Monthly Archives: November 2009

Wandering Ponies #1

In an effort to generate more content here while Sara and I are too busy working/raving/generating content elsewhere to write proper posts, we’ve decided to throw up (not literally) a bunch of links to stuff that has amused and/or intrigued us during the week. This will hopefully a) make your visits here a little more worthwhile, and b) ease our considerable guilt for not updating this blog more often. (And just by the by, if anyone’s worked out how to survive on less than four hours sleep per night without accidentally passing out in front of their laptop on a Thursday evening halfway through an ill-considered bout of sleepy dubstep, be sure to let us know, okay?)

* First up is brand new blog, Dragons of the Air, which Dave Hone mentioned on his site a few weeks back. Focussing on the flight mechanics and biology of pterosaurs, it’s set to have some fascinating content from the Pterosaur Flight Dynamics Group in the coming weeks.

* Then it’s over to the slingjaw wrasse, which is one of my favourite sea creatures ever (for the obvious reasons), and a clip found by the boys at Deep Sea News. The jury’s still out on whether this particular, erm, talent will help him score with the ladies, but at least he’ll always be well-fed.

* And speaking of sea creatures, the Census of Marine Life site is an endless joy filled with picture/video galleries, media resources, census project info and so on. Think of it as the damp cousin of Edward O. Wilson’s Encyclopaedia of Life.

* Next is the ultimate thinking man’s eye orgasm: FRACTALS. Specifically the Mandelbulb, which is the 3D version of the Mandelbrot set, and that’s pretty much all I can say about it right now because I’m bad at maths and stuff. But unlike me, this site is wonderfully thorough. All I know is I want to live in whatever that thing is below, so this weekend I’m gathering together a bunch of alley cats to help me drag a couch and tv in there so we can eat apple pie and watch something with Ted Danson in it (but not Becker) all afternoon.

* The Dinosaur Toy Blog has something I bet will end up on most of our Christmas lists (or perhaps just ten times on mine): the Feathered Dinosaurs Toob. As soon as I get mine I’m going to empty them into the sink and make them fight each other. There’s also the Mega Dino Toob, which really isn’t as obscene as it sounds, I promise.

* And finally, the new Nazi Dinosaur game that Laelaps’ Brian Switek mentioned via Twitter. I guess my only concern with “Dino D-Day” is that if you insist on fighting a fascist dinosaur with nothing but your puny man-fists, it’s fairly unlikely you’ll get the chance to make a “Tyranno-sore” joke before it breaks you, tiny human.

– bec



Filed under Animals, Archosaurs, Science, Sea Creatures, Video

Oh My God, Whoever Invited the Tyrannosaurs Over is in SO MUCH TROUBLE…

Unusual lesions and puncture marks found on tyrannosaurid skulls have had a major impact on our understanding of the lives of the tyrannosaurs, as detailed by two recent studies coming out of the US. In a paper published in this month’s Palaios, a team from the Northern Illinois University and the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford have focussed their attention on “Jane,” a 7-metre-long Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton with a slightly asymmetrical snout and four partially-healed oblong lesions along the left side of its skull. Discovered in 2001 in the Hell Creek Formation, Montana, Jane could be evidence of intraspecific aggression amongst juvenile tyrannosaurs, most likely competing for dominance, territory, or perhaps resources.

How the team came to this assumption was by comparing the positioning and orientation of the lesions along Jane’s nasal and maxilla regions to the jaw shape of the only fossil vertebrates found in the Hell Creek Formation that would have been large enough to inflict such wounds – theropods and crocodilians. They found that the size, shape, and spacing of juvenile theropod teeth corresponded convincingly to the positioning of Jane’s lesions, unlike those of a crocodilian jaw (see pic below). Evidence of face-biting is not uncommon in the tyrannosaurid fossil record, but this is the first indication that this kind of behaviour was not just restricted to fully-matured adults. As Jane’s age has been estimated at 12-years-old, two years prior to the age of sexual maturity for the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the possibility that this was strictly part of courtship-related behaviour has been ruled out.

Further, in their examination of Jane’s puncture marks, the team found indications of partial healing through bone repair, which suggests that this face-biting was not typically fatal, however could cause a slight warping of the muzzle as it remodelled itself. “Jane has what we call a boxer’s nose,” Joe Peterson, lead author of the study told Science Daily. “Her snout bends slightly to the left. It was probably broken and healed back crooked.”

But if all this talk of tyrannosaurid face sores leaves you with a distinct feeling of déjà vu, Peterson is careful to point out that Jane’s are a different type of lesion to those found on the famous 13-metre-long Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil, nicknamed “Sue,” which have recently been attributed to a parasitic infection (see pic above). “The parasite that has been described causes lesions on the lower jaw,” he notes. “With Jane, the lesions are on the actual face and are not the same type of structures we see on Sue.”

The other kind of face lesions which appear on many tyrannosaurid specimens, including Sue, indicates that the tyrannosaurs faced a far more serious threat than aggressive, face-biting peers. In a recent study published in PLoS One, Ewan Wolff from the University of Wisconsin describes a parasitic infection which causes severe erosion of the jaw bone and ulceration of the mouth and oesophagus, ultimately leading to death by starvation. Of the 61 tyrannosaurid specimens Wolff examined, 15% of them have the tell-tale signs of this infection – several smooth-edged pits in the lower jaw bone – as opposed to the more rough-edged bite marks found in Jane’s skull. However, in many of the specimens examined both kinds of lesions are present, suggesting that the infection could have been transmitted through intraspecific face-biting in much the same way as the cancer currently threatening to drive Tasmanian devils to extinction.

What Wolff also found is that the lesions in the jaw bones of these tyrannosaurid specimens are remarkably similar to those found in the beaks of modern birds such as turkeys, chickens and pigeons which have been infected by a protozoan called Trichomonas gallinae. These modern birds can pass trichomonosis on by simply touching each other on the beak, which can lead to a severe ulceration of the upper digestive system and then starvation. This shared affliction is yet further evidence of how closely related birds are to their dinosaur ancestors.

So all of this fighting and infection pretty much means the Tyrannosaurus Rex is the grossest dinosaur ever and woe betide anyone who invites one or more of them into their house to hang. Like one aftermoon Pteranodon would be over at Euhelopus’ house having Fruitloops and expensive dessert wine because Euhelopus’ parents are away for the weekend and Pteranodon is all like, “Dude. I cannot believe you didn’t tell me your parents were going away. What’s the fucking matter with you? We have got to have a party.”

And Euhelopus is like, “I guess I just forgot. Yeah, we could have a few people over. So long as they mind the carpet and shit.”

And with that Pteranodon goes a bit nuts and invites half the year (the cool half) to a party at Euhelopus’ place. Then they go to the bottle shop with Euhelopus’ little brother and their fake ID’s to pick up some Jager, (but Euhelopus’ little brother has to wait in the gift shop next door because he’s too little to have a fake ID) and Pteranodon’s all, “He doesn’t expect to come, does he?” expressing concern that he might spread his tweenaged uncoolness everywhere and make them look uncool by association. Euhelopus is like, “Well yeah, we can’t kick him out of the house, plus we have to keep him happy or he’ll call mum.”

“Fuck that. I’ve got an idea.”

So they sit Euhelopus‘ little brother down and Pteranodon’s all like, “So we’ve got a special job for you at the party. We need you to wait at the front door and make sure no one who isn’t on the list comes in. Sound good?”

“I guess.”

“Cool. And just remember one thing – it’s very important that you don’t let the Tyrannosaurus Rex twins in.”

“Why not?”

“Because they have gross skin problems and they’re always fighting. They’re fucked. If you have to choose between the Tyrannosaurus Rex twins and a homeless leper, we’d rather you choose the leper. But obviously don’t, because they’re fucked too.”

“Don’t swear in front of my brother.”


So a few hours into the party and Euhelopus has already gotten properly drunk and is slurring to the Diplodocus about assignments or something in the kitchen, while Pteranodon has disappeared altogether (although someone said they thought they saw him sneaking off to the park with some lady Pterodactyl under his wing). Suddenly Euhelopus’ little brother runs into the kitchen all panicky like, “Erm, promise you wont be mad…?”

And Euhelopus is all, “Ugh. Can’t speak. Not mad. I think I threw up in mum and dad’s shower.”

“In that case… I accidentally let the twins in and… Hey are those two girls making out? They need more alcohol. You’re not going to finish this, are you? Cool.”

Lucky for his little brother, Euhelopus is too drunk to care and/or comprehend, and manages to wander out onto the front lawn to pass out instead, but not before Pteranodon saunters over all like, “Dude.”

“Ugh… Hey where’s the girl?”

“She needed to pee, so I walked her to the bathroom, but then she passed out.”


“Nah it’s cool. She let me touch her boobs first.”


“Yeah. Erm, you know your brother let the Tyrannosaurus Rex twins in, right? Euhelopus? The twins…? Euhelopus..?”

Meanwhile the twins are stomping around the largely deserted living room with a bag of wine grasped in each little hand, taking generous gulps before spitting it out on the walls and carpet because it hurts too much to swallow.  Then one of them is like, “Whoa, your face herpes looks fully gross in this light.”

And the other one responds, all like, “Bullshit, it’s not face herpes and you know it. Plus yours is way worse anyway. Which is just as well because it takes the focus away from your ugly.”

“Ha. I’ll show you ugly!” And with that an all-out face-biting brawl errupts, their tails swinging violently into Euhelopus‘ mum’s vases, the Diplodocus’ bottle of Jack, and Euhelopus‘ little brother’s fish tank, sweeping them all onto the floor in a sharp, soggy, and occasionally twitching mess that would likely result in an enormous stained patch of carpet no one could walk on in bare feet for months.

At that moment Euhelopus‘ parents return home early and start furiously kicking everyone out, just as Pteranodon is stumbling into the loungeroom with a lady Pterodactyl (a different one) under his wing all like, “I can’t believe you just showed me your… Shit.”

Pteranodon, OH MY GOD, who let tyrannosaurs in our house, why is the carpet covered in wine and goldfish, and did someone give our budgie face herpes?!”

PLoS One (open access) // Palaios // Second illustration by Erica Lyn Schmidt.

– bec

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Filed under Archosaurs, Fossils, Museum Stuff, Science

Bet You Wish You Hadn’t Leaked That Sex Tape Now, Huh, Short-Nosed Fruit Bats?

short nosed fruit bat fellatio Cynopterus sphinx

A team of (confused? ambitious?) entomologists lead by Min Tan of China’s Guangdong Entomological Institute have just published a paper in PLoS One detailing for the first time the unusual sexual habits of the short-nosed fruit bat, Cynopterus sphinx. Observing thirty pairs of males and females for a month in Guangzhou City, they believe to have found the only known case of frequently performed oral sex in a species other than humans.

Hiding in roosts made from Chinese fan-palm leaves bitten into a tent-like shape, one sexually active male C. sphinx typically keeps the company of several females, their polygamy not only important for reproduction, but also for the defense of resources. When ready to mate with a willing female, the pair will sniff and lick each other before the male grabs hold of the female with his thumbs, shifting himself onto her back to settle into the optimum copulatory posture. Keeping a firm grip on the female by holding her wings tightly in place with his thumbs and the scuff of her neck in his mouth, the pair will mate, the female frequently lowering her head to lick the any part of the penis that has not already penetrated her, ie the shaft or the base, to better facilitate thrusting and intromission. Speculating that this behaviour encourages penile stimulation, stiffening, and erection maintenance, Tan’s team reported that the males were never seen to withdraw from the female while this was taking place. What they did find is for every instance that fellatio was part of the mating process, the duration of copulation was significantly extended – specifically, for every one second of fellatio, there were approximately six extra seconds of copulation.

short-nosed fruit bat fellatio

Suggesting that this behaviour held several adaptive benefits for the C. sphinx species as a whole, Tan puts forward four hypotheses in regards to the short-nosed fruit bat’s penchant for genital licking. The first and second relate to lubrication and penile stimulation, both of which serve to prolong copulation which can be a method of mate-guarding, and can also assist the transmission of sperm and thus chance of fertilisation. The third relates to the possible prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) between both the males and the females, bat saliva boasting such defenses as antibacterial, antifungal, antichlamydial, and antiviral properties. The final hypotheses relates to the chemically-regulated choice of mate. Hence, Tan believes that the purpose of fellatio as a significant part of the the C. sphinx reproductive process is to primarily increase the chance of fertilisation, but also suggests that it could possibly help to reduce the spread of STDs.

Alright, Short-Nosed Fruit Bats. I gave your lot the benefit of the doubt that time your Aellen’s long-fingered friends got caught doing sexual things to each other by a bunch of scientists, because it sort of seemed like they’d stumbled in on an intimate moment, the mortified bats like, “Umm, sorry, but would you guys mind not photographing us while our genitals are out? Thanks.” So I was like, “Yeah that seems pretty reasonable. At least they’re not making orgies in public like those giant trilobites did just for kicks and attention. God.” Plus I even paid you guys the courtesy of not mentioning your sordid harem-loving ways before because it isn’t really your fault that we like to snoop around your love dens/treetops uninvited.

But then you had to go and leak a sex tape starring yourselves, fellatio, and an inexplicably bad soundtrack and, well, it’s all a bit much, Short-Nosed Fruit Bats. You can claim that this is the first you’ve seen of the clip and that you didn’t even know you were being filmed at all, but considering your questionable behaviour in the past, I find that somewhat difficult to believe. And here’s the thing – you might very well enjoy hearing a handful of naturalists wax lyrical about your sexual prowess, suggeting that bat sex could quite possibly be the best sex ever,* but there are a few things your publicist might have accidentally-on-purpose neglected to tell you about sex tape leakage. Sure, it gets your name out there – that’s kind of their job – but just because people suddenly know who you are, my naive chiropterans, it doesn’t mean they’ll actually like you.

It’ll start out with the little things, like when you try to buy a few bananas because you’re both hungry and a fruit bat, the sarcastic gum-chewing checkout girl will be like, “What are these for, then? Practice?” to a chorus of self-righteous snickers from the housewives queued behind you. You’ll get fully embarrassed and mumble something about just wanting to eat them because you’re kind of hungry, but the sarcastic checkout girl will just make a face at you because, like everybody, she knows how to use Youtube, and was pretty grossed out by your performance. You’ll be asked to leave the premises because they think there’s a good chance you might start performing oral sex on their products as per your reputation, and the queue of self-righteous housewives will call you a ‘sicko’ whilst taking a collective step forward with their deliberately non-phallic groceries. Hungry and humiliated, you’ll tell yourself that any publicity is good publicity. Right?

But pretty soon you’ll start to notice it affecting your work too. You’ll turn up to audition after audition and won’t even make it through your very serious audition piece before the casting director will stop you, flick through your headshots briefly and be all, “So I’m assuming you don’t have a problem with nudity then?” You’ll open your little bat mouth to say something indignant, reconsider, then give him a dumbfounded frown instead as he tells you he’ll be in touch. Eighteen months of nothing but “Drunk Party Girl # 2” offers and it’ll probably occur to you that you’ve been typecast by the only work anyone can actually remember you being in. Then one day your agent will be like, “So how would you like to play a beat-down broken prostitute with a heart of gold in some new edgy indie film?” and you’ll launch down from your sulky palm-leaf roost, flap around furiously for a minute, then announce loudly, “OH MY GOD, I can do other things!”

“Oh, you mean anal? Fantastic! I’ll call the studio.”

Sorry, Short-Nosed Fruit Bats, but you brought this on yourselves.

* Besides human sex, obviously, because we get nice things like tea/email breaks.

PLoS One original paper (open source) // Not Exactly Rocket Science for more info.

– bec


Filed under Animals, Science, Video