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)...