Category Archives: Archosaurs

“The Oscars of Australian Science” – Eureka Awards Dinner 2010

eureka awards 2010

From one madcap taxi ride to Randwick Pavilion to regrettable post drinks at an open-till-5am bar on Oxford Street, the Eureka Awards Dinner is pretty much one of the best parties in town. Established in 1990, the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are awarded annually to those with outstanding achievements in science and science communication. This year the highlights included chickens with feelings, photogenic insects and nicely-dressed scientists as far as the eye could see. I love a nicely-dressed scientist.

Sitting at the Science Week table I learnt about Questacon’s badly-behaved talking robot who said inappropriate things to children before they removed and reprogrammed him, and watched the 19 prizes being handed out over dinner.

Chicken sympathisers, Chris Evans and K-Lynn Smith, trumped researchers working on a way to replace animal testing and saving dogs from inherited disorders for the Research that Contributes to win the Prize for Scientific Research That Contributes To Animal Protection:

“Groundbreaking research using new high-tech chook-friendly testing facilities challenges the concept of the feckless fowl… titled Sentient chickens: the scientific case for improved standards, it portrays chickens as social, intelligent creatures complete with Machiavellian tendencies to adjust what they say according to who is listening.”

Given that chicken was being alternated with barramundi that night, I’m assuming they switched meals with whomever was sitting next to them while they waiting in the queue for the bathroom.

“What’s barramundi?” friends from Europe asked me.

“An Australian fish.”

“Sounds like a good name for a cat, or a baby girl.”


A world-first collaboration between a cattle breeder and six scientists won the Prize for Research by an Interdisciplinary Team for their work with Meat Standards Australia, and Amanda Barnard from CSIRO the prize for Scientific Research as she develops an invisible, environmentally friendly sunscreen.

I visited the COSMOS table up the front where things were getting suitably anarchic, before the saddest moment in the evening when our two nominees for the Science Journalism Prize, John Pickrell and Elizabeth Finkel, were beaten by the ABC. Read Pickrell’s incredible piece on feathered dinosaurs and Lizzie’s elegant exploration of genes here and here.

I tweeted/texted double sad faces from across the room.

“Are you blogging right now??”

“No. I’m just texting…”

Guys, I’m not that clever. Sorry.

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Filed under Animals, Archosaurs, Art, Events, Film, Insects, Museum Stuff, Science

Science Week Begins With Melbourne Museum Stealing My Heart

museum victoria qantassaurus


Melbourne Museum – I could totally live in you. I know that sounds like something a psychopath would say, but there’s no other way to put it. And it doesn’t have to be the whole entire building, just the Science and Life Gallery would be fine. And yes, both floors please. Just rope it off and everyone else can go crazy everywhere else. Quietly. I get the dinosaurs and the taxidermy and the insects.

Except you’re going to have to move the spiders elsewhere, particularly the live ones and particularly the live ones that aren’t even in boxes. What is that, MM? I honestly stood there for like five minutes straight trying to come to terms with the fact that there’s literally nothing except a giant room-sized web between those orb-weavers and us, and I know they aren’t particularly dangerous and have no reason to come out of their giant room-sized web and mingle with the humans, but that’s not the point. They’re still spiders, MM. You’re playing with fire in a giant room-sized web.

Science on Show

National Science Week - Science on Show

Science on Show - Mammology Display

National Science Week kicked into gear yesterday and Melbourne Museum was the absolute best place to spend the first day. And I’m not just saying that because that’s what I did and obviously have no comparison. But…

* Live insects

* Museum experts

* Australia’s best scientific illustrators

I rest my case.

I began with Science on Show, which involved half a dozen display tables filled with stuffed, bottled and boxed specimens, Australian megafauna fossils and a model crab the size of a curled up human child and so on, all manned by various experts from the Museum. I got to pat a taxidermied tapir and made some dumb comment about how it looks like it’s stuck in a really powerful wind tunnel with that posture (well it does), rifle through a trolley’s worth of poltergeist-esque sea creatures in jars, and get mad at the terrestrial invertebrates expert for holding up two huge bottled spiders and making me compare their fangs. DO NOT WANT, as they say.

Then I may or may not have rendered myself the creepiest person in the building by deciding I wanted these for my livingroom:

National Science Week - Science on Show

Science on Show - Ornithology Display

Yes. Rows and rows of tiny dead birds. That’s what I want in my house. Jesus. But it might come as less of a shock to you now when I tell you I want this room as my bedroom:

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Filed under Animals, Archosaurs, Art, Events, Fossils, Free Stuff, Insects, Museum Stuff, Science, Sea Creatures

Wandering Ponies #5

For this edition of WP, I’ll attempt to take you on a roller coaster of emotions, most of which will hopefully be pleasant, and one of which, hopefully not. Unless of course you, I don’t know, find birds scary, squids lame, oil fantastic, and humour not so funny, then I’ve completely misrepresented this entire thing. Maybe you don’t even have emotions. Yeah, exactly. But regardless, I suggest you climb aboard. Unless you’re pregnant. In which case you’re going to have to sit this one out. Sorry, lady, rules are rules.

First up is photographer, Andrew Zuckerman’s, new book – Bird, and it’s one of the best things I’ve seen in ages. Described by Erin Estell, a bird trainer who worked on the project, as, “like Vogue for birds,” it features 200 stunning photographs of 75 species, including a baby-faced African pygmy falcon, the most villainous-looking ferruginous hawk you’ll ever see, and my absolute favourite, the secretary bird. You can see most of the photo’s on his website here (I’d post some here if I wasn’t terrified to my very soul by that copyright warning).

And speaking of birds, New Scientist’s wonderfully quirky weekly column about bizarre/extraordinary animals, Zoologger, has a great article on the amazing tool manipulation of rare Egyptian vultures. But before you go all, “Birds and tools = old news, GOD,” this particular story includes coprophagy (not quite as bad as matriphagy, but almost), a fascinating story behind the publication of the original research paper, and one of the best scientific journal titles around. If that doesn’t pique your interest, you can leave (but I’m keeping your shoes):

Zoologger: Vultures use twigs to gather wool for nests.

If you’ve ever simultaneously wanted to marry someone while wishing you could be that same person, you’ll understand how I feel about the Oatmeal Guy. Obviously we haven’t got the technology to facilitate the latter, so I’ll just have to keep working on the former. Regrettable fangirl confessions aside, he really does capture the absolute shit of a hand the male angler fish is dealt in his latest comic here. And when I say ‘absolute shit of a hand,’ I mean everyone else got regular playing cards, while he ended up with a handful of angry grizzly bears who just got told he stole their cubs and called them bad parents:

How the Male Angler Fish Gets Completely Screwed.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute never ceases to amaze with its constant output of incredible footage showing everything from otters holding hands to an inside-out vampire squid. Their latest video shows even more deep-sea squids zipping around and ejecting spawn and whatever else squids do for fun:

And finally,’s The Big Picture section has a few oil spill photo collections that are devastating to look at, but so, so important:

The Big Picture – Caught in the Oil // Scenes from the Gulf of Mexico // Oil in the Gulf – Two Months Later

But because I don’t want to leave you sadfaced, here’s a cat swimming in beanbag filling:


– bec


Filed under Animals, Archosaurs, Art, Potential Husbands, Science, Sea Creatures, Video

Wandering Ponies #4

Ahh, the Internet.

It’s been a while between Wandering Ponies and the Internet has been providing some mad lolz of late, so bear with me while I indulge. Or you know, try and enjoy the mad lolz. If that’s what you’re into. I’m not one to assume. Plus you look like a busy person. You probably don’t have time for mad lolz. I don’t know. Hey nice tie. What are those, birds? Yeah that’s cool. Hey do you reckon you could make an entire tie out of a bird? That would be wild. It’d have to be a pretty big bird though. What? Oh okay, you’re busy. Sorry, just saying I like your tie. Jesus.

Anyway, first up, one of the best services the Internet has provided in, I don’t know, a long time: BIG ASS MESSAGE. Perfect for those times when you need to ask this, or this.

When it comes time to give your kids Teh Drugs Talk, best you don’t show them this. Because giant teddy bears who cough up business men and whack giant pigeons with street lamps are AMAZING:

Novelty Tumblrs make me infinitely happy, and these two are among the best new ones around. There’s Godzilla Haiku, because you might be a hungry reptile the size of a twenty-storey building, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have feelings. And Michael Buble Being Stalked By A Velociraptor. Because dude has it coming to him.

Next, if you think Running Ponies has an unhealthy obsession with sex, and sea creatures, and sex, you obviously haven’t visited the Hectocotyli blog. Dude makes even me blush. And giggle like a school girl. Or both, simultaneously.

And finally, because everyone these days seems to have forgotten what ACTING is about, I give you: DEATH DISC:

Balloon horse by Andrea Galvani

Happy Easter.

– bec xox

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

Wandering Ponies #3

The Internet pretty much begins and ends with this. The vacant, cock-eyed horse stare. The tiny moustachioed gentleman with the shrunken, useless legs. The buxom peasant woman with the giant meaty paws. It’s got it all. You’ll probably listen to it ten times in a row before realising that you just listened to it ten times in a row before listening to it another ten times in a row. Youtube for techno, acoustic and heavy metal remixes.


For a number of reasons (or just one who rather inconveniently requires vaccinations during the ridiculously expensive Festival Season ) I’m still too poor to buy the t-shirts I’ve had on my WANT list for months. But those of you who are in a more fortunate financial situation might want to consider picking up a The Open Dinosaur Project t-shirt here. And if you buy one for me while you’re at it I’ll sing a song about you. In my head. And then I’ll tell you about it, that it was really awesome and stuff and you’ll ask if you can hear it but I would have forgotten it by then because I don’t write these things down. Sound good?

As close to a living theropod as you could probably get, the Secretarybird is pretty much the coolest bird ever. Too bad the zoo guy ruins everything with his shit jokes. You could recruit like twenty of these to form a personal army they’d be the most dainty deadly weapon ever.

Brand new site,, launched a couple of weeks ago and it’s a ridiculously thorough and nice-looking project run by the likes of Dave Hone, Darren Naish, John Conway (pic above by) et al. dealing with a creature we’re likely to hear a good deal about this year. Best make sure you’ve got your pterosaur general knowledge up to speed first.

And finally, the devastatingly charming Oatmeal’s guide for How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You. I know I’ll be sleeping with one eye open from now on…

– bec


Filed under Animals, Archosaurs, Art, Fossils, Science, Video

Your Friends Aren’t Just Going To Forget You Envenomated Them, Sinornithosaurus.

According to a new paper coming from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a particular type of small feathered dromaeosaurid might have been armed with a venomous bite. The study, led by Enpu Gong, centers on an unusual 12mm-long anterior maxillary tooth from a Sinornithosaurus, a predatory raptor and distant bird-relative first discovered in 1999 in China’s Yixian Formation. Not only does this tooth seem oddly long and fang-like, but it has a thin, distinct groove running right through it from root to tip, a feature which Gong suggests functioned as a channel for venom to pass from the animal’s skull into the flesh of its prey. Gong goes on to describe the hollow pocket in the side of the face as a possible venom gland, and the pitted canal running between it and the base of the teeth as a venom collecting duct.

Comparing the Sinornithosaurus with other anterior-fanged animals such as vine snakes, Gong suggests that it would mainly hunt small birds and mammals, using its long fangs to “grab and hold” its prey and penetrate the layer of feathers or fur to deliver a 6mm-deep poisonous bite. Describing the nature of the venom he hypothesises, “The poison of Sinornithosaurus may have been similar in properties to rear-fanged snakes and helodermid lizards in that it did not kill the envenomated animal quickly but rather placed it into a rapid state of shock.”

But Gong’s claim is not without its critics. No archosaur has been definitively proven to have been venomous as yet, so to state that the Sinornithosaurus was requires some pretty powerful evidence, and not everyone is convinced these grooved fangs provide that. Tom Holtz, a palaeontologist specialising in carnivorous dinosaurs at the University of Maryland notes, “They give a number of different physical features that they interpret as signs of poison or poison delivery systems but which, in my opinion, are more easily interpreted in other types of biological contexts.”

Interpreting the unusual length of the “fangs” as possibly caused by the teeth slipping out of their sockets, Holtz suggests that the grooves could simply be the depressions found in most theropod teeth, only more pronounced in this particular specimen due to wear and tear. The longer-held belief regarding the function of these depressions relates the teeth to bayonet blades, the groove helping to relieve surface tension post-penetration, ensuring a less painful extraction. Further, Holtz states that many dinosaurs have a small cavity in their jawbone, but these have typically been interpreted as air sacs required for cooling, not venom glands. And that the area of the venom collecting canal is damaged in a couple of Sinornithosaurus fossil specimens really doesn’t help to strengthen Gong’s and co-author, David A. Burnham’s case. No one’s denying the possibility of venomous theropods, but more evidence is needed before their claim can be proven definitively.

Arguments aside, Sinornithosaurus, say you did actually have this venomous bite afterall. I’d imagine it’d be the kind of thing you could easily get carried away with, but much to your own peril, I’d wager. Like, you’ll be playing Battleships at Chirostenotes‘ house because your housemate and his girlfriend are fighting about Mario Kart (again, Sinornithosaurus) all like, “Oh my god, did I not tell you last time I wasn’t going to play with you if you’re going to do those shortcuts? No I don’t want to learn how to do them. Fuck,” when Chirostenotes will be like, “I’m going to make a sandwich. If you cheat when I’m gone I’ll totally know.”

“But it’s like almost midnight…”

“Just because you can’t have carbs before bedtime…”

So you’ll sneak a look a his side anyway, because he pretty much just called you fat but you can’t say anything because you’re a guy and you don’t want to look like an idiot. But instead of, you know, playing it smart and littering your fake guesses with a few decoys so it’s not completely obvious that you’re a massive cheat, you go straight for Chirostenotes’ aircraft carrier the moment he gets back, and he’ll be like, “Oh my god, you totally cheated,” his mouth full of bread and some kind of tiny lizard meat.

“No I didn’t.”

“Yeah right. Hey what are you– hey! Heeey!”

“Oh. Sorry, I thought that was your sandwich.”

“Umm no, that was my leg. Jesus! Wait, you’re leaving?”

And before he can point out that if you bring a bottle of wine to someone’s house, you’re not really supposed to take the leftovers home with you, he’ll go into shock, and you’ll have a clean getaway.

But the only lesson you’ll learn from this whole experience, Sinornithosaurus, is how easy it is to get out of a shitty situation by, you know, poisoning your friends. Like, you’ll be at your girlfriend’s house and she’ll try on this hideous new dress she just bought and she’ll be like, “Does this make me look fat?” and it will, Sinornithosaurus, so you’ll be like, “Hey is that a cheesecake behind you?”

“What?” Ow!”

Your boss will ask you what the hell kind of report was that you just submitted (no kind, Sinornithosaurus) so you’ll bite him and take the rest of the day off. You won’t have any change for the bus and the bus driver will give you this look like, “Whatever, man,” when you try to hand over a fifty so you’ll bite him and then wait for the next bus. But while you might think this is all pretty awesome, remember, Sinornithosaurus, that it is only temporary. You’ll be at some party with your new girlfriend and she’ll be all pissy because you picked her up before she was done getting ready and then your ex-girlfriend will turn up unexpectedly all, “I don’t want to get into a whole thing with you here, but I don’t think you’re supposed to poison your girlfriend and then replace her two days later without so much as a phone call, but whatever.” And then your current girlfriend will get even more pissy because she didn’t even know you had an ex-girlfriend, let alone a fat one, and they’ll end up making friends just to spite you and you’ll end up bitter and alone. Plus your boss will almost definitely fire you when you attempt to turn up on Monday morning and he’s unlikely to respond too kindly to any requests for a reference or free stationery. Hardly seems worth it now does it, Sinornithosaurus?

* Fig. 1 by Emily Willoughby. Buy the print here. Figs. 2 and 3 from original study credited to David A. Burnham.

For more info: Dinosaur Tracking Blog // Not Exactly Rocket Science // Original Paper published by PNAS

– bec


Filed under Archosaurs, Fossils, Museum Stuff, Science

Wandering Ponies #2

While my brain eases itself out of the haze of Christmas madness, here are some things that have amused me of late:

It’s no secret that I’m a massive fan of Alex Wild’s photography, so I thought I should mention it here. What makes it so special is that the galleries are organised according to taxonomy, region, behaviour and life history, making it a dream to naviagte through. Not to mention the whole thing is just saturated with Wild’s magnificent ability to capture the expression and beauty of each individual ant’s face. From the delicately pretty Oecophylla to the almost dog-like Nothomrymecia, you’ll find it hard not to fall hopelessly in love with the ants after spending some time here.

If you haven’t been following the saga that was Matt Wedel’s involvement with The Discovery Channel’s Clash of the Dinosaurs, it’s well worth a read over at his blog, SV-POW!. One of my pet hates is people/companies who are too lazy and/or stubborn to project accurate science to the public, and this is a classic example. Fortunately Matt’s complaints were heard, and it looks like the mistakes are being rectified.

File this under #alliwantforchristmas. It’s also exactly what I’m like when I’m hungover and someone offers me ginger snaps:

Next up is a site I found (admittedly 500 Internet years late) through their video of Ben “I’m a Doctor!” Goldacre. Rather Good is like a cracked-out journey through the Valley of Bad Music across a bridge made of whiskers on a jittery talking pony named Claus. Personal favourites include Buffy’s Swearing Keyboard – Make Buffy say ‘hymen’ in an arguably sexy tone! – and the dangerously addictive Psycho Techno Hypno Kitten Snake.

And finally, because my love for Jack Bauer will never die, here he is interrogating Santa:


– bec


Filed under Animals, Archosaurs, Insects, Science, Video