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!

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".