Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas Caudipteryx Chapter VI

The conclusion of this storyline!

Yes, there really is an Alan Feduccia Wikipedia page. It's a lot longer than the Wikipedia pages of many, shall we say, more rigorous paleontologists, for shame.

Merry Christmas Saturnalia, everyone! Happy holidays!

A Christmas Caudipteryx Chapter V

The whole "not reading signs" phenomenon that's present at zoos and other similar institutions really baffles me. If people don't know what they're looking at, why don't they read the sign that's right in front of them (or, in most cases, not too far off at least) instead of guessing arbitrarily and making themselves look like fools? Of course, even when they do read signs they probably still don't know what they're looking at (though chances are that it is explained a few lines down), but at least learn its proper name, please. (I remember reading a post at Tetrapod Zoology about red pandas, and Dr. Naish mentioned that one of the comments he heard while looking at the red pandas in a zoo was, "That's not a panda, pandas are black and white." A painful experience that must have been, indeed.)

As it happens, this phenomenon also appears online. In my experience, explaining why birds are dinosaurs (for example) can be extremely frustrating, mostly because the people you're trying to explain things to keep ignoring your main points and bringing up entirely irrelevant topics. (For an example of one of these discussions I've had, see here. My contributions begin on the second page.) It's particularly weird with people who accept the fact that birds had dinosaurian ancestors but don't grasp the implications. They think that it's somehow possible for something to be descended from another and not belong in the same clade as its ancestors. A living thing can never get out of a clade that its ancestors were in! There are also people who think that birds are just "related" to dinosaurs but not dinosaurs themselves, which is wrong. We are related to dinosaurs, and so are mushrooms and trees and bacteria if you go back far enough. The difference is that birds are nested deeply inside dinosaurs, not a branch that lies outside of Dinosauria. Finally, there are those who think that there's some sort of "debate" about whether birds are dinosaurs when there hasn't been for at least ten, if not twenty years. Only the BAND (who are nuts and don't know what they're talking about) and news media who only like to stir up controversy instead of actually learning about what they're reporting think there's any debate. Don't listen to fringe lunatics and idiot reporters, please.

To be fair, I must say I myself have recently had a "d'oh" moment when I failed to grasp the title of a journal entry. In my defense, I didn't realize that the title was actually the name of a blog.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Christmas Caudipteryx Chapter IV

I've been wanting to draw that last panel since forever.

"On vacation" is, of course, an exaggeration. It's tremendously easy to undo unconstructive edits on Wikipedia, so even if someone or another doesn't have any time to read through scientific papers or whip up anatomically accurate restorations they can still help out WikiProject Dinosaurs in other ways as long as they have Internet.

By the way, the "Eldritch Abomination" label at the bottom of this post references the Jurassic Park style dromaeosaurid.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Christmas Caudipteryx Chapter III

In spite of recent finds, there are still several coelurosaur ghost lineages. Using phylogenetics, it's possible to predict whether a certain clade existed at a certain point in time. If phylogenetic analyses are correct (and they might not be), we know that clade simply must have been around at that time. However, we may not find any actual fossils of that clade from that time period. When this happens, we end up with a ghost lineage.

For a long time, Archaeopteryx was the oldest known maniraptor, dating from the Late Jurassic. But Archaeopteryx was an avialian, one of the most derived maniraptors. If avialians were around in the Jurassic, where were all the other Jurassic maniraptor groups? The BAND jumped on this fact, calling it the "temporal paradox" and using it as "evidence" that birds couldn't have descended from dinosaur ancestors. But the BAND were wrong (and still are). The real answer to the "paradox" was that we simply hadn't found the other Jurassic maniraptors. Throughout the last ten years or so these ghost lineages have slowly been filled up. We now have Jurassic deinonychosaurs (Anchiornis, as well as some teeth and an undescribed troodont nicknamed "Lori"), alvarezsauroids (Haplocheirus), and even a possible therizinosaur from the Early Jurassic (Eshanosaurus). The odd group out is the oviraptorosaurs. What did Jurassic oviraptorosaurs look like? Only time will tell.

A Christmas Caudipteryx Chapter II

I was aiming to put up one part of this storyline a day. I failed after the first chapter.

Even stinkin' synapsids include some pretty interesting groups. Proboscideans are one of these. Unfortunately, I can't say anything intelligent about them because first of all this blog is Raptormaniacs and second, I'm not Dr. Naish.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Christmas Caudipteryx Chapter I

It's the Raptormaniacs Christmas special! (Even if it has almost nothing to do with Christmas itself.)

I sometimes feel the same way as Remex. I learned a long, long time ago to never, ever read Youtube comments. On the other hand, sometimes it can be a guilty pleasure to read such comments when there are other, vastly more knowledgeable (and probably more sane) people in the vicinity (such as at Tet Zoo) who can take these trolls and turn them inside out, mash them into a pulp, mash their pulp into a pulp, then fling the remains into the far reaches of the universe where they can get devoured by some sort of extraterrestrial life form. Plus, I can feature particularly egregious offenders as Dethroning Moments of Suck on Deviant Art.

Also, I really, really wish that "birds evolving from pterosaurs" remark was just a sarcastic offhand comment, but it's not.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tough Questions

What are the answers to these questions, anyway? For the first one, clearly not any single individual deinonychosaur would be able to spontaneously fly if it belongs to a taxon that can't fly to begin with. However, we do know that some small deinonychosaurs could probably fly. Presumably, a newly-hatched deinonychosaur wouldn't be able to fly, but we don't know how long it took for them to fledge.

For the second question, I suppose it also depends on what kind of neornithine we're talking about. Flightless ones will never be able to fly no matter how much they eat, but what about flying ones? Some birds feed their young every fifteen minutes. Assuming it generally takes around twenty days for these birds to fledge, they'd have eaten around two thousand insects by the time they leave the nest!

I don't think we can give a definite answer to the last question. My guess would be "a lot".

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Puggles Part III

It's not uncommon these days to see paleo art depicting Mesozoic maniraptors feeding their young in the manner that many living maniraptors do now. But, in truth, this may not have been the case for most Mesozoic maniraptors.

Mesozoic maniraptors appear to have been most similar in reproductive habits to more basal modern birds such as palaeognaths, the tinamous and their flightless relatives such as ostriches and emus. Like many palaeognaths, male oviraptorosaurs and deinonychosaurs appear to have took multiple mates, who then laid their eggs in one big clutch. The males were probably the ones responsible for brooding the nests.

Also like palaeognaths (as well as basal neognaths such as the gallianseres - the pheasant and duck group), young oviraptorosaurs and deinonychosaurs could run and walk well as soon as they were out of the egg. As a result, they were probably quite capable of feeding themselves. One or both of their parents may have helped shelter them from predators and lead them to food sources, but when it came down to actually procuring the food, the hatchlings were most likely on their own.

So, unlike the blind and helpless young that early mammals probably had, theropods in general likely had very precocial young!

Now, it's still possible that these theropods fed their young on some occasions, as crocodiles (which are also archosaurs that have hatchlings which can hunt for themselves) have been observed feeding their young in captivity. But given the apparent rarity of this behavior, it's still safer to assume that most Mesozoic theropods didn't feed their young most of the time, if they did at all.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Puggles Part II

The intelligence of Mesozoic maniraptors is frequently exaggerated by pop culture and dinosaur fans, but it's good to point out that Mesozoic mammals probably weren't a whole lot more intelligent when the mammal enthusiasts get too above themselves.

Regarding Zahavi's line, the handicap principle is a hypothesis put forth by biologist Amotz Zahavi to explain why sexual selection often selects for characteristics that hinder their owners. According to this, these characteristics evolved because they hinder their owners. The idea is that, if a male can escape from enough predators and find enough food to survive to maturity in spite of such handicaps, he must be a very fine male indeed. There's a show on Animal Planet called The Most Extreme. Each episode focuses on a certain aspect of zoology (such as "Biters", or "Predators", or "Global Conquerors") and then lists the "top ten" animal contenders for that category. This isn't decided through anything particularly rigorous or scientific, but the show does contain some good information and I find it entertaining when I happen to catch it on TV. (It really messed up badly when one episode claimed that Tyrannosaurus rex was the ancestor of the Komodo dragon, however.) Either way, there was one episode I saw called "Fashion Disasters", which talked about how the physical features of some animals can cause difficulties for them, even eventually killing them. It's no surprise that seven out of ten of the contenders were in thanks to features they gained through sexual selection.

Of course, for the handicap principle to manifest at such a young age as a newly hatched monotreme would be detrimental and so probably wouldn't occur.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Puggles Part I

A puggle is an occasionally-used term for baby monotreme, by the way. It appears that it was originally used for baby echidnas, and some websites I've read say that since baby echidnas and platypuses don't look alike it's erroneous to use it for platypuses. But since echidnas appear to be essentially terrestrial platypuses, I'll use it either way.

Warm and Fuzzy

I can never figure out how to get Ostrom's head right.

But the champion of art evolution on this blog has to be Skull! Just compare his first appearance in the "theme song" with the way he looks in the Balaur bondoc song.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Guest: Balaur

Parody of the P-p-platypus.

Thank goodness for scanners. I no longer have to awkwardly type up the script. I still apologize if my handwriting is in any way hard to read*, but at least the image is quite clear.

*If so, all you have to do is ask!

I chose to adopt the thought-provoking hypothesis that Balaur bondoc was a strange herbivorous dromaeosaurid instead of the conventional double-bladed superpredator image, because it's funnier. And, frankly, more interesting.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Maniraptors in Pink

Over at ArtEvolved, they're organizing a fundraising event based on paleo art! All through October, you can draw and send in pink dinosaurs. They'll donate one dollar to cancer research for every pink dinosaur drawn. If you're not so comfortable with drawing, no pressure. You can also support the event by donating directly here.

Traditionally, dino artists have always been free to take liberties with dinosaur colors. After all, just about all of our dinosaur books make a point of how it's impossible to tell colors from dinosaur fossils. However, that's beginning to change. Thanks to exciting new developments in the examination of fossils, it is now possible to identify some types of color pigments in fossilized integument. So it is very possible that many of our speculations on dinosaur colors, particularly of those that have their skin and skin coverings preserved with them, will be proven wrong.

But we are still allowed to take liberties with prehistoric beasts that haven't or won't have their colors revealed, right?

Well, not exactly, especially concerning feathered dinosaurs like maniraptors.

There are several ways feathers get their colors. Blue is the result of light being scattered through microscopic structures within integument. The pennaceous feathers* of deinonychosaurs and oviraptorosaurs certainly have the potential to be blue, but we're not so sure about protofeathers. Superficially, protofeathers look a lot like mammalian hair, which cannot be blue. (Which explains why there are mammals with blue skin but not blue fur, even in groups that have fairly good color vision.) And fossilized iridescent feathers usually restrict their iridescence to the barbules, which protofeathers don't have. However, protofeathers, being homologous to pennaceous feathers, had an internal structure more like pennaceous feathers than like hair. So blue protofeathers might still be possible.

*Deinonychosaurs, oviraptorosaurs, and basal birds have pennaceous feathers only on the wings and tail, or (in deinonychosaurs at least) occasionally on the head and parts of the body, the rest of the body being covered in protofeathers. For a more detailed description of feather distribution in the derived maniraptors, see here.

Most other colors are produced through color pigments. Melanins are responsible for different shades of gray and brown, and a lack of melanin will result in white. Combined with structural color, melanins can also produce full-on black. So far, fossilized dinosaur colors have been deduced by examining their preserved melanin pigments.

Another group of pigments is the carotenoids. These are responsible for bright reds, yellows, and oranges in not only feathers but skin, yolk*, and scales. They can also combine with structural color to make green. Dinosaurs can't make carotenoids by themselves. They must eat plants, or fish and invertebrates that eat plants. Because of this, carnivorous dinosaurs don't have much choice in feather colors and generally make do with just structural colors and melanins, unless they feed on herbivorous fish or insects. (Duller reds are okay for carnivores though, as they can be produced by melanins.) There are exceptions to this, like Egyptian vultures which have bright yellow faces, but that's because they feed on herbivore poop.

*Many birds use flavins for yolk instead.

There are also the porphyrins, which probably don't fossilize, but luckily the colors they produce (mostly browns and reds) can probably be deduced through just melanin. Interestingly, they have a role in insulation, so perhaps feathered dinosaurs that were active in colder temperatures had a few extra splashes of reddish brown. There are other types of color pigments out there, and many bird groups have evolved their own unique pigments, but these are the main ones.

For a much more comprehensive and detailed guide, go to DinoGoss!

Now, how did an announcement about a fundraising event turn into this?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Savape and the Avian Style Meme

I actually have five new comics in my sketchbook, I just haven't scanned them yet. On a more productive note, I've started using Blogger's pages function to put up some introductory info about this blog as well as a blogroll.

Those of you who follow me on Deviant ART have probably seen this before. I meant to put it up here as well, but didn't do it until now. The original template is by lizkay.

I originally wanted to use a dromaeosaurid for this, but decided to use Savape: close enough in anatomy, but (probably) lying on the avian* fork in the maniraptor family tree.

Either way, combining the traits of a cartoony basal bird and pop culture caricatures of modern birds was fun to do. I had to cope with Savape's visible wing claws, long tail, retractable toe, and lack of an alula, tertials, or beak, for instance.

- Savape (and nearly all the other characters in Raptormaniacs) was drawn using minimal references. As cartoony as my drawings are, I usually still use references to get the basics done, but with Raptormaniacs being even less serious than usual I just drew my own perception of each character.

- This one turned out well; a lot better than I anticipated. It was the first one other than the personal style I drew, so I wasn't sure if I was any good at this.

- I used Fearow as a base for this one, as its build and general personality are more in line with Savape's.

- I found it hard to get good full-body shots of Jeremy, and a lot of his images showed him being comically tied up in string. Appropriate for him, perhaps, but not for the generally more dignified Savape. Fortunately, I discovered a nice picture of him standing guard on a wooden post.

- I really like this one. Perhaps it's that Kehaar's aggressive streak fits and so the rest just caught on; I don't really know.

Quest for Camelot
- It wasn't too hard to compensate for the differences between Savape and modern birds, a six-limbed partly mammalian gryphon was trouble. So I just did the head. Besides, I couldn't find full-body shots for this one.

Asterix - I don't know anything about this web comic, but I just went with what I had. I used mainly the rooster as a base because the body shape fits better, even though Savape is female.

Family Guy
- I also happen not to know anything about this show, either, perhaps surprisingly. I don't watch much television. That weird fight with the chicken I watched on Youtube (to get some inkling of what I was supposed to be drawing) was more random than Freakazoid!, so I wasn't exactly impressed, although I won't judge on the basis of that one clip. Either way, I think I did okay with this one.

For the Birds - Couldn't really do much with this. The Pixar birds are just round things with eyes and beaks, so I responded in kind. Not that it's a bad thing; I love Pixar as much as everyone else.

- Yikes, toothy neornithines and feather fingers really freak me out. I was extremely bothered by feather fingers when I was younger, so I blatantly avoided this trope as much as I could. Whenever I wanted to draw a neornithine holding something I would always have it use its feet or beak. That still holds true today. Luckily, Savape is able to circumvent these pet peeves of mine. As an Archaeopteryx lithographica, she naturally has teeth as well as functional fingers.

The Animals of Farthing Wood - I found a good image of the shrike and used that. Savape is rather predacious. Wouldn't put it past her to impale her victims on thorns or some such.

Griff - No full body shot again, but being a gryphon character that's no handicap. I only needed the head.

*That's Aves, semi-broadly defined. Some authorities use the narrower Aves which includes only modern birds and anything descended from their last common ancestor. Following this usage Archaeopteryx lithographica isn't an avian, although it's still (probably) closer to modern birds than to dromaeosaurids.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Vancouver Aquarium

A slight deviation from the usual fare, but I'll try to get more comics up soon.

On the second week of July, I went to the Vancouver Aquarium. Here are some photos I took there. Ironically, I couldn't get many good photographs of fish; they tended to move around too much.

My favorite part of this aquarium is probably the Amazon Gallery. To get there you have to go through the Tropic Gallery first, which has many tropical fish from both the sea and freshwater, but I didn't take any pictures. It's quite hot and humid in the Amazon Gallery to emulate the tropics, but you can see some pretty neat animals and exhibits. There are Amazonian fish, of course, and a fruit bat exhibit. The main portion of the gallery is an aviary-type area with a wooden walkway. There are many types of animals in this area and you can have lots of fun trying to find them all. My record was pretty poor this time, but I've gotten close in the past. There are many types of butterflies, river turtles, red-footed tortoises, scarlet ibises, three species of parrots, three species of tanagers, whistling ducks, two-toed sloths, and plumed basilisks, the last of which are probably the hardest to look for. Out of all the times I've been to the Vancouver Aquarium, I've only seen a basilisk twice. I didn't get to see any sloths or ducks or blue-gray tanagers this time, either. In fact, nearly all the animals I saw this time were those that you were bound to see either way and didn't take much searching. Disappointing, I guess, but it's part of the fun.

Other animals from the gallery I really wanted to see but didn't were an emperor tamarin and a pygmy marmoset. The two tiny monkeys are kept in a exhibit separated by netting from the aviary area, and it's really neat to watch their dynamic. Once I saw the two species grooming each other. Interspecies interactions are cool, I guess.

Here's a red-footed tortoise.

Even though this post isn't a comic, there'd better be some maniraptors, right? These hyacinth macaws are very big and striking. However, the one thing I don't like about them is their calls, which are very loud and raucous and very hard on the ears.

A nice picture I got of a scarlet ibis feeding from a feeding basket

Some pictures of a river turtle.

Other than big fish tanks and the aviary area, the gallery also has many terrariums for various reptiles, amphibians, and arthropods. This is an emerald tree boa.

A matamata turtle. It's made of 100% turtle power.

Some Madagascar hissing cockroaches. Not from the Amazon.

A spectacled caiman.

Another part of the aquarium I really like is on their lower floor. (When you enter the aquarium, you're on their upper floor.) There's a huge, impressive-looking tank full of West Coast sea life down there (which you can view from above on the upper floor), but I'm talking about the amphibian exhibits. And it was about at this point where my photography skills became slightly better.

This is a Hong Kong warty newt.

The aquarium also houses caecilians. Which is awesome, to say the least. There's a caecilian among this water weed. Somewhere.

A green tree frog. (No, duh. It's really called that.)

A poison-dart frog. Or dart-poison frog. Or arrow-poison frog. (A frog that by any other name would still be just as lethal.)

Um, these are reed frogs. I think.

Some axolotls. They're cute.

An ornate horned frog, lying in ambush for prey.

Some tree frogs whose name escapes me.

Look at that! It's a golden toad exhibit!

There doesn't appear to be anything inside it. And that's because there isn't. It's "unavailable due to extinction".

A coelacanth. They must have gotten a new one after Traumador the Tyrannosaur rescued the one they had before.

From the lower floor of the aquarium you can reach the underwater viewing area of the dolphin pool. Walk a little further and you're outdoors. This is where most of the marine mammal pools are, but they all have underwater viewing, too. Only the dolphin pool's is actually connected to the main building, however.

This is a seagull I saw near the pools. They hang around here quite a lot, probably to get a share of the food. (As it happens, visitors generally feed here, too.)

A Pacific white-sided dolphin.

A harbor porpoise. The only captive one on the West Coast of North America, I've read, but I may be mistaken. These porpoises sometimes get murdered by bottlenose dolphins in the wild. Either the dolphins are having fun killing stuff or doing practice for murdering baby dolphins. Or both. Really ruins their image, doesn't it?

A sea otter. This is the aquarium that spawned the Youtube video of two sea otters holding hands. One of the otters in the video is dead now, I've heard.

In the belugas' underwater viewing area, there are a few tanks with other Arctic sea life. These are Arctic char. Although I couldn't get good photos of most fish, this one turned out kind of cool. Sadly, I didn't get any beluga pictures.

OMG it's a narwhal! This model makes it quite clear that the narwhal's tusk is a single erupted tooth, so it's off to one side. Sometimes two teeth erupt, resulting in two tusks.

Back inside the main building, I kind of breezed through the BC Coast Gallery.

This is a crime scene! A pile of clams have been murdered. It's the work of a sun star. (You can just barely see part of a sun star on the upper right corner.)

Some hagfish. Slimy critters that tie themselves in knots and burrow into dead bodies. They even defend themselves with slime by suffocating their attackers in it. And then they get rid of the excess slime by slipping themselves through one of their own knots.

I didn't dislike the BC Gallery, but what I was really interested in was the part at its end. I don't know the name of this area, but it's a place with many informative, interactive exhibits. You can listen to the static generated by elephantnose fish, view flashlight fish in a dark tank (and watch what happens when you turn on the lights), observe how barnacles cope with swift currents, look at the world through a four-eyed fish's view, rewind and fast forward a live cam of a tank of sea stars to see how they move, and learn how scientists study the ocean. There is a series of jellyfish exhibits at the front, too, which aren't interactive but very nice to look at nonetheless.

A fried egg jellyfish. Is it edible?

I don't know if the fried egg jelly is edible, but the exhibit sign for these blue jellyfish (they're not all blue, however) say these are. They're very active and kind of cute in a jellyfish way. I've actually eaten jellyfish before, though I don't know if it was one of these.

Subadult moon jellyfish. (They had the juveniles and eggs on display, too, but it's hard to get good photos of them.)

And here are the fully grown ones.

An immature lion's mane jellyfish.

A tentacled snake. Nearby was a video you could play that showed how these snakes and other aquatic predators catch their prey.

A dome filled with mosquitoes. An interesting idea for an exhibit, but I wonder what's the white liquid they fill it with. They played sounds of mosquitos buzzing inside the dome, so it was kind of irritating.

The sanddab exhibit was split into two halves with different-colored substrate. When a sanddab settled in one half, it would change color to match it.

Do u leik mudkipz? I've always thought that mudkip was an aquatic salamander like an axolotl or mudpuppy with fish traits, but it appears it's actually a mudskipper with salamander traits. Go fig.

Just a roadkilled mole I found on the parking lot...