Deep Pterosaur Breaths

I cannot begin tell you how excited my children will be to learn that scientists think* giant pterosaurs may have breathed in a similar way to crocodilians when they get home from school today. Read Brian Switek’s explanation of the newest research at National Geographic Phenomena.

*Geist, N. R., Hillenius, W. J., Frey, E., Jones, T. D. and Elgin, R. A. (2014), Breathing in a box: Constraints on lung ventilation in giant pterosaurs. Anat Rec, 297: 2233–2253. doi: 10.1002/ar.22839

Cambridge University Museum of Zoology

Finback Whale Skeleton outside the Cambridge University Museum of Zoology - 2.5yo child for scale (Photo by Josh Witten - All Rights Reserved)
Finback Whale Skeleton outside the Cambridge University Museum of Zoology – 2.5yo child for scale (Photo by Josh Witten – All Rights Reserved)

For being a relatively small town, Cambridge, England, has a lot of museums. I already showed you the Sedgwick and the Cambridge Science Centre. Today we’re visiting the Museum of Zoology.

The museum is hidden in a densely built courtyard, behind lecture halls and other buildings. You know you’ve found it when you spot the whale skeleton.

Inside, the museum has more skeletons, but these are a bit smaller than the whale outside. Continue reading “Cambridge University Museum of Zoology”


This article was originally posted at Science 2.0 on 21 April 2010 as a follow up to my article What Do Ardi, Raptorex, and Komodo Dragons Have in Common?. In light of recent debate* about Raptorex’s identity I thought this was worth a second look.


Raptorex by Nobu Tomura (GNU Free Documentation License)


Normally, being wrong sucks. It’s all -10 points and you don’t get into Harvard. Sadness. But, not in science. One of the best things about scientific method is that it makes being wrong fun. That does not mean that scientists always like to hear they are wrong. We are after all sinful, prideful beasts like the rest of you – just smarter – just kidding.

A while ago, I discussed some relatively recent, amazing contributions of paleontology in order to illustrate that, while DNA may trump fossils for reconstructing evolutionary histories and the relationships between organisms, paleontology provides information on physiology and geographical location that can only be inferred by other disciplines. One of the discoveries discussed was of a 125 million year old, man-sized Tyrannosaurus rex ancestor, Raptorex, reported in Science on 17 September 2009. Continue reading “corREXion?”

What Do Ardi, Raptorex, and Komodo Dragons Have in Common?

This article was originally posted at Science 2.0 on 9 October 2009. It provides some background for the follow-up article corREXion? that has suddenly become relevant again.

Paleontology doesn’t always get the respect it deserves (or desires), in the molecular, genomic, evolutionary, quantitative genetic circles we run in around here. Blame the DNA. Sequence comparisons have proven incomparable in establishing phylogenetic relationships between organisms.

Paleontology can also irritate us by creating false controversy, which irritates the heck out of us. The fossil record is a sparse and biased record of life. Supposed “missing links” are often an artifact of this fact. Supposed discrepancies between sequence divergence times and divergence in form from the fossil record often reflect the fact that sequence divergence necessarily precedes any differences in form significant enough to be noticeable in the fossil record.

This means that biologists tend to relegate paleontology (fairly or not) into the roles of adding colorful detail. Therefore, it is particularly exciting when there are not one, not two, but three recently reported fossils that force the biological community to re-evaluate evolutionary hypotheses. Continue reading “What Do Ardi, Raptorex, and Komodo Dragons Have in Common?”

Predator X: Too Bad Ass for Peer-Review?

Predator X (Atlantic Productions publicity illustration)

Suffice it to say that earning the title Predator X should require a resume loaded with specific instances of statistically significant bad assery[1]. Big fangs or some kung fu lessons might get you Predator L or, even, E, but we are talking about Predator Freaking X here. By law, Predator X must be one bad mother. . .

Shut your mouth!
I’m talking ’bout Predator X.
Then we can dig it.

Predator X[2] was a pliosaur, a group of prehistoric marine reptiles (within the order plesiosauria) characterized by large body size, long heads, short necks, conical teeth, four flippers, and eating tasty things that had the misfortune to be smaller than them. Basically, pliosaurs were sea monsters, and sea monsters are already pretty bad ass.

Artist impression of the pliosaur Liopleurodon (by Nobu Tamura - CC 3.0)

Originally discovered in 2006, Predator X was the subject of a History channel documentary in 2009. Predator X was the subject of all manner of articles with the notable exception of the academic, peer-reviewed variety[3]. Hmmm, the publicize before peer-review strategy sounds familiar to me.

What makes Predator X deserve all this attention? According to the team from the University of Oslo Natural History Museum Predator X stands out even in a clade of sea monsters:

Its anatomy, physiology and hunting strategy all point to it being the ultimate predator – the most dangerous creature to patrol the Earth’s oceans – quoted in New Scientist (link to original press release no longer available[4])

Wait, did I just say University of Oslo Natural History Museum? What does that remind me of? Continue reading “Predator X: Too Bad Ass for Peer-Review?”

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