Monday, December 28, 2009

Elkanah Billings & The Ediacaran Fauna

From Ottawa Citizen has a nice long article on Elkanah Billings and his work on the Ediacaran fauna in Canada:
"Only during this decade did the global scientific community approve the Ediacaran as the first major revision to the calendar of Earth's history in more than a century. It was a stunning and long-overdue vindication of Ottawa's pioneer paleontologist [Billings], who first theorized -- in a solitary stance among his doubting contemporaries -- that the strange, ring-like markings from Newfoundland might be faint relics of a more sophisticated, multicellular form of life before such life was supposed to exist."

Chinese Black Market Fossils

From The Sydney Morning Herald comes a report on the black market trade in fossils from China:
Why the trade has grown so large is that China has become the centre of the world's fossil industry. This is not just down to China's size, but to the extraordinary level of fossil preservation in at least three large sites.

China's fossil riches face a threat not just from treasure hunters, though. In a well-intentioned effort to crack down on the black market trade - which has taken many of the best specimens into private collections before scientists even know of their existence - the Chinese Government is planning draconian new measures to prevent their export.

"There's a feeling that China is haemorrhaging fossils and people are making a lot of money,'' David Unwin, a palaeontologist at the University of Leicester, says. ''It's China's national heritage that's being lost."

But he and others are worried the new legislation will restrict ''the ability of people to collect fossils or for fossils to end up in museums".

Born This Day: Alfred Sherwood Romer

”Romer (Dec. 28, 1894 – Nov. 5, 1973) was director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University until his retirement in 1961 and was one the singularly most influential vertebrate paleontologists of the 20th Century. His work ranged over virtually every conceivable subject within that field, although it was the osteology and taxonomy of the therapsids and other proto-mammals which was nearest his heart.

In addition to this work, Romer was acutely interested in the origin and initial adaptive radiation of tetrapods, and his work became the basis for a theory of tetrapod origins which was canon until the description of Acanthostega gunnari by Clack & Coates in the 1990s. Romer was ahead of his time in his defense of monophyly of Dinosauria though he did feel that Theropoda was not ancestral to birds.” link from

Romer’s book, Vertebrate Paleontology (1966), was for many years THE textbook on VP and is still well worth picking up. One of Romer’s students, Bob Carroll, wrote an updated version entitled, ‘Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution’, in 1987. image

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Set Sail Today: HMS Beagle

From Today In Science History:

In 1831, Charles Darwin set sail from Plymouth harbour on his voyage of scientific discovery aboard the HMS Beagle, a British Navy ship. The Captain Robert FitzRoy was sailing to the southern coast of South America in order to complete a government survey. Darwin had an unpaid position as the ship's naturalist, at age 22, just out of university.

Originally planned to be at sea for two years, the voyage lasted five years, making stops in Brazil, the Galapogos Islands, and New Zealand. From the observations he made and the specimens he collected on that voyage, Darwin developed his theory of biological evolution through natural selection, which he published 28 years after the Beagle left Plymouth.

The path of The HMS Beagle. © Pearson Education, Inc.
Click to enlarge.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Early Whale Was A Suction Feeder

The morphology and systematics of Mammalodon colliveri (Cetacea: Mysticeti), a toothed mysticete from the Oligocene of Australia. 2009. E. Fitzgerald. Zool. J. Linn. Soc., published online 21 Dec.

New work supports Charles Darwin's speculation in The Origin of Species that some of the earliest baleen whales may have been suction feeders, and that their mud grubbing served as a precursor to the filter feeding of today's giants of the deep. Mammalodon colliveri, a primitive toothed baleen whale from the Oligocene, may have used its tongue and short, blunt snout to suck small prey from sand and mud on the seafloor

Fantastic Four © Marvel Comics
Although Mammalodon had a total body length of about 3 m, it was a bizarre early offshoot from the lineage leading to the 30 metre long blue whale. The new research shows that Mammalodon is a dwarf, having evolved into a relatively tiny form from larger ancestors. link

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


The birdlike raptor Sinornithosaurus was venomous. 2009. E. Gong, et al. PNAS, Published online before print Dec. 14.

Sinornithosaurus had special depressions on the side of its face thought by the investigators to have housed a poison gland, connected by a long lateral depression above the tooth row that delivered venom to a series of long, grooved teeth on the upper jaw. This arrangement is similar to the venom-delivery system in modern rear-fanged snakes and lizards. The researchers believe it to be specialized for predation on birds.

David A. Burnham, PhD University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute
"You wouldn't have seen it coming," said Burnham. "It would have swooped down behind you from a low-hanging tree branch and attacked from the back. It wanted to get its jaws around you. Once the teeth were embedded in your skin the venom could seep into the wound. The prey would rapidly go into shock, but it would still be living, and it might have seen itself being slowly devoured by this raptor." link

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Discovered This Day: 1st Living Coelacanth

Internal anatomy of the coelacanth, Latimeria chalumnae.
From Today In Science History:

In 1938, a coelacanth, a primitive fish thought extinct, was discovered. Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer was curator of the museum in the port town of East London, northeast of Cape Town, South Africa, and always interested in seeing unusual specimens. Hendrik Goosen, captain of the trawler Nerine, called her to see his catch of the day before, made at about 70-m depth, off the Chalumna River southwest of East London. She spotted an unusual 5-ft fish in his "trash" fish pile. It was pale mauvy-blue with iridescent silver markings. She sent a sketch to Dr J.L.B. Smith, a senior lecturer in chemistry from Rhodes University in Grahamstown for identification. It was hailed as the zoological discovery of the century and equated to finding a living dinosaur!
December 22, 1938, Captain Goosen and the Nerine put into East London harbour with the usual catch of sharks, rays, starfish and rat-tail fish. But there was one unusual fish amongst the catch that had been caught in about 70 meters, near the mouth of the Chalumna River. Once ashore Captain Goosen left word at the Museum that there were several specimens at the ship for Miss Latimer. At first she said that she was too busy because she was hard at work cleaning and articulating the fossil reptile bones collected from Tarkastad. But as it was so near Christmas time she decided to go and wish the crew a “Happy Christmas” and took a taxi to the docks. There, attracted by a blue fin amid the pile of sharks, she found a magnificent fish. She and her assistant put it in a bag and persuaded a reluctant taxi driver to take it to the museum in the boot of the car. It measured 150 cm and weighed 57.5 kg. From its hard bony scales with sharp, prickly spines and paired fins looking rather like legs, she knew that it must be some kind of primitive fish.

But her greatest problem was to preserve it until it could be identified. It was extremely hot, the fish, was too big to go into a bath and she could not find any organization willing to store it in a freezer. Although she was told by experts that it was only a type of rock cod and that she was making a fuss about nothing, she persisted in her attempts to save the fish for science. At first it was wrapped in cloths soaked in formalin but eventually, on the 26th, Mr. Center, a taxidermist, skinned it. Unfortunately the internal organs were thrown away. Marjorie went home disappointed and worried that she had not saved all the soft parts. What she had done, however, was to write immediately to her friend, JLB Smith, and send him her famous sketch of the strange fish.”

Miss Courtenay-Latimer's sketch of the first coelacanth which she posted to JLB Smith.

Learn more about Latimeria chalumnae at the Australian Museum fish web page.

Died This Day: Kenneth Tobey

Tobey (Mar. 23, 1917 - Dec. 22, 2002) made a career of playing “take charge, men of authority”, such as Capt. Hendry in Howard Hawkes, “The Thing From Another World” (1951), and just about every TV series throughout the 60’s and 70’s. More than a few of his appearances were in SF stories, and he played Col. Jack Evans in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953).

Premiered This Day (1933): Son of Kong

With the fantastic success of “King Kong”, RKO tried to cash in by rushing this sequel into production and release within the same year (1933). It did not do nearly as well, but animator Willis O’Brien did manage to bring some of the same charm to the big white ape that he did to Kong.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Born This Day: Sewell Wright

From the ever eloquent Today In Science History:

Wright (Dec. 21, 1889 – March 3, 1988) was an American geneticist who was one of the founders of modern theoretical population genetics. He researched the effects of inbreeding and crossbreeding with guinea pigs, and later on the effects of gene action on inherited characteristics. He adopted statistical techniques to develop evolutionary theory.

Wright is best known for his concept of genetic drift, called the Sewell Wright effect - that when small populations of a species are isolated, out of pure chance the few individuals who carry certain relatively rare genes may fail to transmit them. The genes may therefore disappear and their loss may lead to the emergence of new species, although natural selection has played no part in the process.

Check out genetic drift at The Biology Project at The University of Arizona.

Learn more about Wright HERE. Image from HERE

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ancient DNA Uncovers Late-surviving Alaskan Megafauna

Ancient DNA reveals late survival of mammoth
and horse in interior Alaska
. 2009. J. Halle, et al., PNAS, published online before print December 17.

Extinct woolly mammoths and ancient American horses may have been grazing the North American steppe for several thousand years longer than previously thought. After plucking ancient DNA from frozen soil in central Alaska, a team of researchers uncovered "genetic fossils" of both species locked in permafrost samples dated to between 7,600 and 10,500 calendar years.

This new evidence suggests that at least one population of these now-extinct mammals endured longer in the continental interior, challenging the conventional view that these and other large species, or megafauna, disappeared from the Americas about 12,000 years ago.

Cores samples offer a clear picture of the local Alaskan fauna at the end of the last ice age. The oldest sediments, dated to about 11,000 years ago, contain remnant DNA of Arctic hare, bison, and moose; all three animals were also found in higher, more recent layers, as would be expected. But one core, deposited between 7,600 and 10,500 years ago, confirmed the presence of both mammoth and horse DNA.

"At this point, mammoths and horses were barely holding on. We may actually be working with the DNA of some of the last members of these species in North America," link

Died This Day: Sir Richard Owen

From Today In Science History:

Owen (July 20, 1804 – Dec. 18, 1892) was an English anatomist and paleontologist who is remembered for his contributions to the study of fossil animals and for his strong opposition to the views of Charles Darwin.

He coined the word "Dinosaur" meaning "terrible reptile" (1842). Owen synthesized French anatomical work, especially from Cuvier and Geoffroy, with German transcendental anatomy. He gave us many of the terms still used today in anatomy and evolutionary biology, including "homology". In 1856, he was appointed Superintendent of the British Museum (Natural History).

Died This Day: Theodosius Dobzhansky

From Today In Science History:

Dobzhansky (Jan. 25, 1900 – Dec. 18, 1975) was an Ukrainian-American geneticist and evolutionist whose work had a major influence on 20th-century thought and research on genetics and evolutionary theory. He made the first significant synthesis of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution with Gregor Mendel's theory of genetics in his book Genetics and the Origin of Species (1937).

From 1918 his research gave experimental evidence that genes could vary far more than geneticists had previously believed. Thus, successful species tend to have a wide variety of genes that, while redundant in its present environment, do provide a species as a whole with genetic diversity. Such diversity enables the species to adapt effectively to changes in the surrounding environment - the basis for modern evolutionary theory.

Died This Day: Jean-Baptiste de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck

Aug.1, 1744 – Dec. 18, 1829

From Today in Science History:

Pioneer French biologist who is noted for his speculations about the evolution of living things, particularly his theory that acquired traits are inheritable (such as giraffes who, he said, through stretching to reach tall trees, make their necks longer, and then pass on longer necks to their offspring.) This Lamarckism idea is controverted by Darwinian theory.

He published a flora of France (1778) and a system of classification for invertebrate animals, published in his Histoire naturelle des animaux sans vertebres (7 vols, 1815-22). In 1809 Lamarck published his theory of evolution (in Philosophie zoologique). Lamarck's speculations about the physical and natural world found little favour among his contemporaries and he died blind and in poverty.

From info on Lamarck from The Victorian Web.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Born This Day: Father of Carbon-14 Dating

Dec 17, 1908 – Sept. 8, 1980

Libby was an American chemist who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1960 for developing the technique of carbon-14 dating. Duing WWII he worked on the Manhattan Project. Libby was responsible for the gaseous diffusion separation and enrichment of the Uranium-235 which was used in the atomic bomb.

On 18 May 1952, he determined that the age of Stonehenge was 1848 BC, based on analysis of radioisotopes in charcoal. He also discovered that tritium could be used for dating water.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Debuted This Day: Betty Boop’s Museum

In 1932 Betty Boop had her own “Night in the Museum”.

Died This Day: Father of Java Man

Eugene Dubois (Jan. 28, 1858 - Dec. 16, 1940) joined the Dutch Army as a medical officer, and used spare time from his medical duties to search for fossils, first in Sumatra and then in Java. He searched on the banks of the Solo River, with two assigned engineers and a crew of convict labourers to help him. In September 1890, his workers found a human, or human-like, fossil at Koedoeng Broeboes. This consisted of the right side of the chin of a lower jaw and three attached teeth. In August 1891 he found a primate molar tooth.

Two months later and one meter away was found an intact skullcap, the fossil which would be known as Java Man. In August 1892, a third primate fossil, an almost complete left thigh bone, was found between 10 and 15 meters away from the skullcap.

In 1894 Dubois published a description of his fossils, naming them Pithecanthropus erectus (now Home erectus), describing it as neither ape nor human, but something intermediate. In 1895 he returned to Europe to promote the fossil and his interpretation. A few scientists enthusiastically endorsed Dubois' work, but most disagreed with his interpretation. Many scientists pointed out similarities between the Java Man skullcap and Neandertal fossils.

Around 1900 Dubois ceased to discuss Java Man, and hid the fossils in his home while he moved on to other research topics. geology and paleontology. It was not until 1923 that Dubois, under pressure from scientists, once again allowed access to the Java Man fossils. That and the discovery of similar fossils caused it to once again become a topic of debate.

Skull cap (Trinil 2, holotype of Home erectus) from HERE.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ediacarans & Life On Other Worlds

Richard Corfield on Ediacarans

Image: National Museum of Natural History, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.
“So what can the story of the Ediacarans tell us about the evolution of life on other planets? First and perhaps most importantly, it tells us that evolution can happen very quickly. The idea – first credited to Darwin - that vast amounts of deep time are required for evolution to occur may not be correct. The speed with which the Ediacarans arose in the aftermath of the final Cryogenian glaciation suggests strongly that the evolution of complex, multicellular organisms was on the blocks and just waiting for the starting pistol”.

Read more here

Died This Day: Louis Agassiz

May 28, 1807 - Dec. 14, 1873

(Jean) Louis (Rodolphe) Agassiz was a Swiss-born U.S. naturalist, geologist, and teacher who made revolutionary contributions to the study of natural science with landmark work on glacier activity and extinct fishes. Agassiz began his work in Europe, having studied at the University of Munich and then as chair in natural history in Neuchatel in Switzerland. While there he published his landmark multi-volume description and classification of fossil fish.

In 1846 Agassiz came to the U.S. to lecture before Boston's Lowell Institute. Offered a professorship of Zoology and Geology at Harvard in 1848, he decided to stay, becoming a citizen in 1861. His innovative teaching methods altered the character of natural science education in the U.S. Link

More info HERE

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tor by Joe Kubert

Atomic Surgery has posted some great Tor stories by the terrific Joe Kubert.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Happy Birthday to Sarah Douglas

Sarah gets a tip of the hat for playing Lady Charlotte Cunningham is the mostly forgotten Hammer Films adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel of the same name.

Douglas is probably best known for playing the Phantom Zone Villianess Ursa in the 1978 Superman movie.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Debuted This Day: Journey to the Beginning of Time

On this day in 1995 the Czech film, Cesta do praveku, by Karl Zeman debuted in East Germany.

It was laters redubbed and shown with additional footage as Journey to the Beginning of Time in the USA.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tawa hallae: New Meat-Eating Dinosaur Alters Evolutionary Tree

A Complete Skeleton of a Late Triassic Saurischian and the Early Evolution of Dinosaurs. 2009. S. J. Nesbitt, et al. Science 326: 1530-1533.

Image: Jorge Gonzalez
A new theropod genus Tawa hallae, from New Mexico (~ 214 million years ago) stood about 70 cm tall at the hips as a juvenile, and was about 2 m long from snout to tail. It is named after the Hopi word for the Puebloan sun god.

One of Tawa’s most important contributions to science has to do with what it says about Herrerasaurus, an unusual theropod placed either just outside or just inside the evolutionary tree of theropods.

Tawa has a mix of Herrerasaurus-like characteristics (for example, in the pelvis) and features found in firmly established theropod dinosaurs (for example, pockets for airsacs in the backbone). Therefore, the characteristics that Herrerasaurus shares uniquely with theropods such as Tawa confirm the characteristics didn’t arise independently and that Herrerasaurus is indeed a theropod.

The firm placement of Herrerasaurus within the theropod lineage suggests that once dinosaurs appeared, they very rapidly diversified into the three main dinosaur lineages that persisted for more than 170 million years.

Tawa skeletons were found beside two other theropod dinosaurs from around the same period. Lead author Sterling Nesbitt noted that each of the three is more closely related to a known dinosaur from South America than they are to each other. This suggests these three species each descended from a separate lineage in South America, and then later dispersed to North America and other parts of the supercontinent Pangaea. It also suggests there were multiple dispersals out of South America.

Get more info & video at:

A Horse is a Horse, of Course, of Course, Unless of Course Its a Talking Horse Talking About Climate Change

Revising the recent evolutionary history of equids using ancient DNA. 2009. L. Orlando, et al. PNAS, published online before print December 9, 2009.

Straight from the horse’s mouth – all palaeontological research must be linked to climate change to get grants.
A new study using DNA from equid bones from caves in Eurasia and South America reveal that the Cape zebra and an extinct giant species from South Africa were simply large variants of the modern Plains zebra. The Cape zebra weighed up to 400 kilograms and stood up to 150 centimetres at the shoulder blades.

"The Plains zebra group once included the famous extinct quagga, so our results confirm that this group was highly variable in both coat colour and size."
"Previous fossil records suggested this group was part of an ancient lineage from North America but the DNA showed these unusual forms were part of the modern radiation of equid species," Dr Orlando says.

A new species of ass was also detected on the Russian Plains and appears to be related to European fossils dating back more than 1.5 million years. Carbon dates on the bones reveal that this species was alive as recently as 50,000 years ago.

"Overall, the new genetic results suggest that we have under-estimated how much a single species can vary over time and space, and mistakenly assumed more diversity among extinct species of megafauna," Professor Cooper says.

"It also implies that the loss of species diversity that occurred during the megafaunal extinctions at the end of the last Ice Age may not have been as extensive as previously thought.

In contrast, ancient DNA studies have revealed that the loss of genetic diversity in many surviving species appears to have been extremely severe," Professor Cooper says. "This has serious implications for biodiversity and the future impacts of climate change." link

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Died This Day: Mary Leakey

Feb. 6, 1913 – Dec. 9, 1996

From the Minnesota State University site:

Mary Douglas Nicol Leakey was in London, England. She meet her future husband, Louis Leakey, when he asked her to illustrate his book, 'Adam’s Ancestors'. Mary and Louis spent from 1935 to 1959 at Olduvai Gorge in the Serengeti Plains of northern Tanzania where they worked to reconstruct many Stone Age cultures dating as far back as 100,000 to two million years ago. They documented stone tools from primitive stone-chopping instruments to multi-purpose hand axes.

In October of 1947, while on Rusinga Island, Mary unearthed a Proconsul africanus skull, the first skull of a fossil ape ever to be found. It was dated to be twenty million years old. An Australopithecus boisei skull was uncovered in 1959. Not long afterwards, a less robust Homo habilis was found. In 1965 the duo uncovered a Homo erectus cranium.

After her husband died in 1972, Mary continued her work at Olduvai and Laetoli. She discovered Homo fossils at Laetoli which were more than 3.75 million years old, fifteen new species and one new genus. From 1978-81 Mary and her staff worked to uncover the Laetoli hominid footprint trail which was left in volcanic ashes 3.6 million years ago.

Image from HERE where you will also find a slightly more colourful account of her life with Louis.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Carl Gans (1939 – 2009)

Although not vertebrate palaeontology by trade, Dr. Gans had an incredible impact on the field both through his work in comparative morphology and as the the editor of the 23 volume "Biology of the Reptilia" published between 1969 and 2009.

You can read his obituary in the New York Times

Born This Day: Louis Dollo

Dec. 7, 1857 – April 19, 1931

From Today In Science History

Louis Antoine Marie Joseph Dollo was a French vertebrate paleontologist who stated Dollo's Law of Irreversibility whereby in evolution an organism never returns exactly to its former state such that complex structures, once lost, are not regained in their original form. (While generally true, some exceptions are known.)

He began as an assistant (1882), became keeper of mammals (1891) at the Royal Museum of Natural History in Brussels where he stayed most of his life. He was a specialist in fossil fishes, reptiles, birds, and their palaeoecology. He supervised the excavation of the famous, multiple Iguanodons found in 1878 by miners deep underground, at Bernissart, Belgium. image

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Relationships & Monophyly of Therocephalian Therapsids

An investigation into the cladistic relationships and monophyly of therocephalian therapsids (Amniota: Synapsida). 2009. A. HUTTENLOCKER. Zool. J Linn. Soc. 157: 865-891.

A great image by Carl Buell that I took from Carl Zimmer’s great blog.

ABSTRACT: A comprehensive phylogenetic investigation was performed to elucidate the cladistic relationships and possible monophyly of therocephalian therapsids (Amniota: Synapsida). The phylogenetic positions of 30 therapsid taxa were examined under maximum parsimony, including 23 therocephalian genera. The analysis incorporated 110 cranial and postcranial characters in order to assess the interrelationships of basal therocephalians and eutherocephalians and their relationships to Cynodontia, representing the most complete review of therocephalian phylogeny to date.

The analysis supports the hypothesis that Therocephalia represents the monophyletic sister taxon to Cynodontia, with as many as 15 morphological synapomorphies, in contrast with other recent analyses of lesser taxon sampling.

The results also support the hypothesis that Scylacosauridae is more closely related to Eutherocephalia than to the basal therocephalian family Lycosuchidae, supporting a 'Scylacosauria' clade.

The taxa suggested here to be neotenic forms (e.g. Ictidosuchoides and Ictidosuchops) are positioned near the base of a monophyletic Baurioidea. Neotenic development of the therocephalian feeding apparatus and evolutionary parallelism with cynodonts are suggested to have been important trends in the early evolution of baurioid therocephalians into the Late Permian and Early Triassic.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Ray Troll Exhibit in Seattle

If I were in Seattle I’d go to this:

The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture is excited to announce the opening of our new fossil exhibit. Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway is an exhibit that brings together the best of the Burke Museum's fossil collection and the fossil-inspired artwork of celebrated artist Ray Troll to explore questions about evolution, extinction, and early life on Earth.

The Burke Museum collaborated with artist Ray Troll and Seattle-born paleontologist Kirk Johnson to present this new exhibit exploring the abundance of fossils in our midst and how fossils shed light on Earth's past.

Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway will travel nationally after closing in Seattle in late May 2010.

Died This Day: Clair Cameron Patterson

June 2, 1922 - December 5, 1995

From Today In Science History:

Patterson was a U.S. geochemist who in 1953 made the first precise measurement of the Earth's age, 4.55 billion years. He is noted for providing the first reliable ages of the earth and meteorites (1962), using analysis of the isotopic compositions and concentrations of lead in terrestrial materials and meteorites.

He also established the patterns of isotopic evolution of lead on earth, by analysis of critical rocks, sediments and waters of the planet. Thus he created a powerful tool for identifying, tracing and evaluating the nature of the major geochemical reservoirs in the crust, mantle, and oceans.

Photo from HERE.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Vancleavea campi

The osteology and relationships of Vancleavea campi (Reptilia: Archosauriformes). S. Nesbitt, et al. Zool. J Linn. Soc. 157: 814 – 864.

ABSTRACT: Vancleavea campi Long & Murry, 1995, from the Late Triassic of western North America, represents the latest surviving non-archosaurian archosauriform known to date. We present here a detailed comparative description based on a nearly complete, articulated skeleton from the Coelophysis Quarry in north-central New Mexico and other fragmentary specimens.

The unique combination of morphological features of Vancleavea is unparalleled within Reptilia; it has four unique morphologies of imbricated osteoderms covering the entire body, a short, highly ossified skull, relatively small limbs and morphological features consistent with a semi-aquatic lifestyle.

Vancleavea is placed in a rigorous phylogenetic analysis examining the relationships of non-archosaurian archosauriforms, and is found to be more closely related to Archosauria than both Erythrosuchus and Proterosuchus, but outside of the crown group.

The analysis confirms previously hypothesized relationships, which found Euparkeria to be the closest sister taxon of Archosauria. It is not clear whether specimens referred to Vancleavea campi represent a single species-level taxon or a clade of closely related taxa that lived through much of the Late Triassic of North America, given the poor fossil record of the taxon.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Mark Schultz's Blue Book

Coming in March from Flesk Publications is Mark Schultz Blue Book by Mark Schultz. It reproduces a selection of the blue line (colored pencil) drawings that Mark did in a Moleskine Cahiers journal that he kept expressly for blue line drawings he did for his still forthcoming Storms at Sea novella.

The Blue Book will debut in March 2010 at the Stripbeurs convention in Breda, Netherlands. After that, it will be available only directly from Flesk Publications.

You’ve seen a few teaser images from Storms at Sea on the blog before. If you’re a fan of Schulze’s work you’ll want a copy of The Blue Book as well.

All art © Mark Schultz

Born This Day: Capt. Englehorn

Frank Reicher (Dec. 2, 1875 – Jan. 19, 1965) was born in Munich,Germany and had a long career in Hollywood. He appeared in over 200 films, often playing small roles in minor films, and he directed over three dozen silent movies.

He is best know for playing Capt. Englehorn in King King (1933), and it’s quickie sequel Son of Kong from later that same year.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

All Hail Our New Plant Overlords!

Leaf hydraulic evolution led a surge in leaf photosynthetic capacity during early angiosperm diversification. 2009. T. J. Brodribb, et al. Ecology Letters, published online Nov 30.

Tales to Astonish #13, 1960. © Marvel Comics
A new study of plant physiology reveals how flowering plants, including crops, were able to dominate land by evolving more efficient hydraulics, or 'leaf plumbing', to increase rates of photosynthesis.
The reason for the success of this evolutionary step is that under relatively low atmospheric C02 conditions, like those existing at present, water transport efficiency and photosynthetic performance are tightly linked. Therefore adaptations that increase water transport will enhance maximum photosynthesis, exerting substantial evolutionary leverage over competing species.

The evolution of dense leaf venation in flowering plants, around 140-100 million years ago, was an event with profound significance for the continued evolution of flowering plants. This step provided a 'cretaceous productivity stimulus package' which reverberated across the biosphere and led to these plants playing the fundamental role in the biological and atmospheric functions of the earth.

"Without this hydraulic system we predict leaf photosynthesis would be two-fold lower then present," concludes Brodribb. "So it is significant to note that without this evolutionary step land plants would not have the physical capacity to drive the high productivity that underpins modern terrestrial biology and human civilisation." link

Died This Day: J.B.S. Haldane

Haldane (Nov. 5, 1892 - Dec. 1, 1964) is best remembered along with E. B. Ford and R. A. Fisher one of the three major figures to develop the mathematical theory of population genetics. His greatest contribution was in a series of ten papers on "A Mathematical Theory of Natural and Artificial Selection" which was the major series of papers on the mathematical theory of natural selection. It treated many major cases for the first time, showing the direction and rates of changes of gene frequencies. It also pioneered in investigating the interaction of natural selection with mutation and with migration.

Haldane's book, The Causes of Evolution (1932), summarized these results, especially in its extensive appendix. This body of work was a component of what came to be known as the "modern evolutionary synthesis", re-establishing natural selection as the premier mechanism of evolution by explaining it in terms of the mathematical consequences of Mendelian genetics. From Wikipedia. More info here.