Tet Zoo = 4 years old today


Today is January 21st which means, believe it or don't, that it's Tet Zoo's birthday, the 4th no less. Holy crap... have I really been blogging for four years? Yikes, and there is still so much to do, so little ground I've covered. This is despite more than 635 (count 'em) Tet Zoo articles here on ScienceBlogs alone. As on some (but not all) of the previous occasions, this article is going to be a personal look back at the year, not a proper review of all the Tet Zoo-relevant stuff that happened in 2009 (wow, wish I had time for that). Actually, this is just about the worst time to write a review like this, as I'm having a particularly crap time of it at the moment and am thinking about giving up on blogging, on research, and on everything in general (yes, yes, the ever-present financial problems). Anyway, you don't want to hear about that... [adjacent image: a Rana temporaria that was living in my front garden. Finding a frog is, these days, a huge big deal for me].

Rather than discuss the happenings of the year on a subject-by-subject basis, I decided to go through things in rough chronological order. Because it's best to jumble things up and leave the audience to work it out for themselves, right? And... after all, everything is inter-connected and life is chaotic. Did I have a plan for the year that was 2009? Well, we had a baby on the way, and I'd been working on two books during 2008, both of which were due to be published in 2009. My plan to continue work as a free-lancing author and consultant mostly worked out, mostly, and I was also able to carry on attending conferences and doing the odd bit of academic research on the side. Projects on giraffes and various pterosaurs and dinosaurs rumbled on during the year, but I never did complete the big cat field sign paper (still in preparation).


January started with me working hard on finishing some book projects, visiting local museums (purely for fun), and hoping that my next leap would be the leap home. I met up with my good friend Dave Hone in February and went to Marwell Zoo, where we looked at Siberian tigers. Later on, I met up with David Unwin and Michael Woodley for collaborative reasons, and later in the year went to London Zoo with John Conway [adjacent picture: me at London Zoo]. Michael Woodley, Hugh Shanahan and I published our paper on discovery rates in pinnipeds in March (Woodley et al. 2009): the first of several technical contributions on marine cryptozoology we have in preparation. More on marine cryptozoology in part II. Rhynchosaurs were finally covered in January and February, and I'm pleased to report that a recommendation I made in one of my articles affected a decision soon to be reported in the technical literature (more on this in time). The 'How to rot down dead bodies' article from March was one of the year's highlights. I also enjoyed analysing the alleged Russian 'archaeocete' carcass. Another article from March - the one about the fighting behaviour of passerine birds - resulted in a huge bun-fight as one of Tet Zoo's local fringe lunatics reared his head and worked hard to tell us that we were wrong about everything. Ahh, I love people like that! Said insane individual still sends me long, ranting emails, despite requests that he piss off and die.

Dinosaurs, 'snake guilt' and Nature Blog Network


As regular readers will know (and, sorry... I'm sure I say the following far too often), I tend not to cover dinosaurs all that much on Tet Zoo because I feel they get an inordinate amount of coverage already. I mean, there are quite a lot of good blogs now devoted to Mesozoic reptiles (shout-outs to Archosaur Musings, Chinleana, DinoGoss, Dracovenator, Paleo Errata, Theropoda and Why I Hate Theropods... other Mesozoic-themed blogs are available), but not all that many on the toads of the world, burrowing snakes, Asian jerboas, xenodontine colubrids, temnospondyls, or caecilians. Having said all this, dinosaurs - and pterosaurs - figure prominently on Tet Zoo. Highlights for the past year include the brief series on new finds from January (this series of articles might give you some idea of how many new dinosaur and pterosaur papers come out every single month at the moment... would you believe that over 50 new dinosaur genera were named in 2009?), the trunked sauropod smack-down, the ceratopsian series from April, the Birds Come First articles, the new Wealden theropod piece, and the Majungasaurus, Limusaurus and Tethyshadros articles. I also blogged on some major pterosaur news stories, including the publication of Claessens et al.'s work on pneumaticity (this sparked a huge debate in the comments section on the still-controversial topic of ornithodiran physiology), the 'transitional' pterosaur Darwinopterus, and the news that Mark Witton is up to something really rather interesting... [adjacent image shows a pterosaur I found on the Isle of Wight in August 2009].

I had 'snake guilt' during the year and tried to sample some of the diversity of this enormously successful group of reptiles. Examples: the horned snake article, the anaconda one, and the xenodontine and Micropechis posts. Hoofed megamammals got some coverage in April what with the stuffed megamammal and great Asian cattle articles. I want to write more about lesser-known hoofed mammals, and some time I will.


I get asked to do quite a few interviews for other blogs. Four such requests have been made over the past few months, and I haven't had time to deal with any of them (when I have 'spare' time on the computer, I need to use it to write posts for my own blog!). However, in May an interview with yours truly was featured on Nature Blog Network. I think it makes pretty good reading and I enjoyed doing it... though, I have to say that I remain surprised that some people apparently don't like the fact that Tet Zoo is listed so high on the NBN rankings. Err, hell-o-o... Tet Zoo is devoted to animals, animals, animals and animals. You know, like Greg Laden's blog (currently # 1 on NBN... sorry Greg) [for no reason at all, here's David MarjanoviÄ. Note his t-shirt and red, piercing eyes].

I also wrote about the 'Jaws' carcass in May and showed (to my satisfaction, at least) that it was a dead domestic cat, thereby ending yet another of those Montauk-esque carcass 'mysteries'. Montauk monster # 2 was also covered in May, and the Cerro Azul monster - a sloth denuded of most of its hair - was featured here in September. Some have said that I've made a cottage industry out of debunking weird carcasses (indeed, I've received several photos of additional unidentified dead things since doing the Montauk carcass); so be it. Plans for field work in Libya came to fruition by May, and we said goodbye to Cyril Walker in this month.

The sauropod neck posture event


In happier news, Mike P. Taylor, Matt Wedel and I published our paper on head and neck posture in sauropod dinosaurs in May as well. Our paper (free pdf here) received a small (cough cough) amount of publicity (see also the substantial coverage on SV-POW!). This paper had its genesis a few years earlier. We had all thought that the data on head and neck posture in extant animals flatly contradicted some of the claims made in the dinosaur literature, and planned some time to write this up. But we were also aware of the fact that this data was so 'out there' (as in, easy to see and find) in the literature that we were likely to be beaten to it. Mark Witton and I even cited some of the several relevant articles (Vidal et al. 1986, Graf et al. 1995) in our 2008 paper on azhdarchid pterosaur palaeobiology (Witton & Naish 2008), and I was kind of worried that archosaur workers might see the references then and jump to the obvious conclusion (this being that the 'osteological neutral pose' hypothesis was flat wrong) [adjacent image by Mark Witton].

One day, Mike, Matt and I were having one of our usual discussions (I mean, over email) and the whole Vidal et al. neck posture thing came up again. We decided there and then to start the paper and knocked up the first draft - and the rest is history. As is the case with so many technical papers, our article went through a long, complicated and frustrating series of to-ings and fro-ings before eventual acceptance. This isn't because it ever got properly rejected, but because some of the journals we submitted it to jerked us around... Stories like this are not uncommon: part of the game we play in publishing academic research.

We had a poster about our neck posture research at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting held at Bristol in September, and it went down a storm [in image below: from left to right, Taylor, Witton, Naish and Wedel]. Also looked very cool (the poster is supposed to be up on a wall somewhere at the University of Portsmouth, but if so I haven't seen it there yet).


Here endeth part I. More in the next article.

For the previous birthday articles see...

Refs - -

Graf, W., de Waele, C. & Vidal, P. P. 1995. Functional anatomy of the head-neck movement system of quadrupedal and bipedal mammals. Journal of Anatomy 186, 55-74.

Taylor, M. P., Wedel, M. J. & Naish, D. 2009. Head and neck posture in sauropod dinosaurs inferred from extant animals. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 54, 213-220.

Vidal, P. P., Graf, W. & Berthoz, A. 1986. The orientation of the cervical vertebral column in unrestrained awake animals. Experimental Brain Research 61, 549-559.

Witton, M. P. & Naish, D. 2008. A reappraisal of azhdarchid pterosaur functional morphology and paleoecology. PLoS ONE 3 (5): e2271. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002271

Woodley, M. A., Naish, D. & Shanahan, H. P. 2009. How many extant pinniped species remain to be described? Historical Biology 20, 225-235.


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Today sees the publication of a new paper by Michael P. Taylor, Mathew Wedel and myself in which we make a bold and controversial claim: based on data from living animals, we contend that the necks of sauropod dinosaurs - all sauropod dinosaurs - were most likely held habitually in erect poses, and…
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I'm having a particularly crap time of it at the moment and am thinking about giving up on blogging, on research, and on everything in general (yes, yes, the ever-present financial problems)

Sorry to hear that, mate. For what it's worth: you should know that for many of us, reading your blog makes our daily lives ever so slightly more pleasant.

Said insane individual still sends me long, ranting emails, despite requests that he piss off and die.

See? Even your worst (only?) enemy can't get enough of your writings. (Btw, why doesn't he just start his own blog, if he feels that he's got so much to say?)

here's David MarjanoviÄ. Note his t-shirt and red, piercing eyes

Red, piercing eyes are a synapomorphy of Austrian people.

Thanks for the shout-out to the Musings. Keep up the good work old boy!

By Dave Hone (not verified) on 21 Jan 2010 #permalink

here's David MarjanoviÄ. Note his t-shirt and red, piercing eyes

For some reason I expected him to look scarier.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 21 Jan 2010 #permalink

Happy Tet Zoo Birthday!

And seriously, we all understand if you have to back away from blogging, even if only for a while. Life is life, and you've got to take care of that first and foremost.

Even if you were stop right now, your contributions to the understanding of zoology and paleontology via "new media" would stand out as a stellar contribution to our field. Naturally, we're always happy to see more, but not at your personal/emotional/temporal expense.

And may you find many more frogs in your garden!

Said insane individual still sends me long, ranting emails, despite requests that he piss off and die.

Interesting. I only get a short rant about saurischian phylogeny (or rather the lack thereof) once every few weeks anymore.

other Mesozoic-themed blogs are available

Come on. It's ridiculous to be too humble to mention SV-POW!.

would you believe that over 50 new dinosaur genera were named in 2009?

â¦for crying out loud. That's one every week. Suddenly I don't feel so guilty anymore about gradually losing the ability to keep up.

Note his t-shirt and red, piercing eyes

I thought it's PZ who can shoot laser beams from his eyes?

Also note the hand-painted Ä at the end (some ASCII moron left the whole letter off!), and note that the red-eye effect extends to my fingernails. No, I have not ever painted them pink. <facepalm>

To my left is Jason Anderson, the first author of Gerobatrachus.

I was kind of worried that archosaur workers might see the references then and jump to the obvious conclusion (this being that the 'osteological neutral pose' hypothesis was flat wrong)

Heinrich Mallison (pers. comm.) came to that conclusion independently (his wife is, IIRC, a surgeon and knows what it means when people suddenly start walking around holding the neck in the ONP), but he's busy with other things⦠:-)

Btw, why doesn't he just start his own blog, if he feels that he's got so much to say?

Why indeed. I'll ask him next time he sends me something.

Red, piercing eyes are a synapomorphy of Austrian people.

Scuse me!?! That's Terminator FOUR you're linking to. The one without Arnie. The superfluous one.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 21 Jan 2010 #permalink

Also note the hand-painted Ä at the end

â¦of my nametag.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 21 Jan 2010 #permalink

Scuse me!?! That's Terminator FOUR you're linking to. The one without Arnie.

Gah! My link's URL has macromutated! I originally linked to a still image from the original film (the scene from the hotel room, after Arnie's just taken out his damaged eye and looks into the mirror).

The superfluous one.

To be honest, all three sequels were really superfluous. But T:2 justified itself by being awesome, and T:3 was crap but watchable, mainly thanks to the blonde terminatrix.

Bloggin's like crack, man, you'll never be able to stop.

Happy first-post day to TetZoo -- to be honest, it seem to have been around for longer...

Happy blogging anniversary, Tet Zoo!

In all seriousness, hope that things pick up for you. Reading Tet Zoo and the comments has become an essential part of my daily activities, and you really have set the bar where it comes to blogging about the amazing diversity of animals, past and present. Tetrapod Zoology stands as a shining example of how a seemingly technical blog can capture the attention and imagination of the ordinary public, no need to dumb down or water down any of the information.

And a very Happy Birthday to Tet Zoo! It does share
its birthday with Baby Spice, but I suppose at some
point we can send Mr. MarjanoviÄ into the past to take
care of that...

By Craig York (not verified) on 21 Jan 2010 #permalink

many a time has Tet Zoo made my day. thanks for the zoological goodness, darren!

Happy Birthday to Tet Zoo. And congratulations to you, sir.

By Anthony Docimo (not verified) on 21 Jan 2010 #permalink

Happy Birthday!

You are already older than average tasmanian devil or phascogale, and about one fourtieth of maximum age of radiated tortoise. If you were a t-rex, you would be already about two tons heavy, but if you were still a stag, your mating sucess would be non-existent.


Holy shit, I really didn´t see this "discussion" with the freak. I am again and again surprised how resistent some people are towards undenyable arguments. It reminds me to several super-freaky creationists and pseudo-creationists I entountered in some forums over the years. What´s going wrong in their heads?

And Happy Birthday Tetzoo! Thank you for countless hours of fascinated reading.

I'm a first year zoology student and I've been checking this blog for a couple of years. I was very excited to stumble across a site with so much interesting and informative content, often on stuff I'd hardly found any information on elsewhere (e.g. mesonychians, borhyaenoids.) Tet zoo has made an important contribution to my tetrapod general knowledge and been hugely inspirational to me. The tetrapod diversity, knowledge and love of animal anatomy and behaviour on here are awe inspiring, and judging by some of the comments left under countless articles I think I speak for many.

Thank you for Tet zoo, and if / when you stop posting is irrelevant; the articles posted over the last four years are a more generous contribution than anyone could have expected. Cheers.

4 years, 600+ articles, who knows how many avid readers...that is quite the accomplishment. You sir, have set the bar. I can't give enough thanks for this awesome little spot of the internet.

By Sebastian Marquez (not verified) on 21 Jan 2010 #permalink

Happy anniversary and thanks for the many great articles! Sorry to hear about the troubles. I for one hope you will keep blogging but understand if that's impossible...

Thank you for many years of great blogging Darren as someone said earlier for those of us with deskjobs reading TetZoo is an amazing break from the norm, spotlight on wondrous things and remembrance of what we have left behind. I often wander if I had the courage you have had could I have made it in Palaeo but then I think if even the mighty Naish is struggling what hope is there for me (+ I could never get along with Martill & Barker :) )!

Good luck and I hope you can continue blogging but understand fully if you can't.

By RStretton (not verified) on 21 Jan 2010 #permalink

Sorry to hear you're having troubles at the moment. I have to say Tetrapod Zoology has been one of my favourite blogs for a long time, and I am probably not a member of the core audience here. I'm more the space-geek type (gave up studying the biological sciences because they were too difficult, stuck to the physics instead), and many of the blogs I read are space-related.

However it is rare to find a blog where the content is consistently excellent, the posts do not shy away from being technical yet are still accessible to someone who isn't inside the field, and which don't get continuously involved in tedious blogwars. Plus the comment threads here are a good read too, this is definitely something to appreciate, even if the majority of the discussion does go way over my head.

Happy Birthday Tet Zoo! Awesome blog Darren and very enjoyable - I tune in every day to read it. The great balancing act between employment, family, and interests, is a real struggle, but there's got to be a workable solution out there somewhere (for all of us!). If you're ever stuck for blog inspiration, poorly known weirdo extinct crocs (Stomatosuchus?) are always an option (hint, hint!). Ditto anything tainted by cryptzoology!

By Andrew Wright (not verified) on 21 Jan 2010 #permalink

Your Blog is great. Hope you become financially secure.

By Bob Michaels (not verified) on 21 Jan 2010 #permalink

Thanks for the awesome readings this year Darren!

Happy birthday, and good luck on the financial issues.

Congratulations on the 4th Anniversary - and wishing you all the best for the future.

Thank you sharing these wonderfully original pieces, written much like papers. Good luck to tide over the travails.

For now, just want to say many thanks to everyone for the very kind and ego-boosting comments.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was terrible, but I liked Terminator Salvation.

To add my voice to the chorus, many is the time I've scanned down my RSS reader and exclaimed, "Awright, a new TetZoo!" Keep up the good work!

By Squiddhartha (not verified) on 22 Jan 2010 #permalink

Happy anniversary! Darren, this blog a wonderful educational nexus. It has also been inspirational, in that I can see and read the work of yourself and many other people who come to paleontology from different angles and varied professional backgrounds. It reinvigorates my own aspirations with every post.

However, you and I have very different tastes in certain movies: Terminator 4 sucked! And I might humbly submit that Avatar was a billion-dollar Pocahontas redux, and your post about it was the only thing to make it even remotely interesting : )

I hope you will be able to populate your posts with good personal news in the future.


Happy Anniversary, Darren, and a big thanks.

TetZoo is _the_ best science blog out there and has greatly enriched my life over the past 4 years.


By Mike from Ottawa (not verified) on 22 Jan 2010 #permalink

Happy birthday, Tet Zoo! You continue to be one of my go-to blogs, and Darren really is a nice guy (I sweartogod, the Penetrator is making a comeback soon).

As for Terminator, I'm one of the few who likes T:2 more than the original movie, which I feel has terrible pacing. I pretend that T:3 doesn't exist, because it blatantly ignores the timeline set up in T:2. I enjoyed Salvation but went in with very high expectations, hoping it would be as good or better than T:2. It was not. Sam Rockwell's character was never explained. Is he supposed to be a proto-Terminator or the newest version? Why didn't the machines just shoot Kyle on the spot instead of tossing him in a holding cell? Why was the movie so heavy on fanservice?

So, yeah. In closing, T:2 was awesome.

I'd like to join the others in thanking you, Darren, for the effort you've put in over the last four years in keeping your blog so consistently informative and entertaining. I think it's the best out there.

Yeah, 1 and 2 together make Terminator 3 (and thus 4) pretty much impossible. But most of it is watchable due to the fight scenes. I haven't watched 4, but if there's not even an Arnie in them, why should I?

2 was impressive.

(But I have always had a fascination with liquid nitrogen. Got to cook stuff in it in mol. bio. lab courses. ^_^ )

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 22 Jan 2010 #permalink

Congratulations, Darren! This is the level of science blogging others should strive towards. Man, I haven't received a Peter Mihalda email for years (not that I'm asking for one). And yes, Arnold (or rather an artificial likeness of him) IS in Terminator 4, which was indeed better than 3.

4 years of teh awesomeness

By Michael O. Erickson (not verified) on 22 Jan 2010 #permalink

This blog is one of the little things that keeps me sane through the day. Congratulations and thanks for all you've done up to now, and I hope you'll be able to continue for a long time to come!

In response to Dave Marjanovic's photo. It's like Homer Simpson says "See that little guy over there? He's just standing there, he's gonna do something, and you know it's gonna be something cool..." and then you close the door a hear blood-curdling destruction.

By Tim Morris (not verified) on 23 Jan 2010 #permalink

Got to cook stuff in it

Make that "boil" rather than "cook".

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 23 Jan 2010 #permalink

Happy Birthday!

This is the first site I come to when I go online. Not only do I learn more about the natural world but I KNOW its accurate - something that is not garenteed in most animal books written for the layman.

Seriously, its OK to blog less, where you find the time to write so many interesting and in depth blog articles while doing research, picking up litter, and writing real science papers is beyond me. You need a vacation :).

Seriously though, congrats on this and Happy Birthday Tet Zoo! And I hope things get better for you, Darren.

By Michael O. Erickson (not verified) on 23 Jan 2010 #permalink

Terminator fun fact:

During a commercial-TV repeat of T1 a couple of years ago, somebody went to the bathroom in an ad-break and flipped down the toilet seat. The seat bounced twice before settling, creating EXACTLY the dramatic 'DUM--da-dum' motif from the soundtrack. We laughed and laughed.

Keep it up Darren, don't you dare cut down.

By John Scanlon FCD (not verified) on 24 Jan 2010 #permalink

Sir if I may say so...THANK YOU for all the learning that you have enabled me to do since I found this blog.
Reading your blog has made me smile,chuckle,and to be honest,(when I read that you may discontinue your writing) get a feeling in the pit of my stomach very close to what I felt the day I learned that Tom Baker was no longer "The" Doctor...
I hope that you are able to continue, but if not, please know that there are legions of us that WILL sincerely miss you.
Again...I say THANK YOU and I sincerely mean it.