Better Know a Diet


Everyone eats, everyone consumes. Everything consumes. Regardless of whether you’re a bacterium or a tree or a giant tyrannosaur, organisms consume parts of other things to produce energy to live. Sometimes, those “things” are other organisms. When organisms are sufficiently developed, when they are diverse in form and habitat, they also want to survive.

The arms race of eaters and eatens is an old, old one, one that predates teeth, skulls, bones, backbones, even brains and nerve clusters. It predates organs. It goes back to single-celled organisms. The arms race of survival means that those seeking to eat have to find ways to get around defenses of those who do not want to be eaten; those that can’t be “gotten around” will survive, which forces their potential consumers to seek other methods of eating them. This goes back and forth for over 400 million years. Continue reading

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Long-Awaited Responses, and Orpheus


In a little while, you dear reader will see what this is a part of. If you know what these are, then you’ll know what they have in common and thus why they’re being shown. But the answer isn’t tricky: they’re all piscivores. What that means for a given animal can differ widely, as I will hope to show soon.

Piscivores SelectedEven more forthcoming is going to be a long-awaited reply to the only attempt in the literature to soundly answer “Do theropods have lizard lips,” which is a paper presented by Tracy Ford for the 1997 Proceedings volume at the Southwest Paleontological Symposium held in Mesa, Arizona at the Mesa Southwest Museum. This one is going to be fairly long, dry, and not garner as many hits or avid readers as, say, my piece on “Atopodentatus.” But hey, it’s what I like to do.

And finally, the Mongolian version of Orpheus (no clues or reward for guessing what this is meant to represent):

He doesn't look like he just lost his wife...

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A Saw in the Jaw of a Sea-God


The Devonian was a time of wonder and mystique. The Age of Fishes, it capped the rise of vertebrates and heralded the rise of skeletal diversity. Fish in this age began to inch towards the shore; some would have crawled through the muck of it; some others still out of the water.

But before the Carboniferous rolled in, with its skeleton-enhanced fish, giant insects, and great plants, the Devonian paid heed to a relatively diverse group of “fish,” the placoderms, by giving us the “hinge necked” fish, the Arthrodira. Placoderms are relatively simple looking, with a generally scaly body, simple fins, and a large head fashioned into a sort of shield. The mouth has become enhanced with a bony core for the mandible, otherwise a fleshy-flap within which lay a cartilage framework, and its margin was developed into a variety of shapes, including prongs, saws, or a relatively smooth edge. But amongst the greatest of arthrodires was Dunkelosteus which, along with other giants like Titanichthys, Dinichthys, Eastmannosteus, formed a cadre of super fishes, most of whom were predators (Titanichthys being considered a filter feeder; see Janvier, 1998). Their jaws arranged into an elaborate system of sawing edges, their maws must have been utterly terrifying had we, us wee unarmored humans, ever seen them in the flesh.

Dunkelosteus, from Steve White. Shared with permission.

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A Skull For Rhamphorhynchus, Part Two


Rhamphorhynchus muensteri in the flesh, in a "perching" mode. This illustration is a little dated.

Rhamphorhynchus muensteri in the flesh, in a “perching” mode. This illustration is a little dated, lacking a cruropatagium or uropatagium, instead having little “rackets” at the end of the legs to account for the long fifth toe.

My last post on Rhamphorhynchus muensteri‘s skull elicited some dialogue on the dietary preferences one might infer from looking at Rhamphorhynchus‘s skull. This was done regardless of the preservation of gut remains or implied habitus. In preparation of a larger thesis on dietary inference, I made some comments that seemed to cast doubt on whether Rhamphorhynchus was a piscivore. For now, my operating argument for “piscivore” is a morphofunctional one: There is an explicit morphology related to the eating of — specifically — fish. This has no relation to eating any other prey found at sea. Rhamphorhynchus, in my formulation, would be an occasional, perhaps opportunistic, fish-eater, but it doesn’t match the “piscivore” morphology. I will come back to this. Continue reading

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The Scaled Mammal


Today is World Pangolin Day; a day to reflect on the endangered, but also incredibly interesting and special nature of this mammal (here’s Dr. John Hutchinson of What’s in John’s Freezer on the many peculiarities of pangolins).

The pangolin, Manis spp. (Manidae, Pholidota, the only extant members of this group) is one of few mammals today that is so exceptional in its appearance one might mistake it for a non-mammal. Linnaeus confused bats with birds, and contended with those who classified whales as fish; but pangolins were confused with reptiles because of their bearing large, overlapping scales. Amongst mammals, pangolins have one of the longest tails to body length, and it too is covered in these diamond-shaped scales. Continue reading

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Blog Banner Bookkeeping


Skulls are fascinating. How the develop is fascinating, but what we end up with just as much. What these hard bits in the heads of animals can tell us about the not-hard bits of the head is extensive, but we’ve not tapped this well too deeply. It’s mostly just inference at this point.

Whenever I encounter an animal I want to discuss, I start thinking about its skull, and as an artist this ends up leading me to drawing it. And if sufficiently inspired I put lots of little döts on it. Stippling is time consuming, but I have fun with it. Get into a rhythm and it goes pretty fast. I like listening to some classical composers when I add döts to paper, as the regularity of the rhythm keeps me in step, and it keeps it from feeling repetitive. Continue reading

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Branching Beaks


Rhampho Solnhofen small

What a strange animal, I think, is the Rhamphorhynchus muensteri.

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