The World’s Best Books on Woodpeckers

I really like woodpeckers. This large, widespread group of around 240 living species includes the wrynecks, piculets and true or typical woodpeckers and includes species ranging from 7 to 60 cm in length. Woodpeckers are famous for their wood-excavating specialisations and ability to cling and climb on vertical substrates, but they’re diverse and not all species have these features. Here, I’ll resist the urge to talk about the birds that much and will instead provide brief comments on some of the best books written on these charismatic and fascinating animals.

This is one of the two woodpecker species I see on a regular basis: Green woodpecker  Picus viridis  (this photo from March 2016). All my photos are bad. Image: Darren Naish.

This is one of the two woodpecker species I see on a regular basis: Green woodpecker Picus viridis (this photo from March 2016). All my photos are bad. Image: Darren Naish.

Winkler et al.’s Woodpeckers: A Guide to the Woodpeckers, Piculets and Wrynecks of the World. Winkler et al. (1995) is the woodpecker instalment in the famous Pica Press book series: these books feature an introductory section on the anatomy and systematics of the group concerned, a colour plate section (in this case, with art by David Nurney), and a species-by-species text section. The book is definitive and I’ve used it a lot. The text summarises knowledge on range, identification, habits, foot, breeding and more, and references are provided.

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Like most people seriously interested in birds, I’ve amassed a decent collection of the Helm/Pica Press books in the same series, but I’m some way from owning all of them. Insert typical complaint about recently published bird books being prohibitively expensive.

The Helm/Pica Press bird books (oops, plus a few others) in the Tet Zoo Towers library. Image: Darren Naish.

The Helm/Pica Press bird books (oops, plus a few others) in the Tet Zoo Towers library. Image: Darren Naish.

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Alexander Skutch’s Life of the Woodpecker. Skutch (1985) is a large (near ‘oversize’) hardback book, beautifully illustrated in colour throughout by the very good paintings of Dana Gardner. The book is separated into sections that cover the various aspects of woodpecker behaviour and ecology; there’s also a brief introduction to woodpeckers as a whole and a taxonomic list of recognised species at the back. Overall, the book is a good introduction to our knowledge of woodpeckers and everything about them, but it’s the artwork that makes it really worth getting.

Left: Fiery-billed aracari ( Pteroglossus frantzii ) vs Pale-billed woodpecker ( Campephilus guatemalensis ). Right: Imperial  Campephilus imperialis . Just two of the many excellent illustrations by Dana Gardner included in   Skutch (1985)  . Image: Dana Gardner/  Skutch (1985)  .

Left: Fiery-billed aracari (Pteroglossus frantzii) vs Pale-billed woodpecker (Campephilus guatemalensis). Right: Imperial Campephilus imperialis. Just two of the many excellent illustrations by Dana Gardner included in Skutch (1985). Image: Dana Gardner/Skutch (1985).

Gerard Gorman’s Woodpeckers of the World. I absolutely love field guides, often for the art more for the utility, and in part because I love the convention of showing closely related species arranged together on the same plate. But despite those things, we still often need to see photographs of the animals we’re interested in. Gorman (2014) is a photographic guide to the world’s living woodpecker species, each being illustrated by at least a few photos (though read on). The text is good too: each species has a short section covering identification, range, variation and so on. The photos are excellent. It’s a must-have if you’re seriously interested in these birds.

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Are all species illustrated by photos? What about the Ivory-billed woodpecker in the room… by which I mean: what about photos of the Ivory-billed Campephilus principalis and Imperial C. imperialis? No photos, only text.

Tim Gallagher’s Imperial Dreams. I reviewed this book at TetZoo back when it was new in 2013 (but good luck finding the article now; it’s been ruined by its hosters, like all stuff at ver 2 and ver 3). I’m not that great a fan of travelogue-type books on natural history, but I do really like Imperial Dreams. One of the world’s most spectacular woodpeckers is – or, was – the Imperial woodpecker of the Sierra Madre Occidental, a pine forest giant that seems to have dwindled to extinction somewhere between the late 1950s and … 1980s? 90s? No-one knows exactly when this bird went extinct, and its persistence was rumoured as recently as the 1990s.

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Gallagher (2013) charts an effort to search for continuing traces for this species. A lot of information on the bird itself is included, but the human story relevant to the region is fascinating too. If you like woodpeckers, the book is well worth getting hold of. I should finish by adding that Gallagher also wrote The Grail Bird: Hot on the Trail of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, a volume I haven’t yet read.

Books on woodpeckers. There are others… Image: Darren Naish.

Books on woodpeckers. There are others… Image: Darren Naish.

Remembering Lyall Watson’s Whales of the World

I’ve written before about some of the books that had an undue influence on me during my formative years. Such books tend to be well illustrated, they mostly contain attractive, colourful, detailed pieces of art, and they usually showcase weird and surprising proposals and arguments that later proved erroneous, questionable or wrong. The fact that I’ve always considered such books especially interesting and/or influential surely says a lot about me and how my brain works, but whatever.

The somewhat worn cover of my copy of   Watson’s  Whales of the World    (the 1988 softback edition). Image: Darren Naish.

The somewhat worn cover of my copy of Watson’s Whales of the World (the 1988 softback edition). Image: Darren Naish.

Today I’d like to discuss another of these fondly remembered books, and if you know it as well as I do you may well understand where I’m coming from. If you don’t know the book at all, (1) what have you been doing with your life?, and (2) obtain the book for yourself, it’s worth it. I’m here to discuss the weird, wonderful Whales of the World (also published as Sea Guide to Whales of the World) by the late Lyall Watson, illustrated by Tom Ritchie, and subtitled ‘A Complete Guide to the World’s Living Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises’ (Watson 1981).

Watson (1981) is a robust, attractively designed volume of 302 pages that goes through all the cetacean species thought valid by the author at the time of writing. It saw at least three reprintings, the first edition being hardback with a dustjacket, the 1985 and 1988 editions being softbacks. The book is arranged taxonomically and groups the cetaceans together by family, each family section including an introduction that has a key and a guide to the family’s respective anatomical traits. The family-level taxonomy Watson used is a little idiosyncratic, on which more later. Each species gets its own two pages. These include a distribution map, colour illustration (sometimes showing variants and juveniles where appropriate), an image of the skull where possible, and text sections on Classification (read: taxonomic history and discovery), Local Names, Description, Stranding, Natural History, Status, Distribution, and Sources (there’s a good bibliography).

Watson (1981)   includes both ‘wet keys’ (providing information on the life appearance of cetaceans, and intended to be used in the field) and ‘dry keys’ (providing information on skeletal material meant to be used to identify stranded animals or carcasses). Image:   Watson 1981  .

Watson (1981) includes both ‘wet keys’ (providing information on the life appearance of cetaceans, and intended to be used in the field) and ‘dry keys’ (providing information on skeletal material meant to be used to identify stranded animals or carcasses). Image: Watson 1981.

Who was Lyall Watson? Before we move on to the things that make the book unusual, we must ask: who was Lyall Watson? I recall being surprised on first learning of the existence of this book given that Watson was, and still is, best known for his 1973 Supernature: The Natural History of the Supernatural, a book on inexplicable phenomena and how they might be connected and explained. Supernature reads much like woo today, and it’s not surprising that Watson was regarded as embarrassingly credulous and even dishonest by some, and as refreshingly open-minded by others. I knew Watson for these reasons before discovering (by chance, in a bookshop… pre-internet days, kids) that he’d published a book on whales.

At left: Dr Lyall Watson. At right: 1973’s    Supernature   , Watson’s most famous book. Images: list of quotations of Lyall Watson ( here ), goodreads.com ( here ).

At left: Dr Lyall Watson. At right: 1973’s Supernature, Watson’s most famous book. Images: list of quotations of Lyall Watson (here), goodreads.com (here).

A look at the titles of his more than 20 published works reveals a remarkable and eclectic interest in all of natural history, in sport, culture and ritual (witness the 1989 Sumo: A Guide to Sumo Wrestling), in biology, anatomy and evolution, in the elements and physical geography, in the paranormal and spiritual, and in the human experience and everything about it. Many of us are interested in most or even all of these things, but scarcely any have the skill and knowledge that might allow us to write books on them. In keeping with his diverse interests and writing abilities, he was tremendously qualified, holding degrees in botany, zoology, ecology and anthropology. He even studied palaeontology under the great Raymond Dart. Watson completed his PhD on animal behaviour at the University of London under Desmond Morris, another scientist and author well known for a diverse skillset and ability to write engagingly about remarkable and controversial subjects. Unsurprisingly, Watson moved into the world of TV and also worked as a consultant for zoo and safari park design. Watson died in 2008 and there are some very good obituaries available online.

Anyway, back to the book. What makes it unusual?

Several of Ritchie’s whales, composited together (it might be obvious that I especially like beaked whales). Clockwise from upper left, we’re seeing Fraser’s dolphin  Lagenodelphis hosei , Peale’s dolphin  Lagenorhynchus australis , Strap-toothed whale  Mesoplodon layardii , Rough-toothed dolphin  Steno bredanensis  and Blainville’s beaked whale  M. densirostris ; Baird’s beaked whale  Berardius bairdii  is the big animal in the background. Images: Tom Ritchie/  Watson 1981  .

Several of Ritchie’s whales, composited together (it might be obvious that I especially like beaked whales). Clockwise from upper left, we’re seeing Fraser’s dolphin Lagenodelphis hosei, Peale’s dolphin Lagenorhynchus australis, Strap-toothed whale Mesoplodon layardii, Rough-toothed dolphin Steno bredanensis and Blainville’s beaked whale M. densirostris; Baird’s beaked whale Berardius bairdii is the big animal in the background. Images: Tom Ritchie/Watson 1981.

Whales of many hues. A key aspect of this book concerns its fantastic artwork. The whales look accurately proportioned and each illustration is nicely detailed. They’re not by Watson, but by artist Tom Ritchie. Watson states in a foreword how he and Ritchie travelled far – both north and south, he says – aboard the MS Lindblad Explorer in search of cetaceans. When describing the field sign, appearance and behaviour of cetaceans, he often describes things from the point of personal experience. Watson also states that he and Ritchie looked at numerous specimens in museum collections and also that they had access to new data never before published: the image of the Vaquita Phocoena sinus – named Gulf porpoise in the book (more on taxonomy in a minute) – “is taken from life and is the first ever printed which shows what the animal looks like” (Watson 1981, p. 8).

Ritchie’s Vaquita - at top - is apparently the first published full-body depiction of this animal’s life appearance. Below, a photo of a Vaquita in life. Extinction looms for this small cetacean. Images: Tom Ritchie/Watson 1981, Paula Olson/NOAA, in public domain ( original here ).

Ritchie’s Vaquita - at top - is apparently the first published full-body depiction of this animal’s life appearance. Below, a photo of a Vaquita in life. Extinction looms for this small cetacean. Images: Tom Ritchie/Watson 1981, Paula Olson/NOAA, in public domain (original here).

In view of all this, I find it fascinating that Ritchie’s cetaceans are often more boldly and brightly marked than those illustrated in other works, and depicted in hues that look surprising in view of more typical reconstructions (yes, it might be justifiable to term some depictions of living cetaceans reconstructions, since they’ve been cobbled together from diverse lines of evidence). The classic example is Stejneger’s beaked whale Mesoplodon stejnegeri (termed the Bering Sea beaked whale in the book). Photos and comments on this whale in living state show that it’s greyish brown, pale ventrally, and with off-white around the mouth and eyes. Ritchie’s version is warm brown dorsally, blue on its sides, white ventrally, and with a dark mask across the forehead and eyes (Watson 1981, p. 139). It’s an enhanced, technicolor version of the whale, and so different from other takes on this species that you’re left wondering how accurate it is. This sort of thing occurs throughout the book. The illustrations and wonderful and really attractive, but it’s difficult to be sure that they’re trustworthy.

Ritchie’s depiction of Stejneger’s beaked whale  Mesoplodon stejnegeri . The hues and pattern depicted here are very different from other takes on the appearance of this animal. Image: Tom Ritchie/  Watson 1981  .

Ritchie’s depiction of Stejneger’s beaked whale Mesoplodon stejnegeri. The hues and pattern depicted here are very different from other takes on the appearance of this animal. Image: Tom Ritchie/Watson 1981.

I once wrote an April Fool’s article whereby a newly designed machine was said to have revealed the true life appearance of whales (  it’s here at TetZoo ver 3  ). The imaginary multi-coloured whales devised for that spoof article were in part inspired by Tom Ritchie’s illustrations. Images: Gareth Monger and Darren Naish.

I once wrote an April Fool’s article whereby a newly designed machine was said to have revealed the true life appearance of whales (it’s here at TetZoo ver 3). The imaginary multi-coloured whales devised for that spoof article were in part inspired by Tom Ritchie’s illustrations. Images: Gareth Monger and Darren Naish.

A heterodox phylogeny and taxonomy. A great strength of Watson (1981) is that it includes a fairly decent exposition on cetacean evolutionary history (now very dated of course) and copious discussion throughout of how anatomical characters group species together. What makes the book look odd today, however, is that Watson’s ideas are often heterodox and discordant with consensus views on these issues. We might expect no less of Watson given his other writings, but we might also wonder if the urge to shake things up a bit and promote new or minority opinions was a product of the time in which Watson was working (the late 1970s).

An early section in the book explains how the two great cetacean groups – mysticetes (baleen whales) and odontocetes (or toothed whales) – can’t definitely be said to share a recent common ancestor and might have emerged independently, and it’s even implied that this might also be true of ‘archaeocetes’, the archaic cetaceans otherwise regarded as the ancestors of mysticetes and odontocetes. Cetacean polyphyly is a weird idea in view of how many details mysticetes and odontocetes share to the exclusion of other mammals, but it would have seemed new and exciting during the 1970s given that it had come to the fore in papers of the mid and late 60s (Yablokov 1964, Van Valen 1968). Watson (1981) opted to support it. It isn’t taken seriously today, the anatomical, fossil and molecular evidence supporting cetacean monophyly being overwhelmingly good.

It gets better. Watson (1981) also opted to follow some (otherwise mostly ignored or forgotten) taxonomic proposals for delphinoids, and recognised a distinct Stenidae for ‘coastal dolphins’ (Steno, Sousa and Sotalia) and Globicephalidae for pilot and killer whales and their close kin. Those familiar with the technical literature on delphinoid evolution will know that both names originated elsewhere and have complex histories (which I must avoid discussing here), but their use in a field guide was unusual and heterodox given the tradition of including all of these animals within Delphinidae.

Watson (1981)   wasn’t the only popular volume of the late 20th century to adopt some aspects of ‘non-traditional’ taxonomy. Anthony Martin  et al .’s 1990  Whales and Dolphins  also includes a globicephalid section (  Martin 1990  ), which opens with this fantastic artwork (by Bruce Pearson). Image: Bruce Pearson/  Martin 1990  .

Watson (1981) wasn’t the only popular volume of the late 20th century to adopt some aspects of ‘non-traditional’ taxonomy. Anthony Martin et al.’s 1990 Whales and Dolphins also includes a globicephalid section (Martin 1990), which opens with this fantastic artwork (by Bruce Pearson). Image: Bruce Pearson/Martin 1990.

I should add that, in other respects, Watson (1981) seems conservative. Caperea is included within Balaenidae, the Kogia whales are included within Physeteridae (rather than their own Kogiidae; in this instance Watson states a preference to stick with consensus) and all river dolphins are lumped into Platanistidae, as was tradition at the time (though he noted that “There ought to perhaps be at least 3 separate families”, p. 148).

Watson’s  Whales of the World    includes various montage illustrations like this, which depict the field signs and characteristic markings of groups of species. The pictures look great. However, it has been argued that some of the details shown here are not wholly reliable (read on). Images: Tom Ritchie/  Watson 1981  .

Watson’s Whales of the World includes various montage illustrations like this, which depict the field signs and characteristic markings of groups of species. The pictures look great. However, it has been argued that some of the details shown here are not wholly reliable (read on). Images: Tom Ritchie/Watson 1981.

Smash the patronymy. On the subject of taxonomy – this time on common names rather than scientific ones – another bold move is the assertion that an overhaul is needed in naming conventions, and that biologists and naturalists should absolutely move away from the time-honoured tactic of naming animals after people. After all, calling a given animal – say – ‘Smith’s mouse’ tells you nothing at all about the mouse, does nothing to honour the remarkable features of said mouse, and is positively unhelpful should you see said mouse in the field and wish to remember its name. No, it should be the Epic blue mouse, or the Great spectacled forest mouse, Watson opined. I agree with this idea and also think that names should honour organisms. With this approach in mind, you won’t, then, find True’s beaked whale, Commerson’s dolphin or Bryde’s whale in Watson’s Whales of the World, but the Wonderful beaked whale, Piebald dolphin and Tropical whale, respectively (Watson 1981). Many new names of this sort are proposed in the book.

Close-up of Ritchie’s illustration of Shepherd’s beaked whale  Tasmacetus shepherdi , one of my favourite living cetaceans. But it isn’t called Shepherd’s beaked whale in   Watson (1981)  . Instead, it’s the  Tasman whale . Image: Tom Ritchie/  Watson 1981  .

Close-up of Ritchie’s illustration of Shepherd’s beaked whale Tasmacetus shepherdi, one of my favourite living cetaceans. But it isn’t called Shepherd’s beaked whale in Watson (1981). Instead, it’s the Tasman whale. Image: Tom Ritchie/Watson 1981.

However… language works best when we understand what other people are saying. When a word or name or turn of phrase is established and used throughout a community, it makes sense to stick with it, even if it’s misleading, technically inaccurate, or downright ‘wrong’. We can change it, but – I’d argue – we need to do so democratically, with input from as many relevant players as possible. I suppose a counter-argument is that someone has to get the ball rolling, and that proposing a new set of names in a book designed to function as a fieldguide is a good place to start.

Whatever the argument. Watson’s proposals didn’t win any accolade and his new names never became adopted by the cetological community. Maybe this was because he was an ‘outsider’ and lacked an established reputation as a whale expert or field biologist, but my main feeling is that most workers have wanted to stick with convention and continue to use the names that are otherwise entrenched.

My own whale illustrations - these were produced for various articles published back in the 1990s - were heavily inspired by those of Tom Ritchie. The originals of these illustrations appear to be lost today, so I have to draw them all anew for my in-prep textbook. Image: Darren Naish.

My own whale illustrations - these were produced for various articles published back in the 1990s - were heavily inspired by those of Tom Ritchie. The originals of these illustrations appear to be lost today, so I have to draw them all anew for my in-prep textbook. Image: Darren Naish.

The reception to Whales of the World. Having just noticed that Watson was seen as “an outsider”, it’s worth finishing this article by wondering how Whales of the World was received and perceived by specialists. Among whale researchers in general, the book was mostly ignored and generally regarded as problematic. Typical comments were provided by marine mammal specialist Niger Bonner (who wrote several excellent volumes on pinnipeds and cetaceans himself). Bonner noted that the book had noble aims but was marred by errors and erroneously gave the impression that many of the species were far better known than they really were (Bonner 1983). He criticised the maps, thought that the new naming system was arbitrary, confusing and annoying, and noted that the colours given to the animals in the artwork didn’t always match what was stated in the text (Bonner 1983).

So far as I can tell, these comments were and are typical, and what was – and remains – a popular and much-read book by amateurs and enthusiasts was never endorsed or recommended by those who know whales best.

Of all the popular and semi-technical books on cetaceans and other marine mammals,   Watson (1981)   remains one of the most interesting and attractive. This photo is from 2015 and I’ve acquired quite a few additional relevant volumes since. Image: Darren Naish.

Of all the popular and semi-technical books on cetaceans and other marine mammals, Watson (1981) remains one of the most interesting and attractive. This photo is from 2015 and I’ve acquired quite a few additional relevant volumes since. Image: Darren Naish.

I’m not a whale specialist, but I love the book, the caveat being – as should be obvious by now – that I love it for its weirdness and its design and artwork, not because I’ve ever found it an indispensable go-to work or a definitive take on the whales of the world. I’d say you should definitely get hold of it if you want a somewhat quirky, exciting take on the subject, or if you’re a completist or want to see Watson’s take on phylogeny, taxonomy and cetacean life appearance.

Articles like this are possible because of the support I receive at patreon. Please consider supporting my research and writing if you don’t already, thank you so much.

 Cetaceans have been covered at length on TetZoo before - mostly at ver 2 and ver 3 - but these articles are now all but useless since all their images have been removed (and/or they’re paywalled, thanks SciAm). Here are just a few of them…

Refs - -

Bonner, N. 1983. [Review of] Sea Guide to Whales of the World. Oryx 17, 49.

Martin, A. R. 1990. Whales and Dolphins. Salamander Books Ltd, London and New York.

Van Valen, L. 1968. Monophyly or diphyly in the origin of whales. Evolution 22, 37-41.

Watson, L. 1981. Whales of the World. Hutchinson, London.

Yablokov, A. V. 1964. Convergence or parallelism in the evolution of cetaceans. Paleontological Journal 1964, 97-106.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Some Trivial But Monstrous Thoughts

I’m a big fan of Godzilla, and of kaiju movies in general. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I just went and saw Godzilla: King of the Monsters (KOTM), and – boy – did I like it. I don’t care about criticisms concerning the human plot (which I thought was fine, perfectly serviceable and well-acted), nor do I care that various possible plot-holes perhaps create issues. Look, it’s a film about giant monsters - rebranded titans for KOTM - knocking the crap out of each other, stomping on cities, out-flying military jets and messing about with lava, ice, epic weather, electricity and nuclear power. I loved it, and I applaud the bravery of the team concerned in taking classic monsters like King Ghidorah and remaining mostly faithful to their design without the need for some major overhaul.

A main theme of Godzilla: King of the Monsters is that humanity is an infection upon the planet, and that titans are the cure. Image: (c) Warner Bros.

A main theme of Godzilla: King of the Monsters is that humanity is an infection upon the planet, and that titans are the cure. Image: (c) Warner Bros.

I noticed a lot of interesting trivial little details in the film that are of interest or relevance to readers of this blog, at least some of which will have been missed unless you’re a monster fan or have serious nerdy interests in zoology. I mean, there are a hundred other things that are references to other stuff relevant to the Godzilla films and their real-world, factual backstory (Serizawa’s watch, the reference to a Steve Martin, Castle Bravo, Infant Island, maser turrets, the term ‘Monster Zero’, the use of a frikkin’ oxygen destroyer… and so on). It’s the more zoology-themed things I mostly want to highlight here.

The ‘science of Godzilla’ has been covered a fair bit at TetZoo in the past… Image:  The Biological Nature of Godzilla .

The ‘science of Godzilla’ has been covered a fair bit at TetZoo in the past… Image: The Biological Nature of Godzilla.

I should add that Godzilla has been covered at TetZoo on several previous occasions, the usual caveat being that these classic articles (which got a fair bit of attention back in the day and have led to various media appearances and such concerning ‘The Science of Godzilla’) have recently been effectively ruined by the removal of their accompanying images. They’re linked to below.

One more thing. STOP READING NOW IF YOU WANT TO AVOID SPOILERS. THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. Ok, onwards…

Figures in my collection. As a Godzilla fan, it’s great that at least some of these characters have been licensed anew for a modern movie franchise. Image: Darren Naish.

Figures in my collection. As a Godzilla fan, it’s great that at least some of these characters have been licensed anew for a modern movie franchise. Image: Darren Naish.

Musical Tunes. The score to this movie – by composer Bear McCreary – was fantastic, and hopefully you noticed that the main monster characters had their own musical themes. These themes incorporated components of the original themes created for the monsters in the original Toho movies. I mean, Godzilla’s theme is from the original 1954 movie and Mothra’s is from the 1962 debut movie, my god. This could partly be considered fan-service but more appropriately reflects an effort to create continuity with these older works. If you liked the music, stay to the end of the credits. There’s a post-credits scenes, by the way, and one that I didn’t predict.

Montage of the main monsters - re-branded as titans for this movie - starring in  Godzilla: King of the Monsters . Image: (c) Film Music Central ( original here ).

Montage of the main monsters - re-branded as titans for this movie - starring in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Image: (c) Film Music Central (original here).

Frank Searle’s Nessie. At one point in KOTM, people sift through images when learning about the long cultural influence King Ghidorah has had on human civilizations over the centuries. Among the images we see – ever so briefly – a blurry black and white photo of a water monster, its head obscured because its long, slender neck curves down to the water. This is unmistakeably one of Frank Searle’s infamous Nessie photos. Searle (1921-2005) was a notorious Loch Ness Monster investigator who, between about 1969 and 1983, claimed to have photographed the beast on a great many occasions (over 20; Harrison 1999), often at very close range. As should have been obvious right from the start (amazingly, he was able to dupe some people into thinking that he was the real deal), his photos variously involved models, cleverly posed sticks and branches, and even artwork superimposed onto photos of the water surface. He would likely have been thrilled to see one of his photos appear in a big-budget movie.

One of Frank Searle’s (in)famous Nessie photos. I’m 99% sure that this exact image made a brief appearance in KOTM. Image: (c) Frank Searle.

One of Frank Searle’s (in)famous Nessie photos. I’m 99% sure that this exact image made a brief appearance in KOTM. Image: (c) Frank Searle.

The Alpha Myth. Main human character Dr Mark Russell is a biologist who’s spent years studying wolves and other animals. In attempting to explain the combative, competitive, hierarchical behaviour observed among the newly emerging titans, he explains that they’re working out which will serve as The Alpha, the big boss animal that gets to control the others. He starts this discussion by saying that animals like wolves work within such a structure, ‘The Alpha’ being the biggest, strongest and meanest and thus the one that gets to rule the pack. This idea is deeply rooted and mainstream in culture and even integral to the philosophy of some animal trainers. But it’s not quite right. Wolf packs are extended families, with the leaders (which can still be called alphas if you want) being the parents of most other pack members. They are thus the most experienced, wisest wolves, not necessarily the baddest or strongest.

Check out all the interesting body language going on in this captive wolf pack. The especially dark animal near the middle is presumably an ‘alpha’. Image: Darren Naish.

Check out all the interesting body language going on in this captive wolf pack. The especially dark animal near the middle is presumably an ‘alpha’. Image: Darren Naish.

I know that this ‘Alpha’ concept was integral to the movie and works fine as an explanation for what we see of titan behaviour. But it would have been nicer if a person who’s supposed to be an experienced biologist said things that better reflected current thinking on the species he was supposed to know best.

The Congolese Titan. At several points during the film, we see world maps which depict titan activity as it’s happening live. And if we look at central Africa during one such scene, we see that the titan stomping around in the Congo region is labelled ‘mokele-mbembe’. Yes, the mokele-mbembe, the long-necked water monster of the Congo, beloved of cryptozoologists and creationists and suggested on many occasions to perhaps be a living sauropod dinosaur. Mokele-mbembe as we ‘know’ it (I mean: as described in the cryptozoology literature) wouldn’t make a particularly impressive titan, since it’s only meant to be about elephant-sized (albeit with a longer neck and tail). The KOTM version is presumably a super-sized version then. I’ve written about mokele-mbembe several times at TetZoo, and also in my book Hunting Monsters (Naish 2017).

One of the most famous of mystery beasts: mokele-mbembe, a creature popularly suggested to be a modern-day amphibious sauropod dinosaur. This illustration is by David Miller for   Roy Mackal’s 1987 book on the subject  . Image: David Miller/  Mackal 1987  .

One of the most famous of mystery beasts: mokele-mbembe, a creature popularly suggested to be a modern-day amphibious sauropod dinosaur. This illustration is by David Miller for Roy Mackal’s 1987 book on the subject. Image: David Miller/Mackal 1987.

Our Species Name. A reveal in the movie is that palaeobiologist and kaiju scientist Dr Emma Russell has used acoustic data from a mystery species in designing the sounds emitted by the monster-luring ORCA device… aaaand, the mystery species is us, since we’re one of the biggest monsters. What name do they give our species? They have it written – very clearly and in big red letters – ‘Homo sapien’. Major fail, 10 points deducted. It’s difficult to work out why, but many people today seem to think that ‘Homo sapien’ is the correct technical name for our species, and it’s often said this way in TV shows and popular literature. Our scientific name is Homo sapiens, which is scientific knowledge about as advanced as knowing that water has the formula H2O or that the Earth is a sphere.

That’s Not How You Do Scientific Names. On a related note, the titans in the movie have what look like scientific names. But the names don’t make any sense as goes the conventions biologists actually use in naming organisms. I think we’re meant to think that the names we see in KOTM are species names, unique to each kind of titan. These are obviously novel: hypothetically, Godzilla could be something like Gojiratitan terribilis, while Rodan might be, let’s say, Stupendadactylus mexicanus. But KOTM puts all the titans in the same one genus – Titanus (which isn’t available in use since it’s already been used for something else*) – which is then followed by a specific epithet, such that Godzilla is Titanus gojira, Rodan is Titanus rodan and so on. Most viewers won’t care about this, but it’s something that anyone with any knowledge of biology will notice and it’s annoying and a bit dumb. Next time: have an actual biologist on hand to check for these sorts of technical things, they make movies better!

* The longhorn beetle Titanus Audinet-Serville, 1832.

Oh Hollywood, why you no do scientific names right? This image is not from a Godzilla film… Image: (c) Universal Pictures.

Oh Hollywood, why you no do scientific names right? This image is not from a Godzilla film… Image: (c) Universal Pictures.

The Hollow Earth. KOTM goes big-time with the idea – previously hinted at in Kong: Skull Island – that our planet is a honeycomb, with hidden tunnels that pass right through it and gargantuan internal chambers and pockets (a description most familiar to modern audiences due to the form of the planet Naboo in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menance). I suppose that this has been worked into the MonsterVerse as a way of explaining how the impossibly huge yet also cryptic titans can remain concealed for a long time and only emerge on occasion.

Here’s the ‘Hollow Earth’ image that appears most frequently online (this being because it was uploaded to wikipedia). It’s from William Bradshaw’s 1892 novel  The Goddess of Atvatabar . Image: public domain, original  here .

Here’s the ‘Hollow Earth’ image that appears most frequently online (this being because it was uploaded to wikipedia). It’s from William Bradshaw’s 1892 novel The Goddess of Atvatabar. Image: public domain, original here.

The Hollow Earth thing is not unique to the MonsterVerse: it was suggested, as a serious model for our planet’s structure, by Edmond Halley in 1692. Halley didn’t propose the model because it was a fun idea, but because he thought it might explain anomalous compass readings which, he thought, meant that the Earth was formed of more than one rotating sphere. His assumption that compass readings should always be consistent was flawed, since they vary given that the magnetic field is constantly in flux. This model – which involved substantial gas-filled spaces existing between the different sphere – was dead and disproven by the late 1700s, and thereafter it only survived in pseudoscience (UFOs must come from inside the Earth instead of from outer space, and so on) and fiction. Edgar Rice Burroughs is most famous for using the Hollow Earth model for his Pellucidar novels of the early 1900s. These have people tunnelling into the Earth and discovering a hidden world, lit by an inner sun, inhabited by creatures long thought extinct. It’s surprising and interesting to see this idea persist in a modern sci-fi movie series.

The Hollow Earth of Edgar Rice Burroughs is supposed to have looked something like this… [UPDATE: nope, this is nothing to do with the Hollow Earth - it was instead done for the cover of a 1967 magazine issue that celebrated the movie  One Million Years BC . Thanks to Alan Friswell for this correction]. This is one of Frank Frazetta’s inimitable illustrations. Image: (c) Frank Frazetta,   original here  .

The Hollow Earth of Edgar Rice Burroughs is supposed to have looked something like this… [UPDATE: nope, this is nothing to do with the Hollow Earth - it was instead done for the cover of a 1967 magazine issue that celebrated the movie One Million Years BC. Thanks to Alan Friswell for this correction]. This is one of Frank Frazetta’s inimitable illustrations. Image: (c) Frank Frazetta, original here.

That Final Meltdown. Without giving too much away (I know I said that there would be spoilers, but…), the final act of the movie involves Big G discharging A LOT of nuclear energy, so much that he glows red and seems in imminent danger of incandescent eruption. If you’re a hardcore Godzilla fan you may well be predicting at this point that KOTM was going to do its own take on the final scene of the 1995 Godzilla vs Destoroyah (aka Godzilla vs Destroyer) in which Godzilla glows with radiation and eventually (spoiler) melts and dies – only to be replaced by his direct descendant, Godzilla Junior. I don’t know if the KOTM team were inspired by Godzilla vs Destoroyah at all, or if what they did was wholly novel, but the similarities are hard not to notice.

In the 1995 movie  Godzilla vs Destoroyah , Godzilla burns up from the inside and endures a painful phase of looking spectacularly patchworked with glowing red. Images: (c) Toho.

In the 1995 movie Godzilla vs Destoroyah, Godzilla burns up from the inside and endures a painful phase of looking spectacularly patchworked with glowing red. Images: (c) Toho.

Rick and Morty. You might have noticed the prominent Rick Sanchez sticker on the lid of a laptop (if, that is, you’re a Rick and Morty fan. I am). This may or may not be a nod to the fact that Bradley Whitford’s character Dr Rick Stanton was apparently inspired by Rick of Rick and Morty. While I’m here, the original concept of Rick and Morty was based on Doc and Marty of Back to the Future… which is also heavily referenced – or, hell, flat-out mentioned – in another big movie of 2019. A little movie that hasn’t done at all well at the box office.

Finally – Character Continuity. Many of the people in KOTM were previously introduced in 2014’s Godzilla, and therein we got their various backstories (Dr Serizawa, for example, is the descendant of Daisuke Serizawa from the original movie of 1954). But note that they also featured characters who have a direct link to other Godzilla and MonsterVerse movies. The Chen twins – both played by Zhang Ziyi – were an obvious nod to the twin fairies of the 1961 Mothra movie, and Dr Houston Brooks (played in KOTM by Joe Morton, who we mostly know as Dr Myles Bennett Dyson) previously appeared in Kong: Skull Island.

A strength of the new Legendary Godzilla movies is they establish an approximate continuity with the original film of 1954. To go a different route and start Godzilla afresh, I think, is a big mistake. Image: (c) Toho Studios.

A strength of the new Legendary Godzilla movies is they establish an approximate continuity with the original film of 1954. To go a different route and start Godzilla afresh, I think, is a big mistake. Image: (c) Toho Studios.

Death by Falling Rocks and Trees

Long-term readers might recall the book manuscript – written many years ago now – in which I wrote a whole load of text on death, disease and disaster in the animal world. That book had to be abandoned, but every now and again I look at it and attempt to salvage various short sections. And thus, here we are today…

Lammergeier  Gypaetus barbatus , killed in an avalanche, presumably in the Himalayas. Image: (c) Eric Dragesco/Ardea London/Henny (1990).

Lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus, killed in an avalanche, presumably in the Himalayas. Image: (c) Eric Dragesco/Ardea London/Henny (1990).

When rocks or blocks of ice fall down hills, cliffs or mountains, or when the roofs of caves collapse, animals may be unlucky enough to be in the way. Such hazards present themselves to animals that dwell in mountainous environments, near cliffs or in caves. Laidler & Laidler (1992) figured a Takin Budorcas taxicolor* killed by rocks whose movement down a hillside was triggered by an earthquake. An adult Lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus killed in an avalanche was figured by Henny (1990). At the caves of Mount Elgon, an extinct volcano on the Kenyan/Ugandan border, elephants and other animals walk deep underground to mine and eat the sodium-rich soil. In 1981 the roof of one of the caves collapsed, ostensibly the result of undermining by the elephants. There is speculation that some or many elephants were killed (Sutcliffe 1986).

* I’m actually not sure which Budorcas the specimen might be. According to the Groves and Grubb taxonomy, also used by José Castelló in Bovids of the World, there are several takin species.

Elephants are sometimes killed by falling or toppled trees. This photo of a deceased bull is from   Douglas-Hamilton & Douglas-Hamilton (1975)  .

Elephants are sometimes killed by falling or toppled trees. This photo of a deceased bull is from Douglas-Hamilton & Douglas-Hamilton (1975).

Elephants are also known to have died after the trees they have been destroying have fallen on top of them: Douglas-Hamilton & Douglas-Hamilton (1975) figured a particularly spectacular case where a bull African bush elephant Loxodonta africana was killed when a large, old baobab tree fell on top of it. The tree had been weakened by the actions of many elephants over some considerable span of time. A photo of a poor baby elephant killed by a tree in 1968 can be seen here.

Look carefully — there’s the skeleton of a horse in there, seemingly killed by this falling tree. Image: (c) Lizzy Peat.

Look carefully — there’s the skeleton of a horse in there, seemingly killed by this falling tree. Image: (c) Lizzy Peat.

Close-up of the remains… Image: (c) Lizzy Peat.

Close-up of the remains… Image: (c) Lizzy Peat.

A particularly unfortunate case in the files of accidental death concerns the killing of the very last Pyrenean ibex Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica by a falling tree in Huesca Province, Spain, in 2000 (Anon. 2000). The animal’s skull was crushed in the accident. A rare photo of a free-living domestic horse Equus caballus – a New Forest pony – killed by a falling tree in southern England was passed to me by my friend Lizzy Peat, and is reproduced here (above). Creative googling results in the discovery of various photos of deer (of various species) killed by falling trees.

Deer (a whitetail, at left, and a wapiti at right) killed by falling trees. Both images come from   this hunting site  ; there are other images too.

Deer (a whitetail, at left, and a wapiti at right) killed by falling trees. Both images come from this hunting site; there are other images too.

And it is of course relatively well known that beavers are sometimes killed by falling trees. Kile & Rosell (1996) reported seven cases of beaver death (concerning both Castor fiber and C. canadensis) caused by tree fall as well as several additional cases where beavers were found trapped by fallen trees, mostly by the hindfoot, but still alive. Exactly how much of a risk this really is to healthy beaver populations remains unknown: it seems to be rare enough that it isn’t ordinarily an issue.

Unfortunate European beaver killed by a silver birch, one of several images online of beavers killed by trees. Image: Beate Strøm Jahansen,   from here  .

Unfortunate European beaver killed by a silver birch, one of several images online of beavers killed by trees. Image: Beate Strøm Jahansen, from here.

Lessons From a Dog: a Life With Willow

It’s with considerable sadness that I’m writing this within days of the death of Willow, the older of my family’s two dogs. Willow was 14 years old and had been with us since February 2013. Her loss has hit me far harder than I thought it would. I should have taken the week off work.

Willow on the day we brought her home (though here at my mother-in-law’s house) in February 2013. She has a really foxy look in this photo.

Willow on the day we brought her home (though here at my mother-in-law’s house) in February 2013. She has a really foxy look in this photo.

Willow was a mixed breed dog who was definitely part staffie (Staffordshire bull terrier), the other half of her ancestry probably involving Jack Russell. She was handsome, sleek and with an attractive two-tone colour scheme, though she was initially a bit overweight and had to be slimmed down with a diet. She was smart and could solve simple problems used to test dog intelligence (like escaping from beneath a blanket) extremely quickly, and her attachment to our family unit meant that she would refuse to move on if one or more of us was dawdling behind. She appeared to be concerned if either of the children moved too far away from the group and would circle round to gather them up. She followed basic commands and Toni (my wife) could get Willow to give a distinct three-part bark on command: it sounded like “I love you!”. She was playful and especially enjoyed tug-of-war and attempting to grab her own tail, her jaws closing with an audible snap as she spun in a circle.

life-of-Willow-Willow-2-muddy-at-Swanwick-690px-tiny-May-2019-Darren-Naish-Tetrapod-Zoology.jpg

Willow was a rescue dog who, for reasons unknown to us, had been given to a charity (the Blue Cross) by a family who had several dogs and children. We assume that hard times or changing conditions forced that family to give her away, and also that this history was the cause for what appeared to be chronic fear of abandonment: for the first several months of her life with us, Willow would whine loudly (really loudly) when left alone outside shops or other places where dogs can’t be taken. The sound was more of a repetitive screaming wail than a whine, and I sometimes had to assure people nearby that it was this fear that explained her loud complaints. She lost this habit in time, presumably once it was obvious to her that we would never leave her. Whatever her history, she came to us fully trained, wholly used to being walked on the lead, and absolutely compatible with family life. It would have been an absolute tragedy had she never been claimed by new owners and euthanized before her time.

At left: Willow (with rope toy) waits for commands from Toni; a photo from 2014. At right: a trip to the beach.

At left: Willow (with rope toy) waits for commands from Toni; a photo from 2014. At right: a trip to the beach.

The condition of her teats led us to think that she had probably become a mother at some earlier point in her life, but we never had a way of confirming this. She came to us un-neutered, something we fixed as soon as we took ownership of her. Her behaviour with puppies seemed to back up a history of being a mum. When confronted in 2017 with Teddy, our West Highland terrier pup, she took immediately to the role of surrogate mum, enthusiastically cleaning him and allowing him to share her bed for all the time that he was a small puppy. Her tolerance with Teddy – a brand-new dog who always wanted (and still wants) to play, to tussle, to engage in rough-and-tumble and to generally get up to mischief – never ceased to amaze me.

Willow proved to be an excellent carer of Teddy, who was initially a tiny pup. This photo is from September 2017.

Willow proved to be an excellent carer of Teddy, who was initially a tiny pup. This photo is from September 2017.

In fact, Willow’s response to other animals of all sorts was interesting. She never viewed other pets – including our guinea-pigs or Flame the bearded dragon – with predatory interest. At the risk of gross anthropomorphising, her character and personality was one of infinite patience, kindness, tolerance and forgiveness. I cannot forget the times I scolded her or was impatient or angry with her. She always seemed to forgive me, but I regret these things very much and have vowed to be kinder and more tolerant to Teddy and other dogs. Remember this if you live with a dog yourself.

I don’t know if it would be right to describe Flame and Willow as friends, but they certainly tolerated each other. Flame sometimes climbed on Willow’s back.

I don’t know if it would be right to describe Flame and Willow as friends, but they certainly tolerated each other. Flame sometimes climbed on Willow’s back.

Willow got to spend lots of time outdoors and I’m glad that we took her on as many trips, excursions and holidays as we did. The photos of her running about in the woods and on beaches make me happy, especially when her expressions and body language make it look as if she was really enjoying herself.

That hilarious look on her face as she runs - the trademark ‘Staffie grin’.

That hilarious look on her face as she runs - the trademark ‘Staffie grin’.

She liked wading and would often walk into pools, large puddles or the sea, though she never wanted to go deep enough for a swim. She frequently became very muddy on trips to shorelines and damp forests. She loved to run and did so with a hilarious and comical open-mouthed grin. While never wantonly destructive of property or furniture, she loved ripping open and then destroying toys purchased as presents, her aim at Christmas being – seemingly – to rip a dog toy into small fragments within ten minutes of ownership. She hated baths and I would have to thwart her efforts to escape.

Christmas 2013, and Willow proves to be an expert at breaking open Christmas presents.

Christmas 2013, and Willow proves to be an expert at breaking open Christmas presents.

From a zoological, behavioural point of view, several aspects of her behaviour were interesting. After peeing, she would scrape backwards, forcefully, with both hindfeet and leave prominent scores on the ground. This is a great way to gradually kill and destroy a lawn. Her decision to break open and consume deceased whelks on a beach surprised me, though maybe it shouldn’t have.

Ichnology of a domestic mammal. Prominent claw scrape marks made by Willow, 2014.

Ichnology of a domestic mammal. Prominent claw scrape marks made by Willow, 2014.

The strandline of West Wittering beach, on this occasion, was littered with dead whelks which Willow took to cracking open and eating.

The strandline of West Wittering beach, on this occasion, was littered with dead whelks which Willow took to cracking open and eating.

The final part of Willow’s story is a sad one of rapid and startling decline. It became obvious by late 2018 that Willow was losing condition, and unable to regain it. She became distressingly, skeletally thin, despite a good diet, and her muscles withered. Standing appeared painful, her tail was kept perpetually down and pressed close to her rear end, and she was often unable to support her weight, her legs giving way and causing collapse. Trips to the vets and medicines administered for joint health and so on helped for a while. She became incontinent, very obviously suffered from failed hearing, and took to repetitive, excessive pacing about the house, this perhaps being a sign of dementia. The Willow I’m describing is not the dog shown in the photos here, but a smaller, diminished animal, approaching death.

At left: on a 2014 holiday in the Brecon Beacons, Wales. At right: in the New Forest, 2013.

At left: on a 2014 holiday in the Brecon Beacons, Wales. At right: in the New Forest, 2013.

What have I learned from life with a dog as kind, gentle and wonderful as Willow? To be kinder, more patient and more tolerant to dogs and other animals... when they’re gone, you’ll regret the times you were less of these things. To take more photos when times are good, since you’ll never have enough by the time it’s too late. To take time to express love and affection when you can. And to not underestimate the emotional attachment you might have to your fellow creatures.

This photo was taken on a fieldtrip where my son Will and I went to see deer.

This photo was taken on a fieldtrip where my son Will and I went to see deer.

Willow left us on Monday 20th May 2019. When we took ownership of her in 2013, she was thought to be 8 years old, meaning that she was 14 when she died. I miss her so much. Thank you, Willow, for being such an excellent dog and thank you for teaching me so much.

Willow the dog leads Will and Emma the humans.

Willow the dog leads Will and Emma the humans.

Birdwatching in Suburban China

Early this year I spent time in China, specifically in Zigong, Sichuan Province. I was there for day-job reasons (acting as consultant for life-sized dinosaur models), but when not working I went and looked at giant pandas, and at the many amazing skeletons of Jurassic dinosaurs (and other fossil vertebrates) at Zigong Dinosaur Museum. I also did a fair bit of birdwatching, both in the various gardens and green spaces I could get to it but also in the urban and suburban places within easy distance of my accommodation. And I saw a bunch of stuff, which is what I want to talk about here.

Come on - everybody loves White-browed laughingthrushes  Pterorhinus sannio ! More on this species below. Image: Darren Naish.

Come on - everybody loves White-browed laughingthrushes Pterorhinus sannio! More on this species below. Image: Darren Naish.

First things first. To identify the birds of a given region, you need a goddam field guide. Thinking it would be easy and simple to get a ‘Field Guide to the Birds of China’ before setting off, I went to buy one (I recall looking in Foyles in London’s Charig Cross Road, since it has an excellent field guide section) buuut…. nope. Nothing. After looking around online a bit I discovered John MacKinnon* and Karen Phillipps’s 2000 A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Which is great apart from the fact that it costs over £40, and usually over £50, which is above what I consider affordable for books. Goddammit. On this occasion, however, my luck was in since a special sale at NHBS meant that I was able to get it at half price (albeit not until long after my trip had happened).

* Yes, of Saola fame and so, so much else.

MacKinnon & Phillipps (2000),  A Field Guide to the Birds of China .   It’s not the most attractive field guide out there, but it does seem to be the best one. Image: Darren Naish.

MacKinnon & Phillipps (2000), A Field Guide to the Birds of China. It’s not the most attractive field guide out there, but it does seem to be the best one. Image: Darren Naish.

Regular TetZoo readers might have heard me complain about book prices before. Books are horrendously over-priced, a thing I can’t help but feel angry about given that – as someone who’s spent most of their life in relative poverty – it bothers me a lot that knowledge is so frequently locked away unless you’re lucky enough to be able to afford access to it. Anyway, I digress.

Feral pigeons and Whooper swans in China. Discussed below. Images: Darren Naish.

Feral pigeons and Whooper swans in China. Discussed below. Images: Darren Naish.

I should say that this was my first ever trip to China, and that I’d been told (no offence intended to Chinese friends and colleagues) to expect to see nothing in the way of wild animal life in view of relevant environmental issues. While I certainly saw places where pollution was bad and natural spaces were being destroyed or degraded, the good news is that I still saw a fair amount of wildlife – though, birds only. I should also add that the avifauna was – to my western European eyes – an interesting mix of the familiar and commonplace with the obscure and exotic. Aaaaand I should also add that my photos are mostly terrible. The skies were leaden grey and the lighting terrible during my entire time in China, plus birds are fast and my camera is not that great. So, apologies.

Rallids and grebes of China. At top left: Common coot  Fulica atra . At top right: Common moorhen  Gallinula chloropus . Below: Little grebe  Tachybaptus ruficollis . Image: Darren Naish.

Rallids and grebes of China. At top left: Common coot Fulica atra. At top right: Common moorhen Gallinula chloropus. Below: Little grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis. Image: Darren Naish.

Anyway, to business. What did I see? We’ll start with the larger birds. While at the ornamental lake at Chengdu Panda Base (or, more formally: Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding), I saw Whooper swan Cygnus cygnus, Ruddy shelduck Tadorna ferruginea, Common coot Fulica atra, Common moorhen Gallinula chloropus and Little grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis. Coots, moorhens and Little grebes are birds I see regularly here in the UK, but more interesting were the several small raptors circling nearby. I’m not totally sure what they were and my photos are poor, but the small-headed look, extensive barring, dark primaries and lack of transverse bars on the tail make me think that this is either a Buteo or Butastur hawk or a baza. There are several accipiters in Sichuan but I don’t think that’s what we’re seeing here. Thoughts?

Small, broad-winged raptor… of some sort. Image: Darren Naish.

Small, broad-winged raptor… of some sort. Image: Darren Naish.

Feral pigeons Columba livia were a thing, which isn’t a surprise but is still something you might need confirming. Then there’s this pigeon…

What is this pigeon… or dove, if you want? Read on. Both photos show the same individual, photographed at Chengdu Panda Base. Image: Darren Naish.

What is this pigeon… or dove, if you want? Read on. Both photos show the same individual, photographed at Chengdu Panda Base. Image: Darren Naish.

It’s a mid-sized, long-tailed, mostly brown, grey-headed, red-legged pigeon that I saw walking on the ground a fair bit. Spots and barring look absent. But... I’m pretty sure that this a Spotted dove Streptopelia chinensis, though I had trouble realising this since the diagnostic spotted patch on the neck isn’t visible in my photos. Or am I wrong?

Shrikes. Now we come to passerines, of which I saw a bunch. I’ll go through them in a very rough sort of phylogenetic order, rather than in the order in which I encountered them. I saw shrikes in several places, often in towns and right next to tower blocks and in very urban settings (so long as there are trees and green spaces, there can be birds). All appeared to belong to the same species, one with a warm brown mantle, grey crown and nape, black wing feathers but for a small, white, rectangular panel on the primaries, and long tail that was dark on its upper surface. Of the 12 shrike species in the region, this description applies only to the Burmese shrike Lanius colluroides, the black (rather than streaked white) forehead further showing that I only ever saw males… which figures, because they were usually singing.

Burmese shrike  Lanius colluroides , two different individuals (the one at left is singing). This species occurs throughout south-east Asia as well as China and is mostly associated with lowland forests. Image: Darren Naish.

Burmese shrike Lanius colluroides, two different individuals (the one at left is singing). This species occurs throughout south-east Asia as well as China and is mostly associated with lowland forests. Image: Darren Naish.

My impression in the field was that I was looking at Red-backed shrike L. collurio – a species I know well from fieldwork in Romania – but the Red-backed (which does occur in China) is quite different, mostly in being shorter-tailed. Furthermore, the Red-backed shrikes in China are restricted to the far north of the country and belong to the pale subspecies L. c. pallidifrons, the mantle of which is washed out relative to the reddy-brown present on Burmese shrikes and Red-backed shrikes in Europe. Shrikes are corvoids, by the way, and thus outside the clade – Passerida – that contains all the other passerines I’ll be talking about.

Sylvioids 1: bulbuls and laughingthrushes. Bulbuls, babblers, laughingthrushes and allied pointy-billed sylvioid passerines are not that typical of western Europe, so it was fairly thrilling for me that my first passerine of the entire trip was the Light-vented bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis, which I saw a lot and often right in the middle of urban areas (again, so long as there were trees).

Light-vented bulbul  Pycnonotus sinensis . Different individuals seen, variously, in an ornamental garden and in a planted region in the middle of a heavily pedestrianised area. Images: Darren Naish.

Light-vented bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis. Different individuals seen, variously, in an ornamental garden and in a planted region in the middle of a heavily pedestrianised area. Images: Darren Naish.

I also saw White-browed laughingthrushes Pterorhinus sannio at many places, including parks and gardens. I was often able to get really close to them. They forage on the ground a lot, often in pairs or small groups, and also hang around in low vegetation. I was also happy to see Red-billed leiothrix Leiothrix lutea in the wild, a small laughingthrush well known outside of Asia as a cage bird. Leiothrixes are among those many passerines where the vernacular name is the same as the scientific one. Other examples include tesias, liocichlas, eremomelas, prinias, cisticolas, hyliotas, batises, tschagras and so on and on.

At left: White-browed laughingthrush  Pterorhinus sannio  singing. At right: Red-billed leiothrix  Leiothrix lutea . Images: Darren Naish.

At left: White-browed laughingthrush Pterorhinus sannio singing. At right: Red-billed leiothrix Leiothrix lutea. Images: Darren Naish.

Sylvioids 2: leaf warblers and bush warblers. Below, we see a leaf warbler (or phylloscopid). There are about a million leaf warbler species in China and they’re notoriously difficult to identify with confidence, certainly so when you’re looking at poor photos and not with the birds in front of you. I initially reckoned that this might be a Yellow-browed warbler Phylloscopus inornatus on account of the two whitish wing bars. However, the bird I saw has a distinct central crown stripe, which is supposed to count that species out. A better match might be Pallas’s leaf warbler P. proregulus (a phylloscopid I always remember from field guides because it’s sometimes positioned close to kinglets, and both this and its specific name imply that it’s a ‘proto-kinglet’, which it totally isn’t). This is in keeping with the small bill and whiteish underside, plus P. proregulus is common across much of China and nearby (MacKinnon & Phillipps 2000).

Definitely a phylloscopid… and perhaps a Pallas’s leaf warbler  Phylloscopus proregulus . Both images show the same individual. Images: Darren Naish.

Definitely a phylloscopid… and perhaps a Pallas’s leaf warbler Phylloscopus proregulus. Both images show the same individual. Images: Darren Naish.

Phylloscopus leaf warblers are familiar birds to me (there are a few TetZoo ver 2 and 3 articles about them, or there used to be…), but I’d never before seen any member of the cettiid warbler genus Abroscopus. This (below) is the Rufous-faced warbler A. albogularis, a fairly common bush warbler of woods and thickets with a set of distinctive facial markings. My impression on seeing this bird in the field was that it was a fulvetta but I became confused when the markings totally didn’t match any known fulvetta species. Please excuse the terrible photo.

Blurry Rufous-faced warbler  A. albogularis , photographed in the gardens of the Zigong Dinosaur Museum. Image: Darren Naish.

Blurry Rufous-faced warbler A. albogularis, photographed in the gardens of the Zigong Dinosaur Museum. Image: Darren Naish.

Bushtits and actual tits. The same applies to my photos of Black-throated tit Aegithalos concinnus, an aegithalid (bushtit or long-tailed tit) I saw several times while individuals, often in mixed flocks with warblers, foraged in vertical and hanging poses. A few very similar aegithalids also occur in China – like the Rufous-fronted tit A. iouschistos and Black-browed tit A. bonvaloti – but the Black-throated has unmistakeable markings. Aegithalids are not really tits at all, by the way, but are instead close kin of phylloscopid and sylviid warblers (Jønsson & Fjeldså 2006, Selvatti et al. 2015) and thus deep within Sylvioidea. True tits (Paridae) appear to be an early-diverging lineage within Sylvioidea.

Black-throated tit  Aegithalos concinnus , showing the head, throat, chest and belly markings diagnostic for this species. Images: Darren Naish.

Black-throated tit Aegithalos concinnus, showing the head, throat, chest and belly markings diagnostic for this species. Images: Darren Naish.

This photo wasn’t taken in China, but in England, and shows an aegithalid species very familiar to European people like myself: the Long-tailed tit  A. caudatus , which also occurs in China. Its long tail is not typical of all members of this group. Image: Darren Naish.

This photo wasn’t taken in China, but in England, and shows an aegithalid species very familiar to European people like myself: the Long-tailed tit A. caudatus, which also occurs in China. Its long tail is not typical of all members of this group. Image: Darren Naish.

Of proper tits, I had good views of what I assumed were Great tit Parus major, a species which does occur across much of southern China. However, the Great tits in China have a white border to the black belly stripe and a single white wing bar, whereas the tit I saw (and photographed, really badly) had a yellow border to its belly stripe and two white wing bars. This means it must have been the Green-backed tit P. monticolus, and perhaps the subspecies P. m. yunnanensis (the more eastern form P. m. legendrei has a much wider black belly stripe, and the other subspecies occur further west or in Taiwan). Harrap & Quinn (1996) made the point that the relationship between Green-backed and Great tits is not well understood, since both have overlapping ecological preferences in some parts of their ranges and can even occur in the same feeding flocks. The Green-backed tit also occurs in places where there are distinct lowland and highland Great tit subspecies on either side, which is confusing. In general, the Green-backed tit seem to be a highland relative of the Great tit, more closely associated with wetter forests.

Really bad photos of a tit which turned out to be a Green-backed tit  Parus monticolus.  Lighting conditions were often against me when I was getting these photos. Image: Darren Naish.

Really bad photos of a tit which turned out to be a Green-backed tit Parus monticolus. Lighting conditions were often against me when I was getting these photos. Image: Darren Naish.

Pipits and wagtails, and sparrows. This (below) is an Olive-backed pipit Anthus hodgsoni, one of several of these birds that I watched foraging in rough ground in a heavily built-up area. Pipits are a really interesting group of passerines that have many adaptations for life in open areas like grasslands, meadows and tundra but there are also species of woodlands, rocky coasts and watercourses. They’re often leggy (for passerines) and with notably long hallux claws.

Olive-backed pipit  Anthus hodgsoni , in characteristic theropod skulking pose. The Olive-backed pipit is a widespread Asian species, occurring from the edge of the Urals to the coasts of the Pacific and Indian oceans. Image: Darren Naish.

Olive-backed pipit Anthus hodgsoni, in characteristic theropod skulking pose. The Olive-backed pipit is a widespread Asian species, occurring from the edge of the Urals to the coasts of the Pacific and Indian oceans. Image: Darren Naish.

Pipits are closely allied to wagtails (both belong together within Motacillidae), and I saw one representative of that group too: the White wagtail Motacilla alba, a species well known for occurring in pedestrianised areas and other places with big, flat expanses of nothing. The White wagtail is well known for being highly variable across its vast range and numerous subspecies have been named (cue debate about which of these warrant specific status…). The one I saw is M. a. alboides, sometimes called Hodgson’s wagtail and associated with Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and the Himalayas as well as the southern half of China (Alström & Mild 2003). Motacillids, incidentally, are part of the passerine clade Passeroidea, which is weird because it means that they’re surrounded in the phylogeny by sparrow-like birds (e.g., Selvatti et al. 2015).

Having mentioned sparrows, I saw Eurasian tree sparrow Passer montanus on several occasions, which is not surprising since this is the sparrow of China. House P. domesticus and Spanish P. hispanicus sparrows occur in China too, but only at comparatively few spots in the far west. China is also home to the Rock sparrow Petronia petronia and several snowfinches (Montifringilla).

At left: two different Hodgson’s wagtail  Motacilla alba alboides , a subspecies of White wagtail. At right: Eurasian tree sparrow  Passer montanus . Images: Darren Naish.

At left: two different Hodgson’s wagtail Motacilla alba alboides, a subspecies of White wagtail. At right: Eurasian tree sparrow Passer montanus. Images: Darren Naish.

Thrushes and Old World flycatchers. Let’s talk briefly about thrushes. The blackbirds in China – here I’m talking about the black thrushes typically called ‘blackbirds’, not the American ‘blackbirds’ included in the group Icteridae – have conventionally been regarded as subspecies of T. merula, the thrush that occurs across Europe, Asia and northern Africa where it’s mostly known as the Common or Eurasian blackbird. However, some authors now regard at least some Chinese blackbirds as belonging to a distinct species: the Chinese blackbird T. mandarinus. Sichuan is apparently home to the subspecies T. m. sowerbyi, so this might be the bird I saw. In the field, the males struck me as being slightly greyer on the wings and browner on the body than the blackbirds at home in England, but the differences were minor.

A blackbird, foraging at the edge of a pond where stones have been stuck into cement. I would have thought that this is a Common or Eurasian blackbird  Turdus merula , but it might be a Chinese blackbird  T. mandarinus . Image: Darren Naish.

A blackbird, foraging at the edge of a pond where stones have been stuck into cement. I would have thought that this is a Common or Eurasian blackbird Turdus merula, but it might be a Chinese blackbird T. mandarinus. Image: Darren Naish.

Thrushes are closely allied to Old World flycatchers, properly called Muscicapidae. China is home to loads of them, among them wheatears, stonechats, forktails and other chats, various redstarts, robins, nightingales, shortwings, bush robins and rock thrushes, many Ficedula and Muscicapa flycatchers, various niltavines, and others. I wasn’t in the right sort of places to see any of these, but I did see an iconic Asian member of the group: the Oriental magpie-robin Copsychus saularis, a familiar species of gardens and forests. Magpie-robins – also called shamas – are unusual enough that (together with the Cercotrichas scrub robins) they belong to their own muscicapid lineage, Copsychini (Sangster et al. 2010). Magpie-robins are sexually dimorphic. Males are strikingly black and white while females are mostly grey on the head and body, and I saw both.

Oriental magpie-robin  Copsychus saularis  male and female (male at top, female below). The male in the images here lived right next to a factory. Image: Darren Naish.

Oriental magpie-robin Copsychus saularis male and female (male at top, female below). The male in the images here lived right next to a factory. Image: Darren Naish.

Another member of the muscicapid clade Copsychini, a male White-rumped shama  Copsychus malabaricus . This one was photographed in captivity in the UK, not in Asia. Image: Darren Naish.

Another member of the muscicapid clade Copsychini, a male White-rumped shama Copsychus malabaricus. This one was photographed in captivity in the UK, not in Asia. Image: Darren Naish.

Starlings. China is inhabited by about 20 starling species, meaning that someone only familiar with the dark, iridescent Common starling Sturnus vulgaris – like me – is potentially in for a real treat. Alas, my only sightings were of the gregarious Red-billed starling S. sericeus. Like many of the Asian Sturnus species, its plumage combines black wing feathers with white patches, a varicoloured look to the body and a distinctly demarcated head. The birds I photographed look darker than those in many images of this species online but that’s mostly because I had to up the contrast to make them usable.

Red-billed starling  Sturnus sericeus  in downtown Zigong. There were about 15 birds in this group; the bird shown at left is the same individual seen at far right in the photo on the right. Image: Darren Naish.

Red-billed starling Sturnus sericeus in downtown Zigong. There were about 15 birds in this group; the bird shown at left is the same individual seen at far right in the photo on the right. Image: Darren Naish.

And that’s it! I emphasise that the birds I’ve discussed here weren’t the sort that people travel half-way round the world to see, or go to remote places to tick off their lists. On the contrary, these were all birds that were easy to see in urban and suburban settings and my seeing of them was mostly opportunistic and done with minimal effort. My point in discussing the birds I saw was to explain what a normal person, interested enough in wildlife to go and look for it but not to spend huge sums of money on dedicated adventures, might bump into. The answer is… quite a lot, even in these times of environmental degradation and destruction. Some of my identifications could well be off, in which case please feel happy to correct me. More birds here sometime real soon, thanks for reading.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to see me do more, please consider supporting this blog (for as little as $1 per month) at patreon. The more support I receive, the more financially viable this project becomes and the more time and effort I can spend on it. Thank you :)

 For previous TetZoo articles relevant to the birds discussed here, see…

Refs - -

Alström, P., Mild, K. & Zetterström, B. 2003. Pipits and Wagtails of Europe, Asia and North America. Christopher Helm, London.

Harrap, S. & Quinn, D. 1996. Tits, Nuthatches and Treecreepers. A & C Black, London.

Jønsson, K. A. & Fjeldså, J. 2006. A phylogenetic supertree of oscine passerine birds (Aves: Passeri). Zoologica Scripta 35, 149-186.

MacKinnon, J., & Phillipps, K. 2000. A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Sangster, G., Alström, P., Forsmark, E. & Olsson, U. 2010. Multi-locus phylogenetic analysis of Old World chats and flycatchers reveals extensive paraphyly at family, subfamily and genus level (Aves: Muscicapidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 57, 380-392.

Selvatti, A. P., Gonzaga, L. P. & Russo, C. A. de M. 2015. A Paleogene origin for crown passerines and the diversification of the Oscines in the New World. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 88, 1-15.

The Fate of Burian’s Styracosaurus

Among the most recognisable staples of popular prehistoric animal books is the multi-spiked North American ceratopsian dinosaur Styracosaurus albertensis, discovered in Alberta in 1913 and described and named later that same year by Lawrence Lambe.

Styracosaurus-literature-montage-960px-98kb-May-2019-Darren-Naish-Tetrapod-Zoology.jpg

One of my several memorable childhood encounters with Styracosaurus was in the 1975 movie The Land That Time Forgot, a World War I adventure film based on a 1918 novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs. If you haven’t seen The Land That Time Forgot, it revolves around the discovery of a lost land called Caprona by the crew of a German U-boat. The main cast are not all German, since they’ve taken aboard a bunch of British people and even an American, all rescued from their own sinking merchant vessel. Doug McClure is the main star.

Screengrab from  The Land That Time Forgot , showing the styracosaur that doesn’t get shot.

Screengrab from The Land That Time Forgot, showing the styracosaur that doesn’t get shot.

At least some of my childhood takes on prehistoric animals and their world were inspired by that film, and one scene I remember in particular is a night-time segment in which two unlucky styracosaurs are fired upon by the U-boat. One is hit (one of its characteristic frill spikes is blasted off) and dies, a symbolic tear trickling from its eye. It was thus a great thrill for me to recently see this model, at the 2019 Portsmouth Comic Con. Yes, it’s the intact one of the two The Land That Time Forgot styracosaurs.

Roger Dicken’s  Styracosaurus , as seen at Portsmouth Comic Con in May 2019. Note the massively wide, deep snout and prominent depressions on the frill. Image: Darren Naish.

Roger Dicken’s Styracosaurus, as seen at Portsmouth Comic Con in May 2019. Note the massively wide, deep snout and prominent depressions on the frill. Image: Darren Naish.

Why was this model at Portsmouth Comic Con? Because movie model-maker Roger Dicken was there, and I got to speak to him. Roger’s IMDB page gives some idea of how many movies he’s been involved in during his long and illustrious career: he made the original Alien chestburster, among many other things. In speaking with him, I was finally able to confirm something I’d always suspected: the styracosaurs in the movie were based very specifically on the ones illustrated by famous Czech palaeoartist Zdeněk Burian (1905-1981) for his grand 1972 book with Zdeněk V. Špinar, Life Before Man (Spinar 1972). Burian illustrated Styracosaurus several times during his career, but this painting (actually produced in the 1940s, not the 70s) is the most familiar and most reproduced. The animal is broad across the muzzle, has distinct sunken regions on the frill, and the spikes on the frill (in the background individual) closely follow the contours of the shoulder and back.

One of so many beautiful and hugely influential scenes of ancient life by Zdeněk Burian. High-quality reproductions of this image reveal far brighter colours than those normally obvious in books (like a red ring around the eyes), and extra details like a scaly fringe to the side of the upper beak. Though best known for versions published in the 1970s, it was produced in 1941. Image: (c) Zdeněk Burian.

One of so many beautiful and hugely influential scenes of ancient life by Zdeněk Burian. High-quality reproductions of this image reveal far brighter colours than those normally obvious in books (like a red ring around the eyes), and extra details like a scaly fringe to the side of the upper beak. Though best known for versions published in the 1970s, it was produced in 1941. Image: (c) Zdeněk Burian.

Burian’s art was – and arguably still is – highly influential, not just because it’s wonderful and looks amazing but also because it was just about the only palaeoart accessible to a large sector of the interested public during the 1960s and 70s. It’s no surprise that the look he favoured for a given animal often became the standard template for the species concerned. But how did Burian himself work out what ancient organisms looked like? He was working at a time when information was scant, experts were few and hard to communicate with, and literature non-existent or highly technical. We know that Burian consulted extensively with Špinar, and also that he used measurements and images of fossils to inform the reconstruction process.

But…

Styracosaurus-Vernon-small-540px-146kb-May-2019-Darren-Naish-Tetrapod-Zoology.jpg

As recently realised and brought to my attention by Mark Witton, it turns out that Burian’s take on Styracosaurus wasn’t exactly unique. Look at this image (above) by Vernon Edwards, apparently made during the 1930s. Edwards made a huge number of dioramas depicting prehistoric animals in landscapes, many of which are depicted in books of the early 20th century (my main source for these images being the 1941 The Miracle of Life, which I’ve written about before [images now removed from article, well done SciAm]). The similarities between the Burian and Edwards scenes are many. The composition and landscape is similar, the animals are posed the same way as goes the angles we see, and there are lots of anatomical similarities. All those features I mentioned above are visible, and note also the bulging neck creases visible on the animal we see in profile.

See that dated signature at bottom? The date is ‘41’, and if you’re not convinced, look below…

See that dated signature at bottom? The date is ‘41’, and if you’re not convinced, look below…

A detail of Burian’s best known  Stegosaurus  painting, again showing ‘41’. Image: (c) Zdeněk Burian.

A detail of Burian’s best known Stegosaurus painting, again showing ‘41’. Image: (c) Zdeněk Burian.

So - is this a case of Burian basing his work on that of a previous artist? As noted above, Burian’s styracosaur scene is from 1941 (the date is obvious in good versions of the image; see above). Edwards’s scene is supposedly from the 1930s, but the oldest published version I’ve seen is from 1941. Could it be, then, that Vernon Edwards produced this image in 1941 - not during the 30s - and that it was based on Burian’s scene, not vice versa? I honestly don’t know and haven’t been successful in working out the exact details on what happened.

If Burian did base his work on the image by Edwards, this might be - as Mark stressed in a twitter exchange - the only case in which Burian based his work on that of another palaeoartist. It’s not as if we’re saying that he was a regular plagiariser or anything.

At left, the two Ladybird books discussed below. My copy of the 1974  Dinosaurs  has a bright pink scribble across its cover. At right, a bonus Burianesque styracosaur depicted on the cover of another Ladybird book. Images: Darren Naish,  Arran Alexander Collection .

At left, the two Ladybird books discussed below. My copy of the 1974 Dinosaurs has a bright pink scribble across its cover. At right, a bonus Burianesque styracosaur depicted on the cover of another Ladybird book. Images: Darren Naish, Arran Alexander Collection.

As mentioned earlier, Burian’s work was so influential that it was widely used by other artists. At this point I could write a great deal about Burian-inspired images of this dinosaur, but I’ll finish by discussing one in particular. I don’t know how familiar Ladybird books are outside of the UK (non-UK readers, let me know), but – in the UK – they’re among the most beloved and cherished of books to people who grew up between the 1950s and 90s. My favourite was always, and still is, the 1974 Labybird leader book Dinosaurs, authored by Colin Douglas and illustrated by Bernard Robinson (Douglas 1974). And there on page 38 we find this striking image, featuring a stormy sky and a totally anachronistic Tyrannosaurus (Styracosaurus is some millions of years older than Tyrannosaurus)…

Image: Ladybird/Bernard Robinson.

Image: Ladybird/Bernard Robinson.

Such was the popularity of this book that an enlarged and augmented edition – titled Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals – appeared in 1978, with extra illustrations and much more text (Wellfare 1978). It enabled the art to be shown at larger size but features many of them in cropped form such that their relationship to larger scenes is unfortunately ruined. Anyway, here’s the spectacular styracosaur again. It has a fantastic eagle-like glint and hint of simmering rage in its eye. The spines around the edge of the frill look to be based on Burian’s painting more than on an actual styracosaur fossil, and the scaly edge to the beak - again, inspired by what Burian depicted - is an interesting touch since it shows that the artist was seemingly unaware of the presence of keratinous beak tissue in these animals (a thing they surely had).

Styracosaurus  from the 1978  Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals . Image: Ladybird/Bernard Robinson.

Styracosaurus from the 1978 Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals. Image: Ladybird/Bernard Robinson.

How has the Burian-esque view of Styracosaurus fared in more recent decades? Our improved understanding of ceratopsian musculature and skin texture – combined with our rather more dynamic view of what Mesozoic dinosaurs were like overall – means that any good modern take on Styracosaurus shows a more active beast with more erect limb carriage and more elevated head and neck. The snout shouldn’t be massively wide and turtle-like as Burian (and Edwards) showed, but narrower and deeper, and it should also be more obvious that the spikes around the edges of the frill are distinct, independent structures, not outgrowth of the frill’s main body.

I included a section on Styracosaurus in my 2009 book on the history of our building knowledge on dinosaurs, The Great Dinosaur Discoveries (Naish 2009). It’s a decent potted history of what we know of Styracosaurus, culminating with the revision and redescription of the styracosaurs published by Ryan et al. (2007). Ryan et al. (2007) recognised two Styracosaurus species but the second of these – S. ovatus, named in 1930 – is currently regarded as belonging to the distinct genus Rubeosaurus.

The  Styracosaurus  skeleton AMNH 7372, originally named as the distinct species  S. parksi  in 1937 (but now regarded as synonymous with  S. albertensis ). Image: AMNH/public domain.

The Styracosaurus skeleton AMNH 7372, originally named as the distinct species S. parksi in 1937 (but now regarded as synonymous with S. albertensis). Image: AMNH/public domain.

Little known away from the ceratopsian research community is that the lower jaw and skeleton of Styracosaurus wasn’t collected from the field until 1935 (remember: this dinosaur was named and described in 1913). The nasal horn of the original skull was broken. Lambe thought that this break had occurred half-way along the horn’s length, and reconstructing the missing tip accordingly, the result being a ceratopsian with a very long and straight nasal horn perhaps 60 cm long. More recently discovered specimens show that his assumption – while sensible – was incorrect, and that the horn was actually shorter and blunter than he’d concluded, and that 30 cm would be a more realistic length (Ryan et al. 2007) (caveat: I’m talking here about the bony core of the horn, not the keratinous covering). Old reconstructions therefore exaggerate the length of that horn.

The skull of  Styracosaurus albertensis , as seen from the front. The beak section is narrow and deep, not wide and rounded. This is AMNH 7372 in New York, collected from what’s now Dinosaur Provincial Park by Barnum Brown in 1915. Image:   Claire Houck  , CC BY-SA 2.0 (original   here  ).

The skull of Styracosaurus albertensis, as seen from the front. The beak section is narrow and deep, not wide and rounded. This is AMNH 7372 in New York, collected from what’s now Dinosaur Provincial Park by Barnum Brown in 1915. Image: Claire Houck, CC BY-SA 2.0 (original here).

That’s where we’ll end things for now. There’s tons more to say about how ceratopsians have been depicted in life and on what we think we know about their anatomy and biology. I’ve written a lot about these issues in the past, but nearly everything has been ruined due to the removal of images at ScienceBlogs and SciAm.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to see me do more, please consider supporting this blog (for as little as $1 per month) at patreon. The more support I receive, the more financially viable this project becomes and the more time and effort I can spend on it. Thank you :)

For other TetZoo articles on ceratopsians and related palaeoart-themed issues, see…

Refs - -

Douglas, C. 1974. Dinosaurs. Ladybird Books, Loughborough.

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

Ryan, M. J. Holmes, R. & Russell, A. P. 2007. A revision of the late Campanian centrosaurine ceratopsid genus Styracosaurus from the Western Interior of North America. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 27, 944-962.

Špinar, Z. V. 1972. Life Before Man. Thames and Hudson, London.

Wellfare, G. 1978. Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals. Ladybird Books, Loughborough.


A postscript…

I’ll just leave this here. The image at top is (c) Robert Bakker, and was produced in 1971. The image below it is by Burian and is dated 1976. Montage from here at Earthling Nature.

Styracosaurus-Chasmosaurus-Bakker-original-Burian-552px-69kb-May-2019-Tetrapod-Zoology.JPG


On May the 4th, Some Star Wars Musings

Today is May the 4th (2019), so what better thing to post at TetZoo than a brief take on Star Wars and its zoology crossovers.

Star Wars creatures. From left to right: tauntauns, opee, wampa, Max Rebo (in ball organ), Sy Snootles, Droopy McCool, Amanaman, rancor. We’ll be talking about some of these creatures below. Image: Darren Naish.

Star Wars creatures. From left to right: tauntauns, opee, wampa, Max Rebo (in ball organ), Sy Snootles, Droopy McCool, Amanaman, rancor. We’ll be talking about some of these creatures below. Image: Darren Naish.

Like most people of my age (I’m a child of the 1970s), the original Star Wars films had a huge influence on me. In fact, I’m a massive Star Wars nerd who knows an inappropriate amount of things about the droids, bounty hunters, planets, characters and plot lines of the original trilogy… aaaand the other films too. Those who listen to the TetZoo podcast will know that I’m gradually working my way through the entire script to The Empire Strikes Back, in part because I’m such a huge fan of AT-ATs and everything else featured in the section of the movie set on Hoth.

While I could easily write vast swathes of useless nonsense on the Star Wars movies and my thoughts on them (fun fact of the fact: Leia calls Luke and Han “moon jockeys” in the original script for Empire), let’s focus on a few things that have some kind of relevance to the TetZooniverse.

That Krayt Dragon skeleton sure looks a lot like a replica sauropod with a semi-fictional head. Now we know why.

That Krayt Dragon skeleton sure looks a lot like a replica sauropod with a semi-fictional head. Now we know why.

The Krayt Dragon. Today it’s fairly well known among movie buffs that the Krayt Dragon skeleton featured on Tatooine in the original Star Wars (today Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope) is actually the same replica skeleton – the exact same prop – that stands in for Diplodocus in the 1975 Disney movie One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing. I’ve written about this at TetZoo, and it’s been covered at SV-POW! as well. Also well known is that the Star Wars crew left some, most or even all of the skeleton out there in the Tunisian desert (wow, epic littering), and that bits and pieces of it have been collected from the site by geologists, palaeontologists and others over the years.

A scene from  One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing . Yup, that skeleton looks familiar. These days it’s funny to think that it’s meant to be one and the same as Dippy of NHM London fame, and that it ended its life a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Image: IMDB.

A scene from One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing. Yup, that skeleton looks familiar. These days it’s funny to think that it’s meant to be one and the same as Dippy of NHM London fame, and that it ended its life a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Image: IMDB.

On the subject of sauropods, also worth noting is that the CG Rontos of the modified editions of episode IV are tweaked versions of the Jurassic Park brachiosaur, but with some additions inspired by Paraceratherium, the giant rhino.

Of wampas and tauntauns. Hoth’s wampa – or, the Hoth wampa, in fact – is one of my favourite Star Wars creatures. It’s assumed that the wampa was inspired by the pop-culture idea of the Himalayan yeti, and designed to be a frightening, hypercarnivorous version of this creature (even though yetis are dark, and not snow-coloured). The wampa of the movie undergoes several radical changes in appearance if you watch closely, a consequence of the fact that various different models, suits and puppets were used for different scenes. The original toy looks very odd in the face, I believe because the Kenner model-makers were given insufficient information on its final look. Oh: why is it that herbivorous tauntauns and hypercarnivorous wampas both have gnarly, curling horns on the side of the face? The real answer is “because it looks cool”, but… is there an in-universe explanation that explains this unusual detail of convergent evolution?

Tauntauns started life as kangaroo-dinosaur creatures, the first concept art by Joe Johnston actually making them look rather like fuzzy theropods (could Johnston have been inspired by the fuzzy dinosaur artwork that had appeared in Bakker’s  Scientific American  article?). Today they’re one of the most-loved creatures of the canon. Image: StarWars.com.

Tauntauns started life as kangaroo-dinosaur creatures, the first concept art by Joe Johnston actually making them look rather like fuzzy theropods (could Johnston have been inspired by the fuzzy dinosaur artwork that had appeared in Bakker’s Scientific American article?). Today they’re one of the most-loved creatures of the canon. Image: StarWars.com.

Reptomammals and reptavians. If you’re curious about the phylogeny of Star Wars creatures, there have been several efforts to devise taxonomic schemes that reflect phylogeny. Wampas, tauntauns and rancors are all reptomammals, apparently. This is a group of animals that combine reptile- and mammal-like traits, and can be furry, scaly, or a combination of the two. Then there are reptavians, which similarly combine reptile and bird traits. My favourite example of a reptavian is the Varactyl, a creature that looks like a giant day gecko but has a hooked bill and a covering of iridescent feathers (Obi Wan rides one, called Boga, in Revenge of the Sith).

Turns out that the species is called a Varactyl, and the individual Obi-Wan is riding is called Boga. Ok. Image: Lucasfilm Ltd.

Turns out that the species is called a Varactyl, and the individual Obi-Wan is riding is called Boga. Ok. Image: Lucasfilm Ltd.

This creature fascinates me because its sprawling locomotion and sinuous flexing of its body during running mean that its ribcage is surely undergoing a lot of shape change, yet it’s yelling its head off all the while. In other words, the Varactyl has circumvented Carrier’s constraint: the biomechanical problem whereby animals that flex their bodies laterally during running have their breathing (and thus vocalising) constrained at the same time.

Back to reptomammal and reptavian affinities… I’m sure there’s some stuff in Star Wars canon about how the members of these clades (are they clades?) came to be widely distributed across planets and even solar systems, but otherwise this always seems to be a stumbling block for the ‘these creatures which are spread across the galaxy all have close evolutionary relationships’ idea common to the Star Wars universe.

Rancors have featured in a huge number of Star Wars stories now. This artwork is pretty badass (the individual shown here is much bigger than the young one Skywalker encountered in Jabba’s palace). Image: reddit (original  here ).

Rancors have featured in a huge number of Star Wars stories now. This artwork is pretty badass (the individual shown here is much bigger than the young one Skywalker encountered in Jabba’s palace). Image: reddit (original here).

While – even today – I have my own fair share of Star Wars toys (virtually all pertaining to the original films alone), I don’t have a vast number of the creatures. Just two tauntauns, a wampa, a rancor, an opee (from The Phantom Menace), and a few of my favourite humanoids, like Amanaman. It’s virtually always possible to recognise which real-world creatures inspired the designs of Star Wars creatures, and if there’s a criticism of the look favoured throughout the various iterations of the franchise it’s that the animals are too Terran. Virtually everything is identifiable as a reptile, bird, mammal or fish of Earthy sort. To take just a few examples… tauntauns are bipedal camels (with a hint of dinosaur), while Amanaman has clear cobra vibes to its look [UPDATE: I was totally wrong on this. Turns out that Amanaman was inspired by flatworms!] . The Opee sea killer is obviously just an anglerfish and crustacean stuck together.

I’ve proudly retained at least some of my Star Wars toys. Image: Darren Naish.

I’ve proudly retained at least some of my Star Wars toys. Image: Darren Naish.

Whitlatch and Carrau’s The Wildlife of Star Wars. Anyone interested both in Star Wars and in imaginary or speculative animals will be aware of Terryl Whitlatch and Bob Carrau’s beautiful book The Wildlife of Star Wars, which features scores of amazing illustrations depicting the animals of the Star Wars universe and such things as their ecological interactions and lifecycles.

Whitlatch & Carrau’s  The Wildlife of Star Wars   , front cover. Image: amazon.co.uk.

Whitlatch & Carrau’s The Wildlife of Star Wars, front cover. Image: amazon.co.uk.

Terryl designed many of the creatures used in the prequel trilogy, and came up with such things as the humanoid amphibian Jar-Jar Binks (and hence his species, the gungans) and the various aquatic predators of Naboo. Among these is the Sando aqua monster, a quadrupedal super-predator that reaches 200 metres in length. Concept art shows that the Sando aqua monster was originally going to be built like an immense, aquatic cat, a really cool idea which I can’t help but think of when I see footage of jaguars foraging and swimming underwater. Alas, someone somewhere didn’t like this, so it was given a wide-mouthed, whale-like head and ended up looking less interesting (in my opinion).

A screengrab from one of those amazing pieces of film that show jaguars swimming underwater. This footage comes from what I think is a Brazilian zoo with a special glass-fronted swimming pool.

A screengrab from one of those amazing pieces of film that show jaguars swimming underwater. This footage comes from what I think is a Brazilian zoo with a special glass-fronted swimming pool.

And while there’s much more I could say, I’ll stop there. And I didn’t once mention the fact that I previously worked with Jez Gibson-Harris, maker and operator (with others) of Jabba the Hutt.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to see me do more, please consider supporting this blog (for as little as $1 per month) at patreon. The more support I receive, the more financially viable this project becomes and the more time and effort I can spend on it. Thank you :)

For vaguely relevant TetZoo articles, see…

Sea Monster Sightings and the ‘Plesiosaur Effect’

Regular readers of this blog will almost certainly be aware of what are most sensibly termed sea monster accounts. Throughout recorded history, and throughout the seas and oceans of the world, people claim to have observed gigantic, anatomically remarkable creatures that did not, at first sight, match any animal species known to science.

Sea monsters real and imagined, an old illustration done as a prototype for a mural. Image: Darren Naish.

Sea monsters real and imagined, an old illustration done as a prototype for a mural. Image: Darren Naish.

The view favoured by cryptozoologists (people who investigate ‘mystery animal’ reports) has mostly been that these accounts describe real encounters with real animals, and animals that are scientifically new, exciting and surely worthy of recognition. I’ve written before about the work of Bernard Heuvelmans and his followers and colleagues (see the links below), most recently in my 2017 book Hunting Monsters (Naish 2017). Heuvelmans (1968) argued that sea monster reports could be sorted into nine categories, and thus that (at least) nine new species of gigantic, sea-going vertebrate species were out there and awaiting discovery.

In the most influential book ever written on sea monsters, Bernard Heuvelmans argued for the existence of nine distinct sea monster types, illustrated at left by Cameron McCormick. It was thought for a while that   Heuvelmans (1968)   had done a good job in discovering a valid biological signal in sea monster reports. But… no. Images: Cameron McCormick,   Heuvelmans (1968)  .

In the most influential book ever written on sea monsters, Bernard Heuvelmans argued for the existence of nine distinct sea monster types, illustrated at left by Cameron McCormick. It was thought for a while that Heuvelmans (1968) had done a good job in discovering a valid biological signal in sea monster reports. But… no. Images: Cameron McCormick, Heuvelmans (1968).

Alas, this view is mostly regarded as naïve by the majority of biologists and other scientists. Isn’t it more likely that ‘sea monster reports’ are confused or embellished descriptions of encounters with known animals or objects, like surface-feeding whales, unfamiliar giant fishes, swimming deer, or masses of weed, floating wood or fishing gear? In recent years, several classic reports have been re-evaluated and argued to variously be confused accounts of skim-feeding sei whales (Galbreath 2015), sea lions and other pinnipeds behaving in unpredictable ways (Naish 2017), whales and turtles tangled in rope (France 2016a, b), whales in a state of sexual arousal (Paxton et al. 2004), and even misidentified pipefishes (Woodley et al. 2011).

Classic sea monsters like this one - the  Daedalus  encounter from 1848, involving a creature seen off the coast of Namibia in the south-east Atlantic - have often been regarded as inexplicable, and as evidence for the reality of sea monsters. But they might be explainable after all. Image:  Illustrated London News , in public domain.

Classic sea monsters like this one - the Daedalus encounter from 1848, involving a creature seen off the coast of Namibia in the south-east Atlantic - have often been regarded as inexplicable, and as evidence for the reality of sea monsters. But they might be explainable after all. Image: Illustrated London News, in public domain.

Among those who’ve regarded sea monsters as real and novel animals, there’s a long-running tradition whereby they’re regarded as ‘prehistoric survivors’: as the modern descendants of animals otherwise known only as fossils. This view has been endorsed by cryptozoological authors, but it’s also reflected in sea monster accounts themselves, since eyewitnesses have sometimes likened the creatures they saw to fossil animals they ‘know’ from the popular literature and museum displays. For obvious reasons, such comparisons post-date the scientific discovery of such fossil animals… which raises the question: have descriptions of sea monsters been inspired by people’s knowledge of, or familiarity with, ancient animals known from fossils?

The cryptozoological literature includes many volumes that discuss sea monster reports, and often interpret them within the ‘prehistoric survivor paradigm’ (or PSP). Image: Darren Naish.

The cryptozoological literature includes many volumes that discuss sea monster reports, and often interpret them within the ‘prehistoric survivor paradigm’ (or PSP). Image: Darren Naish.

The idea that sightings of sea monsters might have been inspired by people’s knowledge of, or familiarity with, fossils animals is not new but has been made several times over the years. In 1968, American science fiction author and science writer L. Sprague de Camp (1907-2000) proposed that an increasing awareness of plesiosaurs and mosasaurs led to a change in the sorts of sea monsters people claimed to see (de Camp 1968). Rather than seeing ‘sea serpents’, people were instead now seeing (read: claiming to see) animals of non-serpentine form, sometimes described as having large paddles or an elongate neck. So far as we know, de Camp was the first to propose this idea in print. I propose that we call it the ‘plesiosaur effect’.

Long-necked plesiosaurs - this is Mary Anning’s famous  Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus  of 1824, as described by William Conybeare - became increasingly familiar to the public from the 1820s onwards. Image: in public domain.

Long-necked plesiosaurs - this is Mary Anning’s famous Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus of 1824, as described by William Conybeare - became increasingly familiar to the public from the 1820s onwards. Image: in public domain.

For several years now, my colleague Charles Paxton has been compiling a database of sea monster reports. Already, it’s been used to report historic trends and to analyse such things as how far sea monsters were said to be from their witnesses (Paxton 2009). You don’t have to think of sea monsters as real animals awaiting scientific recognition to see the value in this database. For, if sea monsters are hoaxes, quirks of human perception, or misidentifications of known objects, we might still learn a lot by studying where and when they were seen, how far away they were, how long they were observed for, and precisely what witnesses described. A detailed interest in anomalous phenomena does not mean that you endorse the fringe ideas often associated with said anomalous phenomena – an important point all too often missed!

Quite a few sea monsters were likened by their observers to plesiosaurs and other ancient marine reptiles. This rendition shows the monster seen from the  Umfuli  in December 1893, close to the Cape of Good Hope. Image: in public domain.

Quite a few sea monsters were likened by their observers to plesiosaurs and other ancient marine reptiles. This rendition shows the monster seen from the Umfuli in December 1893, close to the Cape of Good Hope. Image: in public domain.

By cross-referencing sea monster eyewitness data with information on key dates in the scientific discovery of fossil marine reptiles and the dissemination of knowledge on them, we aimed to test de Camp’s idea. Our study was published this week in Earth Sciences History (Paxton & Naish 2019).

Has an increasing familiarity with Mesozoic marine reptiles - like the various sauropterygians, ichthyosaurs and kin shown here - influenced people’s ideas on their sightings of modern sea monsters? These illustrations are among the many I’ve done for my in-prep textbook,   on which go here  . Image: Darren Naish.

Has an increasing familiarity with Mesozoic marine reptiles - like the various sauropterygians, ichthyosaurs and kin shown here - influenced people’s ideas on their sightings of modern sea monsters? These illustrations are among the many I’ve done for my in-prep textbook, on which go here. Image: Darren Naish.

Incidentally, I had no strong feeling which way the data would go. I like the idea that sea monster reports have a genuine biological signal – in part because I’ve always thought that at least some sea monster accounts surely describe encounters with real unknown animals* – and hence don’t have any important correlation with scientific and cultural events. But… my increasing scepticism about the reality of sea monsters as new species means that I’m also keen on the idea that the monsters we claim to see are very much products of our cultural backgrounds, of our ‘expectant attention’ (that is, we ‘see’ those phenomena we expect to see due to our prior knowledge), and on those stories, scientific discoveries and artistic and literary works that we consider relevant to our lives. Indeed, this premise forms the core to my Hunting Monsters (Naish 2017).

* Those familiar with my publications will know that I’ve published many articles endorsing this viewpoint; take that, true believers who hate me for being a vile, biased, ivory tower sceptic.

Have I ever mentioned the book   Hunting Monsters  , available from all good digital retailers and in most book stores? Maybe I have. Image:   Naish (2017)  .

Have I ever mentioned the book Hunting Monsters, available from all good digital retailers and in most book stores? Maybe I have. Image: Naish (2017).

So – what did we find? That sea monster accounts do indeed correlate with the scientific discovery of long-necked marine reptiles (as in: plesiosaurs), since necks are explicitly mentioned or described from the 1850s onwards, and sea monsters were specifically likened to ‘plesiosaurs’ by eyewitnesses. Across the same time frame, those sea monsters accounts that describe the animals as serpent-like decline (Paxton & Naish 2019). In other words: yes, there is a ‘plesiosaur effect’.

Some of our graphs (  Paxton & Naish 2019  ). Eyewitnesses increasingly mentioned ‘plesiosaurs’ and the presence of necks throughout the 1800s. Across the same time frame, references to serpent-like features were in decline. Image:   Paxton & Naish (2019)  .

Some of our graphs (Paxton & Naish 2019). Eyewitnesses increasingly mentioned ‘plesiosaurs’ and the presence of necks throughout the 1800s. Across the same time frame, references to serpent-like features were in decline. Image: Paxton & Naish (2019).

A valid question that might arise at this point concerns public familiarity with the relevant fossil reptiles. The fact that a given fossil animal is ‘known to science’ doesn’t require that it also be ‘known to the public’. We kept this in mind and deliberately paid attention to the appearance of Mesozoic marine reptile fossils in public museum displays, in newspaper articles reporting on those displays, and in popular literature (Paxton & Naish 2019). And we found good indications that the public were aware of, perhaps even comparatively well informed on, animals like plesiosaurs from the 1820s onwards (Paxton & Naish 2019). Numerous specific cases demonstrate our point here, but among those we found especially interesting are a Punch cartoon of 1848 (which shows two inebriated naturalists talking about ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs), and the Crystal Palace models of 1854 (whoops: we say that the Crystal Palace models are at Sydenham, whereas they’re actually in Penge. Sorry).

This 1848 cartoon, from  Punch  magazine, indicates some familiarity among the public of the time with fossil animals like ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. Image:   Paxton & Naish (2019)  .

This 1848 cartoon, from Punch magazine, indicates some familiarity among the public of the time with fossil animals like ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. Image: Paxton & Naish (2019).

Does a link between familiarity with fossil marine reptiles and accounts of sea monsters mean that claimed sea monster sightings were not monster sightings at all, but fabrications or hoaxes inspired by this familiarity? Well, maybe. But not necessarily. In supporting the ‘plesiosaur effect’, we’re saying that people were influenced by fossil marine reptiles when interpreting sea monsters, and this remains true whether they saw unusual waves or floating bits of wood or scientifically new giant vertebrate species. Our conclusion is not ‘sea monster accounts were fake all along’.

Fox News coverage of our research. “Loch Ness”? “Dinosaurs”? “Delusion”? Sigh.

Fox News coverage of our research. “Loch Ness”? “Dinosaurs”? “Delusion”? Sigh.

Finally, it’s not surprising that this paper has succeeded in winning broad coverage across news outlets, at least online. A few pieces are responsible and accurately report our findings. But a number do not, stating instead that the discovery of dinosaurs – which emphatically are not the same thing as marine reptiles like plesiosaurs – can be linked to sightings of the Loch Ness Monster. Nessie, it could be argued, is relevant to our research given that ideas about sea monsters have indeed been instrumental to some ideas on what Nessie was like (some authors regarded Nessie as a sea monster that became trapped in Loch Ness). However, it is fundamentally missing the point to state or imply that we were analysing Loch Ness reports, since we absolutely were not. I remain dismayed that journalists of some outlets see terms like ‘sea monster’ and maintain that it can only be translated to the public by changing it to ‘Loch Ness Monster’. NO. Resist the urge to dumb down. We can make the world a slightly better place by seeking to educate, and doing so doesn’t mean making a thing super-complicated, boring or off-putting.

Here are media articles covering our research, if you’re interested…

So there we have it. This work forms part of a minor ‘scientific cryptozoology’ movement whereby those of us involved aim to critically analyse cryptozoological data in objective fashion. There aren’t many people doing this, but what’s always obvious is that public interest in such projects is high.

At least some of us have published technical research, in the peer-reviewed literature, where we aim to evaluate and test cryptozoological claims and hypotheses. In 2011, a re-evaluation of the Hagelund ‘baby Cadborosaurus’ showed that it was most like a misidentified pipefish (  Woodley  et al . 2011  ). Image:   Woodley  et al . (2011)  .

At least some of us have published technical research, in the peer-reviewed literature, where we aim to evaluate and test cryptozoological claims and hypotheses. In 2011, a re-evaluation of the Hagelund ‘baby Cadborosaurus’ showed that it was most like a misidentified pipefish (Woodley et al. 2011). Image: Woodley et al. (2011).

If you enjoyed this article and would like to see me do more, please consider supporting this blog (for as little as $1 per month) at patreon. The more support I receive, the more financially viable this project becomes and the more time and effort I can spend on it. Thank you :)

For previous TetZoo articles on sea monsters and related matters (concentrated on those articles that haven’t been destroyed due to formatting issues at ScienceBlogs and SciAm), see…

Refs - -

de Camp, L. S. 1968. Dinosaurs in today's world. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 34 (3), 68-80.

France, R. L. 2016a. Reinterpreting nineteenth-century accounts of whales battling ‘sea serpents’ as an illation of early entanglement in pre-plastic fishing gear or maritime debris. International Journal of Maritime History 28 686-714.

France, R. 2016b. Historicity of sea turtles misidentified as sea monsters: a case for the early entanglement of marine chelonians in pre-plastic fishing nets and maritime debris. Coriolis: Interdisciplinary Journal of Maritime Studies 6. 1-24.

Galbreath, G. J. 2015. The 1848 ‘enormous serpent’ of the Daedalus identified. Skeptical Inquirer 35 (5), 42-46.

Heuvelmans, B. 1968. In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents. Hill and Wang, New York.

Naish, D. 2017. Hunting Monsters. Arcturus, London.

Paxton, C. G. M. 2009. The plural of "anecdote" can be "data": statistical analysis of viewing distances in reports of unidentified giant marine animals 1758-2000. Journal of Zoology 279, 381-387.

Paxton, C., Knatterud, E. & Hedley, S. L. 2004. Cetaceans, sex and sea serpents: an analysis of the Egede accounts of a “most dreadful monster” seen off the coast of Greenland in 1734. Archives of Natural History 32, 1-9.

Paxton, C. G. M. & Naish, D. 2019. Did nineteenth century marine vertebrate fossil discoveries influence sea serpent reports? Earth Sciences History 38, 16-27.

Woodley, M. A., Naish, D., & McCormick, C. A. 2011. A baby sea-serpent no more: reinterpreting Hagelund’s juvenile “cadborosaur” report. Journal of Scientific Exploration 25, 495-512.

Usborne’s All About Monsters

I’ve written before about books that influenced me a great deal, and today I want to talk about a book that I remember very fondly from childhood. It’s All About Monsters by Carey Miller, part of the Usborne ‘The World of the Unknown’ series, published in 1977 (Miller 1977). If you know this book as well as I do, you’ll already remember it and know how good it is. If not, prepare for a treat… if, that is, you like beautifully illustrated children’s books on monsters.

Usborne-Monsters-cover-1000px-tiny-April-2019-Tetrapod-Zoology.jpg

Miller’s All About Monsters is a slim paperback, 32 pages long. It covers monsters from mythology, prehistoric monsters (because why not), sea monsters, and monsters of today (read: cryptozoology for kids). The text is fine – as you’d expect for Usborne, one of the world’s leading publishers of children’s book – but it’s the art that really makes this a wonderful book for me. The credits tell us that John Francis, Malcolm McGregor, Michael Roffe, Christine Howes and Mike Baber illustrated the book, with Francis being the creator of the majority of pieces. Check out the illustration on the cover, shown above. The juxtaposition of a terrifying giant predatory aquatic reptile with a manicured, very ‘British’ landscape is striking, memorable, and exciting.

The Monongahela monster, illustrated as if we actually knew what it looked like: a thick-bodied, serpentine creature that swam with a spiralling action and had homodont, conical teeth. The art throughout the book is fantastic. Image: John Francis/Usborne/Miller 1977.

The Monongahela monster, illustrated as if we actually knew what it looked like: a thick-bodied, serpentine creature that swam with a spiralling action and had homodont, conical teeth. The art throughout the book is fantastic. Image: John Francis/Usborne/Miller 1977.

In keeping with the vibe of conventional monster books – they describe monsters as if they might be real and awaiting scientific discovery – Miller’s book recounts several famous anecdotes and stories as if they’re ‘true’. A ‘serpents in the sea’ spread, for example, discusses the Monongahela report of 1852 (today mostly regarded as a hoax: Roesch 1997), the 1881 Bertie account (in which a group of North Sea fisherman had a frightening encounter with a seaweed-draped monster that glared at them with terrifying eyes) and, best of all, the 1962 Florida account in which five American Air Force skin-divers were picked off, one by one, by a terrifying sea monster lurking in the fog. This is one of my favourite sea monster accounts. The problem? No-one has ever been able to determine that it ever really happened. It seems to be one of those stories that appeared in an unreferenced book (written by the likes of John Keel or Ivan Sanderson) and was then simply copied forevermore by authors implying that the initial report should be trusted. The story was retold, in illustrations, by Randall & Keane (1978).

The best sea monster story, here retold by Randall & Keane (1978). Image: Randall & Keane (1978).

The best sea monster story, here retold by Randall & Keane (1978). Image: Randall & Keane (1978).

Yetis and sasquatches get a few pages. The idea that bigfoot might eat leaves, fish, rodents and stolen doughnuts and chocolate, and a montage that compares its foot anatomy with that of other primates (and bears), all serve to make this creature biologically plausible to the young mind. If you know the crypto-hominid literature, the references to such things as chocolate-eating derive from the writings of John Green, Ivan Sanderson and others.

The yeti - here, very much the  Dinanthropoides  of Heuvelmans - as a hominid of the snows. Image: John Francis/Usborne/Miller 1977.

The yeti - here, very much the Dinanthropoides of Heuvelmans - as a hominid of the snows. Image: John Francis/Usborne/Miller 1977.

The illustration of a sasquatch – I think by John Francis – always made the animal look too rangy and thin-furred for my liking (I much prefer my sasquatches to look super-buff and of lustrous pelt), but then there are at least some descriptions that do talk of creatures of this form.

A gracile, thin-furred, ‘old man’ bigfoot (which is a bit odd, given that the creature is depicted in a snowy landscape). Image: John Francis/Usborne/Miller 1977.

A gracile, thin-furred, ‘old man’ bigfoot (which is a bit odd, given that the creature is depicted in a snowy landscape). Image: John Francis/Usborne/Miller 1977.

Nessie is unashamedly depicted as an elasmosaur (disclaimer: “This is what a lot of people think the Loch Ness Monster might look like”, p. 24), though the green shade of water in the background is misleading. Loch Ness is black. An artistic depiction of the famous 1972 ‘flipper photo’ is also shown, and it looks great – again, biologically plausible if you’re a young reader (and a reader who doesn’t yet know that the original photo features marks made by a paintbrush. It is emphatically not a photo of an animal’s appendage).

Nessie as a plesiosaur. And, at right, the famous flipper depicted as if it might be real. Hey, it was the 1970s. Image: Usborne/Miller 1977.

Nessie as a plesiosaur. And, at right, the famous flipper depicted as if it might be real. Hey, it was the 1970s. Image: Usborne/Miller 1977.

The book finishes with a section on monsters from movies. I never much liked this section because monsters made by people are obviously just not the same as monsters that might exist for real (insert ironic comment about monsters being products of culture and tradition). There’s also a glossary – a brief ‘dictionary of monsters’ – that features some more great artwork. A very attractive blue, white and red griffin, and a classic ‘wolfman’ werewolf feature, among others.

At left: a rendition of John Lambton’s battling of the Lambton worm, an oft-recounted piece of English folklore. Right: a wolfman of the Lon Chaney sort. Image: Usborne/Miller 1977.

At left: a rendition of John Lambton’s battling of the Lambton worm, an oft-recounted piece of English folklore. Right: a wolfman of the Lon Chaney sort. Image: Usborne/Miller 1977.

And that’s where we’ll end things. If there’s one criticism of the book, it’s that it never really emphasises the fact that monsters – whether they be krakens, European lake monsters, yeti-type creatures or whatever – really need to be interpreted within the context of anthropology, sociology and folklore, and not interpreted from the off as descriptions of real but unknown animals.

Tyrannosaurus  as a monster, dripping with blood… which, to be fair, must have happened at times. And yay ducks. Image: John Francis/Usborne/Miller 1977.

Tyrannosaurus as a monster, dripping with blood… which, to be fair, must have happened at times. And yay ducks. Image: John Francis/Usborne/Miller 1977.

I should also note that Beverly Halstead was consultant for this book, which partly explains a few unusual details in the prehistoric animals section. Tyrannosaurus, for example, is said to have “waddled along”, a pet Halstead idea, repeated elsewhere (e.g., Halstead 1975), that was always woefully wrong. Also of note here – given this recent TetZoo article – is the old photo of the Crystal Palace Iguanodon, surely depicting the model’s appearance during the latter years of the 1970s.

The Crystal Palace reclining  Iguanodon , as it looked during the late 70s. Contrast this with the images shown   in the TetZoo article here  . Image: Usborne/Miller 1977.

The Crystal Palace reclining Iguanodon, as it looked during the late 70s. Contrast this with the images shown in the TetZoo article here. Image: Usborne/Miller 1977.

All in all, a fantastically fun book, with illustrations that remain interesting and inspirational to me today. All About Monsters very likely did inspire and foster my interest in monsters, and probably made me want to find out more about them. Did it make be believe in them, or believe in them more? I’m not sure about that. I do, however, think that it did little to hone or improve my nascent skills in scepticism or critical thinking, since one thing that appears wholly lacking from the book is the idea that monster stories should be viewed as social or cultural phenomena more than as descriptions of encounters with real creatures. Indeed, the fact that the various accounts and stories – those of Albert Ostman, Dr Pronin of Leningrad University, Mr and Mrs John MacKay of the Loch Ness region and so on – are stated as facts is somewhat problematic for a book designed to serve an educational role. That said, I retain a great fondness for what remains one of my favourite books.

Water monster from the opening pages of the book. The weed snagged on the teeth is a nice touch (and reminds me of the creatures from the 1975 movie  The Land That Time Forgot ). Image: John Francis/Usborne/Miller 1977.

Water monster from the opening pages of the book. The weed snagged on the teeth is a nice touch (and reminds me of the creatures from the 1975 movie The Land That Time Forgot). Image: John Francis/Usborne/Miller 1977.

If you enjoyed this article and want to see me do more, more often, please consider supporting me at patreon. The more funding I receive, the more time I’m able to devote to producing material for TetZoo and the more productive I can be on those long-overdue book projects. Thanks!

For previous TetZoo articles on cryptozoology (concentrating on articles that haven’t been stripped of their images, thanks ScienceBlogs and SciAm)…

Refs - -

Halstead, L. B. 1975. The Evolution and Ecology of the Dinosaurs. Eurobook Ltd, London.

Miller, C. 1977. All About Monsters, Usborne, London.

Randall, N. & Keane, G. 1978. Focus on Fact. No. 5 Unsolved Mysteries. W. H. Allen & Co, London.

Roesch, B. S. 1997. A review of alleged sea serpent carcasses worldwide (part one – 1648-1880). The Cryptozoology Review 2 (2), 6-27.

Cocks-of-the-Rock, Extreme Cotingas

Among the most flamboyant and striking of South American birds are the two Rupicola species, known commonly as ‘cocks-of-the-rock’ (though it looks really odd seeing the name written as a plural like that).

The very first image of a cock-of-the-rock I ever recall seeing. From the cover of   Charles Tunnicliffe’s  Tropical Birds    of 1960. This is one of the famously influential ‘tea card’ books, where you have to collect the cards to complete the book. Image: Darren Naish.

The very first image of a cock-of-the-rock I ever recall seeing. From the cover of Charles Tunnicliffe’s Tropical Birds of 1960. This is one of the famously influential ‘tea card’ books, where you have to collect the cards to complete the book. Image: Darren Naish.

These two species – the Guianan cock-of-the-rock R. rupicola of the Guianan Shield and the Andean cock-of-the-rock R. peruvianus of the tropical Andes (from Venezuela in the north to Peru in the south) – are members of Cotingidae, a large group of South American passerines that’s part of Tyrannides or Tyrannida, a major clade within the suboscines. Suboscines (also called Tyranni) also includes the ovenbirds of the Americas, and the Old World pittas, broadbills and kin.

A much-simplified depiction of passerine phylogeny. Suboscines and oscines form the two great groups. This diagram is one of a huge number produced for my in-prep textbook on the vertebrate fossil record,   on which go here  . Image: Darren Naish.

A much-simplified depiction of passerine phylogeny. Suboscines and oscines form the two great groups. This diagram is one of a huge number produced for my in-prep textbook on the vertebrate fossil record, on which go here. Image: Darren Naish.

I’m mostly writing about them because I’ve essentially never written about cotingas at TetZoo at all, nor about their close relatives (the tityras and kin, the manakins and so on). I have, however, written about an essential book on these birds: Guy Kirwan and Graeme Green’s 2011 Cotingas and Manakins, an indispensable work on these groups. (my review is here, though it’s now missing all the images that originally made it fun to look at, SIGH).

If you’re seriously interested in cotingas and manakins (and their close kin), you should obtain   Kirwan & Green (2011)  . It’s a brilliant book. Image: Christopher Helm.

If you’re seriously interested in cotingas and manakins (and their close kin), you should obtain Kirwan & Green (2011). It’s a brilliant book. Image: Christopher Helm.

Cocks-of-the-rock are unusual enough that they were regarded as worthy of their own family (Rupicolidae) until as recently as the 1970s. Details of the thigh arteries were thought by some experts to indicate possible closeness to tyrant-flycatchers rather than to cotingas but in several aspects of anatomy (like syringeal type), they’re fairly typical cotingas. In 1971, cotinga expert David Snow sent Charles Sibley a cock-of-the-rock egg collected from Guyana, the resulting experiments on the egg’s chemical composition proving, to Sibley’s satisfaction, that Rupicola should be included within Cotingidae (Snow 1973). More specifically, molecular data groups them with Phoenicircus (red cotingas) and perhaps with Snowornis (green pihas) in a clade that’s named Rupicolinae (Ohlson et al. 2007, Tello et al. 2009). It should be noted that Phoenicircus is sufficient unusual for a cotinga – it has carotenoid-rich, saturated red plumage, fused third and fourth toes and a manakin-like gestalt – that it has at times been suggested, erroneously it seems, to be an ally of manakins (Snow 1973).

Guianan red cotinga ( Phoenicircus carnifex ) in hand. What a striking bird. Image:   Etienne Littlefair  , wikipedia, CC BY 2.5 (original   here  ).

Guianan red cotinga (Phoenicircus carnifex) in hand. What a striking bird. Image: Etienne Littlefair, wikipedia, CC BY 2.5 (original here).

Cocks-of-the-rock are birds of tropical and subtropical montane forests, most typically those with rocky gorges and areas where there are caves and large boulders. Such places are crucial for nesting: the nests (which are made of mud, vegetation and a bit of saliva) are constructed on the vertical side of a cave or rock in a shaded location, often close to running water. Nesting is also semi-colonial (Kirwan & Green 2011). Having said that they’re montane forest birds, there’s a single record of a Guianan cock-of-the-rock in the northern savannahs of Surinam, this perhaps being the consequence of a long dry season that forced the bird to move. They’re otherwise mostly sedentary but are powerful, agile fliers.

Images showing  Rupicola  in life virtually always show them in forested settings, but they also frequent caves, the walls of ravines, and boulder fields. These photos, showing a female Andean cock-of-the-rock at her nest and while elsewhere in a cave, were taken in the Cueva del Higueron, Peru. Images:   JYB Devot  , wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0 (originals   here   and   here  ).

Images showing Rupicola in life virtually always show them in forested settings, but they also frequent caves, the walls of ravines, and boulder fields. These photos, showing a female Andean cock-of-the-rock at her nest and while elsewhere in a cave, were taken in the Cueva del Higueron, Peru. Images: JYB Devot, wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0 (originals here and here).

Both Rupicola species are large as cotingas go, with males reaching 33-34 cm in total, and they’re spectacularly red or orange. Sexual dimorphism is pronounced, the most obvious differences involving the big, fan-shaped dorsal crests of males. The crest is formed of two rows of feathers that are in close contact along their middle surfaces. In the Guianan R. rupicola, silky filaments emerge from the rump and back and trail from and over the animal’s sides. Females are darker and browner than males and with a crest that’s more of a tuft than a giant dorsal fan. Both species are lek breeders, the Andean species perching on lianas and other structures some metres off the ground while the Guianan species does its displaying on the ground.

Male Guianan cock-of-the-rock, showing characteristic filaments and ‘orange peel’-like feathers on the back. Image: Aisse Gaertner, wikipedia, CC BY SA 4.0 (original   here  ).

Male Guianan cock-of-the-rock, showing characteristic filaments and ‘orange peel’-like feathers on the back. Image: Aisse Gaertner, wikipedia, CC BY SA 4.0 (original here).

Numerous vocalisations – some likened to chicken crowing and cat meowing, there’s also a bugling ‘assembly call’ – are made at the leks, and also while foraging and when calling attention to the sighting of a predator. A modified tenth primary feather is used by the Guianan species to make a whistling noise.

A captive Andean cock-of-the-rock, photographed at San Diego Zoo. The lush black wings and lack of trailing filaments make this species look very different from the Guianan species. Not all Andean cocks-of-the-rock are the same: there are at least four distinct populations, conventionally identified as subspecies. Image: Jerry Thompson, CC BY 2.0, wikipedia (original   here  ).

A captive Andean cock-of-the-rock, photographed at San Diego Zoo. The lush black wings and lack of trailing filaments make this species look very different from the Guianan species. Not all Andean cocks-of-the-rock are the same: there are at least four distinct populations, conventionally identified as subspecies. Image: Jerry Thompson, CC BY 2.0, wikipedia (original here).

The bill is long, broad-based and slightly hooked but usually mostly hidden by the crest. It’s used to procure both fruit as well as arthropods and small vertebrates. While these birds are best characterised as frugivorous, it’s interesting that they also catch and eat frogs, lizards and small snakes and such items are said to be important in the diet of nestlings (Kirwan & Green 2011). Mice have been eaten by captive Andean cock-of-the-rock. Such raptors as hawk-eagles, accipiters and forest falcons are known to prey on Rupicola (Kirwan & Green 2011). UPDATE: there are also observations of them chasing and eating small passerines, and this might even be a regular habit (Mahecha et al. 2018). Thanks to Max Kirsch for passing on this information.

Male Guianan cock-of-the-rock, in a pose which allows us to see the length of the bill through the lower part of the fan of feathers. Note that this individual is missing part of one of his toes. Image: Juniorgirotto, wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0 (original   here  ).

Male Guianan cock-of-the-rock, in a pose which allows us to see the length of the bill through the lower part of the fan of feathers. Note that this individual is missing part of one of his toes. Image: Juniorgirotto, wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0 (original here).

In combining frugivory with large size, marked sexual dimorphism and especially elaborate sexual displays, cocks-of-the-rock are ‘extreme’ cotingas, superficially similar to the distantly related bellbirds (Snow 1973), and in some ways suboscine ‘equivalents’ of the even more distantly related birds-of-paradise (Kirwan & Green 2011).

Museum specimens of  Rupicola  don’t fare well after decades in sunlight, it seems. I’ve never seen a live cock-of-the-rock… so far, only museum specimens like this Guianan one. Image: Darren Naish.

Museum specimens of Rupicola don’t fare well after decades in sunlight, it seems. I’ve never seen a live cock-of-the-rock… so far, only museum specimens like this Guianan one. Image: Darren Naish.

Needless to say, there’s tons more to say about cotingas and their allies, but this, at least, is a start.

For previous TetZoo articles on passerines (concentrating, once again, on the few articles that haven’t been destroyed via the removal of their images), see…

 If you enjoyed this article and want to see me do more, more often, please consider supporting me at patreon. The more funding I receive, the more time I’m able to devote to producing material for TetZoo and the more productive I can be on those long-overdue book projects. Thanks!

Refs - -

Kirwan, G. & Green, G. 2011. Cotingas and Manakins. Christopher Helm, London.

Mahecha, L., Villabona, N., Sierra, L., Ocampo, D. & Laverde-R., O. 2018. The Andean Cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruvianus) is a frugivorous bird predator. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 130, 558-560.

Ohlson, J., Prum, R. O. & Ericson, P. G. P. 2007. A molecular phylogeny of the cotingas (Aves: Cotingidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 42, 25-37.

Snow, D. W., 1973. The classification of the Cotingidae (Aves). Breviora 409, 1-27.

Tello, J. G., Moyle, R. G. Marchese, D. J. & Cracraft, J. 2009. Phylogeny and phylogenetic classification of the tyrant flycatchers, cotingas, manakins, and their allies. Cladistics 25, 429-467.

The New World Leaf-Nosed Bat Radiation

I’ve said a few times here at TetZoo that bats have never really been given adequate coverage. This isn’t because I’m not interested in them: on the contrary, I think about bats more than I think about most other groups of mammals, and I see them and watch them more often than I do most other mammal groups. For a group that includes about 18% of extant mammalian species (using 2019 figures*), I can’t pretend to have ever given bats fair coverage. Having said all that, bats have actually been covered at TetZoo a fair bit: there was an entire 20-part series on vesper bats (properly Vespertilionidae) at ver 3, and I also published several ver 2 articles on the history and evolution of vampire bats, and on much else besides. The fact that all of these articles have been rendered worthless via the removal of their images is mightily dispiriting though, and essentially means that I need to start from scratch.

* c 6495 mammal species, c 1200 bat species.

TetZoo Towers bat library. The several boxfiles of reprints and photocopied articles are not shown. Image: Darren Naish.

TetZoo Towers bat library. The several boxfiles of reprints and photocopied articles are not shown. Image: Darren Naish.

Here, I want to talk about a group I don’t think I’ve ever covered at TetZoo before, namely the phyllostomids, or New World leaf-nosed bats, American leaf-nosed bats or spear-nosed bats. This is a large, American group that contains around 200 living species, making it the third largest bat family (vesper bats are the biggest group, followed by fruit bats). The group has sometimes been called Phyllostomatidae – the vernacular version of which is phyllostomatid – but this is less popular than Phyllostomidae. I have no idea which is really correct here and opt to merely follow majority usage on these sorts of things (insert quote from Gene Gaffney**). It’s not strictly true that I’ve never covered phyllostomids before, since vampires – once upon a time given their own eponymous family (Desmodontidae) – are now universally agreed to be nested within Phyllostomidae, and I have at least written about them.

Chrotopterus , a big spear-nosed bat. Notice how this bat has relatively broad, low-aspect wings and a large, deep uropatagium (the membrane between the legs). Contrast this with some of the images below. Image: George Henry Ford, public domain (original   here  ).

Chrotopterus, a big spear-nosed bat. Notice how this bat has relatively broad, low-aspect wings and a large, deep uropatagium (the membrane between the legs). Contrast this with some of the images below. Image: George Henry Ford, public domain (original here).

Phyllostomids occur from Argentina in the south to the southern USA (Nevada being their most northerly occurrence) in the north, and they’re highly diverse ecologically and behaviourally. They include insectivores, frugivores, nectarivores, palynivores (that’s pollen-eaters), omnivores, animalivores and (of course) obligate sanguivores. Numerous different taxonomic subdivisions have been named. We don’t need to worry about any of this in detail but, in simplified terms, Macrotinae (big-eared bats), Micronycterinae (little big-eared bats) and Desmodontinae (vampires) are outside a much larger clade that includes Vampyrinae (false vampires and kin) and Phyllostominae (spear-nosed bats and kin) as well as the nectarivorous and frugivorous Glossophaginae (long-tongued and long-nosed bats) and Stenodermatinae (American fruit bats, fig-eating bats and kin) (Baker et al. 1989, 2003, 2012; but see Wetterer et al. 2000). Vampyrinae is a clade within Phyllostominae according to some studies, in which case it gets down-graded to Vampyrini (Baker et al. 2003). All of this is depicted in a cladogram below.

Some phyllostomid portraits. At left: Big-eared woolly bat or Peters’s false vampire  Chrotopterus auritus . At right: Hairy big-eyed bat  Chiroderma villosum . Images: both Guilherme Garbino, wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0 (originals   here   and   here  ).

Some phyllostomid portraits. At left: Big-eared woolly bat or Peters’s false vampire Chrotopterus auritus. At right: Hairy big-eyed bat Chiroderma villosum. Images: both Guilherme Garbino, wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0 (originals here and here).

Phyllostomids are mostly brownish bats with simple, narrow ears. A nose-leaf – typically simple and spear-shaped – is common but not present in all species, a tragus is always present, and many (but not all) of the species that lack nose-leaves have chin-leaves (or a series of chin ‘warts’) instead. Facial stripes are common, dark dorsal stripes are present in a few species, and such things as white patches at the wing tips and yellow rims to the ears and nose-leaves are present in some (Hill & Smith 1984). The tail is variously long, or short, and even absent altogether in some taxa, and similar variation is present in the uropatagium, or tail membrane.

The tail and uropatagia (the membranes joining the inner sides of the legs to the tail) are reduced, and sometimes highly reduced, in some phyllostomids. Here, we see this reduced condition in (at left) the Toltect fruit-eating bat  Dermanura tolteca  and (at right) in a Little yellow-shouldered bat  Sturnira lilium . Images: M.H. de Saussure, 1860, in public domain (original   here  ); Tobusaru, wikipedia CC BY 3.0 (original   here  ).

The tail and uropatagia (the membranes joining the inner sides of the legs to the tail) are reduced, and sometimes highly reduced, in some phyllostomids. Here, we see this reduced condition in (at left) the Toltect fruit-eating bat Dermanura tolteca and (at right) in a Little yellow-shouldered bat Sturnira lilium. Images: M.H. de Saussure, 1860, in public domain (original here); Tobusaru, wikipedia CC BY 3.0 (original here).

Skeletally, phyllostomids are robust, have a distinctive humerus where the distal end is angled relative to the shaft, and have a prominent secondary articulation between the large bony lump (properly termed the greater tuberosity) at the proximal end of the humerus and the scapula (Czaplewski et al. 2007). That’s right: a number of bat groups have an accessory peg-in-socket articulation involving the humerus and the body of the scapula. This means that the humerus and scapula are locked together during the upper part of the wing stroke (Hill & Smith 1984).

The most prominent exception to the ‘phyllostomids are mostly brown’ generalisation is the Honduran white bat  Ectophylla alba , sometimes likened to a fuzzy ping-pong ball and well known for its habit of constructing tents by biting through leaf ribs such that the two sides of the leaf droop on either side of the central axis. Note the yellow ears and nose leaf! The individual at left is releasing a bit of urine. Images:   Geoff Gallice  , wikipedia, CC BY 2.0 (original   here  );   Leyo  , wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.5. (original   here  )

The most prominent exception to the ‘phyllostomids are mostly brown’ generalisation is the Honduran white bat Ectophylla alba, sometimes likened to a fuzzy ping-pong ball and well known for its habit of constructing tents by biting through leaf ribs such that the two sides of the leaf droop on either side of the central axis. Note the yellow ears and nose leaf! The individual at left is releasing a bit of urine. Images: Geoff Gallice, wikipedia, CC BY 2.0 (original here); Leyo, wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.5. (original here)

Some phyllostomids are really exceptional as goes their anatomical and behavioural novelty. Perhaps the most remarkable are the long-tongued glossophagine flower bats, some of which have extraordinary tubular snouts, remarkably long tongues tipped with papillae, and a highly reduced dentition. The most extreme example of this sort of thing is the Banana bat, Trumpet-nosed bat or Colima long-nosed bat Musonycteris harrisoni of Mexico, an ‘extreme’ mammal as goes snout length. It’s fairly typical for people who aren’t that familiar with bat diversity to confuse glossophagines with the Old World flower-feeding megabats grouped together in Macroglossinae. There’s obviously a degree of evolutionary convergence here, though it hasn’t been that well explored in the literature, to my knowledge. Various glossophagines have symbiotic relationships with sympatric plants. Incidentally, Pallas’s long-tongued bat Glossophaga soricina is able to see UV light (Winter et al. 2003).

Some distantly related (but broadly similar) members of the phyllostomid clade Glossophaginae. At left: a long-tongued champion (though not necessarily the longest-tongued of phyllostomids), Pallas’s long-tongued bat  Glossophaga soricina . At right: Underwood’s long-tongued bat  Hylonycteris underwoodii . Images: Betty Wills, wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0 (original   here  ); Karin Schneeberger/  Felineora  , wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0 (original   here  ).

Some distantly related (but broadly similar) members of the phyllostomid clade Glossophaginae. At left: a long-tongued champion (though not necessarily the longest-tongued of phyllostomids), Pallas’s long-tongued bat Glossophaga soricina. At right: Underwood’s long-tongued bat Hylonycteris underwoodii. Images: Betty Wills, wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0 (original here); Karin Schneeberger/Felineora, wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0 (original here).

Entirely different specialisations are seen in the short-faced, frugivorous phyllostomids included within Stenodermatinae. These have flattened, broad teeth, typically have white facial stripes (an aposematic warning of their powerful bites?), and are sometimes handsome or even cute, big-eyed bats. One of the strangest of bats – the Wrinkle-faced or Lattice-winged bat Centurio senex – belongs to this group. The naked, wrinkled faces of males are mostly concealed by massive skin flaps when the bat is roosting or sleeping. There are also neck glands that seem to secrete scent, and obvious transverse bands on the wing membranes.

Resting Wrinkle-faced bats  Centurio senex  partially conceal their faces beneath thick skin folds. Translucent patches on the lower of these skin folds seem to allow these bats to detect light-level changes even when their faces are covered. Image: Jplevraud, wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0 (original   here  ).

Resting Wrinkle-faced bats Centurio senex partially conceal their faces beneath thick skin folds. Translucent patches on the lower of these skin folds seem to allow these bats to detect light-level changes even when their faces are covered. Image: Jplevraud, wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0 (original here).

 My favourite phyllostomids are very different from tubular-snouted flower-feeders and short-face fruit-eaters: they are the robust, more generalised species traditionally lumped together in Phyllostominae (though the name Vampyrinae has also been used for some of them). These are mostly omnivores that eat insects, fruit and small vertebrates, and some are specialised predator bats that variously catch and eat amphibians, mammals (including other bats) and birds. They include Peters’s woolly false vampire Chrotopterus auritus, the Frog-eating bat Trachops cirrhosus – famous for eating frogs and selecting them on the basis of their calls – and the spectacular Linnaeus’s false vampire Vampyrum spectrum, a predatory giant that can, in cases, have a wingspan of over 1 meter.

Vampyrum , the False vampire or Spectral bat (see comments for a hot take on the term ‘false vampire’), has to be considered one of the most awesome of all bats. It’s convergently similar to the distantly related megadermatid bats of Africa, Asia and Australasia, also (confusingly) often called false vampires. Image: Marco Tschapka, wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 (original   here  ).

Vampyrum, the False vampire or Spectral bat (see comments for a hot take on the term ‘false vampire’), has to be considered one of the most awesome of all bats. It’s convergently similar to the distantly related megadermatid bats of Africa, Asia and Australasia, also (confusingly) often called false vampires. Image: Marco Tschapka, wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 (original here).

The very impressive skull of  Vampyrum . It is robust, with big, strong teeth, especially prominent upper canines (which have an additional internal cusp) and a prominent sagittal crest. The skull can be 5.1 cm long in total (which is big for a bat). Image: Naturalis Biodiversity Center, wikipedia, public domain (original   here  ).

The very impressive skull of Vampyrum. It is robust, with big, strong teeth, especially prominent upper canines (which have an additional internal cusp) and a prominent sagittal crest. The skull can be 5.1 cm long in total (which is big for a bat). Image: Naturalis Biodiversity Center, wikipedia, public domain (original here).

When this variation in feeding ecology is mapped onto a phylogeny, it would appear that the earliest phyllostomids were insectivorous, that omnivory, nectarivory (or nectivory, take your pick) and palynivory evolved from among these insectivores, and that frugivores evolved from among nectarivores and palynivores (Baker et al. 2012). The highly specialised vampires appear – according to phylogenetic data – to have evolved directly from insectivores (which is a surprise in view of some models proposed to explain vampire evolution) and at least some members of the main frugivorous clade appear to have reverted to insectivory (Baker et al. 2012; but see Wetterer et al. 2000). Of the various evolutionary events that must have occurred here, it’s the transition to obligate frugivory that seems to have been the most successful, since the frugivorous clade is the largest (as in, most species-rich) within Phyllostomidae, containing about 70 species in 20 genera.

A few more vertebrate-eating phyllostomids. At left: California leaf-nosed bat  Macrotus californicus , the most northerly occurring phyllostomid. At right: Fringe-lipped bat  Trachops cirrhosus , a widespread species of Central and South America that eats seeds, fruits, arthropods and lizards in addition to frogs. Images: National Wildlife Service, wikipedia, public domain (original   here  ); Karin Schneeberger/  Felineora  , wikipedia CC BY 3.0 (original   here  ).

A few more vertebrate-eating phyllostomids. At left: California leaf-nosed bat Macrotus californicus, the most northerly occurring phyllostomid. At right: Fringe-lipped bat Trachops cirrhosus, a widespread species of Central and South America that eats seeds, fruits, arthropods and lizards in addition to frogs. Images: National Wildlife Service, wikipedia, public domain (original here); Karin Schneeberger/Felineora, wikipedia CC BY 3.0 (original here).

This is also the radiation that’s seemingly resulted in the greatest, most rapidly evolved amount of morphological variation, since everything here seems to have happened within the last 10 million years and has given rise to taxa that are among the most divergent and specialised of phyllostomids. Also of interest here is that some lineages within this frugivorous clade appear to have evolved in the Antilles before invading the mainland (Dávalos 2007), a case of ‘upstream colonisation’ that contradicts traditional scenarios whereby continental animals give rise (via ‘downstream colonisation’) to island-dwelling forms.

Substantially simplified phyllostomid cladogram, based mostly on Baker  et al . (2003), and using their nomenclature (though they regarded false vampires - as Vampyrini - as nested within Phyllostominae). Images (top to bottom):  Macrotus  = National Wildlife Service, wikipedia, public domain (original   here  );  Desmodus  = Uwe Schmidt, wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0 (original   here  );  Vampyrum  = Marco Tschapka, wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 (original   here  );  Phyllostomus  = Karin Schneeberger/  Felineora  , wikipedia, CC BY 3.0 (original   here  );  Platalina  = Juan A. Malo de Molina, wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 (original   here  );  Sturnira  = Burtonlim, wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 (original   here  ).

Substantially simplified phyllostomid cladogram, based mostly on Baker et al. (2003), and using their nomenclature (though they regarded false vampires - as Vampyrini - as nested within Phyllostominae). Images (top to bottom): Macrotus = National Wildlife Service, wikipedia, public domain (original here); Desmodus = Uwe Schmidt, wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0 (original here); Vampyrum = Marco Tschapka, wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 (original here); Phyllostomus = Karin Schneeberger/Felineora, wikipedia, CC BY 3.0 (original here); Platalina = Juan A. Malo de Molina, wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 (original here); Sturnira = Burtonlim, wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 (original here).

Where in the bat tree? What sort of bats are phyllostomids, and what do we know about their evolutionary history? On the basis of anatomical characters, bat experts have generally thought that phyllostomids are close allies of naked-backed, moustached or ghost-faced bats (Mormoopidae) and bulldog bats and kin (Noctilionidae), the whole lot being grouped together in a clade termed either Phyllostomatoidea or Noctilionoidea (and it’s the last of those terms that should be preferred, so I understand). In turn, this group was thought – again, on the basis of anatomical characters – to be closely related both to vesper bats and their kin (Vespertilionoidea), and to a clade that includes both sheath-tailed bats and kin (Emballonuroidea) and horseshoe bats and kin (Rhinolophoidea) (Smith 1976).

Prior to recent (post-2000-ish) molecular studies, noctilionoids were thought to be close kin of rhinolophoids as well as emballonuroids and vespertilionoids. Rhinolophoids are now known to belong elsewhere. The illustrations here are among the many, many bat drawings I’ve done for my in-prep textbook project,   progress on which can be seen here.   Image: Darren Naish.

Prior to recent (post-2000-ish) molecular studies, noctilionoids were thought to be close kin of rhinolophoids as well as emballonuroids and vespertilionoids. Rhinolophoids are now known to belong elsewhere. The illustrations here are among the many, many bat drawings I’ve done for my in-prep textbook project, progress on which can be seen here. Image: Darren Naish.

Molecular studies, mostly published since 2000, have substantially revised our view of the bat family tree, however, and it’s now clear that rhinolophoids are not close to the other groups listed here at all (they are, instead, close relatives of megabats). Noctilionoids are still close kin of vespertilionoids, however. It also now seems that Mystacinidae and Myzopodidae are part of Noctilionoidea (Jones et al. 2002, 2005, Teeling et al. 2005, 2012). I’ll be talking more about ideas on bat phylogeny in a future article.

Simplified cladogram depicting the affinities of several of the bat groups shown - via morphological and molecular studies - to belong together within Noctilionoidea. The illustrations here are among the many, many bat drawings I’ve done for my in-prep textbook project,   progress on which can be seen here.   The  Vampyrum  representing Phyllostomidae, incidentally, is a placeholder which needs replacing (the existing illustration was copied directly from the work of another artist). Image: Darren Naish.

Simplified cladogram depicting the affinities of several of the bat groups shown - via morphological and molecular studies - to belong together within Noctilionoidea. The illustrations here are among the many, many bat drawings I’ve done for my in-prep textbook project, progress on which can be seen here. The Vampyrum representing Phyllostomidae, incidentally, is a placeholder which needs replacing (the existing illustration was copied directly from the work of another artist). Image: Darren Naish.

What does the fossil record say about phyllostomid history? The pre-Pleistocene phyllostomid record is not great but it’s still at least good enough to show that the extinct phyllostomids of the Miocene – most notably those from La Venta in Colombia – were superficially much like living ones, and that the extinct species concerned were doing the sorts of things that phyllostomids do today. The group had almost certainly, therefore, undergone its main flowering and diversification by around 20 million year ago. The Pleistocene phyllostomid record, in contrast, is good and numerous extant taxa are known from sediments of this age. 

Beautiful illustration of Salvin’s big-eyed bat  Chiroderma salvini , a stenodermatine phyllostomid that has a wide range across South and Central America. The facial stripes are not normally this pronounced in life, though it should be noted that populations are variable as goes stripe thickness. Image: Joseph Smit, in public domain (original   here  ).

Beautiful illustration of Salvin’s big-eyed bat Chiroderma salvini, a stenodermatine phyllostomid that has a wide range across South and Central America. The facial stripes are not normally this pronounced in life, though it should be noted that populations are variable as goes stripe thickness. Image: Joseph Smit, in public domain (original here).

And that’s where we’ll end things for now. I’d like to say a lot more about these bats, so we’ll be returning to them in time. And in fact I need to say a lot more about bats in general, so stay tuned for that too.

If you enjoyed this article and want to see me do more, more often, please consider supporting me at patreon. The more funding I receive, the more time I’m able to devote to producing material for TetZoo and the more productive I can be on those long-overdue book projects. Thanks!

For previous TetZoo articles on bats (concentrating here on articles that haven’t been stripped of images, as is the case for all ver 2 articles and the vast majority of ver 3 articles)…

Refs - -

Baker, R. J., Bininda-Emonds, O. R. P., Mantilla-Meluk, H., Porter, C. A. & Van Den Bussche, R. A. 2012. Molecular time scale of diversification of feeding strategy and morphology in New World leaf-nosed bats (Phyllostomidae): a phylogenetic perspective. In Gunnell, G. & Simmons, N. (eds). Evolutionary History of Bats: Fossils, Molecules and Morphology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 385-409.

Baker, R. J., Hoofer, S. R., Porter, C. A. & Van Den Bussche, R. A. 2003. Diversification among New World leaf-nosed bats: An evolutionary hypothesis and classification inferred from digenomic congruence of DNA sequence. Occasional Papers, Museum of Texas Tech University 230, 1-32.

Baker, R. J., Hood, C. S. & Honeycutt, R. L. 1989. Phylogenetic relationships and classification of the higher categories of the New World bat family Phyllostomidae. Systematic Zoology 38, 228-238.

Czaplewski, N. J. 1997. Chiroptera. In Kay, R. F., Madden, R. H., Cifelli, R. L. & Flynn, J. J. (eds) Vertebrate Paleontology in the Neotropics: The Miocene Fauna of La Venta, Colombia. Smithsonian Institution Press (Washington and London), pp. 410-431.

Dávalos, L. M. 2007. Short-faced bats (Phyllostomidae: Stenodermatinae): a Caribbean radiation of strict frugivores. Journal of Biogeography 34, 364-375.

Hill, J. E. & Smith, J. D. 1984. Bats: A Natural History. British Museum (Natural History), London.

Jones, K. E., Bininda-Emonds, O. R. P. & Gittleman, J. L. 2005. Bats, clocks, and rocks: diversification patterns in Chiroptera. Evolution 59, 2243-2255.

Jones, K. E., Purvis, A., MacLarnon, A., Bininda-Emonds, O. R. P. & Simmons, N. B. 2002. A phylogenetic supertree of the bats (Mammalia: Chiroptera). Biological Reviews 77, 223-259.

Smith, J. D. 1976. Chiropteran Evolution. Texas Tech University, Lubbock.

Teeling, E. C., Dool, S. & Springer, M. S. 2012. Phylogenies, fossils and functional genes: the evolution of echolocation in bats. In Gunnell, G. & Simmons, N. (eds). Evolutionary History of Bats: Fossils, Molecules and Morphology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 1-22.

Teeling, E. C., Springer, M. S., Madsen, O., Bates, P., O’Brien, P. & Murphy, W. J. 2005. A molecular phylogeny for bats illuminates biogeography and the fossil record. Science 307, 580-584.

Wetterer, A. L., Rockman, M. V. & Simmons, N. B. 2000. Phylogeny of phyllostomid bats (Mammalia: Chiroptera) data from diverse morphological systems, sex chromosomes, and restriction sites. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 248, 1-200.

Winter, Y., López, J. & von Helversen, O. 2003. Ultraviolet vision in a bat. Nature 425, 612-614.

** In a technical article on fossil side-necked turtles, Gaffney said of a very similar nomenclatural disagreement: “it’s true, I don’t give a rat’s ass which is used”.

Sleep Behaviour and Sleep Postures in Non-Human Animals

Long-time readers of TetZoo – those who’ve been visiting since the ver 2, or ScienceBlogs, years – might remember the article on sleep behaviour and sleep postures, published way back in September 2008 (that original article is here). I don’t want to get into the habit of republishing old stuff ‘from the archives’ here at ver 4, partly because I have an essentially infinite amount of new stuff I want to get online but also because the old stuff needs to be published in book form (yeah… how’s it going with that? Not well).

The sleeping behaviour of some animals is quite familiar to us. Other animals? — less so. Images: Malcolm Daniel, used with permission (left), Darren Naish (right).

The sleeping behaviour of some animals is quite familiar to us. Other animals? — less so. Images: Malcolm Daniel, used with permission (left), Darren Naish (right).

Anyway, the sleep article is sufficiently useful that it needs to be republished, especially so given that hosting issues at ScienceBlogs mean that all my old articles have been stripped of their images, sigh. Pre-amble done, let’s get to it. I’ve augmented and expanded the original text in view of new things I’ve learnt and new studies I’ve been made aware of.

Some sort of bear-like creature, asleep. Image: Darren Naish.

Some sort of bear-like creature, asleep. Image: Darren Naish.

For a long time now I have been, shall we say, gently encouraged by two of my friends to write about a subject that is both familiar, and yet also strangely alien and poorly understood. Sleep behaviour. We still know comparatively little about this subject: not only about the big stuff like its function, but even about its distribution within animals. I am not, by the way, about to tackle the big questions about sleep, nor am I going to discuss the different types of sleep (e.g., REM vs NREM sleep) and on how they differ from creature to creature. Instead I’m interested in the more superficial stuff, like how and where animals sleep, and on the postures they adopt.

John Conway’s sleeping  Tyrannosaurus , from    All Yesterdays   . We don’t know how non-bird dinosaurs slept (though several fossils give us a good idea for some groups at least). We can, nevertheless, make lots of inferences based on the behaviour of living animals. Image: John Conway/   All Yesterdays   .

John Conway’s sleeping Tyrannosaurus, from All Yesterdays. We don’t know how non-bird dinosaurs slept (though several fossils give us a good idea for some groups at least). We can, nevertheless, make lots of inferences based on the behaviour of living animals. Image: John Conway/All Yesterdays.

What we do know about sleep is scattered widely in the literature and it isn’t easy to obtain any sort of review of the subject. A chapter in an academic book – Lee-Chiong’s 2006. Sleep: A Comprehensive Handbook – does include a good overview of sleep behaviour in non-human animals (Lee-Chiong 2006, Lesku et al. 2006), but the google books version (the only one I’ve seen) doesn’t include the chapter in entirety, as per usual. There is at least one book devoted to sleep in non-human aniamls: Maurice Burton’s Sleep and Hibernation in the Animal World (Odhams Books, 1969), one of twelve books written for the Animal World in Colour series. Burton is well known for amassing large amounts of anecdotal data on the natural world (he also wrote books covering cryptozoology and the emotional lives of animals), and while the books in the Animal World in Colour series include a lot of often bizarre and fascinating information, they’re completely unreferenced and at least some of the content looks apocryphal and difficult to be confident about. Despite these problems I’ve borrowed heavily from his book on sleep here.

Maurice Burton’s  Sleep and Hibernation in the Animal World , part of the Animal World in Colour series, shown at left at their home in the TetZoo library (there are 12 titles in total, so I’m still missing three). Images: Darren Naish.

Maurice Burton’s Sleep and Hibernation in the Animal World, part of the Animal World in Colour series, shown at left at their home in the TetZoo library (there are 12 titles in total, so I’m still missing three). Images: Darren Naish.

Needless to say, I’m only going to be looking here at sleep in tetrapods, though where relevant I will mention other animals. The first thing to say is that some animals get by with very little sleep, or in fact may even go without sleep entirely. Among vertebrates, all identified non-sleeping taxa are fish (Kavanau 1998). The species concerned have little in common (they include blind cave-dwellers, various sharks including some triakids, lamnids, hammerheads and sevengills, and mackerels and scombrids), but all have lifestyles where “visual input is greatly reduced or absent during lengthy periods”, where “schooling greatly reduces needs for sensory information, particularly visual'” or where the animals lead a “comparatively routine existence in essentially featureless, open waters” (Kavanau 1998, p. 269).

Fishes. I ain’t sayin’ nothing, apart from what I just said. Image: Darren Naish.

Fishes. I ain’t sayin’ nothing, apart from what I just said. Image: Darren Naish.

Reduced or delayed sleep. Perhaps because no tetrapod lives in this way, it seems that all indulge in at least some sleep activity, and indeed will die if deprived of sleep for prolonged periods (Rechtschaffen et al. 1983). Having said that, some tetrapods sleep very little, or go for comparatively long periods with little to no sleep. One proposal for the function of sleep is that it gives animals the chance to save energy when remaining active is unproductive. Within this model, animals might be able to forego sleep if remaining active is productive, as would be the case during periods when an otherwise rare food source is suddenly in plentiful supply, during migrations, or during a brief breeding season when wakefulness guarantees successful mating.

On that last point, male Pectoral sandpipers Calidris melanotos are known to reduce their time spent sleeping during their annual lekking period, those males that sleep the least being the ones that succeed in having the highest number of copulations (Lesku et al. 2012). In other words, sexual selection has led to a reduction in sleep. We might honestly consider whether this is applicable to other animals that don’t sleep as much or as often as expected, our own species included (read on).

Pectoral sandpiper, the most wideawake of the waders… pending future discoveries. Image:  Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren , wikipedia, CC BY 2.0 (original  here ).

Pectoral sandpiper, the most wideawake of the waders… pending future discoveries. Image: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren, wikipedia, CC BY 2.0 (original here).

The animals best known for reducing or delaying their sleep are seabirds. Some species are on the wing for weeks, months and supposedly even years at a time and appear to be constantly active. Yes, years at a time. Couzens (2008) writes of Sooty terns Onychoprion fuscata staying aloft for as much as four or five years as juveniles and that “Nobody has ever seen a healthy juvenile bird at rest, whether on a beach, rock, buoy or on any floating object” and “The thought of keeping aloft for four or more years is mind-boggling to us. How do the birds sleep? Why don’t they tire? What about storms?” (p. 83).

It has been suggested that such birds might sleep on the wing – this has so far been confirmed for frigatebirds using electroencephalograms and GPS loggers (Rattenborg et al. 2016) – but it’s considered equally plausible that they simply delay their sleep to some point later in life. And having mentioned ‘sleep on the wing’, while it’s well known that swifts sleep in flight, the evidence for this (which essentially consists of observations of swifts seen decreasing in altitude during the early hours of the morning) is poor and we still require detailed studies (Rattenborg 2006).

I’ve seen hundreds of frigatebirds while in South America - this is my best photo of one - but I don’t remember noticing that any were asleep. Image: Darren Naish.

I’ve seen hundreds of frigatebirds while in South America - this is my best photo of one - but I don’t remember noticing that any were asleep. Image: Darren Naish.

Cetaceans – or, killer whales and bottlenose dolphins at least – go for the first month or two of life without sleeping, and their accompanying mothers also go without sleep during this period (Lyamin et al. 2005). The possibility exists that very short bursts of shallow sleep might have occurred in the animals under study, but any such bursts (which weren’t detected) could not have exceeded 30 seconds in duration (Lyamin et al. 2005). Quite how these animals can go without proper sleep during a period coinciding with important events in growth and development is unknown but it’s consistent with the idea that sleep can be dispensed with “when ecological demands favour wakefulness” (Lesku et al. 2012, p. 1654).

Sleeping cow, photographed in India, in a pose not considered that typical for bovids or artiodactyls in general. It’s not  that  uncommon if you look at sufficient numbers of sleeping cows, however. Image: the original source has disappeared from the internet!

Sleeping cow, photographed in India, in a pose not considered that typical for bovids or artiodactyls in general. It’s not that uncommon if you look at sufficient numbers of sleeping cows, however. Image: the original source has disappeared from the internet!

Some ruminants seem to engage in very little sleep. This might be because they need to remain constantly alert for predators, but it might also be because their biology requires a virtually continuous cycle of eating and ruminating. Burton (1969) wrote of observations made on goats which suggest that, during a rest period that lasts about 8 hours, they never really relax fully, and it’s even stated here and there that some ruminants (like cattle) sleep with their eyes open. Ruminants do sleep with their eyes closed at least sometimes however, as verified by the sleeping cow shown above. Passive stay apparatus (special locking mechanisms in the limbs) mean that some hoofed mammals can remain standing virtually indefinitely, and such mammals (which include deer, rhinos and horses) are therefore capable of sleeping while standing. Having said that, they will still lie down to rest when they want to. I photographed the donkey shown here as I initially thought it was dead.

Sleeping domestic donkey, reclining on its side. The animal stayed like this for some time (an hour at least). Image: Darren Naish.

Sleeping domestic donkey, reclining on its side. The animal stayed like this for some time (an hour at least). Image: Darren Naish.

Finally, also worth noting here is that humans actually sleep way less than we ‘should’, relative to other primates. For whatever reason, we’ve managed to reduce the amount of sleep we should have according to our body size, perhaps by as much as 50%. I take seriously the possibility that we’re similar to Pectoral sandpipers, and that sleep reduction is driven by sexual selection (this is the get lucky hypothesis). Other possibilities have equally good explanatory power though. A whole article could be written on human sleep behaviour…

Human sleep behaviour is interesting - we’re unusual, relative to other primates, in several respects. Sleeping in the snow is not usually advised though. Image: Darren Naish.

Human sleep behaviour is interesting - we’re unusual, relative to other primates, in several respects. Sleeping in the snow is not usually advised though. Image: Darren Naish.

Giraffes and elephants. It used to be thought that the biggest extant hoofed mammals – giraffes – didn’t sleep at all, but this was shown to be incorrect by Grzimek (1956) who demonstrated that adult giraffes slept recumbently on the ground for short periods (2.5-6 minutes), resting the head on the hindquarters or ground and holding the neck in an arced posture. This posture is not unique to giraffes but is also practised by okapis and some bovids. The sleep behaviour of giraffes was looked at in detail by Tobler & Schwierin (1996) who showed that giraffes slept both while standing and while recumbent for a total of 4.6 hours per 24 hours.

Here’s a baby giraffe in the so-called ‘kettle posture’ typical for sleeping giraffes (though they can sleep in other poses too). This image is all over the internet and I haven’t succeeded in finding who should be credited for the original.

Here’s a baby giraffe in the so-called ‘kettle posture’ typical for sleeping giraffes (though they can sleep in other poses too). This image is all over the internet and I haven’t succeeded in finding who should be credited for the original.

Evidently little known is that elephants lie down on the ground to sleep properly: even today it seems widely thought that elephants ‘crush themselves under their own weight’ if they lie down, but this just isn’t true. In the wild, elephants sleep for 1-4.5 hours (per 24) in a recumbent position, with individuals showing preferences for sleeping on their left or right sides. Tobler (1992) reported that captive Asian elephants slept in a recumbent position for an average of 72 minutes a night. Elephants have been photographed propping themselves up against termite mounds and other structures when lying down to sleep, and in captivity they have been reported to construct pillows from straw. The photo below shows a sleeping captive Asian elephant Elephus maximus, and for images of African elephants sleeping recumbently in the wild go here.

Sleeping Asian elephant in captivity. Image: Fruggo, CC BY 1.0, wikipedia (original  here ).

Sleeping Asian elephant in captivity. Image: Fruggo, CC BY 1.0, wikipedia (original here).

Birds large and small, on the ground. Large birds are also known to recline on the ground for at least short periods. Burton (1969) reported how a scientist at Frankfurt Zoo monitored the sleep behaviour of ostriches: for 7-8 hours per night, they slept lightly with the neck erect. But for an average of 9 minutes each night they would lie on their sides, stretch their necks and legs out on the ground, and sleep deeply, during which time they couldn’t be roused by lights or noises (except the very loudest noises). Emus, incidentally, are said to sleep deeply with the head and neck resting on the back, rather than lying on the ground.

A Ptarmigan  Lagopus mutus  in its snow burrow. This illustration - by Ad Cameron - is meant to show the bird sleeping in its burrow, but a bird properly using such a refuge would be concealed from outside view. Image: Ad Cameron, in Perrins (1992).

A Ptarmigan Lagopus mutus in its snow burrow. This illustration - by Ad Cameron - is meant to show the bird sleeping in its burrow, but a bird properly using such a refuge would be concealed from outside view. Image: Ad Cameron, in Perrins (1992).

Moving to other birds, terrestrial, ground-foraging birds like pheasants roost on the ground or in the branches of trees, and simply huddle up and tuck in their appendages. Grouse living in snowy places construct snow burrows and have a set of adaptations that make them good at constructing these shelters (a topic I aim to cover in the near future), and various passerines of snowy environments – including kinglets, finches, buntings and tits – also build snow shelters and sleep in them (e.g., Sulkava 1969, Novikov 1972).

Left: a tree-creeper ( Certhia ), sleeping while partially tucked up inside a cavity in a tree. Right: a rendition of one of those famous cases in which large numbers of wrens ( Troglodytes troglodytes ) - more than 40 or 50 - have been discovered packed inside the same nest, huddled together for warmth. In this case, the wrens are using an empty House martin  Delichon urbicum  nest. Images: Burton (1969), Ad Cameron, in Perrins (1992).

Left: a tree-creeper (Certhia), sleeping while partially tucked up inside a cavity in a tree. Right: a rendition of one of those famous cases in which large numbers of wrens (Troglodytes troglodytes) - more than 40 or 50 - have been discovered packed inside the same nest, huddled together for warmth. In this case, the wrens are using an empty House martin Delichon urbicum nest. Images: Burton (1969), Ad Cameron, in Perrins (1992).

Small birds in cavities and thick foliage. Many small, tree-dwelling birds don’t sit out on branches during the night (though some do, see below), but secrete themselves into small crevices, cavities or thick vegetation. I once discovered a Blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus tucked deep within a crevice in the bark of a tree, only its tail tip sticking out. Small birds of many sorts do seem to rely on dense foliage as a night-time refuge. Remember this next time you unnecessarily tear down the ivy from a tree or fence.

This photo is pretty terrible but it’s the only one I have of small birds (in this case: House sparrows  Passer domesticus ) sleeping in a concealed spot, tucked up beneath a roof and perched on tangled vegetation. It was taken in May 2011 and is partly so bad because I didn’t want to disturb the birds. Image: Darren Naish.

This photo is pretty terrible but it’s the only one I have of small birds (in this case: House sparrows Passer domesticus) sleeping in a concealed spot, tucked up beneath a roof and perched on tangled vegetation. It was taken in May 2011 and is partly so bad because I didn’t want to disturb the birds. Image: Darren Naish.

Some passerines, including wrens, weavers and bush-tits, form large huddles within cavities (Perrins 1992). Burton (1969) wrote that birds which climb vertically on substrates, like nuthatches and treecreepers, also sleep in vertical postures, with nuthatches resting head-down and treecreepers resting head-up. Woodpeckers are also reported to sleep clinging vertically to vertical trunks (Perrins 1992). A few passerine species have been reported sleeping on their nests even when the nests were empty of eggs.

Trogons (a  Harpactes  species, perhaps Whitehead’s trogon  H. whiteheadi ) photographed asleep at night, on Borneo. Image: Matthew Connors, used with permission.

Trogons (a Harpactes species, perhaps Whitehead’s trogon H. whiteheadi) photographed asleep at night, on Borneo. Image: Matthew Connors, used with permission.

According to Burton (1969), birds don’t put their heads under their wings when they sleep, but instead bury the bill into the scapular feathers. He also stated that penguins are the only birds that properly hide the bill under the wing: they can’t submerge any part of their head within their scapular feathers, because their feathers are so short. I wonder what the hesperornithines did (they lacked long feathers and possessed strongly reduced wings).

Left: King penguin  Aptenodytes patagonicus  sleeping, bill tucked under wing. I can’t confirm that this is what it does show. However… Right: illustration of exactly the same thing, from Burton (1969). Bonus mystery penguin in the background. Image:  jpmatth , CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 (original  here ), Burton (1969).

Left: King penguin Aptenodytes patagonicus sleeping, bill tucked under wing. I can’t confirm that this is what it does show. However… Right: illustration of exactly the same thing, from Burton (1969). Bonus mystery penguin in the background. Image: jpmatth, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 (original here), Burton (1969).

Unihemispheric sleep. So far I haven’t mentioned the fact that some animals sleep with only ‘half’ of the brain. This is called unihemispheric sleep (less frequently: unihemispherical sleep, properly unihemispheric slow-wave sleep or USWS), and it allows the animal to stay partly alert while in a restful state. Animals capable of this may be able to keep one eye open and alert for danger – this is termed unilateral eye closure or UEC – and may be able to regulate movement while resting. It’s well known for birds, including those that sleep on the wing, those that sleep on the water surface, and those that sleep in exposed terrestrial places like beaches and mudflats.

Sleeping Mute swan  Cygnus olor , not obviously employing unihemispheric sleep. Image: Neil Phillips, used with permission.

Sleeping Mute swan Cygnus olor, not obviously employing unihemispheric sleep. Image: Neil Phillips, used with permission.

Unihemispheric sleep is important to marine mammals, since they doze at or near the water surface and still need to regulate their breathing (Lyamin et al. 2008). While cetaceans typically sleep unihemispherically in a horizontal pose (this is sometimes termed ‘logging’, since a sleeping whale can look superficially like a log), some pinnipeds – including Grey seal Halichoerus grypus, Northern fur seal Callorhinus ursinus and Walrus Odobenus rosmarus – hang in a vertical posture, as do some whales, sometimes. Weddell seals Leptonychotes weddelli are also reported to do this while submerged close to breathing holes in the ice. It has also been noted that some pinnipeds sleep underwater in cetacean fashion, “rising periodically, while still asleep apparently, to take a breath and then sinking again to continue their slumber” (Burton 1969, p. 27).

A captive Harbour seal  Phoca vitulina  sleeping underwater. Image:  Rock Paper Lizard  (thanks to Vasha for the heads-up).

A captive Harbour seal Phoca vitulina sleeping underwater. Image: Rock Paper Lizard (thanks to Vasha for the heads-up).

Sleep behaviour in non-bird reptiles is not tremendously well studied and there aren’t many relevant studies out there. However, sea turtles have long been suspected to be unihemispheric sleepers. After all, they frequently sleep on the sea floor or even while resting on coral or submerged rocks. Crocodylians – caimans and crocodiles, at least – practise UEC and their behaviour during the phases when UEC is at play is similar (as goes how they respond to potential threats and so on) to that of birds and mammals that sleep unihemispherically (Kelly et al. 2015). They might, therefore, be engaging in unihemispheric sleep, though this has yet to be confirmed so far as I know.

A sleeping iguanian - an Ornate earless agama  Aphaniotis ornata , a draconine agamid endemic to Borneo - photographed at night in a forest. Image: Matthew Connors, used with permission.

A sleeping iguanian - an Ornate earless agama Aphaniotis ornata, a draconine agamid endemic to Borneo - photographed at night in a forest. Image: Matthew Connors, used with permission.

UEC is fairly well known in lizards, yet little studied. A study of Western fence lizard Sceloporus occidentalis again found that sleep behaviour during UEC – how the lizards kept open whichever eye was closest to the last observed position of a potential threat – was similar to that of birds (Mathews et al. 2006), suggesting a similar evolutionary function and that unihemispheric sleep might be at play. If crocodylians and lizards do exhibit both UEC and unihemispheric sleep, these might be ancestral for diapsids, or certainly archosaurs at least. Ergo, I’m going to promote the idea of unihemispheric sleep in non-bird dinosaurs.

Not sure if this lizard - this is a  Lacerta  species, most likely a Western green lizard  L. bilineata  - is fully asleep, but at least it has one of its eyes closed. Image: Neil Phillips, used with permission.

Not sure if this lizard - this is a Lacerta species, most likely a Western green lizard L. bilineata - is fully asleep, but at least it has one of its eyes closed. Image: Neil Phillips, used with permission.

Incidentally, REM sleep has also been reported for chameleons and in both desert iguanas (Dipsosaurus) and spiny-tailed iguanas (Ctenosaura). However, the reports are somewhat anecdotal and what’s been reported as REM sleep might instead describe observations where the animals were moving their eyes due to disturbance (Lesku et al. 2006).

That’ll do for now. This has been nothing like a thorough review of the subject and, as I said at the start, it’s been very superficial and I haven’t looked at the big questions about sleep behaviour.

If you enjoyed this article and want to see me do more, more often, please consider supporting me at patreon. The more funding I receive, the more time I’m able to devote to producing material for TetZoo and the more productive I can be on those long-overdue book projects. Thanks!

Refs - -

Burton, M. 1969. Sleep and Hibernation in the Animal World. Odhams Books, London.

Couzens, D. 2008. Extreme Birds. HarperCollins, London.

Grzimek, B. 1956. Schlaf von Giraffen und Okapi. Naturwissenschaften 17, 406.

Kavanau, J. L. 1998. Vertebrates that never sleep: implications for sleep's basic function. Brain Research Bulletin 46, 269-279.

Kelly, M. L., Peters, R. A., Tisdale, R. K. & Lesku, J. A. 2015. Unihemispheric sleep in crocodilians? Journal of Experimental Biology 218, 3175-3178.

Lee-Chiong, T. L. 2006. Sleep: A Comprehensive Handbook. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ.

Lesku, J. A., Rattenborg, N. C. & Amlaner, C. J. 2006. The evolution of sleep: a phylogenetic approach. In Lee-Chiong, T. L. (ed) Sleep: A Comprehensive Handbook. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ, pp. 49-61.

Lesku, J. A., Rattenborg, N., Valcu, M., Vyssotski, A. L., Kuhn, S., Kuemmeth, F., Heirich, W. & Kempanaers, B. 2012. Adaptive sleep loss in polygynous pectoral sandpipers. Science 337, 1654-1658.

Lyamin, O. I., Manger, P. R., Ridgway, S. H., Mukhametov, L. M. & Siegel, J. M. 2008. Cetacean sleep: an unusual form of mammalian sleep. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 32, 1451-1484.

Lyamin, O., Pryaslova, J., Lance, V. & Siegel, J.  2005. Animal behaviour: continuous activity in cetaceans after birth. Nature 435, 1177. 

Mathews, C. G., Lesku, J. A., Lima, S. L. & Amlaner, C. J. 2006. Asynchronous eye closure as an anti-predator behavior in the western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis). Ethology 112, 286-292.

Novikov, G. A. 1972. The use of under-snow refuges among small birds of the sparrow family. Aquilo, Series Zoologica 13, 95-97.

Sulkava, S. 1969. On small birds spending the night in the snow. Aquilo, Series Zoologica 7, 33-37.

Perrins, C. 1992. Bird Life: An Introduction to the World of Birds. Magna Books, Liecester [sic].

Rattenborg, N. C. 2006. Do birds sleep in flight? Naturwissenschaften 93, 413-425.

Rattenborg, N. C., Voirin, B., Cruz, S. M., Tisdale, R., Dell’Omo, D., Lipp, H.-P. Wikelski, M. & Vyssotski, A. L. 2016. Evidence that birds sleep in mid-flight. Nature Communications 7: 12468.

Rechtschaffen, A., Gilliland, M. A., Bergmann, B. M. & Winter, J. B. 1983. Physiological correlates of prolonged sleep deprivation in rats. Science 221, 182-184.

Tobler, I. 1992. Behavioral sleep in the Asian elephant in captivity. Sleep 15, 1-12.

Tobler, I. & Schwierin, B. 1996. Behavioural sleep in the giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) in a zoological garden. Journal of Sleep Research 5, 21-32.

Books on the Loch Ness Monster 2: Gareth Williams’s A Monstrous Commotion

Welcome to the second article in this short series on recently(ish) published books on the Loch Ness Monster (or LNM) (the first article is here).

The most impressive and interesting of the several Nessie paintings produced by Peter Scott - here, depicted on the back of my battered copy of the PG Tips 1987  Unexplained Mysteries of the World , written by Robert J. M. Rickard. Image: Darren Naish.

The most impressive and interesting of the several Nessie paintings produced by Peter Scott - here, depicted on the back of my battered copy of the PG Tips 1987 Unexplained Mysteries of the World, written by Robert J. M. Rickard. Image: Darren Naish.

This time round, we look at the 2015 volume A Monstrous Commotion: the Mysteries of Loch Ness, a dense, thick, attractively designed volume of 365 pages that might be the only LNM-themed book that could be classed as an airport novel (Williams 2015). I confess to being unaware of Gareth Williams prior to hearing about the publication of this book. But maybe that’s understandable, since a brief biography tells us that he’s an internationally recognised expert on diabetes and obesity affiliated with the University of Bristol, has penned over 200 papers on medical topics, and has previously published books on smallpox and polio.

Front cover of   Williams (2015)  .

Front cover of Williams (2015).

The volume begins with a timeline, a few pages providing potted biographies of the many human characters, a list of illustrations and some maps. The book also includes two plate sections and a smattering of black and white drawings.

The primary value of this book – its main selling point to an audience familiar with the LNM – is that it tells the backstory to the 1975 Nature paper by Sir Peter Scott and Robert Rines, a promise made in both the preface and the blurb on the back. This is the infamous paper – I’ll make the point again: published in the world’s most prestigious scientific journal – in which Scott and Rines argued not only that Nessie is real and that they had evidence proving it, but that it needed a scientific name. And thus we have Nessiteras rhombopteryx Scott and Rines, 1975 (and: no, it wasn’t a deliberately constructed anagram of ‘Monster Hoax by Sir Peter S’; to state such ignores Scott’s long-running, highly active investment and commitment to belief in the monster and his many published statements on it). The run-up to the publication of this paper, the fallout, and the alliances that were attempted, formed and broken is a fascinating story never told before in such depth, and it’s Williams’s use of Peter Scott’s correspondence that has allowed him to tell the tale. Excellent. This should be good.

Loch Ness is a beautiful and sublime place, monster or not. Image: Darren Naish.

Loch Ness is a beautiful and sublime place, monster or not. Image: Darren Naish.

Alas, I was immediately disappointed on finding that the book starts – as do so many books on the Loch Ness Monster – with that oh so familiar stuff about the Great Glen Fault, St Columba, kelpie legends and the stories and events of the 1930s. Clearly, we aren’t getting the Scott story alone, but the whole shebang, and while Williams writes well, I’m not sure that there’s anything in the early chapters that hasn’t been covered before.

I’ve said before that there are awful lot of books on the Loch Ness Monster… even this is far from a complete selection of what’s out there (I’m still collecting). Image: Darren Naish.

I’ve said before that there are awful lot of books on the Loch Ness Monster… even this is far from a complete selection of what’s out there (I’m still collecting). Image: Darren Naish.

His take on Rupert Gould is admittedly interesting though. Gould – typically portrayed by authors of LNM-themed books as a bold and daring adventurer, a physical and metaphorical ex-military giant of a man who covered great distances on his motorbike and was a wise and indefatigable collector of interviews and facts, and a pioneering investigator of the unknown – is portrayed as a troubled oddball deeply affected by the frightening events of warfare. And yes, Williams does cover Gould’s eventual conclusion (about-turn, if you like) that the Spicers didn’t see a giant scientifically unrecognised (semi)aquatic vertebrate species, but “a huddle of deer crossing the road” (p. 227). Incidentally, Williams states that Gould made this private admonition in the marked proofs of his book The Loch Ness Monster and Others, but that’s not right. The annotation concerned was hand-written in a published copy and not connected at all to the manuscript during its proof stage (Binns 2017, p. 150). This is one of many minor but arguably important errors made throughout the book.

Peter Macnab’s photo of 1955. This is the version lacking the vegetation in the foreground. Regarded by some Nessie proponents as depicting two monsters swimming in close proximity, it is most likely part of a boat wake, as suggested by the lines in the water about parallel to the ‘monster(s)’. This is a scan of the original photo, provided by Dick Raynor (and available  here ). Image: (c) P. A. Macnab.

Peter Macnab’s photo of 1955. This is the version lacking the vegetation in the foreground. Regarded by some Nessie proponents as depicting two monsters swimming in close proximity, it is most likely part of a boat wake, as suggested by the lines in the water about parallel to the ‘monster(s)’. This is a scan of the original photo, provided by Dick Raynor (and available here). Image: (c) P. A. Macnab.

Post-Gould, Williams discusses Constance Whyte’s More Than a Legend and the way LNM news was received at the time before going on to discuss the pop-culture backdrop to the events of the 1960s and 70s, somehow weaving in David Attenborough and Zoo Quest for a Dragon, Jacques Cousteau and Hans Hass. After a brief skip through the adventures of Torquil MacLeod and Peter Macnab (both are among those ‘classic’ eyewitnesses who claimed, respectively, a remarkable sighting and a remarkable photo… of a boat wake), we’re introduced to one of the pivotal and most influential characters in LNMology: Tim Dinsdale, aeronautical engineer, charismatic good-guy and near-professional monster believer. Dinsdale is especially relevant to the story Williams tells because it was he – not Constance Whyte, not the preponderance of evidence, not the rash of 1930s sightings – who roped Peter Scott into the saga. I don’t want to say too much about Dinsdale here since he’ll form the focus of my third LNM-themed book review.

Torquil MacLeod’s Nessie of February 1960, observed through binoculars and estimated to be 13-15 m long, as drawn by Alan Jones for   Witchell (1975)  . Image: Alan Jones/  Witchell (1975)  .

Torquil MacLeod’s Nessie of February 1960, observed through binoculars and estimated to be 13-15 m long, as drawn by Alan Jones for Witchell (1975). Image: Alan Jones/Witchell (1975).

What I will say for now is that Williams is by far too sympathetic to Dinsdale, failing to remark on Dinsdale’s sudden and, frankly, remarkable commitment to belief in the monster, nor is he appropriately critical of Dinsdale’s sightings or claims. Take Williams’s statement (p. 70) that Dinsdale was “catapulted into the limelight and would never escape from it”, or that “he found himself on Panorama, the BBC’s flagship news and current affairs programme” (p. 70). More accurate segments of text might read that Dinsdale “clamoured for and gained the limelight, and successfully managed to hold it upon himself for years to come”, and that “finally, he received the attention he had sought via a campaign of sending letters and telegrams, and succeeded in winning a spot on Panorama”.

Dinsdale (standing, at right) with Robert Rines (l) and Martin Klein in 1970. Image:   Dinsdale (1976)  .

Dinsdale (standing, at right) with Robert Rines (l) and Martin Klein in 1970. Image: Dinsdale (1976).

Dinsdale arrives. On reaching the part of the book that discusses Dinsdale and his Loch Ness adventures, I was finally feeling that I’d gotten through the preamble and reached the good stuff. To be clear, Williams does deliver the goods, providing a discussion and review novel enough and interesting enough to make the book a worthy addition to the LNM literature.

As noted above, it was Dinsdale who – through writing to Scott in a possibly desperate yet optimistic and bold gamble – brought Scott into the fold, his initial letter (addressed to ‘Mr Peter Scott, Naturalist, c/o BBC Television, London W1’) promising the support of a noted and reputable scientist (almost certainly Maurice Burton, then of the British Museum (Natural History)). Dinsdale’s several later letters discussed his mathematical analysis which basically consisted of calculating averages from the various eyewitness accounts that contained measurements.

Tim Dinsdale and his identikit-style view of what the Loch Ness Monster looked like. He reached this view by bundling all eyewitness accounts together and taking averages. Image: (c) Tim Dinsdale.

Tim Dinsdale and his identikit-style view of what the Loch Ness Monster looked like. He reached this view by bundling all eyewitness accounts together and taking averages. Image: (c) Tim Dinsdale.

Why was Scott prepared to let himself be involved in the Loch Ness story? While Scott certainly stated that his belief in the monster was based on sheer preponderance of evidence (Scott 1976), Williams notes (p. xxxiii) that Scott’s interest in Nessie was quite plausibly motivated by his feeling that it could serve as a flagship species, in the same ballpark as the tiger and giant panda, for the fledgling World Willdlife Fund. Scott’s own drawings support this idea.

Here’s another of the big, spectacular, Nessie-themed works of art produced by Peter Scott (this is only a section of the whole thing). Image: (c) Peter Scott.

Here’s another of the big, spectacular, Nessie-themed works of art produced by Peter Scott (this is only a section of the whole thing). Image: (c) Peter Scott.

Scott and Dinsdale met in person in 1960, but not before Dinsdale explained his plan. He would need Scott as an ally in convincing her majesty Queen Elizabeth II that Nessie was real and in need of protection. Scott knew the Royal Family, moved in the right circles, and was sufficiently impressed by Dinsdale’s argumentation to consider this an appropriate course of action, even making the suggestion that Nessie might be given the scientific name Elizabethia nessiae* (Williams 2015). Alas, Dinsdale had already written to the Royal Family by this time and his impetuousness on this front – he was to write to them several more times – partly derailed efforts to carefully, thoughtfully build a case for the monster’s existence, one that might be sufficiently interesting and carefully stated to keep sceptics, the scientific community, the media and people like the Royal Family on board.

* Incidentally, another proposed binomial – Nessiesaurus o’connori (sic: the specific name should have been written ‘oconnori’) – is also outed in this book. It was proposed by Peter O’Connor, author of the almost certainly hoaxed ‘inverted kayak’ photo of 1960, in his correspondence to Scott (Williams 2015).

By the mid 1970s, Peter Scott was happy to publicly state a belief in the Loch Ness Monster, and there are even photographs of him wearing an ‘I Believe in Nessie’ t-shirt. Here’s the cover of a magazine issue that features a key Scott article on the subject. Image: Darren Naish.

By the mid 1970s, Peter Scott was happy to publicly state a belief in the Loch Ness Monster, and there are even photographs of him wearing an ‘I Believe in Nessie’ t-shirt. Here’s the cover of a magazine issue that features a key Scott article on the subject. Image: Darren Naish.

Over the months and years that followed, Scott worked to build a case, Tim Dinsdale’s film of 1960 being one of several pieces of evidence deemed crucial. The many ups and downs, false-starts, setbacks, and input and involvement of others make for a complex story that I’m not about to summarise. The eventual outcome, which had emerged by 1970, was the involvement of Americans including Chicago’s Roy Mackal and patent lawyer Robert H. Rines, the rise and fall of the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau, and a gradual parting of the ways between Scott and Dinsdale.

There’s a definite undercurrent in the book of Scott and Dinsdale working to somewhat different ends. The Dinsdale plan was to announce and promote the monster’s existence and reality as loudly and frequently as possible. The Scott plan was to form a solid portfolio of good evidence, hold formal meetings where this evidence could be presented to and digested by the right parties, and to ultimately gain legal protection for a neglected and remarkable new species honestly thought by Scott to be, most probably, a living plesiosaur (Scott 1976).

Palaeontologists specialising on plesiosaurs have near universally been very hostile to the idea that the Loch Ness Monster might be a living plesiosaur. But it’s also a very familiar idea that plesiosaur experts have sometimes toyed with. This diagram is from  Big Mouths and Long Necks , a short book devoted to plesiosaurs. Image: Taylor & Martin (1990).

Palaeontologists specialising on plesiosaurs have near universally been very hostile to the idea that the Loch Ness Monster might be a living plesiosaur. But it’s also a very familiar idea that plesiosaur experts have sometimes toyed with. This diagram is from Big Mouths and Long Necks, a short book devoted to plesiosaurs. Image: Taylor & Martin (1990).

Scott and Rines 1975, and the ‘flipper’ photos. As anyone familiar with the Loch Ness story knows, the turning point was the use of sonar detection and strobe photography in the loch, the eventual result being the presentation of photos said by Rines and his colleagues to be proof of the monster’s existence and to give insight on its form (Scott & Rines 1975, Rines et al. 1976, Scott 1976, Sitwell 1976, Rines 1982).

My own take on one of the Rines/Egerton ‘flipper photos’, drawn when I was about 14. Like many people in those years (this would’ve been drawn in the late 1980s), I had been led to believe that the photos really show the giant, diamond-shaped flippers of a very big animal. They don’t. Image: Darren Naish.

My own take on one of the Rines/Egerton ‘flipper photos’, drawn when I was about 14. Like many people in those years (this would’ve been drawn in the late 1980s), I had been led to believe that the photos really show the giant, diamond-shaped flippers of a very big animal. They don’t. Image: Darren Naish.

Initial claims that the flipper photos showed a pentadactyl anatomy (thereby confirming a tetrapod identity for the creature), that two diving animals, moving synchronously and close together, had been captured in a single frame and that a close-up view of the animal’s external surface revealed details of skin texture and even its parasites (Witchell 1975, p. 150), all proved embellished or inaccurate, to use the kindest words possible. We think today that the flipper photos were physically modified, that the ‘gargoyle head’ photo (which had been rotated by 90° relative to its original orientation) doesn’t depict an animal’s head but a tree stump on the floor of the loch, and that an alleged shot of the body and neck cannot be of a large animal but a small object close to the camera, most likely a submerged branch (Naish 2017).

The weird and ugly ‘gargoyle head’, interpreted as the snorkelled, horned, short-faced creature depicted at right in this painting by Peter Scott. Read on for another version of that Scott painting. Images: Rines  et al . (1976), Peter Scott.

The weird and ugly ‘gargoyle head’, interpreted as the snorkelled, horned, short-faced creature depicted at right in this painting by Peter Scott. Read on for another version of that Scott painting. Images: Rines et al. (1976), Peter Scott.

Nevertheless, it’s obvious from some of the things written at the time that these developments must have been extraordinarily exciting. I’m always struck by the following breathless words from Nicholas Witchell…

“This paper edition of The Loch Ness Story is being rushed out in the autumn of 1975 at a time when the world is about to witness one of the greatest and most dramatic discoveries of the twentieth century: the discovery and probable identification of a semi-mythical creature known throughout the world as the ‘Monster’ of Scotland’s Loch Ness.

“As the final chapter describes, a set of detailed colour photographs of the head and body of the ‘Monster’ have been taken by a highly respected American scientific team. They have set the zoological world, and will very shortly set the whole scientific and lay world, ablaze with excitement. After nearly fifty years of legend and mystery, the saga of the Loch Ness ‘Monster’ is about to end with the addition of a remarkable new (or possibly very ancient) species to the world’s animal kingdom” (Witchell 1975, unpaginated author’s preface).

Dinsdale, despite the rift that would then have existed between himself and Scott, announced his great confidence in the photos (Dinsdale 1973), and such was their apparent significance that they were reported not just in the Nature paper, but on the journal’s cover too. Here is another of Williams’s gaffs, since he describes the paper as an “anonymous item” (p. 175). In fact, Scott and Rines are clearly noted as authors in the article’s abstract (Scott & Rines 1975).

The first part of the Scott & Rines (1975) article. Image: Nature Publishing Group.

The first part of the Scott & Rines (1975) article. Image: Nature Publishing Group.

The publication of this paper is definitely one of the weirder decisions ever made by Nature and one that attracted immediate and strong criticism. Importantly, it makes a mockery of the notion, beloved of cryptozoologists, that ‘the establishment’ has forever shunned or deliberately ignored such things as Nessie. Bullshit, dudes; you had a freakin’ paper in Nature.

The Peter Scott books I own. Image: Darren Naish.

The Peter Scott books I own. Image: Darren Naish.

On that note, one thing that should strike you while reading this book is the extremely high number of working scientists, academic institutions and official societies that, at some time or another since the 1930s, were embroiled in the Loch Ness saga. In, again, massive and hilarious contrast to the idea that academics shun or ignore cryptozoological subjects like the Loch Ness Monster, such qualified workers as Richard Harrison and Leo Harrison Matthews (both well known for their work on marine mammals), marine biologist Sir Alister Hardy, primatologist Sir Solly Zuckerman, palaeontologist Alan Charig*, ethologist, artist, author and TV personality Desmond Morris and many others were all involved or solicited opinion at some point. Hardy, incidentally, stated his belief in the monster (Wiliams 2015, p. 94).

* I wish I’d known this when writing a biography on Charig (Moody & Naish 2010).

Robert Rines has been a mildly controversial figure, and there have been occasions in which his credentials and qualifications were called into question. Here are two letters from the pages of  New Scientist , both from 1982 (vol 95, issues 1315 and 1320, respectively). Image:  New Scientist .

Robert Rines has been a mildly controversial figure, and there have been occasions in which his credentials and qualifications were called into question. Here are two letters from the pages of New Scientist, both from 1982 (vol 95, issues 1315 and 1320, respectively). Image: New Scientist.

On science and scientists, and anti-scientific statements. All in all, A Monstrous Commotion is useful in providing a great deal of novel discussion pertaining to the Scott correspondence, so far so good. But the book is somewhat ruined by a soft pro-Nessie stance that shines through in some places, the author’s insinuation being that Nessie is real and deserving of study and that those scientists and commentators who have rejected its existence and failed to take it seriously are the ones in error.

In places, he appears to unquestionably accept a few notions that, while beloved of Nessie supporters, have been so effectively countered that they shouldn’t ever be used as ‘supporting’ arguments ever again. Examples? That “the Monster [has] a pedigree that [goes] back … over 1,300 years” (p. 9) (see Magin 2001), or that coelacanths can be used to support the idea that the fossil record may as well be disregarded (p. 61).

The idea that  Latimeria , the extant coelacanth, provides support for the view that Mesozoic-grade vertebrate taxa might persist to the present without leaving a fossil record is very naive. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve now known of Holocene coelacanths for more than 80 years. This model was on display at the Natural History Museum (London, UK) in 2013. Image: Darren Naish.

The idea that Latimeria, the extant coelacanth, provides support for the view that Mesozoic-grade vertebrate taxa might persist to the present without leaving a fossil record is very naive. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve now known of Holocene coelacanths for more than 80 years. This model was on display at the Natural History Museum (London, UK) in 2013. Image: Darren Naish.

Williams notes the sometimes irksome statements made by Nessie supporters about scientists and the scientific process. Constance Whyte, describes Williams, might have seen the scientists of the day as “[a]rrogant and tunnel-visioned”, and that “they could not even be bothered to get out of their armchairs and visit Loch Ness to review the evidence for themselves. Of course, the Monster appeared to flout some basic rules of zoology, and pursuing it could be a waste of time. However, rules were made to be broken, and open-mindedness was supposed to be the hallmark of a good scientist” (p. 63). Williams continues: “All the prejudices and inflexibility of the scientific establishment had been neatly summed up by one of the leading biologists of the 1930s, Sir Arthur Keith FRS” who, Williams tells us, spoke “from the ivory tower of the Royal College of Surgeons” and went on to dismiss the beast “as a problem for psychologists, not zoologists” (p. 63). There are, of course, good reasons for thinking that Keith’s idea of a psychological explanation for monsters is a good one, not the opposite. William’s goes on to refer to the “scientific mafia” when describing the scientific response to Whyte’s 1957 book (p. 63).

The Cryptozoologicon Volume I  sometimes mocks the aggressive tone used by some cryptozoologists. At right, part of John Conway’s scene of a Himalayan yeti group. Image: John Conway/  Conway  et al . (2013)  .

The Cryptozoologicon Volume I sometimes mocks the aggressive tone used by some cryptozoologists. At right, part of John Conway’s scene of a Himalayan yeti group. Image: John Conway/Conway et al. (2013).

This sort of wording will be familiar if you’ve read my 2013 book (co-authored with John Conway and C. M. Kosemen) The Cryptozoologicon. Therein we deliberately mocked the vitriolic, vituperative, frothing-at-the-mouth-with-anger tone aimed at sceptics and working scientists by a certain cadre of cryptozoological believers (Conway et al. 2013). Fact is, the history of research on all the subjects beloved of cryptozoologists – Nessie, bigfoot, the yeti – shows that working scientists never shunned, ignored, dismissed or rejected these things but, on the contrary, spent time considering them, writing about them and even investigating them, only to get their fingers burnt when the subjects proved to mostly be a waste of time (cf Regal 2011). Look again at the list of scientists mentioned above: it’s absolutely farcical to state that scientists haven’t been interested, or haven’t bothered to investigate this stuff. To be clear: Williams isn’t guilty of painting science and scientists in this way, but he’s saying that Whyte was.

Your author (on the right) with Nessie. Image: Darren Naish.

Your author (on the right) with Nessie. Image: Darren Naish.

Indeed, this sort of thing – championed and given the thumbs up by at least some cryptozoologists (and their allies, the paranormalists) – only makes its proponents look naïve and clueless. Caricaturing scientists critical of the Loch Ness Monster as a ‘mafia’ implies that they work together as a band when confronted with a problem. The inner workings and politics of science involve very much the opposite, a fact often destructive and detrimental to those involved. Dear cryptozoologists critical of ‘the scientific establishment’ or of scientific sceptics in general: why do you insist on remaining so clueless with respect to what science is and how it works? There isn’t a gang or club of conspiring scientists who elect to take a given stance on a topic, but a community of competing individuals, all of whom are complex human beings.

The idea that Nessie might have retractable snorkels on its head - an odd idea, to be sure - has long been fairly popular in the LNM literature. The ‘gargoyle head’ photo has to be interpreted within this context. Image: Randall & Keane (1978).

The idea that Nessie might have retractable snorkels on its head - an odd idea, to be sure - has long been fairly popular in the LNM literature. The ‘gargoyle head’ photo has to be interpreted within this context. Image: Randall & Keane (1978).

Finally, a complaint I wish to make about A Monstrous Commotion is that it is, in places, oddly deficient in giving credit. I suppose I shouldn’t expect my own critical comments on various of the LNM photos to warrant mention since (outside of 2016/2017’s Hunting Monsters) they were only ever published here at TetZoo, not in print, but the complete and total absence of Ronald Binns – he isn’t mentioned or even cited once – is odd. Suspiciously so, given that a few sections of the book read much as if they took data or conclusions from Binns (1983). The lack of reference to the many discussions which have occurred within the various ‘parish magazines’ of cryptozoology – Fortean Times, Animals & Men, The Cryptozoology Review, Strange Magazine, Fortean Studies and so on – is also a bit odd.

More evidence for the snorkel-headed Nessie meme: this is the brilliant Kaiyodo toy. Mine was specially shipped from Japan, and oh do I love it. Image: Darren Naish.

More evidence for the snorkel-headed Nessie meme: this is the brilliant Kaiyodo toy. Mine was specially shipped from Japan, and oh do I love it. Image: Darren Naish.

A Monstrous Commotion is an entertaining book that I much enjoyed reading. After a slow start that I would have been happy to go without, it tells a fascinating story and does it well. Those seriously interested in the history of research and ideas on lake monsters should definitely read it, and it might even be said to be one of the best and most professional of books on the Loch Ness Monster yet published. However, it is sometimes appears too sympathetic to those who supported the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, doesn’t appropriately cite all relevant sources, and has enough small, technical errors that it shouldn’t be relied on for factual accuracy.

The only versions of Peter Scott’s renditions of the ‘gargoyle head’ illustration I’ve seen online have been tiny and very low-res, so here’s my best effort at reproducing the best version I have to hand (it’s from the 1981 Reader’s Digest book  Into the Unknown ). Image: Peter Scott/Bradbury (1981).

The only versions of Peter Scott’s renditions of the ‘gargoyle head’ illustration I’ve seen online have been tiny and very low-res, so here’s my best effort at reproducing the best version I have to hand (it’s from the 1981 Reader’s Digest book Into the Unknown). Image: Peter Scott/Bradbury (1981).

Williams, G. 2015. A Monstrous Commotion: the Mysteries of Loch Ness. Orion Books, London. pp. 365. ISBN 978-1-4091-5874-5. Softback, refs. Here at amazon. Here at amazon.co.uk.

If you enjoyed this article and want to see me do more, more often, please consider supporting me at patreon. The more funding I receive, the more time I’m able to devote to producing material for TetZoo and the more productive I can be on those long-overdue book projects. Thanks!

Nessie and related issues have been covered on TetZoo a fair bit before, though many of the older images now lack ALL of the many images they originally included…

Refs - -

Bradbury, W. 1981. Into the Unknown. Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York/Montreal.

Binns, R. 1983. The Loch Ness Mystery Solved. Open Books, London.

Binns, R. 2017. The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded. Zoilus Press.

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

Dinsdale, T. 1973. The Rines/Egerton picture. The Photographic Journal April 1973, 162-165.

Dinsdale, T. 1976. Loch Ness Monster, Revised Edition. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.

Magin, U. 2001. Waves without wind and a floating island – historical accounts of the Loch Ness monster. In Simmons, I. & Quin, M. (eds) Fortean Studies Volume 7. John Brown Publishing (London), pp. 95-115.

Moody, R. T. J. & Naish, D. 2010. Alan Jack Charig (1927-1997): an overview of his academic accomplishments and role in the world of fossil reptile research. In Moody, R. T. J., Buffetaut, E., Naish, D. & Martill, D. M. (eds) Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 343, pp. 89-109.

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

Randall, N. & Keane, G. 1978. Focus on Fact. No. 5 Unsolved Mysteries. W. H. Allen & Co, London.

Regal, B. 2011. Searching for Sasquatch: Crackpots, Eggheads, and Cryptozoology. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

Rines, R. H. 1982. Summarizing a decade of underwater studies at Loch Ness. Cryptozoology 1, 24-32.

Rines, R. H., Edgerton, H. E., Wyckoff, C. W. & Klein, M. 1976. Search for the Loch Ness Monster. Technology Review March/April 1976, 25-40.

Scott, P. 1976. Why I believe in the Loch Ness Monster. Wildlife 18, 110-111.

Scott, P. & Rines, R. 1975. Naming the Loch Ness monster. Nature 258, 466-468.

Sitwell, N. 1976. The Loch Ness Monster evidence. Wildlife 18, 102-109.

Taylor, M. A. & Martin, J. G. 1990. Big Mouths and Long Necks. Leicestershire Museums, Arts and Records Service, Leicester.

Williams, G. 2015. A Monstrous Commotion: the Mysteries of Loch Ness. Orion Books, London.

Witchell, N. 1975. The Loch Ness Story. Penguins Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex.

The Cautious Climber Hypothesis

Those of you familiar with the literature on hominid evolution will doubtless have read at least something about the evolution of hominid bipedality. In the most popular model, bipedal hominids originated from terrestrial, chimp-like quadrupeds (which were still capable of climbing but not highly specialised for it), sometime within the last 7 or so million years. However, committed adaptation to full-time bipedality did not occur until more recently, and at least some of the hominids included within the ‘australopithecine’ grade of our lineage (and it obviously is a grade, even Australopithecus itself – as currently conceived – being paraphyletic) were seemingly not far from chimps and bonobos in climbing ability.

Hominids - represented here by a gorilla, orangutan and chimpanzee (the human needed to complete the scene is missing) - are different from other anthropoid primates in many important aspects. What particular adaptational history caused them … us… to be so different? This mural is on show at Edinburgh Zoo, Scotland, and is by Russell Dempster. Image: Darren Naish.

Hominids - represented here by a gorilla, orangutan and chimpanzee (the human needed to complete the scene is missing) - are different from other anthropoid primates in many important aspects. What particular adaptational history caused them … us… to be so different? This mural is on show at Edinburgh Zoo, Scotland, and is by Russell Dempster. Image: Darren Naish.

This shift likely occurred in open habitats, and quite why bipedal adaptation evolved has been the subject of copious speculation. Maybe it was to do with being able to see further, to free up the hands for carrying things, to improve social and/or sexual communication, to assist with thermoregulation, to increase foraging reach, to improve wading abilities or… insert favoured model for origin of bipedality here.

Primate evolution: another of those subjects that gets written about  a lot . Here are some of the (mostly hominid-themed) primate books in the TetZoo collection, but far from all of them. Pet and fringe theories abound in the popular and semi-popular literature on hominid evolution. Image: Darren Naish.

Primate evolution: another of those subjects that gets written about a lot. Here are some of the (mostly hominid-themed) primate books in the TetZoo collection, but far from all of them. Pet and fringe theories abound in the popular and semi-popular literature on hominid evolution. Image: Darren Naish.

What I’ve just described might be regarded as ‘the textbook view’, however, since there are indications that things might not have happened as described. Anatomical details suggest that proficient bipedal abilities might not have originated in open, terrestrial environments, but in wooded habitats, earlier in history, and among taxa that spent more time in trees than on the ground.

There’s a lot more that could be said about that particular area, but here I want to concentrate on an even earlier phase of evolution. Namely, that part relevant to those hominoids in existence prior to the split between pongines (orangutans and their relatives) and hominines (African great apes). Such animals can be termed stem-hominids, pre-hominids or early hominoids, depending on your preference, and they’d be closer in position to hominids than are gibbons (aka hylobatids). I’m going to call them ‘pre-hominids’ since I find this to be the least ambiguous term. Which behavioural, locomotory and ecological specialisations led to the evolution of the hominid body form, and what were pre-hominids like?

The red box shows the section of the family tree we’re especially interested in here. The animals concerned are hominoids, but not part of the hominid crown (that is, they’re not part of the hominid group delimited by living hominid lineages). They’re stem-hominids, or ‘pre-hominids’. Image: Darren Naish.

The red box shows the section of the family tree we’re especially interested in here. The animals concerned are hominoids, but not part of the hominid crown (that is, they’re not part of the hominid group delimited by living hominid lineages). They’re stem-hominids, or ‘pre-hominids’. Image: Darren Naish.

Some authors have proposed that pre-hominids were gibbon-like brachiators (perhaps pre-adapted for bipedality). This is the so-called brachiation, brachionationist or hylobatian model (e.g., Morton 1926, Keith 1934, Tuttle 1981). Others have argued that pre-hominids were more terrestrial, chimp-like knuckle-walkers (e.g., Keith 1923, Washburn 1963), a model similar to the ‘trogolodytian’ one actually proposed as a phase within the hylobatian model. Neither of these models, however, appears consistent with the long list of features that hominids share with mammals that are neither brachiators nor terrestrial quadrupeds, but vertical climbers that use what’s termed an antipronograde posture (where the body’s long axis is oriented more than 45° from the horizontal). The proportionally long arms and short legs of hominids (we’re referring here to the assumed ancestral condition, not that possessed by unusual forms like humans), the short thorax, reduced lumbar region where vertebrae are incorporated into the sacrum, wide shoulders and hips, and the anatomy of the shoulders, wrists and feet all parallel features seen in lorises and kin, and in climbing South American monkeys like spider monkeys (Sarmiento 1995). In short, these features – and there’s other evidence too, relating to the way muscles function and so on – suggest that pre-hominids were perhaps specialised for vertical climbing.

Which form of locomotion was typical of those hominoids ancestral to hominids? Were they brachiators, arboreal climbers, or digitigrade or knuckle-walking terrestrial forms? Image: Richmond  et al . (2001).

Which form of locomotion was typical of those hominoids ancestral to hominids? Were they brachiators, arboreal climbers, or digitigrade or knuckle-walking terrestrial forms? Image: Richmond et al. (2001).

We can go further, since hominids don’t merely possess general features associated with vertical climbing: they have additional features specific to what are known as cautious climbers. These are those vertical climbers that rely on the grasping of (sometimes discontinuously sized) supports and do not leap. Cautious climbers among mammals include lorises, some colobine monkeys, tree sloths and the extinct palaeopropithecid lemurs (Sarmiento 1995) (though some of these taxa – sloths in particular – have specialised for suspensory climbing too). The features we’re talking about here include dorsal migration of the scapula relative to its position on the ribcage in other primates, increased breadth of the manubrium (the big, anterior-most section of the sternum), a reduced number of tracheal rings, a flat-topped diaphragm with a central tendon, a tendon that connects the protective membrane around the heart to the diaphragm (termed the pericardiophrenic tendon), and reduction or loss of the tail.

Did hominids start their history as ‘cautious climbers’, convergently similar to such arboreal mammals as lorises, sloths, various leaf-eating Old and New World monkeys, and some extinct lemurs? The pre-hominid at far right is a hypothetical animal - a ‘concestor’ - that matches this prediction. A slow loris and three-toed sloth are shown at left. Image: Darren Naish.

Did hominids start their history as ‘cautious climbers’, convergently similar to such arboreal mammals as lorises, sloths, various leaf-eating Old and New World monkeys, and some extinct lemurs? The pre-hominid at far right is a hypothetical animal - a ‘concestor’ - that matches this prediction. A slow loris and three-toed sloth are shown at left. Image: Darren Naish.

Because living cautious climbers share a set of physiological, anatomical and behavioural features, we can infer that they were likely present in cautious climbing pre-hominids too. Cautious climbers use slow, deliberate movements, often hold the foot in a hooked pose, use the foot from the toes to the heel when grasping, and are often bipedal when on the ground. Their slow, deliberate and often powerful movements are in keeping with a high proportion of slow twitch or red muscle fibres (Sarmiento 1995).

Cautious climbers also tend to be – but are not always – folivores (leaf eaters), and their reliance on leaves means that they’ve evolved large guts and have slow metabolisms. They’re therefore mostly big (c 10-40 kg), bulky animals with long gestation periods and a reliance on tropical habitats with a guaranteed supply of canopy foliage. Their slow metabolisms also predict that they’re relatively good at dealing with toxins, and it’s been argued that their slow-moving, low-energy strategy makes them inclined to evolve laryngeal specialisations and an ability to broadcast loud sounds over distance.

Cautious climbers generally don’t leap, or drop from height onto other structures when climbing. Instead, they mostly climb slowly and deliberately, with actions like these (here depicted in a potto) being used to move from one branch to another. Image:   Napier & Napier (1985)   (and based on an original by Charles-Dominique).

Cautious climbers generally don’t leap, or drop from height onto other structures when climbing. Instead, they mostly climb slowly and deliberately, with actions like these (here depicted in a potto) being used to move from one branch to another. Image: Napier & Napier (1985) (and based on an original by Charles-Dominique).

The idea that pre-hominids were cautious climbers of this sort, and that the biological and ecological correlates of this adaptive regime were present in these animals, was explored in depth by Esteban Sarmiento in a few papers from the 1990s (Sarmiento 1995, 1998). The significance of the cautious climber model is not just that it better allows us to imagine what pre-hominids might have been like; it’s also interesting in that imaging hominids as animals that went through this phase helps explains why they were evolutionary shaped in the ways that they were.

Hominid skeletons - this is that of an orangutan, photographed at Musée d'histoire Naturelle, Tournai (Belgium) - possess numerous features indicative of arboreal adaptation. Image: Michel Wal, CC BY-SA 3.0, wikipedia (original  here ).

Hominid skeletons - this is that of an orangutan, photographed at Musée d'histoire Naturelle, Tournai (Belgium) - possess numerous features indicative of arboreal adaptation. Image: Michel Wal, CC BY-SA 3.0, wikipedia (original here).

Hominids took to frugivory on later occasions within their history, for example, but a folivorous initial phase might explain why they have the teeth that they do (the incisors are relatively small, the canines are shortened, there are crushing surfaces on the premolars, enamel wrinkling is present on the molars, and so on), why the front of the face is reduced, and why the lower jaw has such a large and vertical ascending process, a big section adjacent to the molars and a broad but short condyle (Sarmiento 1995). A folivorous heritage could also help explain why hominids are relatively slow growing, resistant to many poisons toxic to other mammals, and equipped with an ability to make loud, complex calls. It would appear, however, that pre-hominids were not as specialised for folivory as are cautious climbers like sloths, since hominids never evolved a complex stomach and always maintained good terrestrial abilities.

Was Sarmiento right about cautious climbing and folivory being all that important in primates close to the ancestry of later hominid lineages? This isn’t an area that’s been all that intensively discussed but – when comments on ‘pre-hominid’ evolution have been provided – authors have tended not to state special preference for the idea, at least considering it as likely as suspensory behaviour or generalised climbing (e.g., Pilbeam & Young 2004, Begun 2016). Richmond et al. (2001), however, noted that ideas positing antipronograde climbing postures were “[a]rguably the most popular [of evolutionary models pertaining to pre-hominid lifestyle] … during the last several decades” (p. 81) and argued that the anatomy and biomechanics of extant hominids are consistent with an arboreal climbing ancestry. They didn’t specifically have cautious climbing and/or folivory in mind though.

This article isn’t about SpecBio. But if pre-hominids were vaguely sloth-like in some ways, a different trajectory of hominid evolution might have resulted in a radiation of increasingly sloth-like primates… in which case, maybe things like this could have evolved. Maybe. This is  Giganthropus , a fictional sloth-like hominid featured in   Dougal Dixon’s 1990  Man After Man   . Image: Philip Hood, in   Dixon (1990)  .

This article isn’t about SpecBio. But if pre-hominids were vaguely sloth-like in some ways, a different trajectory of hominid evolution might have resulted in a radiation of increasingly sloth-like primates… in which case, maybe things like this could have evolved. Maybe. This is Giganthropus, a fictional sloth-like hominid featured in Dougal Dixon’s 1990 Man After Man. Image: Philip Hood, in Dixon (1990).

As goes fossils, animals that pertain to the right approximate part of the cladogram do seem to provide support for the model. Morotopithecus from Early Miocene Uganda is large (20-40 kg) (Gebo et al. 1997) and has been inferred to have been a vertical climber (and perhaps a cautious climber), while Pierolapithecus from the middle Miocene of Spain has a set of features which appear inconsistent with suspensory behaviour and more in line with vertical climbing (Moyà-Solà et al. 2004) (and, again, perhaps with cautious climbing too).

All in all, I find the ‘cautious climber’ model of pre-hominid evolution intriguing and worthy of more attention, hence this article. Long-term readers might remember me mentioning this article – as an in-prep piece, waiting completion – for some years now. It is, at last, ticked off the list.

Articles like this are possible because of the support I receive at patreon. Please consider supporting my research and writing if you don’t already, thank you so much.

For previous TetZoo articles on primate diversity and evolution, see…

 Refs - -

Begun, D. R. 2016. The Real Planet of the Apes: a New Story of Human Origins. Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford.

Dixon, D. 1990. Man After Man: An Anthropology of the Future. Blandford, London.

Gebo, D. L., MacLatchy, L., Kityo, R., Deino, A., Kingston, J. & Pilbeam, D. 1997. A hominoid genus from the Early Miocene of Uganda. Science 276, 401-404.

Keith, A. 1923. Man’s posture: its evolution and disorders. British Medical Journal 1, 451-454, 499-502, 545-548, 587-590, 624-626, 669-672.

Keith, A. 1934. The Construction of Man’s Family Tree. Watts, London.

Morton, D. J. 1926. Evolution of man’s erect posture: preliminary report. Journal of Morphology and Physiology 43, 147-149.

Moyà-Solà, S., Köhler, M., Alba, D. M., Casanovas-Vilar, I. & Galindo, J. 2004. Pierolapithecus catalaunicus, a new Middle Miocene great ape from Spain. Science 306, 1339-1344.

Napier, J. R. & Napier, P. H. 1985. The Natural History of the Primates. British Museum (Natural History), London.

Pilbeam, D.  & Young, N. 2004. Hominoid evolution: synthesizing disparate data. C. R. Palevol 3, 305-321.

Richmond, B. G., Begun, D. R. & Strait, D. S. 2001. Origin of human bipedalism: the knuckle-walking hypothesis revisited. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 44, 70-105.

Sarmiento, E. E. 1995. Cautious climbers and folivory: a model of hominoid differentiation. Human Evolution 10, 289-321.

Sarmiento, E. E. 1998. Generalized quadrupeds, committed bipeds, and the shift to open habitats: an evolutionary model of hominid divergence. American Museum Novitates 3250, 1-78.

Tuttle, R. H. 1981. Evolution of hominid bipedalism and prehensile capabilities. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 292, 89-94.

Washburn, S. L. 1963. Behavior and human evolution. In Washburn, S. L. (ed) Classification and Human Evolution. Aldine, Chicago, pp. 190-201.

Books on the Loch Ness Monster 1: Ronald Binns’s The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded

Listeners of the Tetrapod Zoology podcast will know that I have – for no specific reason – been going through a bit of a Loch Ness Monster phase recently, my stated aim being to review three recently-ish published books on the subject. Here’s the first of those reviews, devoted to Ronald Binns’s The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded. I provided a very brief review of this book at TetZoo ver 3 back in 2017 but always planned to produce a longer version. So here we are.

Nessie, the beast of many forms. It’s almost as if people are describing all manner of different things. Images: Darren Naish.

Nessie, the beast of many forms. It’s almost as if people are describing all manner of different things. Images: Darren Naish.

Is the Loch Ness Monster (LNM) science? Should I be writing about it, and encouraging an interest in it, on a blog ostensibly devoted to the scientific study of the natural world? Here I’ll say what I’ve said several times before about monsters and cryptozoology in general: even if monsters don’t exist (in the zoological sense), there’s still a phenomenon here that’s worthy of study, and there’s still a body of data that we can subject to scientific analysis. And I’ll add that ideas and writings about monsters like Nessie are definitely relevant to those of us intrigued by speculative zoology (Naish 2014), fringe theories, the history of zoology and other subjects included within the TetZoo remit.

Binns (1983)  , hardback (at left) and 1984 softback edition.

Binns (1983), hardback (at left) and 1984 softback edition.

Ronald Binns’s 1983 The Loch Ness Mystery Solved – produced with assistance from Rod Bell (though he doesn’t get an authorship credit) – is a classic work of scholarship and scepticism (Binns 1983). It shows how sightings, photos and film purporting to describe or show the monster are less impressive than typically described, are indeterminate or of more prosaic identity than claimed, have been embellished or modified by enthusiastic or biased writers, and can sometimes be explained as encounters with known animals (seals, waterbirds, deer). A sociocultural setting for the monster, an evaluation of the clutching-at-straws ideas on its biology, appearance, phylogenetic affinities and ecology, and a takedown of the ‘historical Nessie’ endorsed elsewhere also feature within the book (Binns 1983).

It should not be assumed that people - even people who’ve lived their lives in rural places, surrounded by wildlife - can always identify such animals as deer, seals and waterbirds (like grebes and cormorants) when they see them in unusual places, poses or situations. Deer are abundant around Loch Ness. I photographed this male Red deer adjacent to Loch Knockie, which is just a few hundred metres to the east of Loch Ness. Image: Darren Naish.

It should not be assumed that people - even people who’ve lived their lives in rural places, surrounded by wildlife - can always identify such animals as deer, seals and waterbirds (like grebes and cormorants) when they see them in unusual places, poses or situations. Deer are abundant around Loch Ness. I photographed this male Red deer adjacent to Loch Knockie, which is just a few hundred metres to the east of Loch Ness. Image: Darren Naish.

I’m glad to have encountered it at a relatively early phase in my career as a monster researcher, since virtually everything else I read and was exposed to was extremely pro-monster, so much so that I spent time as a teenager thinking that Nessie was a scientific likelihood. Phew: lucky, then, that I never made a fool of myself by proclaiming a belief in Nessie. Oh, wait.

Of course, much has happened since the publication of Solved in 1983. We have new biographic information on the people integral to the LNM story, and new eyewitness accounts, illustrations and photos have been unearthed or have joined the collective pool. Several of the main characters in the LNM story have died since Solved was published, meaning that their role can be more fully and honestly assessed than when they were alive (Binns 2017). On the sociological angle, Nessie has remained a cultural icon and flashpoint for woo, and its story has been retold, embellished, added to and expanded via the publication of many post-1983 books, so many that there’s what looks like a (mostly British) cottage industry on the subject.

Cover of   Binns (2017)  . Buy it if interested in the Loch Ness Monster, lake monster lore, cryptozoology or scepticism.

Cover of Binns (2017). Buy it if interested in the Loch Ness Monster, lake monster lore, cryptozoology or scepticism.

In view of all this, the time is right for an addendum to Solved, and thus we find The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded (Binns 2017). Reloaded is, to quote its author, essentially a long-form appendix to The Loch Ness Mystery Solved, but it isn’t at all dry or tedious. It’s well written, entertaining and absorbing if you’re familiar with any aspects of LNM lore, and in fact is probably the LNM-themed book I’ve enjoyed reading the most. Footnotes and references are provided, though there are only a handful of illustrations.

The book begins with a look back at the making of Solved, the responses to it, and a series of updates on the book’s main (human) characters. Binns then retreads two classic sightings – that of Donaldina Mackay and the Spicers – albeit with new information. The Spicer account of 1933 is the great classic ‘land sighting’, recounted in every Nessie-themed book. George Spicer is generally framed as a lucky everyman who saw a remarkable, inexplicable thing and reported it fairly, without fanfare and without any need to see himself – rather than the animal – as the point of interest.

The Spicer sighting as conventionally portrayed, here by Dinsdale (1976). Image:   Dinsdale (1976)  .

The Spicer sighting as conventionally portrayed, here by Dinsdale (1976). Image: Dinsdale (1976).

None of this is correct. Details of Spicer’s account make it likely that he and his (still nameless) wife saw bounding deer (an idea, not original to me, discussed in Hunting Monsters); the details of his sighting changed significantly over the years and demonstrate (I say again: demonstrate) both embellishment and a predilection on Spicer’s part to speculate. Furthermore, Spicer wasn’t a quiet, impartial witness, reluctantly discussing his encounter when door-stepped by thirsty journalists, but extraordinarily enthusiastic, garrulous and boastful about it, his own writings making him sound wide-eyed and credulous. There’s a popular idea among cryptozoologists that one should ignore personality traits and biography and just pay attention to the monster sighting. Alas, no; this is wrong. Those things are absolutely relevant.

Probably the best ever depiction of the Loch Ness Monster in action. Surely this is what Mr Spicer actually saw. A beautiful image by the legendary Gino D’Achille. Image: (c) Gino D’Achille.

Probably the best ever depiction of the Loch Ness Monster in action. Surely this is what Mr Spicer actually saw. A beautiful image by the legendary Gino D’Achille. Image: (c) Gino D’Achille.

Famous photos, reloaded. Chapters are also devoted to the more notable LNM photos and the Dinsdale film. Revised and updated takes on the Surgeon’s photo, and on the Gray, Stuart, Cockrell, Macnab and O’Connor photos – and a bunch of less famous ones – are presented, all of which can sensibly be stated to be hoaxes, indeterminate, waves, sticks and other non-animals. Binns remains non-committal on the very unusual Peter O’Connor photo of 1960 but implies that O’Connor’s career as a taxidermist might mean that we’re looking at a dead animal (maybe a seal?). My competing idea (Naish 2017) – it originates with Dick Raynor – is that it’s an inverted kayak and a head-shaped stick in front. I think this explains what looks like planking and the metal rudder support, visible in uncropped versions of the image.

The O’Connor photo has never made sense as goes lighting. O’Connor’s story is suspiciously odd. And the object he photographed does not appear to be an animal. It looks likely to be an inverted kayak, and looks uncannily similar to the specific kayak that O’Connor owned. The image here - scanned from one of the several LNM books - is a cropped version that doesn’t feature the whole of the object. Image: (c) Peter O’Connor.

The O’Connor photo has never made sense as goes lighting. O’Connor’s story is suspiciously odd. And the object he photographed does not appear to be an animal. It looks likely to be an inverted kayak, and looks uncannily similar to the specific kayak that O’Connor owned. The image here - scanned from one of the several LNM books - is a cropped version that doesn’t feature the whole of the object. Image: (c) Peter O’Connor.

Nor does Binns wholly buy my argument in Hunting Monsters than the Hugh Gray photo depicts a swan. He does think it’s a fake though. I remain pretty confident about the swan hypothesis because a Whooper swan (not a Mute swan as implied by the illustration in Hunting Monsters) matches the shape, hue and likely size of the object, the object has what looks like a swan’s ankle sticking out of its flank in the right position, and also has an otherwise inexplicable pale patch (presumably double-exposed on top of the main image, and coming from a moment in time when the bird had its head above the water surface) that exactly matches a Whooper swan’s bill patch. It also has a swan’s tail. And it’s white.

At top, the Hugh Gray photo of 1933. A ‘mid-sized’ object (look at the ripples), that’s white or near-white, has a sinuous appendage at one end, a short, pointed appendage at the other, and a dark appendage that disappears into the water close to one of its ends. The double-strike areas (featuring pale triangular patches) indicate double-exposure (that is, the film failed to move on and was exposed again). Image:   Naish (2017)  .

At top, the Hugh Gray photo of 1933. A ‘mid-sized’ object (look at the ripples), that’s white or near-white, has a sinuous appendage at one end, a short, pointed appendage at the other, and a dark appendage that disappears into the water close to one of its ends. The double-strike areas (featuring pale triangular patches) indicate double-exposure (that is, the film failed to move on and was exposed again). Image: Naish (2017).

On vocal champions. It’s frequently implied or stated by those endorsing the existence of monsters that vocal champions of the cause are sensible, level-headed, scholarly types who come to the conclusions they do after carefully and scientifically evaluating the data. Maybe this is true for some individuals. But it’s generally the opposite of true. Monster proponents – and I’ve now been bold enough to state or imply this in print (Conway et al. 2013, Naish 2017) – are more frequently tremendously naïve, biased, impressionable and unscientific, and attracted to the subject because of its intrinsic appeal and their own tendency to want the world to be occupied by stuff considered beyond current scientific knowledge.

This is emphasised in Binns’s chapters on F. W. ‘Ted’ Holiday, author of 1968’s The Great Orm of Loch Ness (wherein Nessie is posited to be a giant Tullimonstrum) and 1973’s The Dragon and the Disc (the main thesis of which links lake monsters with the ancient alien movement). Similarly, Binns’s treatment of Tim Dinsdale, the well-meaning and likeable champion of the LNM from 1960 until his death in 1987, discusses Dinsdale’s propensity to be all too impressionable, and with ideas that were not in keeping with his claim that he was always objective and basing everything monster-related on sound science. There’s a lot that could be said about both men (I’m avoiding that here; Dinsdale will be discussed in a future article); anyone interested in their legacy and how it fits into the LNM story must see what Binns says to say.

Ahh, classic Holiday. The object in the Hugh Gray photo interpreted as a modern-day, big  Tullimonstrum . Image:   Holiday (1968)  .

Ahh, classic Holiday. The object in the Hugh Gray photo interpreted as a modern-day, big Tullimonstrum. Image: Holiday (1968).

Both those interested in, and brought to despair by, the literature on the LNM will have noted that there’s a lot of it: an enormous number of published books, booklets and articles, and a vast quantity of correspondence, imagery and art. Yet for all the fame of the LNM, there’s been surprisingly little effort to collate or gather things and several collections are in danger of being lost when their owners are no more and their estates dissolved. Binns terms this the ‘archive problem’, and it’s common to many subject areas that involve ‘paperwork’.

But a fraction of the books that exist on the Loch Ness Monster. Image: Darren Naish.

But a fraction of the books that exist on the Loch Ness Monster. Image: Darren Naish.

As mentioned above, a great many books have been published on the LNM since the early 1980s. Binns provides commentary on the more recent of them (those from the post-Dinsdale era). He's fairly critical of Gareth Williams’s serious and well-drafted A Monstrous Commotion of 2015 (another of the books set to be reviewed here), noting that it fails to credit The Loch Ness Mystery Solved despite drawing substantially upon its contents. Those lines in the acknowledgements of A Monstrous Commotion explaining how eagle-eyed reviewers and editors did a sterling job in preventing numerous mistakes are ironic in view of the fairly enormous number of errors that did make it into print, all of which Binns discusses and corrects (pp. 150-152).

Binns on Hunting Monsters. I am of course especially interested (I hope understandably) in what Binns says about my own Hunting Monsters, a volume he classes as part of the same ‘cultural cryptozoology’ school as Loxton and Prothero’s Abominable Science! (which I had a hand in as technical reviewer and blurb-writer; my review of that book is here at TetZoo ver 3). Hunting Monsters is “fluent, elegant, scholarly”, says Binns (p. 153); he “finds Naish’s approach congenial because he seeks to rescue cryptozoology from the naïve literalists” (p. 154).

In which I tried to develop a sociological or anthropological view of cryptids - Nessie included - as icons embedded within culture. The softback version was preceded by a 2016 digital one (which has a different cover). Image:   Naish (2017)  .

In which I tried to develop a sociological or anthropological view of cryptids - Nessie included - as icons embedded within culture. The softback version was preceded by a 2016 digital one (which has a different cover). Image: Naish (2017).

It isn’t a coincidence that Binns finds my take on monsters concordant with his own position. As has been stated here at TetZoo many times now, I think today that cryptids like Nessie are sociocultural phenomena, that people ‘see’ monsters like Nessie because they fully expect to encounter a thing that’s firmly embedded within their culture (Binns terms this expectant attention), that ideas about the identity, biology, ecology and so on of Nessie are nothing more than speculative house-of-cards-type efforts, and that eyewitness descriptions of Nessie are either so ambiguous as to be useless, are hoaxes, or are explainable or near-explainable by those able to employ critical thinking or sceptical analysis.

You can be an atheist and still love buildings of worship. Likewise, thinking that Nessie is not real does not stop Loch Ness from being a remarkable place or one with a great amount of allure. Image: Darren Naish.

You can be an atheist and still love buildings of worship. Likewise, thinking that Nessie is not real does not stop Loch Ness from being a remarkable place or one with a great amount of allure. Image: Darren Naish.

The Age of the Internet. It’s no secret among those especially interested in the LNM that one of the most visible writers on the subject in the Age of the Internet is not a journalist or scientist but a blogger – Roland Watson – who is unashamed and thoroughly biased in his insistence that Nessie is real and that those questioning the ‘evidence’ are wrong and on ground shakier than the firm footing occupied by himself. Binns notes that Watson has been useful in uncovering new data but more impressive are the substantial number of occasions in which Binns corrects or contests Watson’s interpretations.

Watson’s blog is a fun read if you like being immersed in detailed discussions of LNM-themed sightings, anecdotes, accounts and controversies. I congratulate anyone aiming to put esoteric data like this on the record, and to unearth more information on relevant people and the backgrounds to claimed eyewitness accounts.

But two issues ruin Watson’s entire take on the subject. One is his obvious employment of confirmation bias and insistence that Occam’s Razor has no place in monster hunting: while the record shows that he doesn’t automatically identify any object seen in the waters of Loch Ness as a monster, his primary argument on many occasions is to insist that ‘giant unknown aquatic vertebrate species’ should, as an explanation, be on equal footing with ‘swimming deer’, ‘unidentified fish’ or ‘wave’. No it shouldn’t.

The surface of Loch Ness, photographed in September 2016. Many people’s monster sightings are of a calibre similar to this. These are waves, made by a boat. Image: Darren Naish.

The surface of Loch Ness, photographed in September 2016. Many people’s monster sightings are of a calibre similar to this. These are waves, made by a boat. Image: Darren Naish.

The second issue is Watson’s obsession with sceptics, who he very much regards as The Bad Guys, The Enemy. He bashes sceptics a lot – as if being sceptical about Nessie is a bad thing or represents poor life choice – and has written at length about the motivations that, he thinks, drive sceptics and their scepticism. These arguments are naïve, way off base and just fucking weird. Example: Watson claimed on his blog and in his review of Hunting Monsters that I have been groomed – his word – by Loch Ness expert Dick Raynor, since sceptics require that the chalice of Loch Ness scepticism be passed down across the generations, and, furthermore, that I have been turned to the cult of scepticism via the nefarious chicanery and allure of an older man. Binns noted all of this as it was happening. “Naish’s assertion that Watson inhabits ‘an idiosyncratic intellectual landscape’ was a generous and measured response”, he says (p. 18). Damn straight.

Those of us sceptical about lake monsters are so, or have become so, because we aren’t convinced by the evidence, such as it is, and we see obvious problems with the ‘data’ deemed integral to the case by believers. I’ve become a sceptic for these reasons, not because I wish to be part of a special club (note to Nessie fans reading this: I am not employed in academia), not because I somehow earn points or money for being a sceptic (I wish), and not because I’m guilty of sloppy thinking, blindness, unfamiliarity with the evidence or an unwillingness to read or engage with the literature or the cryptozoological community. I was a believer once, I remind you, and I’ve said all sorts of dumb things supporting the existence of monsters that my critics never seem to be aware of. They only see an enemy: a blinkered ivory-tower elite who lives in a solid gold house, has never had a proper job, and dives every evening into a money pit of Science Dollars provided by the government or something.

Here’s a close-up of the Hugh Gray photo again. I say again: the ripples show that this object is ‘mid-sized’ (as in, 1 m long or so). Weird than an object which I say looks like a swan also has what looks like a swan’s leg and what looks like a swan’s pointed tail.

Here’s a close-up of the Hugh Gray photo again. I say again: the ripples show that this object is ‘mid-sized’ (as in, 1 m long or so). Weird than an object which I say looks like a swan also has what looks like a swan’s leg and what looks like a swan’s pointed tail.

You should buy this book. The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded is required reading for those interested in the Loch Ness phenomenon, in lake monsters, cryptozoology and/or scepticism, and I really enjoyed it. My one complaint is that the lack of an index is a real pain. We all know that indexes are difficult and time consuming to compile, but lacking one entirely is not really excusable – even a short one consisting of keywords is better than nothing.

Anyway… it would be helpful to read Reloaded right after The Loch Ness Mystery Solved if you haven’t read that book already, but I wouldn’t say that this is a requirement. You should definitely buy it. And you should also consider leaving a positive amazon review given a really appalling bias present there at the time of writing. More Nessie book reviews soon.

Binns, R. 2017. The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded. Zoilus Press. pp. 222. ISBN 978-1-9997359-0-6. Softback, refs. Here at amazon, here at amazon.co.uk.

Nessie and related issues have been covered on TetZoo a fair bit before, though many of the older images now lack ALL of the many images they originated included…

Refs - -

Binns, R. 1983. The Loch Ness Mystery Solved. Open Books, London.

Binns, R. 2017. The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded. Zoilus Press.

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

Dinsdale, T. 1976. Loch Ness Monster (Revised Edition). Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.

Holiday, F. W. 1968. The Great Orm of Loch Ness. Faber and Faber, London.

Loxton, D. & Prothero, D. R. 2013. Abominable Science! Columbia University Press, New York.

Naish, D. 2014. Speculative zoology. Fortean Times 316, 52-53.

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

Potoos As An Internet Phenomenon

This might be an unusual TetZoo article. I like memes, by which I mean the internet images or concepts that are passed ‘virally’ from one person to another and become modified and/or added to across their ‘generations’. As you’ll know if you pay any attention to memes (or are part of any community where memes are frequently encountered), several animal species are meme favourites. Among them are potoos.

It’s true, I’m guilty of using potoos in memes myself. The one at left was my profile picture on social media for a while; the one at right appeared at TetZoo ver 3. The original photo has been memed a lot. The original photo is sometimes credited to Kristin Lundquist, though that’s not where I got it from. Image: (c)  Kristin Lundquist .

It’s true, I’m guilty of using potoos in memes myself. The one at left was my profile picture on social media for a while; the one at right appeared at TetZoo ver 3. The original photo has been memed a lot. The original photo is sometimes credited to Kristin Lundquist, though that’s not where I got it from. Image: (c) Kristin Lundquist.

Potoos – officially nyctibiids, and not to be confused with the primates called pottos – are a South, Central and North American group of cryptically coloured, nocturnal, big-eyed, insectivorous birds. Nearly all of the seven extant species* are included within the same genus (Nyctibius), the exception being the Rufous potoo N. bracteatus which was given its own genus (Phyllaemulor) in 2017. In addition, there are fossil potoos (from Europe and North America) which have been given separate genera too. Potoos hunt by aerial hawking or by flycatching from a perch, their prey mostly involving beetles and moths. They’ve also been reported to eat small passerines: a Northern potoo N. jamaicensis was once found to contain a White-collared seedeater Sporophila toqueola in its stomach (