Some cool animals that are extinct images:
Your Time Is Gonna Come
Image by Mark Witton
To my constant shame, I don’t rate that highly on the Manometer. No, my Man Points are generally pretty low: I don’t get excited by fast cars or gadgets. I prefer chocolate to salty snacks. If I want to watch a film with cowboy hats, I’ll take Brokeback Mountain over True Grit. I reckon most clothes available in Burton or H&M are generally lacking in delicate fabrics and frilly bits, and, at times, my idea of a perfect evening is sitting down with a book listening to Thomas Newman soundtracks. Yup, the reading on my Man Point Scoreboard is worryingly stark most of the time, to the point where even my own parents have said ‘you know Mark, it’s really all right if you want to tell us something. Thank God, then, for Led Zeppelin, the most manly of all rock bands. Yes yes yes yes yes I know they owe a tremendous amount to The Yardbirds but that’s not the point: the important thing is that anyone who enjoys the beats of Misty Mountain Hop or swung around Gallows Pole has distilled testosterone pumping through their veins. I mean, we all like their quieter moments: Going to California, That’s The Way and the like, but nothing makes you want to put on your tightest spandex and do your best woman-toppling Robert Plant impression like, I don’t know... Immigrant Song, Kashmir, or Bring It On Home. Mmm: watch out, watch out now.
So, yes, Zeppelin are high on my list of good bands, and not the least because they give me some mild form of masculine credibility (although, let’s face it, if you need to wave Houses of the Holy at people to prove you aren’t really a very hairy woman, you’re in trouble anyway). So, imagine my shock when I heard late last year that the Zepper’s are touring without Robert Plant. I mean, what are they thinking? Sure, Black Mountain Side and Moby Dick show that Zeppelin can knock out good tunes without him, but you just know that Plant was simply out making the tea while they were recorded and would be back for vocals on the next track. I can dig the idea of playing without deceased band members if the vast majority of the band is still willing: that’s understandable, but to label yourself as the same band when only half of the original line-up is playing simply ain’t right. They’re missing too much to really be considered whole, and getting someone else in to replace them isn’t a substitute either, dangit.
Alas, I’ve also been operating as a mere shadow of what I should be. Y’see, this little corner of virtual real estate that I call my own has been running under the vague guise of a ‘pterosaur website’ for some time now: people chiefly know it and visit for images and rambly discussion of flying reptiles. Imagine my shame, therefore, for neglecting one of Pterosaurdom’s best known weirdos: the Early Cretaceous Argentinean ctenochasmatoid Pterodaustro. Everyone who’s ever picked up a pterosaur book knows this critter, having almost certainly stopped at whatever illustration was provided in said tome and uttered something like ‘that’s a weird one’. Leaving Pterodaustro off the running list of a pterosaur website is like a venue saying they’re hosting The Velvet Underground without Lou Reed or John Cale: it’s a sham, and one I’ve been getting away with for far too long.
So, in a vague attempt to recover some self-respect: what goes on with this Pterodaustro critter, then? Well, it’s not the world’s biggest pterosaur, growing up to a mere 2.5 m or so across the wings, nor does it bear an overly flamboyant headcrest like some taxa, but, obviously, that’s not what makes Pterodaustro a big deal. Nope: what turns heads for Pterodaustro is that it looks like it flew into a broomhair factory with its mouth open: it’s entire lower jaw is stuffed with incredibly long, bristle-like teeth that are arranged in rows akin to the baleen of modern whales. However, unlike our giant mysticete friends, Pterodaustro’s mandibular feeding apparatus is comprised of hundreds of genuine teeth with enamel, dentine and a pulp cavity, each one being about a third of a millimetre thick. In fact, there are so many teeth lining the lower jaw of Pterodaustro that they don’t have individual sockets: they lie in grooves running along the sides of the jaw. There are shedloads of teeth in the upper jaw, too: but these are small, spatulate things that don’t actually have any rooting in the skull whatsoever but are instead attached by some supportive soft tissue. If this weren’t weird enough, a series of tiny, tiny ossicles – small lumps of bone embedded in the skin – lie above each one of these. Neat.
Now, the function of these teeth really couldn’t be clearer: it’s plain-as-day that Pterodaustro was some sort of filter-feeder, using its teeth to strain small bits of food from the water column – you know, seeds, invertebrates, that kind of thing. What’s not been looked at in detail, at least as far as I know, is how Pterodaustro really did this. Other than their teeth, there are two details of Pterodaustro’s jaws that are worthy of attention: one is that the retroarticular process, the bony extension of the lower jaw that extends behind the jaw joint, is quite robust and curves downwards, away from the cranium. This suggests that their posterior pterygoideus muscles – the big muscles you can see bulging from the side of alligator skulls – were probably quite big in Pterodaustro. A big posterior pterygoideus means that Pterodaustro would’ve generated relatively high bite strengths when it’s mouth was nearly closed: this is a bit weird as pterosaurs seem to generally favour the snappy-actions of jaw adductor musculature over the relatively slow, but more powerful, posterior pterygoideus. On top of this, you have an incredibly long- diagnostically so, in fact – and curved jaw. Curved jaws are brilliant if your intention is to bring the entire jaw together along its length simultaneously: you can try this out yourselves by hinging your hands at the wrists and then clapping them together with straight or curved hands – everyone see how that works? Good. What this might mean then, dear friends, is that Pterodaustro wasn’t simply moving forward through water with it’s jaws agape, trapping foodstuffs like a pterosaurian shearwater (so-called ‘ram filter feeding’): nope, Pterodaustro was probably pumping water through its teeth for its food, with the pumping action provided by that kick-ass posterior pterygoideus and the curvy jaw ensuring that water wasn’t just pushed forwards out of the mouth, but was pushed sideways through the teeth (try the same hand experiments in the bath and you’ll see where I’m coming from). Now, we don’t know enough about Pterodaustro’s anatomy to suggest how filtered food was taken off the teeth and moved into the throat, but I guess it’s possible they had a large tongue that could hold gathered food particles against the upper jaw, where those little-peg-like teeth and ossicles may have helped hold them in place. As in modern geese and swans, the food could’ve been moved backwards along the jaw over successive filter cycles, and then swallowed finally when it reached the throat. Well, possibly.
Now, looking beyond the skull of Pterodaustro, it’s obvious that it was a wading animal – like lots of other ctenochasmatoids, in fact – with big, broad feet that are almost as long as its shin bones. This, presumably, means it was feeding while standing, and hey – check that out – it’s got a long neck like our other favourite potential terrestrial feeding pterosaurs, the the azhdarchids. Is it possible, therefore, that all long-necked pterosaurs liked to feed when grounded? Well, maybe: something to look at in the future, I guess.
What’s more, by golly, Pterodaustro does occur in some abundance. There are, apparently, hundreds of Pterodaustro fossils out there, most of which stem from a site in which they’re so abundant that it’s been named after them: the Loma del Pterodaustro of Argentina. Presumably, if you travelled back to the Lower Cretaceous and wandered down to this ancient freshwater lake, you’d find whole flocks of these guys wading around in the shallows, filter-feeding their little hearts out. Pterodaustro fossils represent a suite of different ages, from embryos right the way up to burly adults, and recent work on this spectrum of differently-aged individuals has shed light on how quickly they grew. Like dinosaurs, Pterodaustro(and presumably other pterosaurs) grew like rocket-fuelled dynamos until they reached approximately two years old – about half their full size – before their growth rates slowed, taking another three-to-four years to gain their full adult size. Unlike some modern reptiles – your crocodiles, turtles and the like - Pterodaustro appears to have had determinate growth (that is, like us, it reached a certain size and then stopped growing altogether), but, like the same modern reptiles, Pterodaustro hit sexual maturity before they finished growing. Sexual maturity seems to coincide with that two year-old benchmark where a switch in bone texture (from fibrolamellar to parallel-fibred, histology fans) suggests that energy is partially redirected from growth to reproduction – hence the slow growth from that point on.
So, Pterodaustro is a pretty durned-interesting pterosaur, then, and one that I definitely should’ve covered a long time ago. However, that’s not all: oh no. If you’re the sort of person who would have a pterosaur as a pet if they weren’t so inconsiderately extinct then you should stick a pole in the ground, grab some ribbons and have an early May Dance of Joy because pterosaurs are, officially, Fossil Animals of Choice for January. Oh yes: a collection of papers has just been published following the proceedings of the 2007 Munich Wellnhofer Pterosaur Meeting and, by jingo, the Interweb is going crazy about it. Chief party venue is Dave Hone’s Archosaur Musings, recently voted one of the top 100 Earth Science Blogs on the ‘Net and home of the volume’s editor, um, Dave Hone (the giveaway’s in the blog title, see). The Musing’s are running a series of blogposts across this week: there’s an introduction to Peter Wellnhofer, the Godfather and Don of modern pterosaur research; an essay by yours truly about a paper in which I, along with my ex-PhD supervisor Dave Martill, describe a particularly strange specimen of Tupuxuara that looks like it flew into a wall and an overview of the Chinese istiodactylids, those pterosaurs with muzzle-like jaw tips. What’s more, Mike Habib has recently guest-posted on the musings with his own take on his paper from the volume about how pterosaurs may have taken off using their forelimbs rather than their hindlimbs. There’s some great coverage of this particular story as MSNBC, featuring opinions from Mike himself, Sankaar Chatterjee, noted expert on animal flight, and some hack they found on the internet. Personally, seeing as Mike’s been telling the world that he can launch a 250 kg azhdarchid into the air without any problem (well, maybe not him personally, but you know what I mean), I’m all in favour of his ideas and am dead-chuffed to have my own work on pterosaur mass estimation sitting side-by-side with Mike’s paper in the same volume. That’s all great stuff, then, and should give you plenty to do look at sneakily in your office when your bosses’ back is turned.
Oh yes, one more thing for those who’re still here: this is going to be quick because this mess is already w-a-y over 2,000 words. in fact, I’ll do in my best, unpunctuated telegram style of English to save time and words:
[START] picture above is Pterodaustro [STOP] note the size of the feet in the flying critter to the left – I told you it was a wader [STOP] avoided pink colour because the flamingo analogy has been done to death [STOP] once had considerably more acid coloured skies but was toned down because it looked too much like the trippy scene at the end of Easy Rider [STOP] i mean, it was cool but too funky to be realistic [STOP] like too much James Brown [STOP] might have messed up the blurring on some animals [STOP] but never mind [STOP] you may not have noticed if i had not brought it up [STOP] own worst enemy [STOP] anyway i need to get on with something else now so will stop typing [STOP] no really my back is hurting from hunching over this keyboard [STOP] am going now [STOP] bye bye [STOP] [END]
Red Wolf (Canis rufus) - Nearly extinct
Image by warriorwoman531
The Red Wolf (Canis rufus) is a North American canid that became became extinct in the wild by 1980. In 1987, there was a reintroduction in northeastern North Carolina through a captive breeding program and the animals are considered to be successfully breeding in the wild. The Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington, IL is one of only a few zoos in North America with successful breeding red wolves with litters twice in the past two years. There are now approximately 110 - 130 red wolves in the wild in North Carolina. Litters from the zoo are eventually released into the wild.
The Red Wolf has a coat that is long and coarse; mostly brown and buff colored on the upper part of the body with some black along the backs. Muzzle long; nose pad wide and black; ears rufous; legs long; tail long, bushy, black tipped. Body is intermediate in size between the gray wolf and the coyote.
Photographed at the Miller Park Zoo