Posts Tagged 'mammals'

Dinosaur Art book review

I’m sure a good number of readers will be well aware that there is a new book on it’s way to the shelves for mid September on palaeoart and more specifically, dinosaur art. I’ve been lucky enough to get an advanced copy in exchange for doing a review, but I’d have been happy to do so anyway. First things first though, I know almost every artist featured (and am friends with several) and even the editor Steve White and indeed have interviewed them myself on the Musings. Obviously I’ll try to be a neutral as possible, but while this review is gushingly positive, it’d be unfair not to point out my obvious connections to many of those involved.

Doug Henderson asteroid piece

Anyway, onto the book. Quite simply it’s superb, and really doubles as covering two very different things in a single volume. Most naturally it’s a book crammed with high quality artworks from a great number of superb artists and features numerous images that will delight. Even with my familiarity with a great deal of palaeoart and having had the chance to browse the collections of my friends, there were plenty of images here I’d not seen before.

A Sinornithosaurus by Todd Marshall

The paper quality and print quality is superb (which is important) and there are even a few fold-outs to give maximum exposure which is significant given that already it’s quite a large format book. This is a seriously nice piece and I can image there will be a good number of sales to people with no great interest or love of dinosaurs because it just looks fantastic. It’s a real coffee table book in that sense (and I mean that as a compliment).

Julius Csotonyi Cretaceous scene.

However, aside from just looking gorgeous, this book also provides some real commentary on pretty much every aspect of palaeoart. Each series of images (grouped by artist) is accompanied by a dialogue / interview between the editor and artist. This covers the artists origins in palaeoart and obvious little questions about their interests and favourite species, but also delves into the creation process, the style and techniques of the artist and the state of play with modern developments and especially the rise of digital media. As part of this we do see drafts and sketches for pieces showing how the artist changed aspects of the work or developed pieces which is truly fascinating. Each section also has a featured taxon with a series of images by that artist on the relevant species and some accompanying text about the animal in particular, giving a bit more depth and study to each of these compared to a lot of the bigger works which are presented largely without comment.

John Sibbick Scleidosaurus sketch and completed work.

If there are any quibbles it’s that I would have liked to have seen more text. What is said is really interesting and while I’m sure the hefty tome wasn’t cheap to produce with all those pages of full colour artworks, I can’t see that a half dozen extra pages of just text would have made much of a difference. My other minor issue would be that there’s really quite a lot of non-dinosaur stuff in here. Now that’s not me being against non-dinosaur palaeoart in any way shape or form, but the book *is* called Dinosaur Art and at least a few readers might be disappointed that there are a few places where a good number of pages can be turned before finding a dinosaur. While the dinos do dominate, it does just seem a little between-two-stools – it’s not 99% dinosaurs (or even Mesozoic reptiles) as one might expect from the title, but then nor is it mix of all kinds of palaeoart (even if that would likely feature more reptiles than anything else). As I say, both very minor things and ones that I doubt will put off anyone who really likes their art, and indeed nor should it.

Mauricio Anton South American mammal assemblage

Overall then this is a real must-have. I can’t recall another book like it either in terms of the volume of art, the production values or the interviews / sketches that add a new level of detail. While I rarely do go out and get volumes like this (and of course was lucky enough to get mine gratis) this is something I’d have gone out of my way to get my hands on and you should too.

Raul Martin Citipati

Oh and finally I should add that all the images here were provided by the publishers who allowed me to use them to promote the work. They and / or the artists retain the copyright on these images.

John Conway’s Tarbosaurus chasing Gallimimus.

Animals Inside Out

Friday night saw me being lucky enough to get into the superb new exhibit at the Natural History Museum. Featuring plastinated animals and anatomical dissections, this is an amazing looking inside both some well-known and unusual animals. Since I’m not really one for great anatomical details on the blog and the fact that there is a very good slide-show here online, I’ll stop here for any great analysis.

Suffice to say though, that if you are interested in anatomy or biology in general, then this really is a must. It does show things nor normally seen (even to those familiar with dissections and anatomical books and papers) and gives a greater appreciation and understanding of how things fit together. Even jaded experts seemed quite thrilled with some things like the ‘exploded’ elephant and the sectioned giraffe.

If there is a complaint it’s the almost complete lack of signs and explanation of things. I suspect too many people will look at things and say ‘cool’ but come away with very little increased knowledge and understanding of what they saw, even if they have got a much great appreciation and love of the beauty of nature.

Anyway, for those who can go, go. For those who can’t, well, at least there are some pictures.

Crystal Palace mammals

My final Crystal Palace post and this time covering the various extinct mammals on display. To be honest, I simply didn’t know these were represented so they were a rather pleasant surprise. Above we see the rather tapir-like Palaeothrium and below we have successively a rather trunk-snouted Megatherium, a group of Anoplotherium, and finally the ‘Irish Elk’ Megaloceros. All except the Megatherium were represented by multiple models which was nice and gave the impression of real groups of animals where the others were rather just laid out on the island. I should also add that the mammals are rather off to the side in their own little section which helps to provide some metaphorical distance from the dinosaurs as well as some real separation.

Whale evolution series

Yes it’s time for some more “stinkin’ mammals”, though in my defence I generally keep the place pretty synapsid-free. Anyway, one of the truly great transitional series in palaeontology is the origin of whales. It’s not a surprise really, they are relatively big and recent animals that hung around in water, all things that help fossilisation. Combined with their nicely diagnostic anatomy and the public’s general affection for cetaceans, this makes them a superb example of a major transition (here from land to water, obviously) as well as making the origin and radiation of an important clade. I’ve used it in my lectures and it seems to be a particularly popular subject with the students.

Among other things, the aquatic section of the ‘history of life’ room in Toyko houses a magnificent collection of casts of various stem whales. From Ambulocetus, Pakicetus and Basilosaurus (and indeed others) there is a lovely and clear pattern of the shape of the skull and teeth changing and the back elongates, and the hindlimbs atrophy. Put together, it’s a great series and I spent some time photographing as much of it as possible for my lecture notes. I’ll be able to make better use of this in the future thanks to such a great set-up.

Kutchicetus

Kutchicetus skull

Ambulocetus

Ambulocetus skull

Pakicetus

Pakicetus skull

Durodon

Durodon skull

Durodon hindlimbs

Basilosaurus

Basilosaurus skull

Platypus eggs

OK so it’s not even close to being an archosaur, but these are too cool not to do a post about. Yet another specimen from the Oxford Museum, these are a set of eggs from a platypus. It is one thing to intellectually know that a species does something, but it is always nice to see that evidence in the flesh (or in the egg). I was genuinely excited to see these and since I’m currently lecturing about mammalian reproductive systems, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss not to post this up.

Mythbusting

There are plenty of myths out there in science – things that persist in the public imagination long after science has moved past or shown them to be inaccurate. As such, researchers tend to be a bit careful about taking things for granted that they think they know when the source might not be entirely accurate. Even so, we are only human and it is natural that everyone has a couple of false-facts in their repertoire that require someone come along and pop every so often. This is one of my favourites that has actually come up in discussion with colleagues more than one to their incredulity. The aye-aye, does not have a long 3rd digit in the hand.

Ok, so all the fingers of the aye-aye are very long, but while most people (who know a bit about aye-ayes) seem to know that the 3rd finger is the specialised thin finger used to extract grubs from trees and the flesh from coconuts, many think it is the longest in the hand, putting it at odds with other primates. Not so. This idea is surprisingly persistent and I’ve had to furnish photographic proof to more than one colleague about this.

Happily, I was able to get a nice photo of an aye-aye skeleton here in Dublin. They could be better and the hand is mounted gripping a branch, but hopefully it is clear the third finger is quite simply not longer than the fourth. Simple proof of a very simple point. Still, it hopefully serves as a bit of a warning to others not to take ‘common knowledge’ for granted.


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