Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Favorite Maniraptor of 2014 Results


Much as I predicted, Anzu took this one by a landslide. Changyuraptor came in second, to be expected for a well-preserved dromaeosaurid. I appear to have been the only one who voted for Eopengornis, but come on, check out that fossil. Not to mention the interesting implications for rectricial evolution in avialans (possibly confirmed by the publication of Chiappeavis last year).

Holotype of Eopengornis, from Wang et al., 2014.

As for this year's poll? We have two dromaeosaurids as strong contenders, the giant Dakotaraptor and the excellently-preserved Zhenyuanlong (both of which, coincidentally, preserve evidence that wings were retained in flightless dromaeosaurids), but I imagine the unexpectedly bizarre Yi will be tough to beat.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Review of 2015

It was a busy year and the Tumblr suffered for it, but, considering that I didn't end up blogging significantly less than I did last year, I'm reasonably satisfied with what I did on here. Jurassic World came out this year, causing much discussion in the paleontological community. I have nothing to add about the film that has not already been said, but its release did give me the prompt to finish up another story arc for the comic. My travel destinations this year included New York, Osaka, and Dallas, the last of which hosted the first SVP conference I've attended. Additionally, I indulged in some frivolous nonsense, including a Twitter meme and the obligatory April Fools' post.

Cover image for the "Triassic Park" storyline.

Though not directly related to the blog, the unexpected stardom of my Cartoon Guide to Vertebrate Evolution, which I drew this past summer, is worth a mention. It is by far my most popular work on DeviantArt (in terms of number of favorites and comments), has been made available on merchandise by popular request, earned me interviews with Terp Magazine and the National Center of Science Education, and has reportedly been used in presentations at academic conferences. Wow.

The Cartoon Guide to Vertebrate Evolution.

Onward to new maniraptor discoveries of the past year. In January, newborn chickens were found to mentally map numbers the same way humans do. New material of Caenagnathus and Elmisaurus was described. Linheraptor was argued to represent a separate taxon from Tsaagaan. New studies came out on emberizoid phylogeny and seed dispersal by emus. Newly-named maniraptors included the Eocene trogon-like avialan Foshanornis songi and the enantiornithine Houornis caudatus (formerly a species of Cathayornis).

Chicks trained to circumnavigate panels displaying a target number of identical elements (A), showing a preference for the left panel when navigating past numbers smaller than the target number (B) and for the right panel when navigating past numbers larger than the target number (C), from Rugani et al., 2015.

In February, altruistic behavior among northern bald ibises flying in V-formation was reported. The genomes of Darwin's finches were sequenced. Caenagnathasia was reported from the Iren Dabasu Formation for the first time. Male peafowl were discovered to use infrasonic signals during courtship. A trade-off was found between sexual attractiveness and parental effort among male grassquits. The postcranial anatomy of Gansus was described. New studies came out on the phylogeny of Todiramphus kingfishers and harriers, the body mass of Mesozoic avialans, the barb geometry of asymmetric feathers in Mesozoic paravians, the loss of taste in penguins, the mechanics of avian feet during perching and grasping, the craniocervical myology of Falcarius and Nothronychus, and the evolution of gastralia and sterna in paravians. Newly-named maniraptors included the Miocene heron Nyctisoma robusta.

Male Indian peafowl displaying, photographed by Nihal Jabin, licensed.

In March, purportedly distinct redpoll species were found to have largely undifferentiated genomes. The blue-bearded helmetcrest, once thought extinct, was rediscovered alive. Natural selection and sexual selection were discovered to operate on different axes of variation in avian plumage color. New studies came out on the origin of crown passerines and the phylogenetic position of the mandanga and the São Tomé shorttail. Newly-named maniraptors included the enantiornithines Dunhuangia cuii and Yuanjiawaornis viriosus, the Cretaceous euornithine Juehuaornis zhangi, the phorusrhacid Llallawavis scagliai, and the Perijá tapaculo (Scytalopus perijanus).

Phylogeny of motacillids showing the mandanga and the São Tomé shorttail as members of the clade, from Alström et al., 2015.

In April, new ecological information for the black tinamou was reported. A new specimen of Longipteryx was described. Transoceanic migration in blackpoll warblers was documented. New studies came out on the size of the gastral basket in Mesozoic paravians and the ontogeny of Deinonychus. Newly-named maniraptors included the scansoriopterygid Yi qi, which preserved evidence of membranous wings, a contender for the most unexpected dinosaur discovery of at least the past decade.

Holotype of Yi qi, from Xu et al., 2015.

In May, evidence of nest site fidelity in troodonts was described. Contagious yawning in budgerigars was reported. The trace fossil Wupus agilis was argued to represent a large avian footprint. New studies came out on the function of the alula in flight, the development of the avian snout and hallux, the phylogeny of hesperornithines, the evolution of sexual dimorphism in wood warblers, differences in exploration behavior of carrion crows and common ravens, and the safekeeping of tools by New Caledonian crows. Newly-named maniraptors included the dromaeosaurid Saurornitholestes sullivani, the Cretaceous euornithine Archaeornithura meemannae, and the Sichuan bush warbler (Locustella chengi).

Chicken experimentally induced to develop snout morphology similar to the ancestral amniote condition, compared to a typical chicken ("control") and an alligator, from Bhullar et al., 2015.

In June, the osteology of Nothronychus was described in detail. Rapid head rotation was found to help lovebirds maneuver quickly. Correlation was found between avian altriciality and toe orientation. The pelvic limb musculature of the ostrich was modeled. New specimens of Masillapodargus and Tonsala were described. Brown thornbills were discovered to mimic a chorus of alarm calls to dissuade nest predators. An egg once thought to belong to a ceratopsian was reevaluated as an enantiornithine egg. Several purported stem parrots were reconsidered and found to have been stem passerines. New studies came out on the phylogenetic position of Balaur, the bone histology of Aepyornis, convergence in feather crests of domestic doves, the evolution of sternal ossification in ornithothoracines, ontogenetic shape change in the chicken brain, and mimicry in female cuckoo finches. Newly-named maniraptors included the enantiornithines Cratoavis cearensis, Holbotia ponomarenkoi (a longtime nomen nudum), and Parapengornis eurycaudatus.

Brown thornbill, photographed by J.J. Harrison, licensed.

In July, roosters were found to crow in sequence based on their social rank. The genome of the North Island brown kiwi was sequenced. The helmeted woodpecker, once thought to belong to Dryocopus, was found to be a species of Celeus. Newly-named maniraptors included the oviraptorosaur Huanansaurus ganzhouensis, the dromaeosaurid Zhenyuanlong suni, and the Miocene condor Kuntur cardenasi.

Holotype of Zhenyuanlong suni, from Lü and Brusatte, 2015.

In August, hummingbird tongues were reported to function as micropumps. Canaries were discovered to be flexible in the timing of learning songs. Blue-footed boobies were found to use behaviorally-induced camouflage to hide their eggs. New studies came out on chemical defense in common cuckoo chicks, opisthotonic head displacement in chickens, the endocranial anatomy of Eocene stem penguins, the ultrastructure of Anchiornis feathers (supporting identification of preserved microbodies in the fossil feathers as melanosomes), the diversification of avians across the K-Pg boundary, and inference by exclusion in Goffin's cockatoos. Newly-named maniraptors included the enantiornithine Pterygornis dapingfangensis.

Amazilia hummingbird tongue filling with (dyed) nectar, from Rico-Guevara et al., 2015.

In September, king penguins were found to be able to distinguish odors of conspecifics. Zebra finches were discovered to pick mates based on behavioral compatibility. Black-chinned hummingbirds were reported to nest in association with Accipiter hawks to increase breeding success. Mated pairs of southern rockhopper penguins were found to winter in separate locations. Brown-headed cowbirds were shown to select hosts in response to reproductive success. American crows were discovered to gather around dead conspecifics as a means of learning about danger. New studies came out on bone histology of penguins, the emergence of social rank in monk parakeets, and the function of colored beak spots in king penguins. Newly-named maniraptors included the Pleistocene barn owl Tyto cravesae and the flightless Pleistocene duck Shiriyanetta hasegawai.

Southern rockhopper penguin, photographed by Stan Shebs, licensed.

In October, a well-preserved enantiornithine wing was described. Recent advances in research on bird origins was reviewed. Kleptoparasitism in gentoo penguins was reported. New studies came out on cooperation in common ravens, the evolution of body mass in pan-alcids and wing shape in avians, the phylogeny of neornithines, the morphology of penguin feathers, and the relationship between skeletal and total body mass in birds. Newly-named maniraptors included the Miocene shorebird Hakawai melvillei and the large dromaeosaurid Dakotaraptor steini.

Phylogeny of neornithines, from Prum et al., 2015.

In November, a supergene was found to be responsible for divergent male morphs in ruffs. Blue-capped cordon bleus were reported to use a tap-dancing courtship display. Pigeons were discovered to assume leadership based on speed. Zebra finches were observed negotiating vocally over parental care. Cerebavis was reevaluated and found to be a euornithine. New studies came out on the function of hindlimb feathers in Mesozoic paravians, the evolution of avian brain modularity, the hindlimb myology of moa, the social network dynamics of New Caledonian crows, and the foraging behavior of great tits. Newly-named maniraptors included the hesperornithine Fumicollis hoffmani, the plotopterid Stemec suntokum, and Paragallinula, a new genus for the lesser moorhen.

Male ruffs in breeding plumage, photographed by Arjan Haverkamp, licensed.

In December, spontaneous tool use in greater vasa parrots was reported. Asymmetric limb control during bipedal locomotion in guineafowl was described. New studies came out on heat dissipation in calliope hummingbirds, locomotion in large ground birds, hook tool use in New Caledonian crows, cervical pneumatization in ostriches, structural color in Eurasian jay feathers, and the diversification of neornithines. Newly-named maniraptors included the possible dromaeosaurid Boreonykus certekorum, the enantiornithines Feitianius paradisi and Chiappeavis magnapremaxillo, the Eocene possible suliform Mangystania humilicristata, and the extinct Holocene rails Rallus adolfocaesaris, Rallus carvaoensis, Rallus lowei, "Rallus minutus" (preoccupied), and Rallus montivagorum.

Greater vasa parrot, photographed by AEM, licensed.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Redbubble shop!

After receiving some requests for merchandise of my Cartoon Guide to Vertebrate Evolution, I decided to open a Redbubble shop.

Suggestions for other designs to include are welcome. (However, I will not upload any of my fan art of copyrighted works as designs.)

Perot Museum of Nature and Science

In addition to the Dallas World Aquarium, I visited the Perot Museum of Nature and Science during the course of SVP. The museum had made admission free for SVP attendees while the conference was going on, which was a treat.

Being accustomed to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History, the Perot Museum's exhibit halls appeared much smaller in comparison. However, size does not translate to quality, and the Perot made good use of its space. On top of that, it is very architecturally interesting.

The museum takes visitors straight to the top floor and has them work their way down. As additional enticement, the top floor is where the dinosaurs are. The centerpiece of the fossil hall is a Tyrannosaurus pursuing an Alamosaurus. (There is also a mounted mountain lion and a deer as a modern example of a large-bodied predator-prey duo.)

The sign says Hypsilophodon, but this dinosaur will probably get its own genus.

Tenontosaurus, without a Deinonychus in sight!

They had a nice series of mosasaur mounts, including this Tylosaurus.

In museums, Archelon and other large turtles can fly.

To represent the North American-Asian biotic interchanges in the Cretaceous, we have the skull of Tarbosaurus...

... and the skull of Gorgosaurus.

The skull of Protohadros.

So that's the way they're swinging. Hmm.

The giant beaver Castoroides.

Adult Edmontosaurus and juvenile Ugrunaaluk.

Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum, whose trivial nomen shares the same namesake family as the museum.

Skulls of Torosaurus and Styracosaurus.

A flight of stairs leads to the museum's bird exhibits, which was nicely symbolic. They open with a display on avian evolution. There's Deinonychus!

Here's Archaeopteryx.

A life restoration of... Flexomornis? Interesting choice considering it is known only from fragmentary limb bones, but it all falls into place when one remembers that it was discovered in Texas. I don't buy the beak or the foldable tail fan.

Hesperornis, among few marine dinosaurs of the Mesozoic.

Representing modern birds is a pelican.

I like how the alternative phylogenetic positions for Archaeopteryx are shown here. It hasn't turned up as a non-avialan in a while, but it was presumably still a hot topic when these exhibits were made.

Though we didn't have time to explore the rest of the museum for long, getting to see the fossils was enough to satisfy me for the time being. On the whole, I had a great time in Dallas!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Dallas World Aquarium

While in Dallas for SVP, I took the chance to visit some nearby attractions. I was accompanied by my friends Ben Giraldo and Mustafa Malik, the latter of whom I'd met in person for the first time. One of places we went to was the Dallas World Aquarium. It does not look spectacularly large on the outside (it takes up a single block on its own, and not a particularly large one), but, on the inside, it is quickly revealed that it makes very efficient use of its space, though not always in ethically sound ways.

Visitors can view a series of aviaries even before they reach the ticket booth. This one contains some red-tailed black cockatoos.

A Pesquet's parrot. It is easy to see how it received its alternate common name of vulturine parrot.

Past the ticket booth, there is an exhibit for a Matschie's tree-kangaroo.

A shoebill.

The main display area starts as one goes up a flight of stairs. Even though this institution is nominally an aquarium, most of the exhibits are not strictly aquatic-themed. Its biggest and probably most impressive display is an immersive exhibit simulating a tropical South American rainforest. A variety of birds are free to roam here and a few other animals have at least the illusion of such freedom. There are also smaller, enclosed displays set along the path throughout.

One of these enclosed displays contained a number of small birds. This blue-naped chlorophonia aptly demonstrates why the display is known as "Jungle Jewels".

I neglected to take a picture of the sign for this one, but I think it is a swallow tanager. I wasn't a fan of the touchscreen signs they had at this aquarium. In my experience, the average visitor ignores typical signs frequently enough as they are, let alone signs that require you to click through multiple menus to find what you are looking at. Even I couldn't be bothered at times to read the exhibit signs here, which is saying something.

Some golden-headed manakins.

A helmeted curassow with its striking casque.

Sharing its enclosure were two giant anteaters (only one visible in this photo) and many other bird species. This exhibit was extremely tall (making it difficult for visitors to see most of the birds), but the ground space looked far too small for the anteaters. Sadly, this is a recurring problem with this aquarium.

Some white-faced sakis. They are confined to an island in the midst of the immersive habitat, but the tall trees and dense foliage probably make up for limited horizontal space.

On the flip side, some pied tamarins were kept in a glass-fronted display that didn't appear to provide much room for them. Though they are small, they are also very active, and would almost certainly appreciate more opportunities to burn off their high energy.

Below them was a (small-looking, yet again) pond for giant otters, the first ones I've ever seen in life. (In typical otter fashion, they were too active to photograph easily.) Despite its flaws, the Dallas World Aquarium is arguably worth a visit for the impressive number of rarely-seen species it has.

A curl-crested aracari. There are likely more toucan species housed here than anywhere else I've been to.

A pygmy marmoset in much the same situation as the pied tamarins.

A three-toed sloth! Another first for me, as two-toed sloths are much more common in captivity.

An emperor tamarin, from a view that doesn't fully show off its distinctive mustache.

An Orinoco crocodile, likely yet another first!

A Cuvier's dwarf caiman, sadly in yet another tiny exhibit.

The descending pathway leads to an underwater view of the lake surrounding the monkey island visible from earlier in the tour. This tank houses many Amazonian fish and a West Indian manatee.

The rainforest gives way to the part of the aquarium that actually focuses on aquariums. Ultimately a minor part of the facility in terms of space, but not without gems like this mandarinfish.

There were your "standard" leafy seadragons and weedy seadragons, but I had never seen ribboned pipefish before then. Their seaweed-mimicking appendages are probably convergent with those of the better-known seaweed-mimicking pipefish. (Yes, seadragons are pipefish, not seahorses!)

A sea cucumber. I frequently see this species in pictures, but its name escapes me.

A small outdoor detour took us to a series of displays with African animals, including some black-footed penguins. Penguins are wonderful, but I was more taken by this white-crested turaco.

The last third of the aquarium was devoted to Mesoamerican animals and their roles in Mayan culture. This part starts off with a series of terrarium-style exhibits before making way for another immersive rainforest display, though it is smaller than the one that came before.

Some Mexican beaded lizards. They were being fed while they were there, hence why one of them has a baby mouse in its mouth. Prior to the discovery that the presence of venom is widespread in squamates, beaded lizards and the Gila monster were widely said to be the only venomous lizards (naturally, excluding snakes in those pre-phylogenetic-nomenclature days). Behind them were some rattlesnakes (which I didn't get pictures of), separated by glass but giving off the illusion of sharing the same exhibit.

A Morelet's crocodile.

A jaguar playing with a log. Although there is an outdoors portion of its enclosure (only visible to visitors through a video camera), this exhibit still suffers from limited space.

A harpy eagle. Cool.

An ocellated turkey, the species of turkey we North Americans are not familiar with.