TetZoo Bookshelf, February 2019, Part 1

There are a lot of books that require review at TetZoo. Let’s see how many I can get through right now…

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Michael J. Everhart’s Oceans of Kansas: A Natural History of the Western Interior Sea, Second Edition

Those of us interested in Mesozoic animals frequently lament the lack of any good, especially useful books that review our knowledge of Mesozoic marine life. But it’s not all bad, since we at least have this wonderful, weighty, very detailed volume. Oceans of Kansas is by far the best there is, and it’s a must-have. Ok, the limitation is that it’s devoted, of course, to Late Cretaceous North American seas alone – specifically, to the Western Interior Sea that once extended north-south across the whole of North America – but this is no fault of the book but its main feature. Indeed, Oceans of Kansas is successful enough that this is its second edition, and it’s newly expanded, revised and augmented, so much so that those owning the first, 2005 edition should consider buying this one too.

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Everhart devotes chapters to sharks, bony fishes, turtles, the various plesiosaur groups, mosasaurs, pterosaurs and dinosaurs as well as invertebrates, the history of our discovery of the Western Interior Sea and more. At 427 pages and about 3.5 cm in thickness, this book contains a huge amount of information. It feels like the compilation of a dedicated person’s life’s work, and I hope the author doesn’t mind me saying that.

Excellent colour photos and numerous diagrams and other illustrations appear throughout. Many of these images are rare or novel and there’s much here not available elsewhere. A colour plate section features art by the late, great Dan Varner, a friend and correspondent I admired and liked a great deal. Dan’s paintings are looking a bit dated now in view of recently acquired information on mosasaur anatomy and we’d all love to know what Dan would have done with them had he the chance (he died in 2012). Regardless, they’re fantastic pieces of work.

One of Dan Varner’s greatest illustrations (in my opinion): the shark  Cretoxyrhina  takes out a  Tylosaurus . This and many other Varner pieces feature in  Oceans of Kansas . Image: (c)   Dan Varner/Oceans of Kansas  .

One of Dan Varner’s greatest illustrations (in my opinion): the shark Cretoxyrhina takes out a Tylosaurus. This and many other Varner pieces feature in Oceans of Kansas. Image: (c) Dan Varner/Oceans of Kansas.

Everhart’s text combines historical review with discussions of what we know, or think we know. There are also numerous personal anecdotes about how various specimens were discovered, recovered and interpreted as well as discussions on how relevant ideas on Cretaceous marine life have developed or changed during the time in which the author has been involved. As he explains, some ideas (those on mosasaur skin and physiology, for example) have undergone substantial revision since he published the book’s first edition in 2005. It’s this personal touch that I enjoy the most.

I say again that Oceans of Kansas is absolutely a must-have if you’re interested in Mesozoic marine life. In my work as a vertebrate palaeontologist and researcher I’ve consulted it hundreds of times, and – like all very good books – it’s not just a great source of information but also a joy to look at.

Michael J. Everhart. 2017. Oceans of Kansas: A Natural History of the Western Interior Sea, Second Edition. Indiana University Press (Bloomington, Indiana), pp. 427. ISBN 978-0-253-02632-3. Hardback, index, refs. Here at amazon, here at amazon.co.uk, here from the publishers.

Katrina van Grouw’s Unnatural Selection

Much of the fandom that developed around Katrina van Grouw’s 2013 The Unfeathered Bird did so because of its spectacular, beautiful illustrations (van Grouw 2013). Van Grouw’s newest book – 2018’s Unnatural Selection – has a similar format and design and is also spectacularly well illustrated; it is, however, an important work of literature, not of illustration or art alone. I’ve already said quite a fair bit about this book – I wrote a long article on its contents, published before it was out – back in May 2018 at ver 2, so will be brief here.

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Divided into four main sections (Origin, Inheritance, Variation and Selection), Unnatural Selection describes and celebrates selective breeding and its results. We’ve bred animals with all manner of anatomical novelties not present in their wild ancestors, and – as Van Grouw explains right at the start of the book – have ended up with domestic hybrids and variants that are so modified that ancestry has been obscured, or are hybrid mish-mashes of more than one species.

Unnatural Selection  showcases an extraordinary number of unusual domestic animals (these are all domestic pigeon breeds), but the main theme is the evolutionary plasticity, and potential, that human selective breeding has created in these species. Image:   van Grouw (2018)  .

Unnatural Selection showcases an extraordinary number of unusual domestic animals (these are all domestic pigeon breeds), but the main theme is the evolutionary plasticity, and potential, that human selective breeding has created in these species. Image: van Grouw (2018).

There’s a huge quantity of information here on the diversity of domestic animals and the backstories to them. Van Grouw talks about specific breeders and what they aimed to do with particular animal breeds, as well as the (sometimes erroneous) ideas on why certain breeds are the way they are. But… this isn’t really what the book is about. The main thrust here, instead, is to highlight how selective breeding has enhanced and modified the variation and plasticity present ancestrally in the animals concerned, and on how selective breeding is super-rapid, human-controlled evolution, echoing, mirroring or replicating that which has occurred outside of human influence.

Geese (wild and domesticate) from    Unnatural Selection   . This panel combines Katrina’s illustrations with Natee Himmapaan’s amazing skills in writing and labelling. Credit: Katrina van Grouw/  van Grouw (2018)  .

Geese (wild and domesticate) from Unnatural Selection. This panel combines Katrina’s illustrations with Natee Himmapaan’s amazing skills in writing and labelling. Credit: Katrina van Grouw/van Grouw (2018).

If you’re interested in the diversity of domestic animals, in evolution, or in anatomy, you absolutely must get hold of this remarkable book, and all the more so and if you enjoyed The Unfeathered Bird.

Katrina van Grouw. 2018. Unnatural Selection. Princeton University Press (Princeton and Oxford), pp. 284. ISBN 978-0-691-15706-1. Hardback, index, refs. Here at amazon, here at amazon.co.uk, here from the publishers.

 Jonathan Losos’s Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution

Why certain things have happened in evolutionary history, why certain other things haven’t happened, and what things might be like had events took a different turn has, as you’ll know, been a popular area of discussion in this neck of the woods since whenever. Broadly speaking, I have SpecBio in mind: big-brained dinosaurs, an Earth ruled by giant lizards, that sort of thing. If this subject interests you, you absolutely have to read Jonathan Losos’s Improbable Destinies. Inspired (in part) by Gould’s argument in Wonderful Life that evolutionary history is and was dependent on contingency and not destiny, and with something of a herpetological bias linked to his specialisation as a student of anoles, Losos explores the Park Grass Experiment, guppy and stickleback variation, fruit fly studies, disease biology and more.

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My own biases mean that I especially enjoyed his take on dinosauroids (“… to my surprise … The dinosauroid hypothesis was alive and thriving in cyberspace”; p. 323), both the Dale Russell version and the Kosemen/Roy one (yes, there is an illustration), and I think I recall providing him with some of the relevant literature (Naish 2008). The same chapter also includes a discussion of Perry the Platypus and platypusoids (yes, really), E. O. Wilson’s thoughts on extraterrestrials, and, ugh, Simon Conway Morris’s take on the whole thing.

Marlin Peterson’s re-drawing of one of the Kosmen/Roy dinosauroids, from Jonathan Losos’s  Improbable Destinies . Image:   Losos (2017)  .

Marlin Peterson’s re-drawing of one of the Kosmen/Roy dinosauroids, from Jonathan Losos’s Improbable Destinies. Image: Losos (2017).

Losos’s writing is fun and eloquent and the book is really well designed. References and detailed footnotes are included, and the black and white illustrations by Marlin Peterson are really nice. If you enjoy reading this blog, you will like this book. UPDATE: hilariously, I just discovered that I reviewed this book before, here at TetZoo ver 2 in December 2017. I covered exactly the same points because my brain only works one way.

Jonathan B. Losos. 2017. Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution. Riverhead Books (New York), pp. 368. ISBN 978-0-399-18492-5. Hardback, index, refs. Here at amazon, here at amazon.co.uk, here from the publishers.

Laufer et al.’s Audubon’s Last Wilderness Journey: The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America

Most people reading this, especially those interested in the portrayal of animals in art, will be familiar with the several works of naturalist, ornithologist and artist John James Audubon (1785-1851). Audubon is most famous for his grand, lavish The Birds of America, published between 1827 and 1839 and involving years of work, massive investment and hundreds of illustrations. But he should be just as well known for his equally momentous and lavish The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America.

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This new book – including contributions from nine authors, and edited by Charles T. Butler – reproduces all 150 prints from that work, includes a great deal of material that essentially serves as ‘the making of The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America’ (actually, this is the exact title of Ron Tyler’s article within the volume), and also features sections of text on the history of conservation and natural history in North America, and on how human-wildlife interactions have changed since Audubon’s time. Footnotes cite the relevant correspondence and literature. These ‘introductory’ sections take us all the way to p. 84, so this is a substantial volume (31 x 26 cm, 280 pp).

As goes the illustrations, the quality of reproduction is outstandingly good. The colours are deep and vibrant, and the level of detail that shows up in magnified sections is impressive. Aubudon was really good at drawing hairs, and my god his skunks, foxes, bears and others clearly involved a lot of work and are quite something to examine in detail. The plates are reproduced in entirety, but magnified sections also included – for some of them – as well, and it was these that I enjoyed looking at the most.

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The volume ends with a timeline that explains every step in the creation of The Viviparous Quadrupeds, including reproductions of correspondence and colour maps of Audubon’s journey.

This is a grand, beautiful book that will be appreciated by anyone interested in mammals or natural history more broadly. Those especially interested in Audubon and his work will appreciate the biographical and background information, and those who don’t own previous reproductions of The Viviparous Quadrupeds (I imagine that that’s most of us) will enjoy the excellent reproductions of his art.

Marilyn Laufer, Ron Tyler, Charles T. Butler, Dennis Harper, Daniel Patterson, Sarah Zohdy, Robert A. Gitzen, James B. Armstrong & Christopher A. Lepczyk. 2018. Audubon’s Last Wilderness Journey: The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University/D. Giles, London. pp. 280. ISBN 978-1-911282-10-5. Hardback, index, refs. Here at amazon, here at amazon.co.uk (where title is spelt wrong.. I have told amazon), here from the publishers.

John Reilly’s The Ascent of Birds

It has always been a great paradox to me why books on the evolutionary history of birds are so incredibly rare. There is – as you’ll know if you’re at all familiar with books on natural history – a wonderful yet maddeningly frustrating never-ending glut of excellent, glossy, beautiful, horridly expensive books on birds, year on year on year, yet bird evolution just never gets covered. Regular readers will know what I think of Alan Feduccia’s idiosyncratic, biased and utterly misleading writings.

It is a major problem that there has long been a total shortage of reliable books on bird evolution. Alan Feduccia’s books - two of which are shown here - are unreliable and misleading. Images:  Yale University Press (left);   Yale University Press (right) .

It is a major problem that there has long been a total shortage of reliable books on bird evolution. Alan Feduccia’s books - two of which are shown here - are unreliable and misleading. Images: Yale University Press (left); Yale University Press (right).

John Reilly’s volume substantially alleviates that gap in the market (yes, I do know about Gerald Mayr’s books), and it’s really good. Written very much in the format of Dawkins’s The Ancestor’s Tale (which I confess to not liking all that much, ask me if you want to know why), The Ascent of Birds is a very dense, very well informed, mostly up to date tour of the bird family tree, its structure following molecular phylogenies like those of Hackett et al., Jarvis et al., Prum et al. and so on: specifically, he follows the topology published by Jetz et al. (2012). I guess he used Jetz et al. (2012) specifically because it was the most up to date at the time of writing (various of its conclusions have been replaced by those more recent studies). My own (now dated) review of bird evolution (Naish 2012) is cited, but I think only as a source of information on passerine genitalia. Ok.

The excellent cover art - featuring paintings by Jon Fjeldså (whose illustrations appear in several of his papers) - depicts the cladogram published by Jetz  et al . (2012). Image:   Pelagic Publishing  .

The excellent cover art - featuring paintings by Jon Fjeldså (whose illustrations appear in several of his papers) - depicts the cladogram published by Jetz et al. (2012). Image: Pelagic Publishing.

Chapters discuss lineages in the order of their branching in the Jetz et al. cladogram.. broadly speaking (there are actually a few deviations). Each combines something on the general history of the lineage before focusing on a story specific to one, some or all members of said lineage. The chapter on albatrosses, for example, examines models of albatross biogeography before discussing dynamic soaring behaviour and olfactory biology while that on corvids mostly focuses on cognitive skills and their evolution. We thus get a broad-brush picture on the group’s evolution before zooming in on something more specific but still relevant to the group’s story as a whole. This works really well, and Reilly focuses on things that are – in my opinion – more interesting than Dawkins did.

References are provided throughout, most chapters contain a diagram or two, and a colour plate section includes images of fossils and living birds relevant to the main prose.

There are a lot of passerine lineages: this simplified cladogram features the major lineages only. It is fitting that about half of Reilly’s  The Ascent of Birds  is devoted to this one group. Image: Darren Naish,   from my textbook project  .

There are a lot of passerine lineages: this simplified cladogram features the major lineages only. It is fitting that about half of Reilly’s The Ascent of Birds is devoted to this one group. Image: Darren Naish, from my textbook project.

Long-time readers will know that I once invested considerable time in a book that, similarly, took its readers on a tour of the modern, molecular avian family tree. It was less prose-based than Reilly’s book, and with more focus on images, and was ultimately abandoned due to lack of interest from publishers (part of the story is discussed here, though the article concerned is now lacking all of its accompanying images). Reilly’s book does what my book should have done, but in a far more detail-oriented fashion, meaning that we finally have a good volume presenting the vast amount of modern work done on bird evolution to those interested. This is a notable achievement and has been well executed.

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Screengrabs from the aborted Naish ‘The Bird Family Tree’ book. Yes, I should pick it up and get it published. No, I can’t do that due to a list of other projects that prevent such action. Images: Darren Naish.

Screengrabs from the aborted Naish ‘The Bird Family Tree’ book. Yes, I should pick it up and get it published. No, I can’t do that due to a list of other projects that prevent such action. Images: Darren Naish.

John Reilly. 2018. The Ascent of Birds: How Modern Science is Revealing Their Story. Pelagic Press (Exeter), pp. 340. ISBN 978-1-78427-169-5. Hardback, index, refs. Here at amazon, here at amazon.co.uk, here from the publishers.

Philippe Geniez’s Snakes of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East: A Photographic Guide

Originated published in French, and translated into English by Tony Williams, Geniez’s Snakes is a compact, attractive, well designed and pleasingly thick volume, definitely one to get if you’re a snake specialist. An introductory section covers snake natural history, biology, habitat, the effects of snakebite and classification; the rest of the book – which goes through the species on a family by family basis – covers ‘identification’, ‘range’ as well as diet, reproduction and so on for each species (where available) and is especially good on intraspecific variation and proposed subspecies. Geniez has gone to some trouble to use the newest ideas on taxonomy and phylogeny, the various boxed-out sections providing discussion on genera and their contents. So, you’re going to meet Myriopholis, Spalerosophis, Platyceps and others, if you haven’t already.

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There are already a few (mostly very good) fieldguides to the reptiles of the European field guide region – this typically being taken to include northern Africa and at least part of the Middle East too – so what makes this book different as goes which taxa it includes? Well, there are quite a few species from outside the region usually covered, including a few surprises – too many to discuss here.  I will say that they include the Brahminy worm snake Indotyphlops braminus (yeah, not Ramphotyphlops anymore), California kingsnake Lampropeltis californiae (yup: introduced to the Canary Islands and now abundant there, and also known from Spain), and the as-yet-unnamed Israeli whip snake.

Pages from   Geniez (2018)  . It’s a great-looking book. Image:   weboryx.com twitter account.

Pages from Geniez (2018). It’s a great-looking book. Image: weboryx.com twitter account.

This is not a ‘fieldguide’ in the sense of having plates depicting related species in close proximity. Instead, photos (taken by a long list of different photographers) are distributed throughout the text. But they’re outstandingly good and make this a very colourful, attractive book. Strongly recommended for those of herpetological inclination!

Philippe Geniez. 2018. Snakes of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East: A Photographic Guide. Princeton University Press (Princeton and Oxford), pp. 379. ISBN 978-0-691-17239-2. Softback, index, refs. Here at amazon, here at amazon.co.uk, here from the publishers.

 For other TetZoo book reviews and articles relevant to the topics covered here, see…

Refs - -

Geniez. P. 2018. Snakes of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East: A Photographic Guide. Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford.

Jetz, W., Thomas, G. H., Joy, J. B., Hartmann, K. & Mooers, A. O. 2012. The global diversity of birds in space and time. Nature 491, 444-448.

Losos, J. B. 2017. Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution. Riverhead Books, New York.

Naish, D. 2008. Intelligent dinosaurs. Fortean Times 239, 52-53.

Naish, D. 2012. Birds. In Brett-Surman, M. K., Holtz, T. R. & Farlow, J. O. (eds) The Complete Dinosaur (Second Edition). Indiana University Press (Bloomington & Indianapolis), pp. 379-423.

van Grouw, K. 2013. The Unfeathered Bird. Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford.

The Second Edition of Naish and Barrett’s Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved

Regular readers of this blog should know that 2016 saw the publication of the Natural History Museum book Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved, co-authored by this blog’s humble overlord… that might be an oxymoron… and the Natural History Museum’s Paul Barrett (Naish & Barrett 2016). Dinosaurs has been well received and pretty successful in terms of sales, and so it came to pass that there was the need for a modified, softback version that included updates and corrections. Officially, the new version is a ‘fully revised and updated’ version, but it’s very literally a second edition, and that’s what I’m calling it.

Naish and Barrett, second edition   - with a new cover!

First off, the production of a second edition – we’ll call it Dinosaurs 2nd ed (Naish & Barrett 2018) from hereon – allowed the correction of assorted typos and poor word choices. It never ceases to amaze me how much stuff we miss even when a given piece of text is checked, double-checked and checked again. Big thanks to fan of the book Klinsman Hinjaya for noting a number of required corrections. More importantly, said second edition also allowed us to update or modify various aspects of the science covered in the book. New data and new interpretations mean that our ideas on the biology and evolutionary history of extinct animals are constantly changing, and this was a great opportunity to get some of the relevant changes incorporated.

Some of you – especially those in possession of the first edition – are keen to know what’s different about Dinosaurs 2nd ed, so – without giving too much away – let’s take a look…

Some of Emma’s drawings feature in the book. No, I’m kidding - they don’t.  Or do they . Credit: Darren Naish.

Some of Emma’s drawings feature in the book. No, I’m kidding - they don’t. Or do they. Credit: Darren Naish.

A new cover. Personally, I think that Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved is a pretty good book, and I hope you agree. But I never much liked the cover, and I know I’m not alone. Given that it portrays a roaring monster that’s showing us the inside of its mouth and what biiiig teeth it has, it might be construed as being contrary to the message otherwise promoted throughout the book: that non-bird dinosaurs were animals, and not the monsters of Hollywood and popular fiction.

New cover art by Bob Nicholls of   Paleocreations  . I own a full-sized print of this amazing piece. Damn… I own a lot of Bob Nicholls art now. Credit: Bob Nicholls.

New cover art by Bob Nicholls of Paleocreations. I own a full-sized print of this amazing piece. Damn… I own a lot of Bob Nicholls art now. Credit: Bob Nicholls.

The plan for Dinosaurs 2nd ed was thus to produce a brand-new cover that better represented modern thinking on dinosaurs. Paul and I opted to have either a feathered theropod, or an unusual ornithischian, and we ended up going with the latter for reasons I can’t recall (I think because it might look weirder and less familiar: feathered theropods are so passé, after all). Our chosen artist – Bob Nicholls – came up with a bunch of test sketches, all depicting the Chinese heterodontosaur Tianyulong in various poses and behavioural settings. We chose one, and Bob went to extraordinary trouble to get the contrast, lighting and composition right. There’s much more to it than that but… ladies and gentlemen, I give you… our new cover.

New artwork. Moving now to the insides of the book, we’ve also replaced a few other images that were used in the first edition. Bob has a few more of his excellent images in the book, we swapped out the (now defunct) diagrams on diplodocid jaw movement with a new reconstruction of a ground-feeding diplodocid (though illustrated without the keratinous beak recently proposed for this group), and Matt Martyniuk’s Anchiornis replaces a previous image with a problematic forelimb configuration. I also replaced a bunch of small images used in various of the cladograms.

Some of the cladograms of  Dinosaurs 2nd ed  have been tweaked a little. This one depicts Theropoda, the predatory dinosaurs. Credit: Darren Naish.

Some of the cladograms of Dinosaurs 2nd ed have been tweaked a little. This one depicts Theropoda, the predatory dinosaurs. Credit: Darren Naish.

Necessary coverage of the Ornithoscelida thing. Currently, one of the most talked-about issues within the study of Mesozoic dinosaurs is Matt Baron et al.’s (2017) proposal that the main branches of the dinosaur family tree be rearranged, such that sauropodomorphs are outside a theropod + ornithischian clade termed Ornithoscelida. I wrote about this proposal when it was brand-new, back in March 2017. It has been hotly contested by several teams of authors and there are already a few publications saying how reanalysis does not support Baron et al.’s model, or at least does not support it preferentially above the others that are available.

Obviously, we just had to cover this issue for Dinosaurs 2nd ed – especially so given that Paul is one of the study’s authors – and a few new paragraphs of text and new diagrams summarise the area for our readers. Our coverage of the Ornithoscelida issue resulted in various knock-on changes elsewhere in the book. New phylogenetic positions, for example, have been favoured for herrerasaurids, Eoraptor and so on.

The Baron  et al . model, as depicted in   the 2017 article I wrote about it for TetZoo ver 2  . Credit: Darren Naish.

The Baron et al. model, as depicted in the 2017 article I wrote about it for TetZoo ver 2. Credit: Darren Naish.

New taxa, new names, new phylogenetic possibilities. The world of Mesozoic dinosaur phylogeny and systematics move fast – remember that an average year right now sees the naming of between 30 and 50 new non-bird dinosaur species. We’re at a stage where phylogenetic models are never really ‘overturned’, but they certainly undergo regular tweaking, modification and augmentation. In view of this, Dinosaurs 2nd ed includes references to Stenonychosaurus, Latenivenatrix (sorry, Troodon) and halszkaraptorines, and I subtly changed the wording on the megaraptorans…

Pisanosaurus is no longer bigged-up as a possible early ornithischian given data indicating that it’s a non-dinosaur.

Revising thoughts on the origins of flight. Those familiar with discussions on both bird and flight origins within dinosaurs will know all about the ‘trees down vs ground up’ argument, and also with the contention that it might be utterly wrong to polarise things in this way. Nevertheless, there remain – for all those attempts to point to shades of grey – extremes in the debate. My take on the earliest phases of maniraptoran flight has mostly involved a weird sort of hybrid whereby the animals concerned are deemed predominantly terrestrial but also capable of climbing, their leaping, fluttering and gliding in arboreal settings being antecedent to flight. Like many people, I was originally enthused enough by WAIR (wing-assisted incline running) to think that it might be a plausible explanation of how maniraptorans first came to exploit arboreal settings and, from there, evolve flight.

Dececchi  et al . (2016)   showed that at least some non-bird maniraptorans do not have the right combination of anatomical features to benefit from WAIR as originally envisioned. This work affected our thinking on flight origins in  Dinosaurs 2nd ed . Credit:   Dececchi  et al . 2016  ,  PeerJ

Dececchi et al. (2016) showed that at least some non-bird maniraptorans do not have the right combination of anatomical features to benefit from WAIR as originally envisioned. This work affected our thinking on flight origins in Dinosaurs 2nd ed. Credit: Dececchi et al. 2016, PeerJ

The diversity of non-bird maniraptorans is such that it looks likely that these animals practised all sorts of behaviours during the long time that they were around, and thus that various different acts and adventures could have contributed to their ability to leave the ground. Having said that, recent studies indicate that at least some of the relevant animals could likely leap into flight from a ground-based start (Dececchi et al. 2016), and – at the same time – that arboreal behaviour was unlikely in such species. The possibility that flight could well have evolved without any arboreal component is interesting (and even shocking to some), and sufficiently so that we’ve alluded to it (briefly) in Dinosaurs 2nd ed.

Dinosaurs , the Russian edition. Now I know what my name looks like in Russian. Yes, the title is not the same as the English one.

Dinosaurs, the Russian edition. Now I know what my name looks like in Russian. Yes, the title is not the same as the English one.

And that’s it. I should also add that Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved has also recently appeared in Australia (where it’s published by CSIRO), and that a Russian translation is now out as well. My thanks to everyone who’s bought this book, to those who commented on or said nice positive things about the first edition, and to everyone involved in its production and publication.

For those who haven’t purchased a copy, it’s available here from amazon, here from amazon.co.uk, and here from the publishers.

For previous articles relevant to this one, see…

Refs - -

Baron, M. G., Norman, D. B. & Barrett, P. M. 2017. A new hypothesis of dinosaur relationships and early dinosaur evolution. Nature 543, 501-506.

Dececchi, T. A., Larsson, H. C. E. & Habib, M. B. 2016. The wings before the bird: an evaluation of flapping-based locomotory hypotheses in bird antecedents. PeerJ 4: e2159.

Naish, D. & Barrett, P. M. 2016. Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved. The Natural History Museum, London.

Naish, D. & Barrett, P. M. 2018. Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved. The Natural History Museum, London.

Comical Tales From the Animal Kingdom, a Zoological Society of London Meeting

2018 has been a pretty busy year here at TetZooTowers, and still there are a list of things set to happen between now and the start of 2019. What’s next on the list? Why, it’s the Zoological Society of London meeting From Stoned Sloths to Farting Fish: Comical Tales From the Animal Kingdom, happening at the ZSL’s Huxley Lecture Theatre on the evening of Thursday November 15th. Oh my god that’s next week.

There will be books.

There will be books.

The event sees me, Dani Rabaiotti, Lucy Cooke and Jules Holland discuss weird and wild stories from the animal kingdom, and in particular how said stories relate to the animal-themed books we’ve published. Dani, as you’ll know, is the highly acclaimed co-author of the insanely successful Does It Fart? as well as its hugely crappy follow-up True or Poo? Lucy recently published the brilliant The Unexpected Truth About Animals (she spoke about this book at TetZooCon 2018). Jules’s recent books are Sex on Earth and Death on Earth. I’ll be talking about dinosaurs and publishing books on them. How on earth can I make that at all humorous? Well, we’ll just see.

Books. Image: Darren Naish.

Books. Image: Darren Naish.

We’re also signing and selling our books (I’m selling copies of the brand-new second edition of Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved, co-authored with the Natural History Museum’s Paul Barrett… PLEASE BRING CASH), and I believe that we’re having a Q&A session after our talks as well. It should be great fun and I’m looking forward to it.

You have to book for this event (tickets are £5); please go here for further information and booking.

A slide I generated for my talk, showing some (yeah… some) of the dinosaur-themed books I’ve been involved in during my career as a freelancer. What’s the story here? All will be revealed on the 15th. Oh, and I’m talking about dinosaur sex as well. Again.

A slide I generated for my talk, showing some (yeah… some) of the dinosaur-themed books I’ve been involved in during my career as a freelancer. What’s the story here? All will be revealed on the 15th. Oh, and I’m talking about dinosaur sex as well. Again.

Brian Switek’s My Beloved Brontosaurus: A Belated Review

I’ve posted a few reviews of recently-ish published dinosaur books here lately, aaaand I have a few more to publish yet – the backlog is long. So.. it seemed as good a time as any to recycle this review from five years ago, pertaining to a book published in 2013. The review was written for the website produced to accompany the 2013 Walking With Dinosaurs movie but… for reasons that I’m sure make sense to someone, this review and in fact the entire site was later removed from the internet (yeah yeah yeah... nothing is ever really removed, blah blah blah IT’S GONE FOR NORMAL PEOPLE, OK?). I here republish it in full, unmodified form since those far-off, halcyon days of 2013. Which is kind of ironic, given what’s happened to Brontosaurus since 2013 (see links below for more on that)…

The brilliant cover-art to   Switek (2013)  , by Mark Stutzman. Image:   Switek (2013)  .

The brilliant cover-art to Switek (2013), by Mark Stutzman. Image: Switek (2013).

Dinosaurs are popular. We seem, in fact, to be at an all-time high in terms of our hunger for new dinosaur news, the frequency with which new discoveries are announced, and in the sheer volume of dinosaur-themed books, TV shows and movies.

Brian Switek’s My Beloved Brontosaurus describes the author’s personal journey as he visits various dinosaur-bearing fossil sites and dinosaur-themed museums and other institutions across the United States, all the while discussing the fast-changing pace of our knowledge, the new insights we have into dinosaurs and their biology, and the fondness we retain for the big, fat, swamp-dwelling, pea-brained version of the dinosaur that almost refuses to die. Herein lies the explanation for the book’s title: the concept of ‘Brontosaurus’ embodies a defunct stereotype, a name that ‘shouldn’t’ be in current use [UPDATE: OH THE IRONY] and which remains associated with a version of the dinosaur that pre-dates the Dinosaur Renaissance.

The iconic diplodocid specimen (AMNH 460) on display in the American Museum of Natural History, New York, with its semi-imaginary skull. Long labelled as  Brontosaurus excelsus , and then  Apatosaurus excelsus , it’s currently of indeterminate status. Image: AMNH, in public domain ( original here ).

The iconic diplodocid specimen (AMNH 460) on display in the American Museum of Natural History, New York, with its semi-imaginary skull. Long labelled as Brontosaurus excelsus, and then Apatosaurus excelsus, it’s currently of indeterminate status. Image: AMNH, in public domain (original here).

The book reads like something of a road trip, arranged such that Switek tells the story of the dinosaurs’ Triassic origins and gradual rise to dominance, explores ideas about their sex lives and reproductive and growth strategies, looks at their evolution of giant size, at dinosaur social lives, at feathers and featheryness, at pathologies and illnesses, and, eventually, at the end-Cretaceous extinction event. It’s a well-written, flowing narrative; the chapters are connected, both to one another and to Switek’s journey across the country, though the connections do sometimes seem a bit contrived. Notes at the back point the reader to technical sources for the information included, illustrations appear throughout, and the book is fully indexed.

Front cover of   Switek (2013)  . Some apatosaurines truly were gargantuan - the individual shown here might be overly gargantuan, but the image is brilliant anyway. Image:   Switek (2013)  .

Front cover of Switek (2013). Some apatosaurines truly were gargantuan - the individual shown here might be overly gargantuan, but the image is brilliant anyway. Image: Switek (2013).

I really like Mark Stutzman’s cover art so was especially thrilled to see that the dust jacket folds out into a double-sided poster. Extra dino-geek points if you know the inspirations behind either of Stutzman’s illustrations.

By and large the volume is up-to-date and factually accurate, but there are a few things I take issue with. The name Brontosaurus is of course a major fixture throughout the book, the obvious reason for this being that the name loomed large in virtually every single popular dinosaur book prior to... well, prior to some surprisingly recent date. As Switek explains, it’s not true to say – as people sometimes do – that “Brontosaurus never existed”; rather, the species that the name Brontosaurus is tied to was shown in 1903 to be so similar to species included in another genus (Apatosaurus) that separate status for Brontosaurus was no longer defensible. If Brontosaurus ‘died’ in 1903, why has it persisted until so recently? [UPDATE: AGAIN… OH THE IRONY. For the one or two of you that don’t know, the name Brontosaurus was resurrected from synonymy in a comprehensive analysis published in 2015 (Tschopp et al. 2015)].

Another fantastic apatosaurine: this is  Apatosaurus louisae , photographed at the Carnegie Museum. You might be wondering what the deal is as goes those massive club-like processes on the cervical vertebrae. Yeah, we’re working on that. Really… we are. Image:  Tadek Kurpaski  CC BY 2.0 ( original here ).

Another fantastic apatosaurine: this is Apatosaurus louisae, photographed at the Carnegie Museum. You might be wondering what the deal is as goes those massive club-like processes on the cervical vertebrae. Yeah, we’re working on that. Really… we are. Image: Tadek Kurpaski CC BY 2.0 (original here).

Switek’s answer is that this choice was essentially arbitrary: he suggests that New York’s American Museum of Natural History stuck with the name in their massively popular museum display because they maybe “thought the old name sounded better, or were unsure about rebranding one of the most famous dinosaurs in their halls”.

However, as explained in Paul Brinkman’s 2010 book The Second Jurassic Dinosaur Rush, there’s a good reason why Brontosaurus persisted for so long. That reason: Henry Fairfield Osborn, president of the AMNH between 1908 and 1933. Osborn was hugely influential and highly opinionated, and his insistence on sticking with the name Brontosaurus ensured the use of the name well beyond its time as a popular (rather than technical) moniker. The 1903 sinking of Brontosaurus was suggested by Elmer Riggs. Riggs did good work, but he simply lacked the academic clout to make Osborn change his mind.

Another excellent volume on the history of Mesozoic dinosaur palaeontology:   Paul Brinkman’s 2010  The Second Jurassic Dinosaur Rush   .   My review of this book can be found here   (at the paywalled and utterly useless no-man’s land that is the SciAm blogs site). Image:   Brinkman (2010)  .

Another excellent volume on the history of Mesozoic dinosaur palaeontology: Paul Brinkman’s 2010 The Second Jurassic Dinosaur Rush. My review of this book can be found here (at the paywalled and utterly useless no-man’s land that is the SciAm blogs site). Image: Brinkman (2010).

Something I think we need to do more when writing about scientific discoveries and hypotheses is discuss the social dimension to science: that is, the reception said discoveries and hypotheses received within the academic community. New and radical notions and proposals are – despite the impression you might get from TV shows and magazine articles – typically not embraced with open arms. Instead, they initially receive cold and even harsh treatment. Since scientists are human, the way they react to such ideas may be influenced by their personal feelings, the research environment they were trained in, who their friends and enemies are, and so on. In the world of palaeontology, it seems that we’re entering a phase where we’re increasingly analysing the work and ideas of the last few decades: in other words, charting the socio-political background to the science.

It is important, I feel, that we document the history of our changing ideas, something I tried to do in    The Great Dinosaur Discoveries  (Naish 2009)  . Image:   Naish (2009)  .

It is important, I feel, that we document the history of our changing ideas, something I tried to do in The Great Dinosaur Discoveries (Naish 2009). Image: Naish (2009).

I tried to do this myself in my 2009 book The Great Dinosaur Discoveries (Naish 2009), and Switek often does it in My Beloved Brontosaurus since he quotes experts and reports the conversations he has with them. People interested in the history of palaeontology, and in the history of science in general, should read the book for this reason. It helps make the book a snap-shot of where we are now in the world of dinosaur science – it covers the issues we’re currently interested in; the questions and discoveries that we’re talking about.

All in all, My Beloved Brontosaurus is both a fun and absorbing read as well a good, popular guide to our current understanding of dinosaurs and their evolution.

Brian Switek, 2013. My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and our Favourite Dinosaurs. Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 256 pp. ISBN 978-0-374-13506-5. Hardback, index, illustrations.

For previous TetZoo articles relevant to this one, see…

Refs - -

Brinkman, P. 2010. The Second Jurassic Dinosaur Rush. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Naish, D. 2009. The Great Dinosaur Discoveries. A & C Black, London.

Switek, B. 2013. My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and our Favourite Dinosaurs. Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.

Tschopp, E., Mateus, O. & Benson, R. B. J. 2015. A specimen-level phylogenetic analysis and taxonomic revision of Diplodocidae (Dinosauria, Sauropoda). PeerJ 3:e857; DOI 10.7717/peerj.857

Reminiscing on Tetrapood Zoology: Book One…

Happy birthday, Book One

Tet-Zoo-Book-One-is-8-final-cover-1000-px-tiny-Sept-2018-Darren-Naish-Tetrapod-Zoology.jpg

There’s a huge quantity of stuff I want to – indeed, need to – blog about. But I can’t. Too much work and not enough time. But something interesting just happened and I feel it’s worthy of mention here. In September 2010, Tetrapod Zoology Book One (Naish 2010) was published (on or around the 27th, to be precise), and thank you facebook for reminding me that eight years have passed since then (yup, the maths checks out). This is painful to hear, because my intention was always to churn out additional volumes in the series every few years: the idea being that I would, by now, be four or five or more books into the series. But no. I despair over how little time I have to do the things I want, and how much there is that I want to do and still haven’t done. It’s on my mind all the time. Why couldn’t I be born rich? Huh.

If anything might be considered emblematic of  Book One  it’s giant killer eagles. Golden eagles can and do kill domestic cattle calves. Image: Darren Naish.

If anything might be considered emblematic of Book One it’s giant killer eagles. Golden eagles can and do kill domestic cattle calves. Image: Darren Naish.

Anyway… Tetrapod Zoology Book One was well received at the time of publishing; I know of one published review (Pihlstrom 2011), and the few I’ve seen on blogs and on amazon are fair. The book feels something like a random assortment of essays on diverse tetrapod groups but at least it compiles articles (albeit not all of them) that appeared on Tet Zoo ver 1 back in 2006. Giant killer eagles, British big cats, Indian Ocean giant tortoises, the Ichthyosaur Wars, olms, azhdarchids, eagles owls in Britain, the discovery of the Kipunji, bird-eating bats and more get coverage. Steve Backshall very kindly wrote the foreword.

A most amusing montage depicting assorted humans who assisted in some way with stuff that led to the production of the book. Images: Darren Naish, Neil Phillips, (c) University of Portsmouth, (c) Steve Backshall

A most amusing montage depicting assorted humans who assisted in some way with stuff that led to the production of the book. Images: Darren Naish, Neil Phillips, (c) University of Portsmouth, (c) Steve Backshall

The book’s existence is owed to Karl Shuker who emphasised to me in a bar one time how getting (quality, ahem) material written for a blog into actual print is worthwhile, possibly a necessity. I’m inclined to agree. Not everyone thinks this way in the age of the internet and digital storage, but I do and I remain attached to books as physical objects. I literally do not remember the ebooks I own but cannot say the same of the dead-tree objects that I associate with the physical spaces where I’ve interacted with them. Wow, that sounded weird. I later discussed the idea with Jon Downes and ended up having the book published through his CFZ Press, though I misunderstood the finances of the deal we made because I’m a freakin’ idiot. Whatever.

No no  NO  — you do  NOT  own too many book already! BUY MORE!!! Digital books don’t work, I tell you. Image: Darren Naish.

No no NO — you do NOT own too many book already! BUY MORE!!! Digital books don’t work, I tell you. Image: Darren Naish.

A printing error (though you could describe it in another way if you wished) led to the very first batch of this book being called Tetrapood Zoology: Book One on the spine. That initial batch (of around 300 books, I think) sold out and are now much sought after – I’ve retained one copy and I know other people who won’t sell theirs because they like the typo so much. The second printing is technically a second edition (it even says so inside the book); two editions within the space of a year, woo-hoo!

Spot the cryptic typo. Image: Dallas Krentzel.

Spot the cryptic typo. Image: Dallas Krentzel.

The excellent cover art was produced by my friend and colleague Memo Kösemen. I don’t think I’ve previously shared the fact that we went through several iterations before deciding on the final version, and here are two of them.

Art by the brilliant C. M. K ö semen. Incidentally - and wholly coincidentally - Kevin Schreck’s movie  Tangent Realms: The World of C. M. Kösemen  premiered today in New York!

Art by the brilliant C. M. Kösemen. Incidentally - and wholly coincidentally - Kevin Schreck’s movie Tangent Realms: The World of C. M. Kösemen premiered today in New York!

That’ll do. The plan to publish follow-up volumes remains very much alive, but there are several major projects in the way before anything happens there, and there are things in the way stopping those things from happening, and yet other things too that stop those things from happening as well. I’ll get it all done one day. Or maybe I won’t. It sure feels that way at the moment. Gah.

Thank you to those who support my research and writing at patreon.

Refs - -

Naish, D. 2010. Tetrapod Zoology: Book One. CFZ Press, Woolsery, Devon.

Pihlstrom, H. 2011. Book review: Tetrapod zoology book one. Historical Biology 23, 439-440.

New Dinosaur Books, Part 2: Ben Garrod’s ‘So You Think You Know About… Dinosaurs’ Series

Today we press on with my brief(ish) reviews of recently(ish) published books on Mesozoic dinosaurs – I have quite a backlog – and this time it’s…. the So You Think You Know About… Dinosaurs books, by Ben Garrod. Ben is a qualified zoologist and TV presenter, perhaps best known for the BBC 2014 series Secrets of Bones. I should also add that Ben spoke at the 2017 TetZooCon, so now you know he’s awesome.

Ben Garrod's new dinosaur books - another three are due to appear very soon. Image: Darren Naish.

Ben Garrod's new dinosaur books - another three are due to appear very soon. Image: Darren Naish.

Anyway, Dr Garrod has now made a foray into the World of Mesozoic Dinosaurs, and a pretty respectable foray it is. These small, compact books – they remind me of the Horrible Histories volumes a little – provide a huge quantity of information on the dinosaurs they cover, do so in a fun, attractive way, and are very much on-the-ball as goes the current state of our knowledge. They are very much science advocacy tools that don’t shy away from presenting and discussing such topics as complex as sexual selection and evolutionary arms races. The dinosaurian nature of birds is emphasised – dinosaurs can’t be extinct so long as around 10,000 of them are currently alive – and the books are good at conveying the phylogenetic position of the relevant dinosaurs and where they fit within geological time.

Black and white cartoons, diagrams and other images are on virtually every page. If you move in the same social media spheres that I do (I’m @TetZoo on Twitter and Instagram) – surprise! – the cartoons are by Ethan Kocak, and illustrations and diagrams by Gabriel Ugueto and Scott Hartman also appear within.

Excellent illustrations by Gabriel Ugueto appear in each of the books. Hey, Gabriel and I actually worked together on a large poster about tyrannosaurs included in a magazine -- it was published early in 2018 but I still haven't seen it because the publishers never sent me a copy and no longer have any to provide. Huh. Image: Gabriel Ugueto/Ben Garrod/Zephyr.

Excellent illustrations by Gabriel Ugueto appear in each of the books. Hey, Gabriel and I actually worked together on a large poster about tyrannosaurs included in a magazine -- it was published early in 2018 but I still haven't seen it because the publishers never sent me a copy and no longer have any to provide. Huh. Image: Gabriel Ugueto/Ben Garrod/Zephyr.

Regarding what I said a moment ago about these books reflecting ‘the current state of our knowledge’, I’m especially pleased to see inflatable nose balloons featured in the Triceratops volume (for more on this issue see this Tet Zoo ver 3 article from 2016). The Diplodocus volume has a brief discussion of the whole trunks issue (covered here at Tet Zoo ver 3).

Ceratopsian nose balloons go mainstream (images by Ethan Kocak). I can't take credit for this.  Or can I . Images: Ethan Kocak/Ben Garrod/Zephyr.

Ceratopsian nose balloons go mainstream (images by Ethan Kocak). I can't take credit for this. Or can I. Images: Ethan Kocak/Ben Garrod/Zephyr.

Quibbles: two or three maniraptoran silhouettes are shown as un-feathered, and I will forgive the Tyrannosaurus book for using the full binomial throughout even though the dinosaurs of the other books are only ever mentioned by their generic names. T. rex exceptionalism, we call it.

It's nothing to with Ben Garrod's books, but I thought I'd include another image of ceratopsian nose balloons for good measure. This brilliant piece is by J. W. Kirby and the original can be seen  here at KirbyniferousRegret's deviantart page . Image: J. W. Kirby.

It's nothing to with Ben Garrod's books, but I thought I'd include another image of ceratopsian nose balloons for good measure. This brilliant piece is by J. W. Kirby and the original can be seen here at KirbyniferousRegret's deviantart page. Image: J. W. Kirby.

I really like these books and strongly recommend them for young readers (I suppose the target audience is kids between 6 and 16, or so). Ben is big on ‘embracing your inner geek’, and on encouraging young people to be proud of their curiosity and interest in science and nature, and I’m sure this is something that everyone reading this wants to see promoted and celebrated too. Three additional volumes – on Spinosaurus, Velociraptor and Stegosaurus – are finished and due to appear in print very soon (so I understand).

Ben Garrod, 2018. So You Think You Know About… Tyrannosaurus rex? Zephyr, London. ISBN 9781786697844. Hardback, 106 pp. Here at amazon. Here at amazon.co.uk. Here from the publishers.

Ben Garrod, 2018. So You Think You Know About… Diplodocus? Zephyr, London. ISBN 9781786697868. Hardback, 112 pp. Here at amazon. Here at amazon.co.uk. Here from the publishers.

Ben Garrod, 2018. So You Think You Know About… Triceratops? Zephyr, London. ISBN 9781786697882. Hardback, 108 pp. Here at amazon. Here at amazon.co.uk. Here from the publishers.

Once these book reviews are out of the way, get set for some novel dinosaur-themed content here. Here's your regular reminder that this blog relies on support via patreon, thank you to those providing support already.

For previous Tet Zoo book reviews on dinosaurs (I've now taken to adding dates to articles of the past; I find this useful)...