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 22, 2012

"A Bird of Courage"

"For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America." Benjamin Franklin, 1784
An Eastern wild turkey hen, photographed at Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Summer in the Butterfly Garden

Back in early May, I decided to give myself a birthday present and do something beneficial for my yard and wildlife by planting a butterfly garden.  I spent a large part of the summer tweeting about the Maryland native plants that I chose to attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds, but wanted to share a little more of the story here. I took what was the area I had been using as a tree nursery, and cleared a little more space for over two dozen species of native shrubs and flowers.  The plot went from this...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Happy National Fossil Day!

The 2012 National Fossil Day logo, from the National Park Service website.

The 72nd Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology starts today, and the morning has already been full of great talks. But it's also the 3rd year that National Fossil Day is being celebrated. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences has a bunch of great events going on all day, as do many other museums, parks, and centers across the country. Be sure to check out the National Fossil Day website for events in your area, and celebrate discovery, science, and prehistoric life!

(This post will be updated with images, links, and additional goodies as soon as I can find that reliable Wi-Fi hot spot I so desperately seek. If you're at #2012SVP and you know where it is, let me know @Superoceras. Thanks!)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Another Day, Another WIP

I now have at least a dozen paleo-art related projects that I've been really excited for, started, and then left on the back burner.  This is one of the more recent that I had hoped to have done for the latest ART Evolved gallery, but alas, still just a work in progress.  Meant as a tribute to the recent series 7 episode of Doctor Who titled "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship", I had hoped to surround the TARDIS with lifelike reconstructions of the ornithodirans featured in the show.  Then I realized I left out the fuzzy juvenile tyrannosaur.  Now if I could just figure out where to put it.

"Ornithodirans on a Spaceship", a work in progress.  Pencil on paper. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Brace Yourselves: SVP is Coming

Alright boys and girls.  It's been too long.  I shame myself. And as Earth Science week begins with the 72nd SVP Annual Meeting and National Fossil Day right around the corner, I figure I'd better get on the ball.  I will be in Raleigh, and I hope to see many of you there.  But if you can't find me in the convention center, and I don't harass you to buy a raffel ticket, look for (one of) the (many) individual(s) wearing one of these snazzy buttons.  They can help you locate me, anything else you're looking for, or just lend a hand (or other homologous structure)!

During the meeting, I do plan to blog as much as possible.  And I will also be tweeting quite a bit, so look for the official #2012SVP hashtag and get in on the conversation!  See you in North Carolina!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ornithodirans on a Spaceship

Image used with respect to the copyright holders, the BBC.  From their lovely online gallery.

I've been a horrible blogger, artist, and Whovian lately.  But all that will hopefully change soon.  In the meantime, check out what Brian Switek and Marc Vincent have to say about "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" over at Dinosaur Tracking and Love in the Time of Chasmosaurus, respectively.  And check out the Art Evolved: Life's Time Capsule "A 2nd Pop Culture Gallery" while you're at it.  The Doctor has already made one appearance there as well!

Hopefully the Art Evolved Crew are cool with me using this as well!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fiddler on the Beach

A sand fiddler crab emerges from his burrow. Photographed at North Peninsula State Park, Florida.
In the last post (and quite some time ago) I wrote about how closely connected our world is to off-world things. The Sun, Moon, and tides are all non-living components of the natural world that interact with one another.  But they also interact with many living components as well.  In fact, there are many species that live their lives completely governed by the rise and fall of the tides.  One of my favorite is the sand fiddler crab (Uca pugilator).  I mean, who doesn't love a boy with a giant claw? Fiddler crabs live in burrows created in the mud or sand along coastal areas. And although I don't normally see them on the beach, I do see them up and down Jefferson Creek where I kayak in Delaware.  But only if I'm very quiet, and very lucky to catch a glimpse of them.  These crabs will scatter and retreat to their burrows when startled.  They also do this during high tides, only to emerge again during low tide when they spend their time feeding and trying to attract mates.  The crabs live by the tidal patterns; their behavior is triggered by the Earth’s rotation itself.  These triggers can also come in the form of changes in temperature, light, or even color.   

Friday, July 06, 2012

Bringing the Thunder

The last two weekends in Maryland have started out with very powerful Friday evening storms. The derecho that took place last week was crazy.  Strong winds and powerful thunderstorms surged as they moved from the midwest to the Mid-Atlantic coast.  But I was inland for it.  I can only imagine what it was like here at the beach.  During a bad, long lasting storm, consistently strong winds would cause swells which, upon reaching the shore, could generate extremely high surf.  The energy generated by the wind is expended along the shoreline as the wave reaches it, so the higher the winds, the greater the damage that could occur.  But winds and weather aren't the only thing that have an impact on the coastline.  I was reminded of that the other night as I observed a beautiful full "Thunder Moon" over the Atlantic Ocean, and thought of the powerful effect it has on the Earth's tides.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Seashore Ornithology: The Brown Pelican

One of my favorite shorebirds is by far the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis).  It is small in comparison to the other members of its genus, and it is a fairly common bird in my neck of the woods.  But that makes them no less interesting.  They also have a relatively rich fossil record.  Fossil Pelecanus are known from the Early Oligocene around 30 million years ago, and by that point they were already very like modern forms.

A pair of Pelecanus occidentalis fly above the beach at North Peninsula State Park, Florida.
Brown pelicans are known for diving for their meals, which they catch in large gular pouches attached to their lower bill.  On land, they move about rather clumsily with their large bodies and webbed feet.  But in flight, they are truly magnificent.  Their long broad wings make them brilliant gliders. And when they flock together, which they do more often than not, they are a sight to see as they soar gently above the sand and waves.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Beach Blogging

Thalassa! Thalassa!

Time for a holiday! This week I'll be spending my days by the beach and bay, and am looking forward to a little relaxation, plenty of time outdoors, and a chance to share it with you all. The sea, home of our earliest ancestors, has always held a certain appeal to me.  While our more recent ancestors may have moved away from it for more terrestrial way of life, there are many plants and animals that never left.  And even more that returned to the waters and shorelines of the world secondarily.  I think I've always envied them a bit.  Combined with the endless hours I spent as a child combing the beach and watching the water, I always look forward to being able to return myself. So with that in mind, keep an eye out here and on Twitter for seaside science (among other things) this week.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Goodbye, Lonesome George.

Lonesome George in his corral at the Charles Darwin Research Center on Isla Santa Cruz.
In December 1971 , the last Pinta Island tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni) was discovered in the Galápagos.  This solitary male would come to be known as "Lonesome George", and he would spend the rest of his days serving as an international symbol for conservation.  As the last of his subspecies, much effort was put into trying to breed him with females of closely related subspecies, but all eggs laid were infertile.  Today, Lonesome George's life ended, and with it, another (sub)species has gone extinct.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Interweb Science of the Week #11

It's been a long time since I've done an ISW, but this video from MinutePhysics was so great, I had to bring it back.

Open Letter to the Universe, by Minute Physics, from YouTube.

Simple, entertaining videos explaining what can be rather complex ideas about science.  Love it.  This is what the Interwebs were made for.  Just throw a few cats in there, and you're covered.

And while on the subject of Interweb Science, Dr. Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. has entered the Twitterverse, "mostly for instructional purposes".  Dr. Holtz already has a fairly large web presence, so I'm a little concerned his being on Twitter might officially break the internet.  But I still recommend following him @TomHoltzPaleo. I'm sure we'll end up seeing some cats there too.  Happy Friday!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Things I Learned This Semester #31

I've been learning since the day I was born, and this semester was no exception.  In my lifetime I've managed to pick up a little bit about a lot of things.  But I'm certainly no expert when it comes to any of it.  And I kind of like that.  This world is a big place, and the vastness beyond it is incomprehensible.  It's hard to focus on any one thing when there is always so much left out there to focus on.  I'm eternally grateful for that.  Because it means that no matter what I learn, there will always be something out there left for me to discover.  We'll never have all of the answers to all of our questions about Life.  None of us can ever learn all there is to know about the Universe.  And when it comes to Everything, well, you can forget it.

Things I Learned This Semester #30

I'll admit, I'm a bit of a collector.  And when it comes to my passion for natural history, there aren't many exceptions.  Fossils, plant specimens for the garden, even toys (I'm not proud... well, maybe a little); all collected.  And I love wildlife and wild places, so I collect them too.  But bringing home the Great Smokey Mountains or an American alligator is a bit of a stretch.  So I collect things like that in pictures.  I know some really talented photographers, and I'm not one of them. In my experience, I've learned it's not the lens or the camera; heck, with me it's not even the photographer.  It's all luck, in more ways than one. Being in the right place, at the right time. Being able to go to those places at all. Being able to see the things I've seen.  And sometimes, being able to bring them home with me. I'm a very lucky person, indeed.

More wildlife than you can shake a stick at, soaking up the sun on the banks of the St. Johns River in Florida.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Things I Learned This Semester #29

Water, water, everywhere, right?  We're all taught that something like 70% of the surface of the Earth is covered in water.  And when you take a look at an image of our "blue planet" from space, it does look more "blue" than anything else.  But this stunning image puts a whole new perspective on it.  Or, at least, it did for me.

Picture of Earth showing if all, liquid fresh, and the water in rivers and lakes were put into spheres..
Earth, with all it's water locked up in a bunch of huge marbles.  Illustration by Jack Cook of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, from the USGS website.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Things I Learned This Semester #28

Spanish moss is a lie.  I guess I'd never thought about it, because I'd never encountered this puzzling plant before.  But we crossed paths for the first time when I went to Florida this semester.  As it turns out, Tillandsia usneoides is neither Spanish, nor moss.  It's actually a bromeliad, and it is more closely related to a pineapple than it is to any moss or lichen that it resembles.  Like many other bromeliads (Bromeliaceae), it is an epiphyte or "air plant", and grows by absorbing nutrients and water from moisture in the air as it hangs form the branches of its tree cousins. It's important to note that it doesn't directly harm the trees it clings to, and doesn't take anything from the tree.  But it can reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches the trees leaves, or potentially break branches as water absorbed weighs them down.

Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) blows in the southern breeze at Blue Spring State Park in Florida.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Things I Learned This Semester #22 - 27: Energy Edition Part II

Now, where did we leave off last time?  Oh, right, alternative energy sources. I touched briefly on the potential that solar technologies have to offer.  But there are a number of other alternatives to the currently fossil fuel driven system we use.

Things I Learned This Semester #15 - 21: Energy Edition Part I

And now, as promised, it's time for some very "non-avian content".  This semester I took a course on the physics of energy, and the science behind the technologies that power our every day lives.  Natural history may be where my heart lies.  But life isn't all trees, birds, and fossils.  So recently I've been interested in learning more about other aspects of the world we live in, and how our actions as a species impact it.  Energy use is one of the big ones.  Where do we get our energy from?  What impact is that having on the rest of the world?  Is there anything we can do about it?  These are big questions.  And there are no simple answers.  But I learned a few things this semester that, if nothing else, have made me a more informed decision maker when it comes to my energy use, and the politics and science behind it.  I thought I'd share a few of those things with you all.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Things I Learned This Semester #14

At the beginning of the semester, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that many of my readers like birding as much as I do. In fact, I got a pretty positive response from my "virtual birding" posts and the phylogenetic format they followed. So I figured why not give the people what they want, right? Let's expand that cladogram a little to accommodate my two new backyard birds from Saturday's post.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Things I Learned This Semester #13

It may be a well known fact that flowers are a popular gift on Mother's Day.  But I suppose I never realized quite how popular.  And I certainly never knew the actual statistics.  One fourth of all flowers purchased as gifts are given on Mother's Day.  Of that quarter, nearly 70% of the flowers are fresh cut (the most popular being carnations) and rest are flowers or other plants that you can keep in the house or put in the garden.  That's a lot of flowers!  But mother's or the world, you're completely worth it!

Happy Mother's Day!

A bouquet of Rosa sp., photographed by Jebulon, from Wikipedia.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Things I Learned This Semester #12

The state bird of Maryland, the Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula).

Today is International Migratory Bird Day.  And to celebrate, I thought I'd share another thing I learned this semester.  Predictable, I know.  But at least it has to do with migratory birds.  Two of them, in fact, both new to my yard (at least as far as I can tell).  I happened to catch a glimpse of both a Baltimore Oriole and a yellow-rumped warbler, two migratory species known to spend time in Maryland.  Both were a little shy, but I managed to catch them on camera before they took off.  I guess it will take some time for them to get used to me sticking my lense out of the window.  But I'm very happy they are around!

A (male?) yellow-rumper warbler (Setophaga coronata), hiding from me in the  mulberry tree.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Things I Learned This Semester #11

I have raccoons in my yard!  How exciting is that?  I knew I had opossums and groundhogs, and I assumed there were raccoons in the neighborhood.  But I hadn't seen any until this evening.  Tonight, I caught one checking me out as I put away my yard tools.  He seemed just as interested in me as I was in him.  Which is good for me because If I'm lucky, I'll be able to see him on a regular basis.  But not as good for him, as a friendly 'coon may end up trapped or killed if the people it lives around decide it has become a nuisance.  Rest assured, as far as I'm concerned he can hang out here as long as he likes!

Procyon lotor, the North American raccoon.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Things I Learned This Semester #10

Pēderdor the Fartinator.  Oh yeah, check out all his majesty.
Dinosaur farts make a lot of noise.  And I'm not talking about the actual act of flatulating.  I'm talking about the noise made by the media when a paper was published earlier this week.  What does the paper say? In short, that sauropod dinosaurs would have annually produced around 520 metric tons of methane as a result of their digestive process.  That's just about the same amount that we're currently pumping into the atmosphere today.  The paper, of course, simply presents a model for how they calculated this number, and it relies heavily on a lot of variables that are assumptions at best.  But what did the media say?  Some reliable, unbiased news sources immediately began running stories about how dinosaurs farted themselves into extinction, despite the fact that Wilkinson and his co-publishers never talked about extinction once in the paper.  This was immediately picked up by a number of other news outlets, and spread all over the internet.  Thankfully, there were a number of outstanding individuals at the helm ready to combat this ridiculousness with good science reporting.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Things I Learned This Semester #9

One of the coolest birds you may have never heard about, Macrocephalon maleo. Photo by Stavenn, from Wikipedia.

There is an entire clade of birds that incubates its eggs by burring them, as opposed to sitting on them and using body heat to accomplish the same goal.  The megapodes (Megapodiidae) either build mounds of rotting vegetation, or lay in holes in the ground where the eggs are heated by solar or geothermal radiation.  The chicks that hatch are superprecocial, meaning that they aren't just born with their eyes open and the ability to scamper around, but also with full wing feathers and finely tuned motor skills.  The chicks of some species, like the Maleo of Indonesia, can take up to two days to crawl out of the volcanic sand in which it is hatched, and when they reach the surface, are capable of hunting their own prey and powered flight. That's completely crazy; I love it!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Things I Learned This Semester #8

Back in March I had the good fortune of seeing a talk by Professor Lawrence M. Krauss, Ph. D., hosted by the University of Maryland Society of Inquiry.  Dr. Krauss is a world renown theoretical physicist, and the talk was excellent.  A little cosmology, a little humor, and a lot of nothing.   Absolutely nothing.  In fact, an entire Universe from nothing.  So what did I learn? Cosmic humility, on a scale I never imagined possible.

If you find yourself with a free hour, and you want to learn what I learned, I highly recommend the video below.  You won't regret it.

Uploaded to YouTube by richarddawkinsdotnet.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Things I Learned This Semester #7

The red mulberry, Morus rubra, is a wonder native tree that also bares a wonderful edible fruit.  Red mulberries are, by my account, delicious.  I'm lucky enough to have two fruiting trees that hang over from the neighboring properties, and they provide more than enough for me, and the birds.   They grow easily and rapidly as well, so the volunteer seedlings I have are off to a great start. Full disclosure: this isn't something I learned this semester, but I just brought in my first batch and they were quite tasty, so I thought they deserved a shout-out.  Here's to deliciousness!

Who's hungry?  There's plenty to go around!

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Things I Learned This Semester #6

One of the things I did get done when I moved into my new home was dig an outdoor turtle pond for my Northern diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin).  She has been very happy since she moved out of her indoor tank and into her new digs.  I adopted "Jersey" about 5 years ago, and a little under a year ago, she did some adopting of her own.  I noticed last spring that a female Northern green frog (Rana clamitans melanota) had moved into the pond. I was, of course pleasantly surprised; the pond isn't huge by any stretch of the imagination, but it still managed to attract some local wildlife. And this frog in particular went on to have  a very good spring and summer.  There was no competition for space, she was protected from predation (the pond is enclosed in a wood and wire frame to keep other critters at bay), and she had all the food she could eat.

This semester, I learned Frog and Turtle are friends. Maybe I'll write a children's book about it.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Things I Learned This Semester #5

Loads and loads of native trees, reaching for the sky.
I love trees.  Now I know what you're thinking: "C'mon, David.  You've always loved trees.  You didn't just learn that this semester."  And that would in fact, be true.  But this semester, I learned I really, really, really love trees. Like a lot.  And I've been in a sorry state, because since I moved into my new home a few years back, there have been none on my property.  But no more!  Last year I started growing oak seedlings, and some of them actually made it through the winter.  Combine that with all of the volunteer saplings that I pick from my yard before I mow, and the count goes up even higher.  But these little guys will need a lot more time to grow before they are placed in their permanent home.  Which is why I'm so pleased that I was able to procure some larger, older trees this semester.  Mixed oaks and maples, a few sycamores and birches, redbuds, elms, the works.  All ready to go in the ground, all native.  One day my backyard will look more like a miniature forest, which is fine with me.  I mean, who doesn't love a good tree?  I know this semester, I learned I certainly do.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Things I Learned This Semester #4

Today's "thing I learned this semester" is actually a news item I heard about just yesterday.  And boy is it good news. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (SNMNH) is finally going to get a new Dinosaur Hall!  David H. Koch (you may recognize the name from another hall in the museum) has made the largest donation in the history of the SNMNH, and has provided the museum with $35 million to update what is one of the museum's most popular, but ridiculously outdated, halls.

Allosaurus (of course) on display in the center "stage" of the SNMNH's current Dinosaur Hall.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Things I Learned This Semester #3

EXTERMINATE your Thursday boredom with this factoid: There is a basal mollusc named after the Daleks.  That is all.

The Cambrian mollusc Yochelcionella daleki, from Runnegar & Jell (1976).
Hat tip to Dr. Holtz for that little knowledge bomb. I definitely see the resemblance.


Runnegar, B. & Jell, P. A. 1976. Australian Middle Cambrian molluscs and their bearing on early moluscan evolution. Alcheringa 1(2): 109-138.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Things I Learned This Semester #2

Callinectes sapidus, photographed at the Maryland Science Center.

Back in 2008, Maryland Governor Martin O'Mally and Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine, at the advice of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, made the difficult decision to pass regulations regarding the harvesting of Atlantic blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus) in the Chesapeake Bay.  By shortening the harvesting season, putting limits on the number of bushels allowed to be collected, and curbing the catching of female crabs, they hoped to allow the record low populations to rebound.  Well, good news everyone! Four years later, and the crab population has reached its highest levels in the last 19 years!  A dredge survey made public back in April shows a population rise of 66%, of which 587 million individuals are juveniles.  This is great news for the crabs, but also for the watermen that make a living off of them, and for those of us who love picking a good crab on a late summer evening.  Sustainable fisheries management for the win!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The 1st of May: Things I Learned This Semester #1

I honestly can't believe how long it's been since I've been on the Interwebs. Spring is a busy season, at work, school, and home. And I've certainly been keeping occupied with things. Yes, I've tried I make my presence known through Twitter, but I figure now is a good a time as any to make my triumphant return to blogging. So on this, the first of May, I'm going to introduce something new, and ease myself back into things with a post series on "things I learned this semester". Each post will be pretty quick, and I hope to do one a day for the entirety of the month, but at least it's content. And maybe all of you will pick up a little something along the way; I know I have!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

It's been a while...

... have a placoderm.
Bothriolepis sp., a freshwater Devonian antiarch placoderm.  Man, check out those pec(toral fin)s.
I've been working on a few other projects recently, so blogging has not been happening so much. Nothing major or life changing, but enough to keep me occupied.  Needless to say, once everything else I have going on is finished up, I should have a lot more content to share, so look forward to that.  I mean, if you want.  If not, well no more fish for you.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Great Backyard Bird Count 2012

Are you ready for some birding?  If you love watching avian dinosaurs as much as I do, and you love citizen science, why not participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC)?  I know I'm going to.  All you have to do is sit and watch birds, record which ones you see, and send that data to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology / the Audubon Society / Bird Studies Canada so that they can compile it and see the big picture about what kinds of birds are out there, where they are hanging out for winter, and how many of them are around.  When I say participation is both fun and easy, I totally mean it.  Find out for yourself, and participate in the GBBC when it begins this Friday, February 17, 2012.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

It's here!

It's the moment you've all been waiting for.  The Feathered Dinosaur Gallery has been posted to ART Evolved: Life's Time Capsule, and it is quite impressive.  People love theropods, I suppose.  Especially the feathered ones.  I can't say I blame them.  The presence of feathers in non-avian dinosaur groups provides another line of evidence to support the fact that living birds are dinosaurs.  When I was a kid growing up, I never would have imagined we'd have so many wonderfully preserved fossils showing filamentous integumentary structures on the bodies of non-avian animals. Once again, we are not only provided an example of evolution at work, but we also see that new information can be added to an existing body of knowledge, and our scientific understanding can change.  I can't imagine a more appropriate gallery for Darwin Week, so thanks to the crew over at ART Evolved for putting it together, and to everyone who submitted.  It looks great!

My humble submission to an excellent "Time Capsule".  Dave and his buddy play a dangerous game!

Happy Darwin Day!

On this day, 203 years ago, Charles Robert Darwin was born.  And his brilliant theory is more important today than it has ever been.  Evolution; descent with modification; whatever you call it, the idea that species change throughout time, and are all descended from a common ancestor, is one that connects us to the rest of the living world.  This is a connection that I've always appreciated, yet there are many out there that refuse to accept it.  I've often heard people say "evolution is only a theory", which means they believe it's nothing more than a guess.  And if they believe it to be a guess, it's just as likely as any other guess.  But in science, a theory is so much more than a guess.  It's a body of knowledge, obtained through repeatable observations, that can be used to describe some aspect of Universe to to the best of our ability.  Is a scientific theory subject to change?  If course it is.  As new information is gathered, it can be incorporated into a growing body of knowledge.  But the underlying principles stay the same.  In this case, species do change over time.  They are not fixed.  Through the processes of natural selection, mutation, genetic drift, and others, species do change throughout time.  If a trait is advantageous, it is passed on to the next generation.  If it is not, it gets removed from the population.  New species are born, others go extinct.  Evolution is more than just a guess.  It is a fact.  And I think Darwin Day is a great time to explore this fact in greater detail.  A good place to start is at the PBS Evolution website.  Learn about all facets of this theory, from how Darwin began to formulate it over 150 years ago, to the mechanisms that make it possible. This NOVA program is one of the best on the subject I've seen, and the website has a lot of other interactive features for teachers, students, and the general public.  Happy Darwin Day, and enjoy!

Monday, February 06, 2012

Saurolophus Skin Suggests Speciation

A long, long time ago, I wrote a post about dinosaur integument color, and talked about "Dakota" the Edmontosaurus.  She, like her cousin "Leonardo" the Brachylophosaurus, is an exceptionally preserved dinosaur "mummy".  While most body fossil remains are made up of the hard parts of an animal (in the case of dinosaurs, it is generally their bones), these two hadrosaurines have lots of preserved soft tissue material.  Specifically mineralized skin and muscles.  Which is pretty cool, if you ask me.  From preserved skin and muscle, we can get a much better picture of what an animal would have looked like in life.  Don't get me wrong, we can tell a lot from the bones.  But the more information we have the better; every little bit helps.

The holotype of Saurolophus osborni (AMNH 5220).  Panel mount photographed by Barnum Brown in 1913.  Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Feathered dinosaurs; no excuses!

From ART Evolved: Life's Time Capsule.
Good news, everyone! The crew over at ART Evolved have extended the deadline for submissions to their February "time capsule" to this coming Saturday, February 4, 2012.  That gives everyone a few more more days to work on their pieces for the Feathered Dinosaur Gallery.  I certainly know I can use the extra time, and I'm looking forward to seeing what you all come up with!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Draw A Dinosaur Day 2012!

Monday speed sketch of "Dave" for "DADD".
You may know him as NGMC 91, the feathered dromaeosaurid from the Yixian Formation of Early Cretaceous Liaoning, China.  But "Dave" works just fine for me.  You just may see him pop up here again in the next few days.

Virtual Birding Roundup (Part 3)

Alright, boys and girls.  I started this little endeavor a month ago.  It's time to bring it all together, once and for all.  So far in our virtual birding roundup, we've spent the last two parts talking about various families within the order Passeriformes. Which makes sense considering that there are over 100 different passerine families, and they contain more than half of all known bird species (Mayr, 1946).  For the most part, the relationships between these families were traditionally defined by morphological characters, and were believed to be fairly well understood.  But recently, more and more molecular analysis has begun to show a different phylogeny; one that we still don't have a full picture of.  And that's where the next bird from our quiz comes in.

Regulus calendula

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Happy "Capitalsaurus" Day

When most people think of the District of Columbia, they think of politicians, monuments, and busy city streets.  But underneath the modern sprawl lies the remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago.  And sometimes, we are lucky enough to find them. That's exactly what happened with "Capitalsaurus".

The "Capitalsaurus" discovery site, located in Garfield Park at the 100th block of F Street, SE, and named "Capitalsaurus Court" on January 28, 2000. Photo by Nicholas Clark from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Virtual Birding Roundup (Part 2)

After a pretty positive response to "Part 1", I headed out of town and the roundup got interrupted.  Now Jenn Hall (who did a pretty great job of guessing honestly in my original post) would tell me to put some pants on and stop apologizing.  And I'm not gonna lie, that's pretty sound advice. So technically I'm not going to apologize. And I am going to wear pants. But I am also going to get this roundup going again.  If I'm not mistaken, we left off with the Passeroidea, the monophyletic grouping of "sparrow-like" birds.  Where should we go from here?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Four Critters

A little over a week ago, I posted a ridiculously low quality image of the Spring Run at Florida's Blue Spring State Park, and told you all there were four critters in it.  As ambiguous as it was, I swear, they are actually there.  Take another look. Here is the huge version that hangs off the page.  Click it for a cleaner view.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Winter Migration

Like many of my avian cousins, I've migrated south this winter. As you may already know (if you follow me on Twitter) I'm currently in Florida at Blue Spring State Park, accompanying a group of University of Maryland students on their Alternative Break trip. As soon as we got to the park, I immediately started taking photos, and when I get home and have a more reliable internet connection, I'll be sure to upload a bunch of them.

But for now, I'll leave you with this. There are four critters hiding somewhere in the photo. Can you find them?

Friday, January 06, 2012

Virtual Birding Roundup (Part 1)

Time to talk birds, specifically the ones I posted photos of in my "end of year bird quiz" . To spice things up a bit, instead of just listing as each species and writing about it a little, I'm going to throw them all onto an ever expanding cladogram.  Hopefully this way both the readers and myself will be able to learn a little about the individual animals themselves, and their relationships to one another.  Ornithology is certainly not an area of specialization for me.  But birding is one of the "outdoor" activities I engage in most often.  This is primarily because it can be done anywhere, even the comfort of your own home.  So I think this will be a fun little project and I'm excited to be able to share it with you all. But a word of warning: apparently a lot of the traditional bird groupings are not supported by molecular data, and many of their true relationships have yet to be resolved.  So I'll be doing my best to show true monophyletic groupings and relationships.  But if you know something I don't, please let me know.  That being said, let's dig right in and start with the birds from my quiz!  Read no further if you'd like to give it a shot before I start naming names.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Happy National Bird Day!

I finished 2011 with a post on birding, and figure starting 2012 in a similar fashion is not a bad way to go.  Unfortunately, my yard was not full of wonderful native birds when I got home.  In fact, when I got in today, I was greeted with this sight:

Not cool, man.