122 posts · 119,890 views
Amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals (the tetrapods), living and fossil. Their evolution, ecology, behaviour and biology. Think killer eagles, dinosaurs, giant caimans, mystery cats and lake monsters.
People often send me links to stories of the Indian cow that took to eating baby chickens. The story isn't at all new: it appeared in the press in March 2007, and at least one of the cow's lapses into carnivory was filmed. It's shown here (though see below). As with the epic cat fight, do NOT watch this video if you are easily disturbed or upset by scenes of animal death and suffering. I will spoil the surprise by telling you that the cute little baby chicken gets eaten alive by the big nasty ........ Read more »
PIETZ, P., & GRANFORS, D. (2000) White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) Predation on Grassland Songbird Nestlings. The American Midland Naturalist, 144(2), 419. DOI: 10.1674/0003-0031(2000)144[0419:WTDOVP]2.0.CO;2
I said in the previous pronghorn article that the modern pronghorn - Antilocapra americana - is but the tip of the phylogenetic iceberg, if you will; the only surviving member of a group that was previously far more diverse [the adjacent photo (from wikipedia) shows Ramoceros osborni. Yes, it really looked like that, read on].
As we'll see here, fossil pronghorns encompassed a reasonable amount of diversity: there were kinds with deer-like pseudo-antlers as well as others that superficially........ Read more »
The recent, brief foray into Shoebill territory made now a sensible time to use a few other Shoebill-based images I have here in the Tet Zoo archives. That, and I haven't been able to finish anything more substantive due to other commitments. We begin with a lateral view of a skull I once photographed - sorry about the crazy colours, once again my fantastic photographic skills have done me proud (this image is a scan of a piece of special paper featuring the image... I think it's called a phot........ Read more »
Mayr, G. (2003) The phylogenetic affinities of the Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex). Journal of Ornithology, 144(2), 157-175. DOI: 10.1007/BF02465644
If you're a regular reader you'll have seen the recent article on those African 'great bubalus' depictions and on how they might (or might not) be representations of the large, long-horned bovin bovid Syncerus antiquus. As discussed in that article, S. antiquus - long thought to be a species of Pelorovis - is now regarded as a very close relative of S. caffer, the living Cape buffalo. As usual though, there are quite a few additional things that I wanted to cover, so here's an attempt to ti........ Read more »
Gentry, A. W. (1967) Pelorovis oldowayensis Reck, an extinct bovid from East Africa. Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Geology, 245-299. info:/
Once upon a time, a huge variety of small to very small vesper bats - basically all of those that possess a simple tragus, a shortish face, two pairs of upper incisors and two upper and two lower premolars - were lumped together as the pipistrelles. You don't have to have a detailed or expert knowledge of vesper bat diversity or morphology to realise that at least some of these characters are primitive across Vespertilionidae, or have evolved repeatedly in disparate lineages. When these observ........ Read more »
BRIGGLER, J., & PRATHER, J. (2003) Seasonal Use and Selection of Caves by the Eastern Pipistrelle Bat (Pipistrellus subflavus). The American Midland Naturalist, 149(2), 406-412. DOI: 10.1674/0003-0031(2003)149[0406:SUASOC]2.0.CO;2
Yesterday we looked briefly at goose digestion. Pretty incredible stuff, I'm sure you'll agree. Hey: wouldn't it be weird if some waterfowl were poisonous? Yeah, wouldn't it. Well... guess what? Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »
Bartram, S., & Boland, W. (2001) Chemistry and ecology of toxic birds. ChemBioChem, 809-811. info:/
So, in the previous article we introduced vesper bats (sensu lato) as a whole, covered the idea that they're pretty diverse in morphology and behaviour, and also looked quickly at where they seem to fit within the bat family tree as a whole. As you'd predict for a diverse group of over 400 species, there have been numerous attempts to group these many species into clades, and to work out the patterns of evolution within the group. A large number of 'subfamilies' and 'tribes' have been named ........ Read more »
Agnarsson I, Zambrana-Torrelio CM, Flores-Saldana NP, & May-Collado LJ. (2011) A time-calibrated species-level phylogeny of bats (Chiroptera, Mammalia). PLoS currents. PMID: 21327164
The interconnectedness of ecosystems and their components is, today, a familiar concept. Top predators eat herbivores, herbivores eat plants, and top predators keep so-called meso-predators in check too. But perhaps it isn't appreciated enough just how interconnected things can be. Cristina Eisenberg's excellent 2010 book The Wolf's Tooth: Keystone Predators, Trophic Cascades and Biodiversity draws on decades of ecological research to paint a complex picture of ecosystem interactions and casca........ Read more »
Brown, J., Laundré, J., Gurung, M., & Laundre, J. (1999) The Ecology of Fear: Optimal Foraging, Game Theory, and Trophic Interactions. Journal of Mammalogy, 80(2), 385. DOI: 10.2307/1383287
So, you've had an introduction to the incredible leaf-tailed geckos (Uroplatus). In view of their bizarre appearance, it's perhaps not so surprising that leaf-tailed geckos have commanded attention for a long time and there's a large historical literature on these animals (see Bauer & Russell (1989) for review) [U. fimbriatus shown here; image by J. W. Connelly, from wikipedia]. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »
Russell, A., & Bauer, A. (1988) An early description of a member of the genus Phelsuma (Reptilia: Gekkonidae), with comments on names erroneously applied to Uroplatus fimbriatus. Amphibia-Reptilia, 9(2), 107-115. DOI: 10.1163/156853888X00521
Back to the series on pouches, pockets and sacs (for previous articles see links below). The previous article finished by looking at the guttural pouches present in the Mongolian gazelle Procapra gutturosa. This links us nicely to the select group of mammals - perissodactyls, hyraxes, bats and rodents - that possess air-filled structures (called guttural pouches) located in the upper respiratory tract, pressed up close to the tympanic region at the back of the skull. In this article, I'm only ........ Read more »
If asked "Why do giraffes have such long necks?", the majority of people - professional biologists among them - will answer that it's something to do with increasing vertical reach and hence feeding range. But while the 'increased vertical reach' or 'increased feeding envelope' hypothesis has always been the most popular explanation invoked to explain the giraffe's neck, it isn't the only one.
In 1996, Robert Simmons and Lue Scheepers argued that the giraffe neck functions as a sexual sign........ Read more »
Taylor, M. P., Hone, D. W. E., Wedel, M. J., & Naish, D. (2011) The long necks of sauropods did not evolve primarily through sexual selection. Journal of Zoology. info:/10.1111/j.1469-7998.2011.00824.x
More waterfowl weirdness...
Most waterfowl can walk fine on land, and the majority of species are pretty agile in terms of their terrestrial abilities. But some species are so specialised for life on water, and have their legs placed so far back on their bodies, that any terrestrial abilities are poor, if not hilarious. One often reads of how divers (or loons) are only able to move on land with an awkward shuffle; less well known is that some waterfowl are pretty much the same. Read the re........ Read more »
McCracken KG, Harshman J, McClellan DA, & Afton AD. (1999) Data set incongruence and correlated character evolution: an example of functional convergence in the hind-limbs of stifftail diving ducks. Systematic biology, 48(4), 683-714. PMID: 12066296
Episode 2 of series 2 of Inside Nature's Giants was devoted to pythons (for an article reviewing ep 1, go here). Specifically, to Burmese pythons Python molurus. And, quite right too. Snakes are among the weirdest and most phenomenally modified of tetrapods: in contrast to we boring tetrapodal tetrapods with our big limb girdles, long limbs and less than 100 vertebrae, we're talking about tubular reptiles with a few hundred vertebrae, stretched organs, distensible jaws and total or virtual a........ Read more »
Cohn MJ, & Tickle C. (1999) Developmental basis of limblessness and axial patterning in snakes. Nature, 399(6735), 474-9. PMID: 10365960
In the previous article we looked at the majority of taxa included within the 'plecotin' group. As discussed therein, while there may be a clade of 'core plecotins', the traditional concept of the group might be paraphyletic. Some plecotins - Idionycteris in particular - might even be outside the clade that includes plecotins and all other vespertilionines. Here we look at a particularly interesting group of vesper bat species that might, or might not, be part of the 'core plecotin' clade: t........ Read more »
Holderied M, Korine C, & Moritz T. (2010) Hemprich's long-eared bat (Otonycteris hemprichii) as a predator of scorpions: whispering echolocation, passive gleaning and prey selection. Journal of comparative physiology. A, Neuroethology, sensory, neural, and behavioral physiology. PMID: 21086132
Steve Sweetman and I have just published a paper on a new maniraptoran theropod dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous Wealden Supergroup of East Sussex, England (Naish & Sweetman 2011).
As you might know if you're a regular reader, much of my technical work has been devoted to Wealden theropods and I publish papers on them fairly regularly (recent articles: Benson et al. (2009), Naish (2010); see links below). I still have yet to publish one of my most significant contributions - the monograp........ Read more »
Naish, D., & Sweetman, S. C. (2011) A tiny maniraptoran dinosaur in the Lower Cretaceous Hastings Group: evidence from a new vertebrate-bearing locality in south-east England. Cretaceous Research, 464-471. info:/10.1016/j.cretres.2011.03.001
Welcome to the second part of the series on the various pouches, sacs and pockets present in the heads, necks and chests of mammals. Last time we looked at the laryngeal sacs of primates (and, should you encounter unfamiliar anatomical terms in the following text, be sure to check out that first article for an anatomical primer). Comparatively speaking, the structures present in primates are well known... or, at least, their existence is comparatively well known. Less well known is the suggest........ Read more »
Garstang, M. (2004) Long-distance, low-frequency elephant communication. Journal of Comparative Physiology A, 190(10), 791-805. DOI: 10.1007/s00359-004-0553-0
Everybody knows that camels are weird. As you'll know if you've been keeping an eye on SV-POW! lately, we've recently been quite taken with their necks. But it's not just camel's necks that are weird. Here, we embark on another look at the sometimes bizarre pouches, pockets and sacs present in certain mammals, most of which are outgrowths of the respiratory system.
Relatively little known is that (some) camels possess an inflatable diverticulum on the palate, termed the dhula, dulaa, gulah,........ Read more »
Arnautović I, & Abdel Magid AM. (1974) Anatomy and mechanism of distension of the dulaa of the one-humped camel. Acta anatomica, 88(1), 115-24. PMID: 4838369
The big buzz here in Hampshire (southern England) at the moment is the recent arrival of a White-tailed eagle Haliaeetus albicilla. This magnificent raptor - it can have a wingspan of 2.4 m and is one of the biggest eagles in the world - is historically extinct in England, but individuals still appear here on occasion [image of the Hampshire bird shown here by Darren Crain].
A member of the 'sea eagle' clade Haliaeetus, the White-tailed eagle appears to be the sister-species of North Americ........ Read more »
Wink, M., Heidrich, P., & Fentzloff, C. (1996) A mtDNA phylogeny of sea eagles (genus Haliaeetus) based on nucleotide sequences of the cytochrome b-gene. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology, 24(7-8), 783-791. DOI: 10.1016/S0305-1978(97)81217-3
In January 2011, Junchang Lü, David Unwin, Charles Deeming and colleagues published their Science paper on the amazing discovery of an egg-adult association in the Jurassic pterosaur Darwinopterus (Lü et al. 2011) [the specimen is shown here: image courtesy of Junchang Lü, Institute of Geology, Beijing, used with permission]. Darwinopterus is the incredible 'transitional pterosaur', first unveiled to the world in October 2009 and rapidly becoming one of the most important pterosaurs of al........ Read more »
Lü J, Unwin DM, Deeming DC, Jin X, Liu Y, & Ji Q. (2011) An egg-adult association, gender, and reproduction in pterosaurs. Science (New York, N.Y.), 331(6015), 321-4. PMID: 21252343
The fingers and toes of geckos are surprisingly complex.... Read more »
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