Sunday, 29 November 2015

Stuck For A Palaeo Gift? Decision-Making Just Got Easier...

Picky Palaeo People

This is shameless self-promotion whereby I suggest you buy my art on t-shirts, mugs, hoodies, and whatever else Redbubble keeps in stock, and as such, I'll not be spamming the Facebook groups (just the Twitter hashtags). If you're one of those people who is lucky enough to count a palaeontologist amongst the inhabitants of your Christmas gift list, then you could do far worse (I think!) than take a look at my Redbubble gallery and peruse the palaeo-themed graphics and doodles which populate its pages.

An ichthyosaur, plesiosaur and pterosaur, in the style of Pacific Northwest Amerindians, plus Yi qi in the style of the crows from Disney's Dumbo. (Copyright © Gareth Monger.)

Is there an ichthyosaur nerd in your life? Sorted! Do you know of a plesiosaur fancier out there who's still wearing the shoddy transfer t-shirt they made at college in 1990? Upgrade them! Are you sick to death of hearing your neighbours argue because one of them is perpetually frustrated by the lack of Yi qi apparel in the palaeoverse? This might be the fly-remover for their ointment!

(L-R) The Palaeoplushies Queen, Rebecca Groom, wearing the Haida ichthyosaur; 'How Train Your Velociraptor'; a road sign we'd all like to see more of; 'tyrant teen', Tristan Stock, looking buff whilst wearing 'The Membraned Crusader'. 

So pop along to the 'GaffaMondo' gallery at Redbubble and take a peek. There you will find a good chunk of the supporting graphics, doodles and cartoons which I generated over the last twelve months, which is, coincidently, Pteroformer's first year online. With luck, I'll be able to add to this collection over the next twelve months, perhaps producing images to commemorate further new discoveries, as I did for Yi qi. Needless to say, Pteroformer isn't a commercial site (in the sense that I'm not paid to write it) so any money made on the back of it is very gratefully received - plus it means I can keep it ad-free. And don't forget, you'll be supporting original palaeoart, which means that you're joining the good fight against shitty broken-wristed raptors clad in ill-fitting snakeskin pyjamas. Not so good if you have a feather allergy, but it's a small price to pay to get away from 1990s shrink-wrap hell.

Support Original Palaeoart

You'll notice the Support Original Palaeoart graphic - it doesn't mean I'm endorsed, just that I'm one of many supporting the movement, spearheaded by Mark Witton, John Conway and Darren Naish. You can read all about it over at Mark's blog, here.

Late Announcement!

David Orr has just published an article at Love In The Time Of Chasmosaurs, giving a brief run-down of some of the palaeontology-themed artwork, books and other bits you can buy, including work by Ricardo Delgado, Fred Wierum, Levi Hastings, Jon Davies, Juan Carlos Alonso, Matt Martyniuk, Brynn Metheney and Angela Connor. Happily, I got a mention too - as did David's, and his wife Jennie's, great early learner's book, Mammoth Is Mopey. I've got a copy; one day I might let my kids look at it.

Next up: Celebrating 20,000 page views with pterosaur papercraft!

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Skimming Rhamphorhynchus (or Rynchops For The Win)

Tropy Palaeo-Cliché

There are plenty of palaeoart examples of Rhamphorhynchus skim-feeding in the style of the extant tern-like bird, Rynchops. It's understandable - after all, Rhamphorhynchus is a seagoing pterosaur with a mouthful of forward-pointing teeth, occasionally preserved with the remains of its fishy meals within it. Factor that stuff together, and it's easy to imagine Rhamphorhynchus zipping along just above the surface of some shallow Jurassic sea, thrusting forward with its mandible slicing the water's surface, and snatching morsels of food as it finds them.

Humphries and Chums' 'Just Say No!' Campaign

In a 2007 paper investigating the possibilities of pterosaurs engaging in skim-feeding, Humphries et al found few adaptations towards this method of prey-capture, with the skull lacking the types of reinforcement seen in Rynchops. Read the paper here. Despite the refutation of the idea, it's a persistent one in palaeoart, probably in part because it makes for attractive images. Thanks to Humphries et al, this is probably as close as I dare get to showing a rhamph skimming:

Rhamphorhynchus experiments with skim-feeding, remembers why it doesn't. (Copyright © 2015 Gareth Monger)

Anyway, none of that is what you'd call new news - I just wanted to draw a cartoon of a pterosaur.


Humphries S, Bonser RHC, Witton MP, Martill DM (2007) Did Pterosaurs Feed by Skimming? Physical Modelling and Anatomical Evaluation of an Unusual Feeding Method. PLoS Biol 5(8): e204. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050204

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Groovy Swan Beaks

Blogged out

Here's a drive-by blogging, just to get things warmed up after a few quiet weeks. Truth is, the art retail company I work for got wind of my non-day-job blogging and the inevitable happened: yup, I'm now blogging for them, too. Not that that's a problem, you understand; it's all in work's hours and there's no overlap in subject matter, so I'm not repeating myself. Despite having had two or three Pteroformer articles pretty much ready to go for some time, I have felt somewhat 'blogged out'.

TetZoo Time! and Beware! the Zine

That's not to say I've done nothing else. I shot out a brief TetZoo Time! strip to keep things fresh there, whilst Alberta Claw and John Turmelle were between academic years and I also continued work on another blog, Beware! the Zine, which I run with longtime co-conspirator, Andy Brain. Keep an eye out for TetZoo Podcats references (hint: they're here and here). There are also a couple of books in the works, which I'll come back to nearer to the times of their respective completions - if only because I find estimating end dates for such projects rather difficult! On top of all that frantic activity and inactivity, I was happy to notice a couple of my diagrams used in an article at an infamous fringe paleo site (even if it was just to point out how silly they are) but not so pleased to see that attribution seemed too difficult a step.

Got close to swan; arms not broken

Despite the considerable risk to my personal safety, I recently baited a rock with bird seed and photographed Britain's most dangerous extant theropod feeding, up close. Forget cassowaries, even maximum ones. I don't know what kids are taught in the rest of the world, but in '70s and '80s Britain, children found themselves herded into school sports halls so that government-sponsored liaison officers could expound the dangers of getting too close to swans with families. "A fully-grown swan can break a man's arm with its wing!" was what we were all told, without a hint of irony. The girls were safe, seemingly. So too were the boys, at least until they had got puberty out of the way. Swans only target men's arms.

During the '80s and '90s, I attended a local branch of the Scouts, and we would visit the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust in Welney, Cambridgeshire, where thousands of waterbirds would overwinter during the seasonal floods. WWT staff were mostly female in those days, owing to the disproportionate number of men injured in horrifying attacks by mute swans. We can only speculate that they never heard them coming. In fact, archaeological evidence has shown that over half of the adult male skeletons in Romano-British cemeteries for the Fens had healed or healing fractures of their humeri, radii and ulnae, some still with the imprints of swan feathers on their surfaces.

The business end of the swan

Leaving fantasy aside for a moment, one particular photo of a mute swan is worth a share. St. Anne's-on-the-Sea in Lancashire has a biggish ornamental pond situated in Ashton Gardens, its main park. Several species of a wetland bird call it home, including swans, mallards, moorhens and canadian geese. Excepting the moorhens none of them are particularly skittish, which is a shame since it's not too long since an unleashed terrier took the head off one of the swans. On the plus side, it makes getting close to them a bit easier, and they'll readily take food, with younger ducks happy enough to take it from your hands.

A swan. A swan and its pigeon prey. (Copyright © Gareth Monger.)

Now, I've not spent much time staring down the barrel of a swan, basically for the reasons mentioned above. A lot of people are familiar with the 'teeth' of ducks, geese and swans, and a good chunk of those people are aware that they're not true teeth.

Mute swan (Cygnus olor) displaying lamella and corresponding grooves (unless the corresponding grooves are also called lamellae - available diagrams didn't seem to agree). (Copyright © Gareth Monger.)

Mute swans (Cygnus olor), like the one in this photo, are generally herbivorous, and use an array of lamellae in their beaks to gather aquatic plants and separate inedible material from the mix. These rib-like projections in the upper and lowers beaks interlock neatly, though they're not always obvious from the outside. After all, unlike Hollywood's dinosaurs, extant dinosaurs don't spend every waking hour with the mouths hanging open, screaming at stuff.

Highly-detailed and extremely serious scientific diagram, showing a duck's head with lamellae exposed. Note fleshy projections forming a fringe on the lateral margins of the tongue. (Copyright © Gareth Monger.)

So there you are. Swans, geese, ducks, and a bunch of other birds, have weird rib-like features lining their beaks, improving their ability to grip food and separate out the nice bits from sediment and other, less interesting, items. Some birds take it further than others, such as flamingos, which have an arrangement which allows them to filter small invertebrates from the water. A bit of a long blog when all I wanted to do was wave a photo under your noses, but hey, it's been a while. See you soon.