Could We Domesticate (Non-Bird) Dinosaurs?

Could we domesticate non-bird dinosaurs, supposing – hypothetically – that we lived in some alternate timeline? This might not seem like the sort of issue I readily tackle here at Tet Zoo (or… it might), but I’ve been inspired. My attention, you see, was drawn to an internet site where an expert attempted to answer the same question. Aaaand the answer they gave was pretty much useless, so here we are.

 A friendly pet  Parasaurolophus , as illustrated by Mike Skrepnick (and used with his permission) for a 'Would Dinosaurs Make Good Pets' project produced in conjunction with Dinosaur Provincial Park. Image: Mike Skrepnick.

A friendly pet Parasaurolophus, as illustrated by Mike Skrepnick (and used with his permission) for a 'Would Dinosaurs Make Good Pets' project produced in conjunction with Dinosaur Provincial Park. Image: Mike Skrepnick.

Ever keen to give fair credit to those who’ve gone before me, I feel duty-bound to remind you that the issue of hypothetical (non-bird) dinosaur domestication has been covered at least a few times before, mostly in speculative fiction. During both the 1980s and early 2000s (Mash 2003), Robert Mash published his whimsical How to Keep Dinosaurs whereby non-bird dinosaurs as shown acting as pets, livestock, guards and so on in a world where the extinction event never happened. James Gurney's 1992 Dinotopia (and its sequels and spin-offs) features dinosaurs and other animals that - while not technically domesticated - are often featured performing tasks akin to those associated with domesticated animals today. And the 1990s Orbis children’s magazine Dinosaurs! included a well illustrated feature on imaginary dinosaur-human interaction, it being implied that at least some of the dinosaurs were domesticate.

 During the 1990s, British artist Jim Robins produced a whole set of illustrations depicting non-bird dinosaurs in modern, human-dominated scenes. With his permission, I reproduce several of them here. Image: James Robins.

During the 1990s, British artist Jim Robins produced a whole set of illustrations depicting non-bird dinosaurs in modern, human-dominated scenes. With his permission, I reproduce several of them here. Image: James Robins.

Finally, an extremely odd book titled Who Lies Sleeping? – it’s predominantly concerned with the idea that Mesozoic dinosaurs might have evolved human-like intelligence and then caused their own premature extinction via nuclear annihilation or something – urges us to consider the possibility that the extravagant crests, horns and frills of Cretaceous ornithischians might provide compelling evidence of domestication by big-brained dinosaur overlords (Magee 1993). I see.

 An industrial  Parasaurolophus , from  Magee (1993) : "Did the hadrosaurs evolve breathing apparatus to protect themselves from atmospheric pollution", Magee asks. Ok. You might recognise the  Parasaurolophus  if you're familiar with the contents of Bakker's  Dinosaur Heresies . Image:  Magee (1993) .

An industrial Parasaurolophus, from Magee (1993): "Did the hadrosaurs evolve breathing apparatus to protect themselves from atmospheric pollution", Magee asks. Ok. You might recognise the Parasaurolophus if you're familiar with the contents of Bakker's Dinosaur Heresies. Image: Magee (1993).

First things first: what is domestication? Domestication is the creation of a population of living things, distinct in some way from their wild ancestors, that are selectively bred by humans. The main function of domestication involves use of those living things for food, labour, companionship or ornamentation. As evidenced by the extraordinary number and variety of domestic plants and animals, it’s either that we’re really good at it or that it’s really easy once you’re smart enough to wilfully shape the evolution of other living things. Or both. Note that domestication is not simply the grabbing and taming of animals from the wild.

While – when thinking of animals – we typically associate domestication with mammals and birds, don’t forget that animals of virtually all major groups can be domesticated, in theory. Witness domestic insects (Chinese silk moth Bombyx mori and Honeybee Apis mellifera) and fish (Goldfish Carassius auratus, among others) (Zeuner 1964). An argument has been made that there aren’t, technically speaking, any domesticated squamates, turtles or amphibians, but a counter-argument is that we’re actually pretty close to such animals being in existence (look at – for example – the many captive morphs of bearded dragon, some of which lack scales and could not exist outside of human care) and there’s no reason why they couldn’t exist given sufficient selective breeding. Time is one of the key factors here. We could – potentially, perhaps – have giant stripy domestic Komodo dragons by now if only we’d started a selective breeding project a few centuries ago [UPDATE: as discussed in the comments, an argument can be made that the ancient Egyptians domesticated crocodylians].

 Today there are captive lizards - forms of the Central bearded dragon  Pogona vitticeps  - that are significantly novel relative to their wild ancestors. The weirdest is the Silkback or Silkie: a lizard that lacks scales. There's some debate, but these animals are pretty close to being considered 'domestic'. Image: CC0, Pixabay.

Today there are captive lizards - forms of the Central bearded dragon Pogona vitticeps - that are significantly novel relative to their wild ancestors. The weirdest is the Silkback or Silkie: a lizard that lacks scales. There's some debate, but these animals are pretty close to being considered 'domestic'. Image: CC0, Pixabay.

So – could non-bird dinosaurs be domesticated? The short answer is surely: yes, if we had to, or wanted to, and I say this given that humans have proven themselves capable of domesticating just about any organism given sufficient time and motivation, as noted above. That’s a ‘general’ “yes”, however, by which I mean that it refers to non-bird dinosaurs in the general sense of referring to these animals as a group, not in the specific sense of having any one species in mind. For comparison: we’ve domesticated mammals (given that there are sheep and cows and dogs and so on), but that doesn’t mean that we’ve domesticated lions or aye-ayes, to my knowledge, so far.

On that note, it’s rather harder to be confident about the hypothetical domestication of a given species – let’s say, for argument’s sake, Tyrannosaurus rex – given that said hypothetical domestication would be contingent on the biology, behaviour, geographical range, physiology and ecology of that species. T. rex could, for example, be prone to some particular disease that would make its living alongside humans impossible, it could prove truly intractable and just impossible to tame or maintain in a human-controlled environment, or there could be something specific about – say – its life as a juvenile or nestling or even the precise place in which it lives that might also prevent domestication.

 Moose  Alces alces  (these are Alaskan moose) are often mentioned in discussions of domestication attempts. The commonest thing said is that they come with too much baggage to allow domestication -- but this simply might not be true at all. Image: Ryan Hagerty, in the public domain.  Original at Pixnio.

Moose Alces alces (these are Alaskan moose) are often mentioned in discussions of domestication attempts. The commonest thing said is that they come with too much baggage to allow domestication -- but this simply might not be true at all. Image: Ryan Hagerty, in the public domain. Original at Pixnio.

These unknowns are very much hypothetical, obviously, but would surely apply to some species: there are numerous instances where extant animals have proved problematic in the way I imagine. It’s been said, for example, that American moose have been dificult to keep in captivity in Europe, the implication being that some sort of disease prevents their survival in the region (Geist 1999), and then there’s the whole list of animals that have thus far proved either impossible or, at the least, very, very difficult to breed in captivity, predominantly because they don’t seem to like the conditions we provide them with (famous examples include giant pandas, cheetahs and some cranes). Maybe these animals could surely be domesticated in time, but why bother when there are so many other species that don’t come with the same baggage.

Some dinosaurs would be easy to domesticate…. perhaps. It should also be noted that non-bird dinosaurs might actually be well suited for domestication, and not difficult to domesticate at all. The rapid generational turnover, large clutch sizes, and relatively rapid growth of many species (especially small and mid-sized ones) could all make selective breeding and human exploitation desirable and relatively easy, so long as we’re talking about a human effort that extends over decades or centuries, at least. Remember that some workers posit life cycles for non-bird dinosaur where even big species (say, the hadrosaur Maiasaura peeblesorum) were sexually mature at two years of age and had exceeded 1.5 tons by their third year (Woodward et al. 2015).

 If dinosaurs like hadrosaurs (this graph shows  Maiasaura ) grew this quickly - we're talking about an animal that is well over 1000 kg within 2 years  and  capable of breeding by that time, and can be raised on a diet of easily obtained, cheap fodder and produces large clutches to boot - well, we have an animal that might be very desirable as a subject of domestication. Image: Woodward  et al . (2015).

If dinosaurs like hadrosaurs (this graph shows Maiasaura) grew this quickly - we're talking about an animal that is well over 1000 kg within 2 years and capable of breeding by that time, and can be raised on a diet of easily obtained, cheap fodder and produces large clutches to boot - well, we have an animal that might be very desirable as a subject of domestication. Image: Woodward et al. (2015).

The ability of at least some herbivorous dinosaurs to successfully consume and digest material that might be considered low quality, cheap and easy to obtain – we’re talking conifer branches, green vegetation of just about any sort and even wood – would be a major score as goes our ability to maintain these animals as captives over generations.

And the very fact that these animals lay eggs would also be potentially advantageous in a world where dinosaur domestication is possible since it would theoretically be easier to steal babies and raise them in a controlled environment away from their parents. We just don’t know if non-bird dinosaurs exhibited the same sort of imprinting on parental figures that so many birds do, but if they did we again have a feature highly advantageous to human manipulation.

Working With Dinosaurs. When discussing the issues covered so far, I’ve mostly been thinking about domestication that might produce animals bred for meat or egg production, or for use in labour. But what about the maintenance and creation of species used as companions or hunting partners? Here we come to that issue so perennial in discussions of dinosaur biology: intelligence.

 Trained or restrained combat dromaeosaurs: a familiar part of the Jurassic Park universe long pre-dating the Jurassic World movies. This panel is from a 1994 comic published in the Dark Horse Jurassic Park 'Raptors Attack' storyline.

Trained or restrained combat dromaeosaurs: a familiar part of the Jurassic Park universe long pre-dating the Jurassic World movies. This panel is from a 1994 comic published in the Dark Horse Jurassic Park 'Raptors Attack' storyline.

The intelligence – whatever we mean by that term – of non-bird dinosaurs is a subject of eternal debate and uncertainty, and it might be that we never have a good, confident handle on this issue. Intelligence is certainly a red herring when it comes to domestication as a whole. As in, it’s effectively irrelevant: if domestication involves selective breeding and the creation and maintenance of populations designed to be valuable to humans, intelligence has nothing to do with it.

Intelligence does, however, have a role to play if we’re talking about the use of domestic dinosaurs in hunting, herding or in performing other tasks that involve co-operation with a human or another animal or animals. Humans work with dogs in this way, of course, but we also have a long-standing and culturally important association with raptors (yeah, I told you it would be confusing if that word were co-opted for dromaeosaurs. It’s the word we use for hawks, eagles, falcons and such). Without going down the intelligence rabbit-hole too far, it’s conceivable that at least some non-bird theropods, and some ornithischians too, were on par with raptors, owls and other birds that can be used as hunting partners, though I happily admit that this is largely intuitive, difficult to demonstrate and isn’t all that well supported right now (e.g., Balanoff et al. 2013).

 At least some bird-like non-bird maniraptorans were plausibly similar to, or approached, various modern birds in intelligence. Were they as smart as raptors and owls? ... neither of which are that smart compared to birds more 'properly' considered intelligent. At left, a trained Striated caracara  Phalcoboenus australis  extracts sticks in order to obtain a reward. At right, a hybrid Turkmenistan x Siberian eagle owl  Bubo bubo  trained to follow commands and perform in display flights. Neither birds shown here belong to domesticated species, but they're still relevant. Images: Darren Naish.

At least some bird-like non-bird maniraptorans were plausibly similar to, or approached, various modern birds in intelligence. Were they as smart as raptors and owls? ... neither of which are that smart compared to birds more 'properly' considered intelligent. At left, a trained Striated caracara Phalcoboenus australis extracts sticks in order to obtain a reward. At right, a hybrid Turkmenistan x Siberian eagle owl Bubo bubo trained to follow commands and perform in display flights. Neither birds shown here belong to domesticated species, but they're still relevant. Images: Darren Naish.

Let’s say that we could train dromaeosaurs, troodontids or oviraptorosaurs as hunting partners. There would have to be a cut-off as goes which species were considered manageable enough or safe enough to work with – above a certain size and firepower, a predatory theropod, or even a given omnivore or herbivore, could simply be too risky to be around for any length of time. More on this in a minute.

 The effective function of a 'trained police dromaeosaur' as big as this one might not be plausible, but it sure is a cool image (even if the dromaeosaur is shown as unfeathered, tsk). Image: James Robins.

The effective function of a 'trained police dromaeosaur' as big as this one might not be plausible, but it sure is a cool image (even if the dromaeosaur is shown as unfeathered, tsk). Image: James Robins.

Matters of size. A non-trivial aspect of this discussion is dinosaur size. As per the discussion above, it would surely be plausible to raise and tame babies and youngsters of some, most or many dinosaur species that reach gargantuan size as adults. But what about when they reach that size whereby they become uncontrollable?

Elephants are tameable, as we all know, and can generally be controlled by a skilled person following an earlier phase in which the elephant is essentially forced to understand that it has no option but to obey the humans in charge (tangent: there is considerable debate as goes whether tamed elephants should be considered domesticated, since many – but not all – elephants used by people are not domestic as per the definition used earlier in this article). But every now and again a trained elephant snaps, refuses to obey the human giving it commands, and becomes a deadly force that ends in bloodshed, including that of the elephant. I’m not implying in any way that any of the dinosaurs applicable here could have been of intelligence or willpower or ingenuity or whatever on par with an elephant, but you do have to wonder if an angry, disgruntled or disobedient Triceratops or giant sauropod could be controlled or stopped should things go bad. So, what to do about dinosaurs that grow to be ten times – or more! –  the size of an elephant?

 Super-sized sauropods could be bred to be fatter, more muscular and hence higher-yielding than their wild ancestors if domesticated and used for meat production, the result being chubbier, bulkier animals. But what would this mean for the controlling and handling of such massive, powerful animals? Could we even control them at all? Image: Ethan Kocak.

Super-sized sauropods could be bred to be fatter, more muscular and hence higher-yielding than their wild ancestors if domesticated and used for meat production, the result being chubbier, bulkier animals. But what would this mean for the controlling and handling of such massive, powerful animals? Could we even control them at all? Image: Ethan Kocak.

  • Solution 1: cull or release said animals when they reach whatever size has been found to be at the unmanageable threshold. Releasing them might be unworkable given that their familiarity with humans could then make them a nuisance or disruptive problem to whatever society was using them.
  • Solution 2: via selective breeding, produce dwarf forms that do not get to that threshold. Though… why bother when there are non-giant species of similar form?
  • Solution 3: invent and employ technology that forces the animal in question to comply, or prevents them from disobeying. We might speculate that devices like shock collars, neural transmitters or instant chemical suppressants would not act swiftly enough to stop any dinosaur giant from inflicting problematic damage… unless it were instantly fatal. I’m reminded here of the method used by Hasdrubal of the Carthaginian Republic – Hannibal’s brother – to deal with an armoured war elephant should it do an about-turn on the battlefield and start charging through the lines of its own side: supposedly, the elephant’s riders were armed with a mallet and spike, and would drive the spike into the elephant’s spine should it need to be disabled (Spinage 1994). I don’t know how easy this would be, but there we go. Solution 3 would surely involve practices rightly deemed unethical.
 Armoured war elephants have been used by several cultures. This image originally appeared in Friedrich Arnold Brokhaus's atlas, published sometime before 1850. Image: Karl Gröning;  Elephants: A Cultural and Natural History .

Armoured war elephants have been used by several cultures. This image originally appeared in Friedrich Arnold Brokhaus's atlas, published sometime before 1850. Image: Karl Gröning; Elephants: A Cultural and Natural History.

I should also add that the emergency disabling or killing of a giant dinosaur would create all kinds of practical and logistic issues given the size of the carcass. The swift and efficient removal of a multi-ton carcass would be a necessity if the disobedient dinosaur in question succumbed in a settled area, else we could well be talking about a serious public health issue: there are the swarms of scavenging insects, enough fluidic runoff to influence local water sources, noxious smells not generally considered fun to be around by humans, and potentially the attraction of scavengers… maybe lots of them.

Domestication is ‘good’, domestication is ‘bad’. As is the case for some modern domesticate animals, becoming domesticated could be a short-term ‘wise move’ for the species concerned given human protection and propagation. Conversely, non-domesticate wild relatives of the species concerned would be at a disadvantage as their habitat was captured or managed for the domestic one, and perhaps as the risk of competition, hybridisation and aggression from said wild relatives would encourage humans to persecute and even destroy them. Exactly such a thing is said to have affected tarpans – wild relatives and near-ancestors of the domestic horse – given that tarpan stallions were apparently able to out-compete domestic stallions in mating battles and thus introduce non-desirable traits into the next generation.

A logical outcome of non-bird dinosaur domestication, then, might be ‘monocultures’ where a handful of species are super-abundant, the landscape has been changed to best suit the domestic species concerned, and wild relatives are rare, marginalised, or forced into extinction.

 Small theropods, and maybe other dinosaurs too, might make good pets, though they may prove incompatible with smaller pets of different species, as implied here. This is another of the illustrations produced by Jim Robins described above (and used here with permission). Image: James Robins.

Small theropods, and maybe other dinosaurs too, might make good pets, though they may prove incompatible with smaller pets of different species, as implied here. This is another of the illustrations produced by Jim Robins described above (and used here with permission). Image: James Robins.

That which might be possible. An over-riding pattern of domestication has been and is our ability to find variable anatomical traits in animals, and to induce, via often skilled selective breeding, the elaboration or modification of that trait, often at reasonable speed across the generations. I should add that this is the issue discussed and illustrated at length in Katrina van Grouw’s 2018 book Unnatural Selection (van Grouw 2018). We might not know anything particularly useful about potential intraspecific variation within non-bird dinosaur species, but we at least have some indication of what could be possible given the features that proved variable in their real word, natural evolution.

With that in mind, let’s speculate and have fun considering some of the things that might be possible in a world where non-bird dinosaurs have been domesticated, and where humans have become good at selectively breeding them. The showiness and elaborate ornamentation of ceratopsians and other ornithischians could mean that whichever species have been domesticated have been selected for ever more elaborate, ever showier structures.

Alternatively, the dangerous nature of horned and armoured ornithischians could encourage the development of unarmoured, less destructive, more benign forms that are positively plain and bland relative to their ancestors.

 A bland, domesticated ceratopsid with reduced cranial structures relative to its wild ancestor. Image: Darren Naish.

A bland, domesticated ceratopsid with reduced cranial structures relative to its wild ancestor. Image: Darren Naish.

Fighting dromaeosaurs, troodontids or small ceratopsians – equipped with more lethal armament and tougher hides and external coverings than their wild ancestors – could be developed in a society that did not prevent or make illegal the maintenance of such animals, a history that could lead to the creation of incredibly dangerous, near-uncontrollable strains or individuals. Maybe such animals could form the breeding stock of dinosaurs designed for urban pacification, crime-fighting and military application, though the last of these idea is now sadly and woefully unoriginal given the several appearances of trained or semi-trained ‘combat velociraptors’ in the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World franchises. Picture a trained, burly dromaeosaur with body and limb armour, prosthetic pseudoteeth, and a tight, perpetually reinforced bond with the lone human handler who has lived with it its whole life.

 A girl and her ornithomimid. Greg Paul said of theropods in   Predatory Dinosaurs of the World   that "Their stiff, perhaps feathery bodies were not what one would care to have sleep at the foot of the bed" ( Paul 1988 , p. 19), but maybe he was wrong. This is another of Mike Skrepnick's illustrations from his 'Would Dinosaurs Make Good Pets' project. Image: Mike Skrepnick.

A girl and her ornithomimid. Greg Paul said of theropods in Predatory Dinosaurs of the World that "Their stiff, perhaps feathery bodies were not what one would care to have sleep at the foot of the bed" (Paul 1988, p. 19), but maybe he was wrong. This is another of Mike Skrepnick's illustrations from his 'Would Dinosaurs Make Good Pets' project. Image: Mike Skrepnick.

At the other end of the scale, the cute appeal of at least some non-bird dinosaurs – various of the short-faced maniraptorans and small ornithischians – could result in ubercute, cuddly, dwarf forms or super-showy ornamental forms with spangly, iridescent exteriors and hypertrophied tails. There might be a subculture whereby keepers of fancy maniraptorans have bred radically surreal, immaculately groomed and bejewelled creatures deliberately made to mimic objects of heraldry or fiction, like dragons, griffins or aliens from sci-fi stories.

 I give you captively bred domestic theropods created by Ethan Kocak: a short-faced, miniature tyranno-pug, and a plush, poodle-like maniraptoran with luxuriant plumage. Image: Ethan Kocak. He's a  New York Times  bestselling artist, dontchaknow.

I give you captively bred domestic theropods created by Ethan Kocak: a short-faced, miniature tyranno-pug, and a plush, poodle-like maniraptoran with luxuriant plumage. Image: Ethan Kocak. He's a New York Times bestselling artist, dontchaknow.

Here's to the future of domestic dinosaurs. My overall conclusion – I think it’s pretty obvious by now – is that non-bird dinosaurs of several, many or most sorts could indeed be domesticated, and might in fact be domesticated quite easily. We might maintain species of many sorts as beasts of burden or for food; predators and nimble omnivores and herbivores could perhaps be used in stock control or as partners in hunting; and those animals we might consider attractive or visually or vocally interesting might be bred, modified and managed as show animals or companions. It goes without saying that all of this is nothing more than an exercise in speculative fiction, and that none of it has any real relevance as goes our relationship with those animals we really do live alongside.

But wouldn’t it make a cool book?

Tetrapod Zoology is now an independent blog. I can devote more time to it and produce more content the more support I receive. Support me at patreon and you also get to see the more than 550 in-prep illustrations being produced for my various projects.

Refs - -

Balanoff, A. M., Bever, G. S., Rowe, T. B. & Norell, M. A. 2013. Evolutionary origins of the avian brain. Nature 501, 93-96.

Geist, V. 1999. Deer of the World. Swan Hill Press, Shrewsbury.

Magee, M. 1993. Who Lies Sleeping: the Dinosaur Heritage and the Extinction of Man. AskWhy! Publications, Frome.

Mash, R. 2003. How to Keep Dinosaurs. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London.

Paul, G. S. 1988. Predatory Dinosaurs of the World. Simon & Schuster, New York.

Spinage, C. A. 1994. Elephants. T & A D Poyser, London.

van Grouw, K. 2018. Unnatural Selection. Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford.

Woodward, H. N., E. A., Freedman Fowler, Farlow, J. O. & Horner, J. R. 2015. Maiasaura, a model organism for extinct vertebrate population biology: a large sample statistical assessment of growth dynamics and survivorship. Paleobiology 41, 503-527.

Zeuner, F. E. 1964. A History of Domesticated Animals. Hutchinson of London, London.

A 1996 Letter from Dr Phil Currie

I think I might get into the habit of posting short articles here: putting longer pieces together takes a while and is often difficult to do in view of other work (hint goddam hint). Let me know what you think about this. Anyway...

  Phil Currie's  The Flying Dinosaurs  (Currie 1991) . The artwork is innovative and often really interesting, even though the coelurosaurian dinosaurs are mostly shown as un-feathered. The book includes pterosaurs... which is weird but in keeping with the 'evolution of flight' subtitle. Image: Darren Naish

Phil Currie's The Flying Dinosaurs (Currie 1991). The artwork is innovative and often really interesting, even though the coelurosaurian dinosaurs are mostly shown as un-feathered. The book includes pterosaurs... which is weird but in keeping with the 'evolution of flight' subtitle. Image: Darren Naish

I used to write a lot of letters. I mean: physical, printed letters, on paper. Some of them resulted in interesting things, and others didn't. During the mid-1990s, I obtained and read Philip Currie's 1991 book The Flying Dinosaurs, richly illustrated by Jan Sovak and showing many animals brand-new at the time. And it has some weird stuff in it that had me curious (I won't start discussing that "weird stuff", as it will take me a while to find it in the book, explain it, and put it into context). I managed to obtain Dr Currie's postal address, and wrote to him. And I was thrilled to get a response! Here it is...

Philip-Currie-letter-1996-Aug-2018-Darren-Naish-Tetrapod-Zoology.jpg

Please understand that I am not, in any way, sharing this to shame Dr Currie - heavens, no. I merely opted to share it because it's (for me) an interesting piece of personal history. And it also shows what the situation was - and/or is - like for many busy academics. Today, I know this pain all too well. Modern correspondence, of course, has mostly changed from paper letters to emails. I'm not as famous as Dr Currie, but even I get so much correspondence that I either have to deliberately ignore some of it, or put it to one side such that I can 'deal with it later', only for 'later' to become 'never' as other things destroy those various other plans. I would like to remind others of this when they start sending reminder messages about the responses they'd like. Sorry: there comes a point in life when it is IMPOSSIBLE to keep up with correspondence.

Anyway, I was later to meet Phil Currie on one or two occasions and talk with him about a whole bunch of stuff. Here he is (standing) at a London-based conference that happened in May 2008...

 Image: Darren Naish.

Image: Darren Naish.

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)...

New Dinosaur Books, Part 1: Barrett on Stegosaurs

I’ve always reviewed books here at Tet Zoo, and here at ver 4 I fully intend to condition this fine tradition. Over the next few articles I’ll be discussing new (or newish) books on Mesozoic dinosaurs. And we start with something very special – a whole book devoted to stegosaurs. This might be a first (UPDATE: I just remembered that the late Beverly Halstead wrote a semi-fictional book on the life history of Stegosaurus).

 Cover of Barrett (2017)... perhaps the only published volume fully devoted to stegosaurs and stegosaurs alone.

Cover of Barrett (2017)... perhaps the only published volume fully devoted to stegosaurs and stegosaurs alone.

Stegosaurus: An Extraordinary Specimen and the Secrets it Reveals by Paul M. Barrett tells the story of ‘Sophie’ (initially ‘Sarah’, and technically NHMUK PV R36730), the excellent, complete Stegosaurus specimen discovered and excavated at Shell, Wyoming in 2003/4. You’ll have seen this outstanding specimen mounted on display if you’ve visited London’s Natural History Museum. Already Sophie has been the focus of a whole bunch of quality technical publications by the author and his colleagues (Brassey et al. 2015, Maidment et al. 2015, Lautenschlager et al. 2016).

 A look inside. This is an info-packed book with great graphics and loads of photos and diagrams. 

A look inside. This is an info-packed book with great graphics and loads of photos and diagrams. 

 Sophie the  Stegosaurus  - or NHMUK PV R36730, if you prefer - in person at the Natural History Museum, London. I'm sure many of us have an unreasonable number of photos of this amazing specimen. Image: Darren Naish.

Sophie the Stegosaurus - or NHMUK PV R36730, if you prefer - in person at the Natural History Museum, London. I'm sure many of us have an unreasonable number of photos of this amazing specimen. Image: Darren Naish.

The book does so much more than tell the story of Sophie: it’s also a very good review of what we know (or think we know) about stegosaur biology. The text is dense, packed with scientific content, and highly readable. Excellent images appear throughout, ranging from photos of the specimen and CT renders generated during research to life reconstructions and maps. I initially assumed – no offence intended to the author – that this would be a text-light book written for kids, with more space than text on its pages. That’s not the case at all: there’s a ton of information here and anyone interested in dinosaurs should get this book. Older kids with an interest in science or dinosaurs will enjoy it, and adults will too. Some of the taxonomic conclusions discussed in the review of stegosaur diversity – that Hesperosaurus is synonymous with Stegosaurus and Miragaia is synonymous with Dacentrurus – have been overturned in work published since the book saw print (Raven & Maidment 2017).

 A reminder that the stegosaurs of your parents or grandparents - or those of a recent terrible movie franchise - are not in keeping with the way these animals more likely looked. These drawings are old, excuse the GSP tail muscles. Image: Darren Naish.

A reminder that the stegosaurs of your parents or grandparents - or those of a recent terrible movie franchise - are not in keeping with the way these animals more likely looked. These drawings are old, excuse the GSP tail muscles. Image: Darren Naish.

In short: highly recommended for everyone, and dead cheap as well.

Disclaimer: the author and I previously worked together on another dinosaur book published by The Natural History Museum, namely Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved (Naish & Barrett 2016). As some of you know, a second edition of that book – including numerous tweaks and updates – appears in print very soon, so I’ll be talking about it then.

Paul M. Barrett, 2017. Stegosaurus: An Extraordinary Specimen and the Secrets it Reveals. Natural History Museum, London. ISBN 9780565093884. Hardback, 108 pp. Here at amazon. Here at amazon.co.uk. Here from the publishers.

Stegosaurs have been covered quite a few times at Tet Zoo previously. See…

Things are going very well here at ver 4: I’m keeping an eye on the hits counter and the comments, and things are good. Many thanks to everyone who’s helping to make it work. Here’s your reminder that the more support I receive at patreon, the more time I can spend writing and publish the stuff you like to read. Thanks to those who support this endeavour already. As a Tet Zoo patron you get to see stuff coming together behind-the-scenes: there are already over 550 in-prep illustrations and pieces of text there.

Refs - -

Brassey, C. A., Maidment, S. C. R. & Barrett, P. M. 2015 Body mass estimates of an exceptionally complete Stegosaurus (Ornithischia: Thyreophora): comparing volumetric and linear bivariate mass estimation methods. Biology Letters 11: 20140984.

Lautenschlager, S., Brassey, C. A., Button, D. J. & Barrett, P. M. 2016. Decoupled form and function in disparate herbivorous dinosaur clades. Scientific Reports 6, 26495.

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

Maidment, S. C. R., Brassey, C. & Barrett, P. M. 2015. The postcranial skeleton of an exceptionally complete individual of the plated dinosaur Stegosaurus stenops (Dinosauria: Thyreophora) from the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation of Wyoming, U.S.A. PLoS ONE 10 (10): e0138352.

 Raven, T. J. & Maidment, S. C. R. 2017. A new phylogeny of Stegosauria (Dinosauria, Ornithischia). Paleontology 60, 401-408.

Bigfoot’s Genitals: What Do We Know?

Ok, I will fully admit upfront that the article you’re about to read (or: about to stop reading, depending on your preference) is included here both because it’s linked to something in the news, and because it’s sensational and perhaps amusing.

 The offending tweet. What we're all asking is:  how anatomically accurate might this depiction be?  Spoiler: not accurate at all (err.. assuming that Bigfoot even exists, a minor detail). Image: Twitter.

The offending tweet. What we're all asking is: how anatomically accurate might this depiction be? Spoiler: not accurate at all (err.. assuming that Bigfoot even exists, a minor detail). Image: Twitter.

Without going into all the details, US Republican candidate Denver Riggleman (great name) has been outed as an alleged fan of Bigfoot erotic fiction… yeah, this is a thing, come on you knew that don't pretend you didn't… though I do wonder whether this is some sort of ploy to downplay said candidate’s more worrying association with white supremacists [UPDATE: Loren Coleman tells me that Mr Riggleman has a long-term, serious interest in Bigfootery]. Bigfoot erotic fiction? The fact that – like it or not – Bigfoot is regarded as light-relief and harmless hokum means that any link between Bigfoot and sex is immediately treated as a joke. News stories associated with Riggleman’s niche interests have featured an illustration of a male Bigfoot, its seemingly substantial sexual organ safely censored by a long and subtle black box (see if you can spot it in the image above). And this leads us to the ultimate question: what have people honestly, seriously, thought about the genital anatomy of Bigfoot? Inspired by a twitter exchange with Russ Dobler and Kyle Marian, I thought this was as good an opportunity as any to summarise what’s on the record.

First things first: does this mean that I consider Bigfoot a real, genuine, flesh and blood, undiscovered primate? Let’s just say for now that I’m really sceptical of this notion (for reasons discussed here, and in my 2017 book Hunting Monsters). I’m not a knee-jerk sceptic though, and long to have my mind changed…

 I've only had one up-close encounter with a Bigfoot myself (it happened in California); I didn't have opportunity at the time to do any checking as goes any details of anatomy, but here's the proof. Image: [safely anonymous source]/Darren Naish.

I've only had one up-close encounter with a Bigfoot myself (it happened in California); I didn't have opportunity at the time to do any checking as goes any details of anatomy, but here's the proof. Image: [safely anonymous source]/Darren Naish.

One of the main aims of my writing is to summarise or convey what others have said before me and, like it or not, a bunch of authors who’ve written about Bigfoot as a real biological entity have indeed considered the subject of its genital anatomy. After all, if you regard Bigfoot as a real animal it’s perfectly valid to consider all kinds of aspects of its biology, behaviour and evolution, even if we’re doing little more than speculating.

 If Bigfoot is real, just remember that it's probably the most terrifying animal in existence. Seriously. I tried to modify my drawing ( available on merchandise! ) so that the animal appears to be in the dark. I failed. Image: Darren Naish.

If Bigfoot is real, just remember that it's probably the most terrifying animal in existence. Seriously. I tried to modify my drawing (available on merchandise!) so that the animal appears to be in the dark. I failed. Image: Darren Naish.

So, if you look at the Bigfoot literature you’ll see a fair few mentions of male genital anatomy, these most typically being references to “a small penis and scrotum” (Krantz 1999, p. 155). When a penis is mentioned, it’s virtually always flaccid… though there are exceptions. The infamous ‘Kong’ account (in which the semi-anonymous ‘Jan Klement’ described his long-time association during the 1970s with an animal that regularly visited his property) includes an event whereby ‘Kong’ exhibited a tumid penis and interacted sexually with a cow.

Then there’s the ‘Redwoods’ incident. In 1995, an alleged Bigfoot was filmed (from a vehicle) in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, California. And what appears to be a slender, tapering, mobile, sickle-shaped penis flexes upwards during the footage. Some writers have even interpreted this as a possible threat display (Meldrum & Greenwell 1998). This piece of footage is known generally as the ‘Redwoods Footage’, but the fact that it was filmed by a crew working for the Playboy company – and hence is also often called the ‘Playboy Footage’ – hasn’t exactly helped its credibility.

 At left, we see a rather grainy still from the 'Redwoods footage'; at right is an interpretation (drawn by Peter Visscher, based on an initial interpretation produced by Jeff Meldrum). The penis isn't visible in this part of the footage. Image: Meldrum & Greenwell (1998)/BBC Wildlife.

At left, we see a rather grainy still from the 'Redwoods footage'; at right is an interpretation (drawn by Peter Visscher, based on an initial interpretation produced by Jeff Meldrum). The penis isn't visible in this part of the footage. Image: Meldrum & Greenwell (1998)/BBC Wildlife.

A reasonably large, erect penis has also been described in an observation of a Central Asian bar-manu, one of several creatures sometimes suggested to be Eurasian relatives or versions of North America’s Bigfoot. And then there’s the whole world of speculation concerning whether ancient depictions of satyrs, wildmen and so on with erect penises are relevant to such sightings and their validity. I discuss this issue further in Hunting Monsters (Naish 2017).

 Herpetologist and cryptozoologist Jordi Magraner drew this obviously male bar-manu (a crypto-hominid reported from Pakistan) as described by a witness. The account was published by Michel Raynal (2001). Image: Raynal (2001).

Herpetologist and cryptozoologist Jordi Magraner drew this obviously male bar-manu (a crypto-hominid reported from Pakistan) as described by a witness. The account was published by Michel Raynal (2001). Image: Raynal (2001).

Loren Coleman included a whole chapter on sex and genital anatomy in his 2003 Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America (Coleman 2003). Indeed, he noted at the start of this chapter that the general absence of writings on Bigfoot sexual behaviour and anatomy seems weird given the importance and significance of these things to primates. “Bigfoot are most frequently shown without any male genitalia even though a penis might be part of a witness description”, he wrote (Coleman 2003, p. 185).

  Loren Coleman's 2003  Bigfoot!   includes a whole chapter on ideas and observations about sexual behaviour and anatomy. If Bigfoot isn't real, maybe this stuff is fatuous. Then again, even if Bigfoot  isn't  real, our attitude to this stuff might still tell us something. And if Bigfoot is real? Well... Image : Simon & Schuster .

Loren Coleman's 2003 Bigfoot! includes a whole chapter on ideas and observations about sexual behaviour and anatomy. If Bigfoot isn't real, maybe this stuff is fatuous. Then again, even if Bigfoot isn't real, our attitude to this stuff might still tell us something. And if Bigfoot is real? Well... Image: Simon & Schuster.

A few other eyewitness encounters have described a penis. Albert Ostman – the Canadian logger and construction worker supposedly kidnapped by a Bigfoot family during the 1920s – described the penis of the large male boss of the group as short (around two inches long) and “hooded with skin”, or – according to researcher John Green following his communication with Ostman – “like an inverted funnel, which sounds horse-like” (Coleman 2003, p. 191). I should add for the record that I don’t believe Ostman’s encounter ever happened, strange as that might seem. And the other accounts of which I’m aware refer to an organ proportionally smaller than that of an average human – there aren’t (so far as I’m aware) reports of giant, swinging structures of impressive length or girth, excuse the mental image.

The general impression we get from this limited information (assuming here that Bigfoot is real, of course) is somewhat contradictory but we can couch what we know within the social systems and breeding strategies of other primates (e.g., Harcourt & Gardiner 1994). Because there’s no indication of giant testes (like those of chimps), we might infer that sperm competition is not an evolutionary driver for Bigfoot, and thus that they presumably have a monogamous or near-monogamous mating system. This is in keeping with the general idea that Bigfoot lives in small bands, perhaps involving a mating pair and their offspring. The apparently proportionally small size of the penis could be seen as being consistent with this, since it might indicate that the genitals are not used in social display and intimidation, as they are in humans and (to a degree) chimps and bonobos. On the other hand, a proportionally small penis could also be inconsistent here, given the hypothesis that large penises in humans are supposedly linked with monogamy/near-monogamy (note: supposedly. I must avoid discussing the argument over human sexual behaviour and mating systems). The contradiction comes from the Redwoods footage, though, since this seemingly reported a relatively large penis used as a display, err, tool.

I will finish this discussion on male genitals by noting that there’s been some serious discussions within Bigfoot research circles as goes such details of anatomy as the presence or otherwise of the baculum. You can read about that discussion, if you wish, in this 2010 article by Loren Coleman.

 The creature in the Patterson-Gimlin footage of 1967 - now affectionately known as 'Patty' within the Bigfoot research community - seemingly has breasts comparable to those of some humans. Is it coincidental that Roger Patterson was very familiar with William Roe's female Bigfoot of the 1950s (see below)? Or is this consistent with the ostensible biological reality of this animal? Because images of the Patterson-Gimlin film are copyright protected (like virtually all images of Bigfoot), I made this myself and it's available for use. Image: Darren Naish.

The creature in the Patterson-Gimlin footage of 1967 - now affectionately known as 'Patty' within the Bigfoot research community - seemingly has breasts comparable to those of some humans. Is it coincidental that Roger Patterson was very familiar with William Roe's female Bigfoot of the 1950s (see below)? Or is this consistent with the ostensible biological reality of this animal? Because images of the Patterson-Gimlin film are copyright protected (like virtually all images of Bigfoot), I made this myself and it's available for use. Image: Darren Naish.

So that’s enough of that. Everything you’ve read so far is focused on males of this ostensible species. What about females? I think it would be fair to assume that very little – perhaps nothing – has been written about female anatomy. Bigfoot is, after all, mostly imagined as a quintessentially male creature linked to masculinity and the manly male humans that pursue it. But female Bigfoots have been reported too, and indeed among the most influential and historically significant of all Bigfoot accounts ever – William Roe’s Canadian story of the mid-1950s and Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin’s famous/infamous encounter of 1967 – describe obvious females.

 Late in the 1950s, William Roe reported his encounter (supposedly from earlier in the decade) with another obviously female Bigfoot in Canada. This drawing was produced by Roe's daughter, under his direction. I can't be the only one who thinks the anatomy here is a bit... gravity-defying. This is not the original drawing, but a re-drawing produced by John Conway for our  2013 book  The Cryptozoologicon: Volume One  . Image: John Conway.

Late in the 1950s, William Roe reported his encounter (supposedly from earlier in the decade) with another obviously female Bigfoot in Canada. This drawing was produced by Roe's daughter, under his direction. I can't be the only one who thinks the anatomy here is a bit... gravity-defying. This is not the original drawing, but a re-drawing produced by John Conway for our 2013 book The Cryptozoologicon: Volume One. Image: John Conway.

Breasts have been written about and commented on a great many times in discussions of this creature. A few reports have described elongate or ‘droopy’ breasts but those most often discussed – those of ‘Patty’ and Roe’s creature – were rotund and even engorged in appearance (Bindernagel 1998). Indeed, those working to demonstrate the reality of the Patterson-Gimlin film have gone to some trouble to argue that ‘Patty’s’ breasts can’t be fake because they exhibit movement and flexibility consistent with genuine breasts, and inconsistent with any of the available prosthetic alternatives. William Munns has a whole section on this issue in his book When Roger Met Patty (Munns 2014). Human models were filmed and photographed to show, via comparison, how the ‘Patty’ breasts perform in a consistent and realistic manner.

I could go on – as I’ve said, a lot has been said about Bigfoot breasts in the literature (there’s also been a whole discussion on how realistic the concept of furry breasts might be) – but I think that’ll do. Moving elsewhere as goes females, why do we never hear about female genitalia (I’m here excluding breasts from the definition of ‘genitalia’), in contrast to all those mentions of Bigfoot junk? Maybe it’s true that those who’ve considered Bigfoot as a biological entity have been biased by patriarchy. I don’t doubt that this is true but it should also be noted that observations and recollections concerning the finer details of female genital anatomy are few and far between, as they might be for logical reasons (I mean: all the goddam hair). Anyway, a few mentions are out there. A very few.

In the aforementioned discussion provided by Loren Coleman, Loren refers to the rarity of discussions of female genital anatomy and notes that he (at the time) was only aware of one. In the November of 1968, hunter John Thomas is said to have encountered two Bigfoots sleeping out in the open. They were in the posture that – curiously enough – has been described on several occasions by witnesses; that is, with the limbs partially folded beneath the body and the back facing upwards. Anyway, one of these animals had breasts in addition to a “swelling” in its genital region that it kept rubbing (Coleman 2003, p. 198). Without more information it’s difficult to know the story here. Presumably we’re talking about a modest swelling of the sort seen in various primates (including gibbons and gorillas among hominoids), and not the pronounced and striking structures seen in chimps, bonobos and various monkeys.

 Several accounts describe crypto-hominids sleeping in this very unusual posture, or at least in postures like it. This drawing was apparently produced by a Soviet zoologist called Khlakhlov during the early 1900s and depicts an Almas - an Asian crypto-hominid - encounterd in the Dzungarian region. The drawing is reproduced in Myra Shackley's 1983 book. Image: Shackley (1983).

Several accounts describe crypto-hominids sleeping in this very unusual posture, or at least in postures like it. This drawing was apparently produced by a Soviet zoologist called Khlakhlov during the early 1900s and depicts an Almas - an Asian crypto-hominid - encounterd in the Dzungarian region. The drawing is reproduced in Myra Shackley's 1983 book. Image: Shackley (1983).

A second case concerns what’s said to be the imprint of a Bigfoot butt, left in sandy soil in Walla Walla, Washington. The print was cast by Paul Freeman – an individual with a controversial track record in the world of Bigfoot evidence, shall we say – and passed to Jeff Meldrum who described it in his 2006 book. The print reveals well demarcated, muscular buttocks but also what appears to be the suggestion of labia (Meldrum 2006). With a bit of imagination, they look – from the cast of the impression – to be about similar in form and proportion to those of a human.

Needless to say, there isn’t – to my knowledge – any discussion out there as goes any other aspects of female genital anatomy in this alleged creature. Not only is eyewitness data on such details unreported (so far as I know), but any sensible idea we might have on what’s predicted or assumed is dependent on whatever phylogenetic affinity we prefer for the species: Bigfoot has, variously, been suggested to be close to gibbons, orangutans, hominines and even hominins and humans by those who endorse its existence. There's an argument for platyrrhine status out there as well.

 Non-human primates of many sorts have diverse and remarkable genitals. Variously platyrrhines - spider monkeys are the most famous - have enormous clitorides. This is a Colombian or Black-headed spider monkey  Ateles fusciceps rufiventris  using a stick as a scratching tool. Image: Darren Naish.

Non-human primates of many sorts have diverse and remarkable genitals. Variously platyrrhines - spider monkeys are the most famous - have enormous clitorides. This is a Colombian or Black-headed spider monkey Ateles fusciceps rufiventris using a stick as a scratching tool. Image: Darren Naish.

That about brings us to a close on this niche yet worthy subject. As usual with arcane topics like this, it’s never true that “nobody ever talks about ---- [insert weird niche subject]”: on the contrary, quite a few writers have. Clearly, if Bigfoot is real, we have scant data to work with, and a conclusion must be that Bigfoot genitalia are not especially noticeable in average encounters with humans. And if Bigfoot isn't real, but is a sociocultural phenomenon of some sort, the fact that so few encounters discuss its genitalia in detail might be consistent with the near-irrelevance of such features to an entity of this sort. This might be inconsistent with erotic fan fiction - sorry, Mr Riggleman - but there it is.

For previous Tet Zoo articles on Bigfoot and other cryptozoological matters, see…

And here's your reminder that the persistence and success of Tetrapod Zoology now depends entirely on funding via patreon. Thanks to those who support me! The more secure my funding, the more time I can and will spend generating content for Tet Zoo.

Refs - -

Bindernagel, J. A. 1998. North America’s Great Ape: the Sasquatch. Beachcomber Books, Courtenay, B.C.

Coleman, L. 2003. Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America. Paraview, New York.

Conway, J., Kosemen, C. M. & Naish, D. 2013. Cryptozoologicon Volume I. Irregular Books.

Harcourt, A. & Gardiner, J. 1994. Sexual selection and genital anatomy of male primates. Proceedings of the Royal Society, London B 255, 47-53.

Krantz, G. S. 1999. Bigfoot Sasquatch Evidence. Hancock House, Surrey, B.C. & Blaine, WA.

Meldrum, D. J. 2006. Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science. Tom Doherty Associates, New York.

Meldrum, J. & Greenwell, R. 1998. Bigfoot: take two. BBC Wildlife 16 (9), 68-71.

Munns, W. 2014. When Roger Met Patty. William Munns.

Naish, D. 2017. Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths. Arcturus, London.

Raynal, M. 2001. ‘Jordi Magraner’s field research on the bar-manu: evidence for the authenticity of Heuvelmans’ Homo pongoides.’ In Heinselman, C. (ed) Hominology Special Number 1. Craig Heinselman (Francestown, New Hampshire), unpaginated.

Shackley, M. 1983. Wildmen: Yeti, Sasquatch and the Neanderthal Enigma. Thames and Hudson, London.

Welcome to Tetrapod Zoology ver 4

Hello and welcome to the very first article of Tet Zoo ver 4, and big thanks if you're here because you followed the link at the final ver 3 article. Yes, it’s happened – I could no longer stay at Scientific American and have had to move and go independent. More on that in a minute.

 A really old banner I prepared for Tet Zoo ver 2 and used there for a while. It features various items specially relevant at the time (May 2011), much of it involving Wealden theropods (on which more soon). Image: Darren Naish.

A really old banner I prepared for Tet Zoo ver 2 and used there for a while. It features various items specially relevant at the time (May 2011), much of it involving Wealden theropods (on which more soon). Image: Darren Naish.

After numerous discussions and deliberations, I’ve decided that the best option for the continuation of Tet Zoo is to host it here, at tetzoo.com, and thus to have it sharing the same platform as the podcast. Given that blog articles are very swiftly going to outnumber podcast episodes (there are only 69 of the latter at the time of writing), it won’t be long before this site becomes obvious as the home of the blog, not just the home of the podcast. And if, so far, you’ve only listened to the podcast and never read the blog, well, now maybe you’ll become better acquainted with the blog. I should note that this site will likely get a redesign in time so that it looks more blog-themed.

 A  Rhacodactylus  gecko climbing on a copy of  Tetrapod Zoology Book One , of course. One day I'll be able to publish the follow-up volumes to that book. Image: Ethan Kocak.

A Rhacodactylus gecko climbing on a copy of Tetrapod Zoology Book One, of course. One day I'll be able to publish the follow-up volumes to that book. Image: Ethan Kocak.

If you’re new here, what do I cover? Tetrapod Zoology features longish and semi-technical articles – reviews, discussions, musings and such – devoted to tetrapods of all sorts (amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, living and extinct, and all of their extinct relatives). Popular topics include dinosaurs, obscure evolutionary models, interesting and little-known aspects of animal behaviour, conservation biology and cryptozoology. I also write about relevant books and toys when the time is right. I mostly avoid writing about ‘newsy‘ stories, only because they get covered at a million other places and writing about them typically feels unoriginal and predictable. Having said that, I will cover newsy things when I feel I have stuff to stay that isn’t being covered elsewhere.

 I approve of fan-art. I'm not sure if this counts (it's from a Christmas card for the Centre for Fortean Zoology, designed by Mark North), but it's a worthy addition. I'm playing the role of the 'Darrenadon' in an on-stage version of  The Lost World . Image: Mark North.

I approve of fan-art. I'm not sure if this counts (it's from a Christmas card for the Centre for Fortean Zoology, designed by Mark North), but it's a worthy addition. I'm playing the role of the 'Darrenadon' in an on-stage version of The Lost World. Image: Mark North.

Community-relevant things – announcements relevant to our annual TetZooCon and other appropriate conferences and meetings – also get covered here. On that note, as a denizen of the TetZooniverse (such as it’s known), do consider coming along to TetZooCon if you can, it’s great. The 2018 meeting is happening on the 6th and 7th of October at The Venue, Malet Street, London, and is by far the biggest so far. Go here for more information on the meeting, and on those of previous years.

 Tapirs. Tet Zoo loves tapirs. Image: Darren Naish.

Tapirs. Tet Zoo loves tapirs. Image: Darren Naish.

A Quick History of Tet Zoo. For those who don’t know, Tetrapod Zoology started life on January 21st 2006 when, while unable to sleep at 1am (I was in the final throes of writing my PhD thesis at the time), I got up to eat biscuits and start a blog. I was inspired by the blog-writing of one of my longest-standing friends, but I’ve opted to keep secret who that is in order to minimise the impact on his ego. Tetrapod Zoology was launched at blogspot, the first article ever being a hello and the second being devoted to the topic of megafaunal predation in eagles. The site went from strength to strength, quickly building up a good community and a large readership.

 Screengrab of part of the first ever 'proper' Tet Zoo article, the killer eagles one of January 2006. That weird photo of me holding a bottle was taken at a conference held at the Natural History Museum, London; I think by Richard Forrest.

Screengrab of part of the first ever 'proper' Tet Zoo article, the killer eagles one of January 2006. That weird photo of me holding a bottle was taken at a conference held at the Natural History Museum, London; I think by Richard Forrest.

In fact, such was its success that – within that first year – it had come to the attention of those running the biggest and best scientific blogging collective of the time: ScienceBlogs (Sb from hereon). I was invited to join, and Tet Zoo ver 2 launched there on January 23rd 2007, things immediately kicking off with a discussion of blood-feeding in oxpeckers. I was now being PAID TO BLOG: Sb ran a system whereby you were paid according to number of monthly hits, there being incremental tiers corresponding to payment. Despite being in the top 5 most-hit Sb blogs, we’re talking about monthly payments of $150. Better than a poke in the eye, but not exactly enough to pay the bills.

 An ominous portent of things to come -- my beloved ScienceBlogs mug suddenly made a cracking noise one day and split neatly in half. Read down to see what this was, err, portenting... is that a word? Image: Darren Naish.

An ominous portent of things to come -- my beloved ScienceBlogs mug suddenly made a cracking noise one day and split neatly in half. Read down to see what this was, err, portenting... is that a word? Image: Darren Naish.

ScienceBlogs was a great group to be part of. Constant encouragement and support from Bora Zivkovic, our benevolent blogfather, and a healthy backchannel discussion group involving a large number of the Sb bloggers, created a good, healthy community. My personal situation at the time meant I could blog pretty frequently, and a (mostly) well designed, user-friendly comment system resulted in long, excellent comment threads often containing more insight and information than the articles they were appended to. I will admit to being continually miffed by the fact that the site’s two highest-hitting bloggers – PZ Myers and Greg Laden (neither of whom I have anything against personally) – seemed to blog randomly about all manner of things that were either not really scientific or were outside their area of expertise, but such it is and always will be. No offence guys.

 A montage depicting 'things relevant to Tet Zoo' as of July 2011, and used in the article launching Tet Zoo ver 3. 2011 is such a long time ago...

A montage depicting 'things relevant to Tet Zoo' as of July 2011, and used in the article launching Tet Zoo ver 3. 2011 is such a long time ago...

But it was not to last. A few events – most notably PepsiGate (in which the Sb overlords opted to run a commercial blog written by Pepsi alongside the other blogs) – resulted in meltdown during the latter part of 2010, and bloggers jumped ship. New collectives were created, and Bora founded a new science blog hub at Scientific American (SciAm from hereon). I was invited, and Tet Zoo ver 3 launched there on July 5th 2011. Awesome – a continuing stint of paid blogging (now we’re talking about $200 per month, eventually upped to $500). My contract at SciAm has required the publication of four articles per month, which is doable but often difficult given how many other things I now have going on (freelancing, consultancy, authoring, editing, research). But, here we are at another new location, so my time at SciAm was not to last. Why?

 Screengrab of part of the very first article at Tet Zoo ver 3, the SciAm years (2011-2018).

Screengrab of part of the very first article at Tet Zoo ver 3, the SciAm years (2011-2018).

Why leave SciAm? Scientific American is an excellent brand that I respect very much, and I always thought it was good for Tet Zoo to be associated with it. Ok, there are minor quibbles I have with the style of the site: I never liked the formatting, what with the space for articles being a narrow vertical strip surrounded (on a monitor screen) by vast borders of white nothingness, the thick horizontal bars at the top of the screen (sometimes accounting for about a quarter of the display (again, on a monitor)), and the limiting of images to 600 pixels in width and low-res…

 The third (and final) part of the Tet Zoo 12th birthday review - published at Tet Zoo ver 3 - is currently offline because of image permission problems (read on). The article will have to be published here, at ver 4. Here's one of the photos from that article. It shows the High Tatras, Poland. Image: Darren Naish.

The third (and final) part of the Tet Zoo 12th birthday review - published at Tet Zoo ver 3 - is currently offline because of image permission problems (read on). The article will have to be published here, at ver 4. Here's one of the photos from that article. It shows the High Tatras, Poland. Image: Darren Naish.

But it’s two things in particular that have forced me to leave. The first concerns commenting. SciAm, very obviously, is not interested in hosting comment sections. After months of discussion it was obvious that they were never going to get rid of an awkward (and often semi- or non-functional) login system. By merely including a login, you’re losing virtually all of your potential commenters, many of whom will only comment when it’s quick and easy to do so. I asked repeatedly about this. And I found, to my surprise, that virtually all other SciAm bloggers had or have no interest in commenting either. I realised eventually that this is because those people – no offence intended – are not bloggers at all, but science writers who only want to write about newsworthy stories, not engage with their readers or build a community. I feel bad for saying this, but there it is. Over time, I felt more and more like an odd-one-out on the site. Anyway... hopefully, we will once more have a fully functional, user-friendly commenting system here. Feel free to put it to the test  - we may even aim to get back to the 23 comments game. To regular readers: the rules of the past will apply here. Trolls and haters are not tolerated, charlatans and cranks are called out or muted, and I have ultimate discretion over what gets published.

 Seabirds: yet another group of tetrapods I've never covered sufficiently at Tet Zoo (despite 12 years of operation). Let's correct that. Here, a Herring gull  Larus argentatus  protests at the nearby presence of a Northern fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis . Image: Darren Naish.

Seabirds: yet another group of tetrapods I've never covered sufficiently at Tet Zoo (despite 12 years of operation). Let's correct that. Here, a Herring gull Larus argentatus protests at the nearby presence of a Northern fulmar Fulmarus glacialis. Image: Darren Naish.

The second issue concerns image use. In my early years of blogging, I made many mistakes and did many things that are totally unacceptable today. Within recent years, I’ve been following the rules of fair use and creative commons licences quite strictly and appropriately. But a change in policy at SciAm – forced by the larger company to which SciAm belongs (Springer Nature) – means that they’ve become unreasonably restrictive on image use, a consequence being that I was having images removed from my articles despite complying with fair use and CC licencing. Ultimately, entire articles were being removed from Tet Zoo due to such issues (they’ll be republished here at ver 4). It became obvious at this point that my style of blogging – which is contingent on the use of a large number of images, many of which are of the sort that were proving a problem at SciAm (book and magazine covers, and images from inside them) – is just not compliant with the SciAm way.

 There are currently over 550 in-progress illustrations at the  Tet Zoo patreon . If you support me you get to see how things are coming along behind-the-scenes.

There are currently over 550 in-progress illustrations at the Tet Zoo patreon. If you support me you get to see how things are coming along behind-the-scenes.

I had to make the decision to leave. To say goodbye to those monthly earnings. In order to cover for the loss in earnings this would entail, I set a goal at patreon. But, in the end, I had to leave before that goal was reached. So here we are. A huge thanks to those who support me at patreon – this is now an independent blog dependant entirely on benefactor funding – and I hope that if you’re not a patron you’ll consider becoming one if you think it’s worth it.

On the subject of finances, I’m thinking seriously about setting up some sort of Tet Zoo Trust, Fund or Foundation – I’m tired of using my own personal money on research and travel and would also like to contribute to the research of my colleagues and associates. More on this in future. I need a new Tet Zoo logo, here's the old one (prepared back in the days of ver 2 but then abandoned)...

Tet-Zoo-ver-4-launch-Tet-Zoo-ver-2-logo-RIP-May-2011-July-2018-Darren-Naish-Tetrapod-Zoology.jpg

So – what next? As I’ve said as per previous moves, things are basically going to carry on as normal as goes what Tet Zoo does. I have, even after 12 years of blogging, a long list of things I want to write about here, many of which have never been covered before. So, let’s get to it…