for me, and its real cause: a recent mass fish kill on the Chesapeake Bay, and its link to global climate change.