Guest Post: Bad Religion, Good Paleontology

Today I’m really pleased because not only do I actually get to cover some early birds on the Musings (which I generally don’t) but also because it’s a guest post from my friend Jingmai O’Connor. Jingmai is another old hand from China who is now at the IVPP full time. Today she talks about a recently named bird that she worked on and the origins of the name:

Ever since I found out that the lead singer of my favorite punk rock band (BAD RELIGION) was a paleontologist published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (12(1): 1-10) I wanted to name a species after him. Dr. Gregory Graffin formed Bad Religion in high school and during his early years in the Los Angeles area he volunteered at the natural history museum (yes, I stalked the Ornithology collection for the birds he collected) and got his Masters at UCLA studying vertebrate paleontology. Despite Bad Religion’s ascent to fame, Graffin went on to eventually get a PhD in Zoology from New York University. Dr. Graffin’s scientific mind is clearly evident through the poignantly astute lyrics that characterize the songs of Bad Religion. To me, its more than just music – Bad Religion provides intelligent and critical commentary on social, political, and environmental issues I feel strongly about. The only sad thing is, nearly three decades later, nothing has changed in society and humans continue to selfishly destroy the planet…


Holotype of Qiliania graffini from Ji et al. in press.

After a failed attempt or two to convince a Chinese co-author to let me name a new species after my favorite rock star, I found myself helping Jessie Atterholt with a project on a new enantiornithine from the Early Cretaceous Xiagou Formation near Changma in Gansu Province, China (the locality is famous for its dozens of Gansus specimens preserved in 3D with skin impressions; Science 314: 1640). Turns out Jessie is a big Bad Religion fan too, as were our other co-authors, Dr.’s Jerry Harris and Matt Lamanna, and so, with no objections from our Chinese co-authors (who were like, who?), we decided to name the new taxon Qiliania graffini.


The new specimen is represented by a nearly complete left hindlimb and pelvic girdle preserved in a slab (FRDC-05-CM-006; holotype), and a right hindlimb (FRDC-04-CM-006) prepped free of the matrix – although its ‘just another species of enantiornithine,’ the amazing 3D preservation of the Xiagou Formation allows us to discern morphological details, such as the presence of groove for the insertions of the extensor retinaculum on the distal tibiotarsus of Qiliania, unavailable in most Jehol specimens.  The specimen indicates that the ilioschiadic fenestra in basal enantiornithines was closed distally (could not be discerned unequivocally in Jehol enantiornithines) but the dorsal process of the ischium was not fused to the ilium (as it is in the only known Late Cretaceous enantiornithine pelvic girdle and neornithine birds; Chiappe and Walker, 2002). The tibiotarsus is the most interesting element preserved – proximally it bears a cranially expanded cnemial crest, unknown in any other enantiornithine (poorly developed cnemial crest present in Soroavisaurus). Where hindlimb elements are preserved in basal ornithuromorph taxa (the sister group of enantiornithines and the clade that includes living birds), a well-developed cranial cnemial crest is present – this feature is associated with living aquatic birds and it has been suggested that modern birds survived the K-T extinction living in aquatic refugia. The presence of this feature may suggest that Qiliania was adapted for an aquatic environment, as was Gansus. Pedal proportions fail to reveal the ecology of this taxon, suggesting either that Qiliania was a generalist or that ecological specializations in pedal phalangeal proportions among enantiornithines differed from those observed in living taxa.


Jingmai’s Bad Religion playlist:

Ten in 2010 (album: The Gray Race)

Against the Grain (album: Against The Grain)

Individual (album: Stranger Than Fiction)

The Handshake (album: Stranger Than Fiction)

Sinister Rouge (album: The Empire Strikes First)

God’s Love (album: The Empire Strikes First)

I Want to Conquer the World (album: No Control)

Kyoto Now (album: Process Of Belief)

American Jesus (album: Recipe For Hate)

Punk Rock Song (album: the Gray Race)


SHU-AN JI, JESSIE ATTERHOLT, JINGMAI K. O’CONNOR, MATTHEW C. LAMANNA, JERALD D. HARRIS, DA-QING LI, HAI-LU YOU and PETER DODSON. A new, three-dimensionally preserved enantiornithine bird (Aves: Ornithothoraces) from Gansu Province, northwestern China. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2011, 162, 201–219.s

5 Responses to “Guest Post: Bad Religion, Good Paleontology”

  1. 1 Ilja Nieuwland 01/06/2011 at 1:13 pm

    I’m afraid that Mike Taylor beat you to it with Graffatitan (sorry…)

  2. 4 John the Hutch 01/06/2011 at 7:52 pm

    What, no love in your playlist for New Dark Ages/Dearly Beloved or Part IV (The Index Fossil)? 😉

  1. 1 Long dead musicians « Dave Hone's Archosaur Musings Trackback on 02/06/2011 at 8:39 am
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