Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Utter Frivolity’ Category

Hey I almost forgot, it’s the blog’s second anniversary! What the hell happened this year?

Stomach-Churning Rating: there’s an 8/10 photo of ostrich guts here; otherwise 2/10ish.

I bring you tidings from the past and future!

I bring you tidings from the past and future!

This was the Year of the Rant, and I enjoyed ranting to you on this blog. Sometimes you ranted with me, and that was even better. It kicked off with that cat documentary that spurned me in a feline dismissive fashion, then I lit off on documentaries in general and how they should give more back to scientists (what a discussion in the comments!!!!). Ooooh that felt good. And helped me sort out my thoughts about the topic. And after then, I got paid more often and still did a lot of documentaries– if you haven’t been watching Secrets of Bones on BBC4, you should be weeping bitter, bitter dregs (and be scrambling to get access). Catch me tomorrow (Tues) night with some of our emus! They paid me reasonably and in return I worked hard for them; before, during, and after filming, and I think we all felt good about it. Or I did anyway. The show is excellent, so I feel even better!

Sneak peek from BBC4's Secrets of Bones episode 3... recognize anyone?

Sneak peek from BBC4′s Secrets of Bones episode 3… recognize anyone? (from their website)

But no ranting palaeo-related blog would be complete without a good T. rex rant, and I did that this year. Took a big dump on the scavenger-predator non-troversy. That went over so well, Slate picked it up- I never had expected that to happen! I also appreciated how many colleagues joined in to condemn the senseless perpetuation of this dead issue by the media and a few scientists.

There were also some posts on more introspective things, like the feeling of being lost that pervades both visiting a strange foreign city and doing science. And like how science needs both the qualities of a Mr Spock and a Captain Kirk. Those were fun experiments in combining  a personal, internal experience with a broader message.

Darwin greets Chinese visitor Microraptor in my office.

Darwin greets Chinese visitor Microraptor in my office.

When I asked for suggestions last year, you wanted more coverage of other people’s stuff, and so I did that to a degree, reviewing the All Yesterdays and Unfeathered Bird books. And then I fell off that wagon, which I may come back to. But along the way I realized I don’t enjoy writing about papers that other people have already published because, generally, I then lack the personal experience of doing the science and showing it in progress, which is what this blog tends to be about and what excites me on a personal, visceral level. Once the paper is out, I feel like the cat is out of the bag and it’s not as fun to talk about unless it’s totally mind-blowingly (A) cool or (B) idiotic. Anyway, I might do a solicited post if someone gets me excited about a paper before it comes out, or who knows, I may change my mind.

Entirely unfeathered Indian peafowl in matching views.

Entirely unfeathered Indian peafowl in matching views, with Unfeathered Bird’s author-illustrator.

I also posted on a fabulous blog that more people need to hit, because you may be surprised just how fascinating it is- Veterinary Forensics. I get the feeling often, both on my blog and from scientific colleagues, that veterinary anatomy/pathology issues are seen as “lesser science” than basic, even descriptive anatomy. Somehow, insanely weird diseases or pathologies don’t excite people as much as insanely weird “normal” anatomies. I know there are exceptions to that generalization, but I think it’s a common (mis)perception people have, and part of it is likely because those fields (veterinary medicine and zoology, for example) are historically separate, and people tend to see anatomy and pathology as separate things- as opposed to points along a continuum. Since coming to the RVC, I have come from that kind of a misperception to one in which pathology enormously enriches my understanding of form, function and evolution. I also love the “applications of basic science to helping animals live better lives” angle. We should all be trying to do that as scientists, but from time to time I notice that it isn’t taken seriously (I even get reviewers’ comments bluntly stating that it’s none of our business as basic scientists, or for anatomy/experimental biology journals to mention!). Whoops better stop there or I’ll be writing a new ranty post!

Can't get enough of this -xray GIF, so here it is again.

Can’t get enough of this x-ray GIF, so here it is again.

Darwin Day got into some of the vet-y issues regarding feet, in a post on hooves and then another on pigs’ feet.

Toward the end of the year I got some guest posts going, by two main people from my team: Sophie Regnault on rhino feet, and Julia Molnar on crocodile spines. I liked those posts a lot, and so did you, it seems, so there will be more of those coming in year 3. Quite a few are planned already.

One of my favourite papers I’ve ever done came out this year, by Vivian Allen et al. on dinosaur body shape/postural evolution, and that went nicely as a blog post with tons of extra context and stuff. Digital 3D dinos, what’s not to love?

I was on sabbatical for much of the year, so I was posting a lot about patellae (kneecaps) and how fun they are to study, which led to posts about basal bird skeletons and more, like Darwin’s chickens and a joke about cake that only I seemed to find funny, and ending with a grand summary of avian kneecaps. I also reported on some new (post-sabbatical) research, still ongoing, with Dr. Stephanie Pierce and Dr. Maedeh Borhani at the RVC, on how salamanders walk. During Freezermas, I plugged our new comparative cat project.

The mesenteries are so gorgeous!!!!!!

The mesenteries are so gorgeous!!!!!!

Speaking of Freezermas: It happened, it was terrifying, and we’ve all grown from the experience of surviving it. I had a blast dissecting that ostrich, and the x-ray pics were a hit with everyone, too!

Then there was random “freezer love” and assorted posts to give insight into the daily life of a freezer manager, such as doing an inventory and reflections on childhood. I snuck in a tour of Dublin museums and the amazing Crocodiles of the World near Oxford. I meant to do more of those “anatomy road trip posts” and still aim to.

And we ended the year by ending the ongoing drama of the Mystery Anatomy competition, starting off a new year with a new scoreboard. We got more poetic and lyrical in 2013 with the answers to those mysteries, and that will continue (groans from those who are poetically challenged).

Elephant skull mystery x-ray

Elephant skull mystery x-ray

Some brief numbers: view-wise the blog has been pretty close to last year; about 87,000 views in the past 12 months for a total of almost 200,000, wow! This year, Twitter just barely edged out Facebook for bringing people to the blog (3,134 vs 3,022 clicks) but then geenstijl.nl bizarrely brought 2,732! There was no big Reddit or other social media site moment this year, but various sites and links continued to bring in a steady flow of visitors to add to the Google-search-firehose’s. Thanks to folks who linked here!!!

What google searches brought people here the most often? The top 3 are the most interesting; the fifth one just makes me laugh because I’ve never discussed Deepstaria enigmatica anatomy here, but will continue to promote people finding the site by searching for it, if only to annoy cnidariologists:

rhino 83
giraffe 76
camel anatomy 62
what’s in john’s freezer 60
deepstaria enigmatica 56

I’m a little surprised “elephant” and “dinosaur” don’t bring as many searches here, but there are probably more sites about those animals and hence I get fewer of the hits. Looking forward to more hits on “ostrich anatomy”…

My two top rants were the top posts this year, and that’s no surprise given the comments and other attention they got. Thanks for helping by participating! Those were nice group-rants. Healthy and vigorous. Shockingly, a poetry round of mystery anatomy came in 3rd! People just liked the chickens + bones + poetry. Those, and some hits from year 1, broke the 1000-views marks.

Americans came here in a 3:1 ratio to Brits, which means that Brits punched above their weight per capita (~5:1 ratio)! Canadians, you tried, too. Here, have some back bacon of dubious provenance. :) Saint Kitts and Nevis with 670 views, wow! Very unexpected- you beat Italy and many others!

Most importantly, the blog has been about sharing my passion for anatomy (as preserved via freezers). I shared a conference talk about this subject here, using the blog as a prime example, to a warm reception. I want to try experimenting in new ways to use the blog to share things this year. I think you will like what I (we!) have lined up. Thanks for showing up and staying with me!

Read Full Post »

I’ve been meaning to revisit a Rankin-Bass (yes, of The Hobbit animated film fame!) classic stop-motion film, “The Year Without a Santa Claus” (1974). I grew up on it, and now I can share it with my daughter because she’s of an age at which it now won’t scare the shit out of her. Rankin-Bass also did that uber-classic Crimbo flick with Rudolph and the Abominable Snowman– they knew how to handle cold-themed programming, those folks did!

I still think of the “Bumble” almost every freaking time I reach up high to grab something for someone that is vertically challenged– i.e. this scene:

Abominable Snowman

I’m OK with being the Bumble. He’s pretty cool.

ThunderCats was rambunctiously rocking, too– snarf. The Last Unicorn, too. Rankin-Bass, R.I.P., sniff… Anyway, back to “The Year Without a Santa Claus”, and the topic for today.

The film has some fabulous big band music, especially in this sequence with smooth operator Mr. Snow Miser (and that blowhard Heat Miser; you know who this blog favours!). If you’ve never experienced it, or like me it’s been >25 years since you’ve seen it, check it out via the magic of YouTube:

Summer is coming to our northern hemisphere, and winter is coming to the south, so let’s all celebrate the cold/hot dichotomy together now.

Here is the whole film (50 min):

(for once I agree with a YouTube commenter: the Misers steal the show!)

No scientists were harmed in the making of that film. But there was no science in my post, either…

ICVM is coming

I’m writing my talks for the ICVM conference and need some breaks, for which social media is very therapeutic. But I’ll be sharing at least one of my talks from that conference here on this blog, so stay tuned– the blog will be featured prominently in that talk!

Sneak peak here, of the intro slide, to whet your appetites I hope–

ICVM2013-Hutchinson-morphology2

Extra bonus plug: Dr. Monica Daley, Senior Lecturer at the RVC’s Structure & Motion Lab, has a team that is blogging about their research-in-progress on using experimental studies of living birds to help build better legged robots — and using the robots to understand the birds, too! Check out their new ATRIAS blog here– http://atriasatrvc.wordpress.com/ and the wonderful video just posted, of Greg the Guineafowl’s excellent running!

(video by Dr. Yvonne Blum, postdoc with Dr. Daley’s research team; I take no credit)

Read Full Post »

I’ve been either super busy or on holiday and low on creative energy, so although I have five or so blog posts frozen in my mind, I haven’t progressed them far enough yet. To whet your appetite, they include a review of the bird book AND exhibit “The Unfeathered Bird”, a summary of our recent PeerJ paper on croc lungs (Schachner, Hutchinson and Farmer; see here and also here), a rant on optimality in biomechanics, and a summary of a new and (to us) very exciting dinosaur paper that is very-soon-to-come, and something else that I can’t remember right now but it probably is totally awesome.

But here’s an interlude to keep you stocked on freezer-related imagery. We did an annual inventory and massive cleanup (and clean-out!) of all our freezers, throwing out some 300ish chickens and other odds and ends, and finally loading all cadaveric material I have into a single database, which I’ll share here shortly! It was a long time coming, and took ~6 people about 4 exhausting hours; last year’s attempt was just a holding maneuver by comparison. Here is how it went.

Freezersaurus gut contents being sorted.

Freezersaurus gut contents being sorted. A cold drizzle was falling. It was not pleasant work.

Large specimens, especially horse legs, being moved into the walkin freezer.

Large specimens, especially horse legs and the remnants of an ostrich hind end or two, being moved into the walk-in freezer.

Research Fellow Jeff Rankin wrangles some horse legs into their freezer.

Research Fellow Jeff Rankin wrangles some horse legs into their freezer. I like this photo for his knowing smile as he stands amidst horse limbs spread akimbo.

Postdoc Heather Paxton helps sort out elephant foot tendons and "predigits" in their freezer.

Postdoc Heather Paxton helps sort out elephant foot tendons and “predigits” in their freezer. Nice view of our long line of chest freezers in action, too.

And, as an extra reward if you made it to the end, here’s what I was doing for the past week (check out my Twitter feed for more)– seeing amazing art and architecture and food and stuff in Rome, which is just dripping with wicked anatomical portrayals (e.g. in this image; click to embiggen and oggle the classical physiques).

Rome's Trevi Fountain

Rome’s Trevi Fountain

Read Full Post »

Chilly 1st Birthday to You, WIJF Blog!

It has indeed been a year of blogging now! And it has been a very fun year at that. Here is my look back at past events on this blog.

Stomach-Churning Rating: 8/10- some heavy-hitters in here, but to regular Freezerinos they will mostly be familiar.

giraffe-leg-CT

This blog’s first image and subject: giraffe legs and modelling.

NUMB WITH NUMBERS:

First, the usual consideration of statistics: wow! I never expected the blog to be this successful! I’d sort of hoped as much, but for such a niche blog it was far from guaranteed in my mind. However, the initial response was overwhelming: 4210 hits in its first month, many of them on the first day!

Since then, although the usual number of blog views are around 100-200/day, there are now 76 blog followers,  and a total of ~111,000 views! According to ImpactStory and Topsy, the blog has had 48 tweets (7 of them “Influential”), 111 Facebook likes, 105 Facebook comments, and 53 Facebook shares. Nice!

The biggest day was April 27, 2012: 10,564 views– ZOWIE! That was fun. More about that below. I’m amused that my very first post only has 85 views even to this date, but it didn’t really contain much.

Visitors tended to come from browser searches (23,243 hits!), in particular hunting for images of the feet/limbs of elephants, rhinos, giraffes and other megafauna (looks like my intended purpose worked– vets and other anatomists want this rare information!). Oddly, from a few of my tweets that got listed on my blog, “deepstaria enigmatica” (remember that craze?) became one of the most common terms (214 to date!) that brings people here via the intertubez. Giraffe anatomy and patella are also major sources of search strikes. Interesting!

But don’t dismiss the power of Facebook (4,399 oggles on WIJF total) versus the somewhat surprisingly smaller impact of Twitter (2,036 pings). I say surprising because I push the blog much harder on Twitter than anywhere else, but Facebook pages like Perez’s Veterinary Anatomy (>33,000 members/likes!) have done far more than my mere ~1,300 Twitter followers can. Other blogs like the Chinleana palaeo blog (1,008 palaeo-hits here) and the ubiquitous Pharyngula (791 athe-hits) have helped a lot, too– thanks to all those bloggers and science writers who have linked to my humble little blog!!!

Who are YOU? You mostly come from the USA and UK, of course, but Japan is 3rd on my visitors ranking, followed by Canada, Germany, Australia and the Netherlands. Russia: we want more of you, too. Monaco, Nauru, Tuvalu and Liechtenstein- you as well, please! North Korea, keep trying.

So this is all great; really great. I’m rather amazed.

Definitely the blog has succeeded in what I aimed: to present the fun, awesome, curious side of anatomy in all its raw glory, using the freezer as a common theme (although I’ve felt free to deviate from purely freezer-based science when it pleases me). And it has crystallized for me just how important and powerful a single picture of anatomy can be.

That is what this post emphasizes- the pictures of the year from this blog. Enjoy the walk down morphology lane.

MOST POPULAR POSTS AND PERIODS:

Certainly the post; indeed the single photograph; that stands out for this blog is that of the elephant with its guts spilling out, from my Inside Nature’s Giants post on 13 April (so it took 2 weeks to gather momentum before the views spilled out like so many bowels). In a single day I had thousands of visitors from Boing Boing, Metafilter, Reddit, Gizmodo, io9, pinterest (which still sends me a lot of hits daily), and more! So here once again is that beastly image:

Stunning emergence of The Guts

Stunning emergence of The Guts

The post even got re-discovered by Reddit (the dreaded repost), leading to another surge. 24,330 views of the blog post so far!

A distant second to the elephant guts in terms of broad popularity was the “how thick is a rhino’s skin?” image; another Reddit favourite; with 4,719 views of the post from World Rhino Day 2012:

Skinning a White rhino forelimb

But also the “Animal: Inside Out” review did very well here (2,338 views to date), which was quite gratifying because I did a lot of detailed but enjoyable research for that one. It continues to bring people here, long after the NHM exhibit closed (it is now at Chicago’s excellent Museum of Science & Industry), which is quite cool.

Thanks to the poll results from last week, I’ll be doing more exhibition reviews like this– see below. My favourite image from that post is this: the bull (but don’t forget the camel, either):

Great exhibit. No bullshit.

Great exhibit. No bullshit.

Once we’re past those top 3 pages, things settle down to numerous posts with ~1000 or less views to date– highlights include the big rhinos and giant rhinos post: Rhino humeri

And the post on WCROC the big Nile crocodile got a fair amount of attention, as well as my posts on our Ichthyostega research and vertebral evolution discoveries, naked dinosaurian ostriches, chicken meat, giraffe anatomy (many pages, but this one is relatively most popular), and then the series I did on the RVC’s Anatomy Museum (first post here).

Here are a few thumbnails of the greatest hits from those posts and some others– which do you remember and why?

DSC_0203 Mystery Dissection 3  DSC_0963a  Whole 2 Gratuitious Melanosuchus (black caiman) shot. chicken-viscera-myopathy Gratuitious rhinoceros leg.  Kitty Hedz it is defunct rhino_front  hippo_L_knee Wolpertingers Jenny Hanniver- "face" windfall-croc (4) The nuchal ligament, which runs along the spine and helps hold up that long neck.  The left cheek's teeth-- and check out the spines on the inside of the cheek! Keratinous growths to aid in chewing, food movement, digestion etc. These extend into the stomach, too! Amazed me first time I saw them, in an okapi (giraffe cousin). my-brain2 If this post bummed you out, just focus on these contented cats. An offering to The Master

…and we’ll never speak of the freezer-penis again…

Of course, there were the puzzles and mysteries, too. When I think of those, the image I think of most is this one; one of the first. Remember what it is? DSCN0880

I’ll be defrosting some new ways to puzzle you this year.

Personally, my post about my brain means a lot to me (and any zombies out there) of course, but also I’m rather keen on my entry on elephant biomechanical models (cheeseburger units!), and the posts about elephant foot pathologies and the rhino crisis also carried a strong, semi-personal urgency.

I also featured a lot of movies here- if you want to peruse them, they’re always on my Youtube account here– >22,000 views so far; not bad. One of my favourites is this one, of a pumpkin being smashed in slow motion:

Furthermore, in terms of effort writing and researching, my very detailed post on chimeras and Jenny Hannivers and such is very memorable for me, and more recently the Freezermas series was a huge undertaking– which gave me needed breaks but also soaked up a lot of time during some intensive grant-writing!

I predict that the pangolin post, in particular, will proceed to provoke a promiscuous proportion of people to pass by this blog.

But the WIJF blog has always been about including you too, my loyal Freezerinos– what about you? Please thaw out your memories of past posts and comment below on what sticks out as your favourites and why. I’d love to hear about it!

Eggs: full of bountiful promise and symbolism for the future.

Eggs: full of bountiful promise and symbolism for the future.

THE FROZEN TUNDRA OF THE FUTURE:

A final duty for this post, heralded by my poll earlier, is for me to peer into my frosty crystal ball and report on the future of this blog:

As promised, it will continue for a year or more; as long as I feel I have something new to say and someone to tell it to.

The poll convinced me, as I’d hoped, to venture into more reviews of museum/other exhibits that I visit locally or abroad. Now and then I’ll also tackle a new or classic paper, good or bad, that tickles my anatomical fancy, and give my perspective on it. The mysteries and puzzles will continue; I was checking in that poll to see what the enjoyment level was, and it is clearly still reasonably high. I’ll continue presenting my own research here, especially when it’s quite anatomical (stay tuned for something new and VERY exciting in a few weeks!). As I’d hoped, hardly anyone found the self-promotional aspect of this blog (presenting my own research) to need downplaying, but I think over the coming year you’ll see more diversity of what is presented in terms of current research by anyone. I welcome suggestions of cool anatomical science to cover. I will try to cover mostly postcranial anatomy, since other blogs/Facebook pages already do such a good job with cranial morphology, and postcranial is much more my expertise.

But generally I will just keep on keepin’ on with what I’ve been doing!

Examples of what’s yet to come: some close encounters with my collection of specimens– the cast of characters that populate my freezers. What exactly is there, and what are the odd things I haven’t yet even mentioned here? I’ll also just grab some specimens and thaw and dissect them for the purpose of blogging it (live-tweeting too?), and going through some of the anatomical talking points for each. And much more! You may even see Cryogenics, Yetis, or Snowball Earth come up in features touching on the theme of freezerness, general science and critical thinking.

But– IMPRESSIVE IMAGERY, again, is what WIJF is truly about. It’s what I’m about, too- I became an anatomist partly because the visually arresting nature of anatomy grabbed me and won’t let go.

Here are some NEW images to ponder. One is… unpleasant; one is more abstractly technical; but both are about the bewitching power of anatomy. The coming year will run the gamut between these extremes:

PigsHeads
PURPLE EMU WHOLE 1 _Se1_Im002

Thanks, everyone here, for helping to make blogging fun for me and for others, and for enduring my self-indulgence – especially in this post – but I hope you enjoyed a ramble through this past year in my freezers.

claimtoken-5140fe20ed3db

Read Full Post »

astro-dino

Keith Feinstein of Eureka Exhibits sent me this sketch he did, and when I expressed my reaction of hey-dude-this-is-awesome, he welcomed me to put it up on the blog. Well why the hell not? Awesome belongs here. Dinosaurs (especially space-tyrannosaurs) belong here. Astronauts go into space and space is cold– like an ultra-freezer? So there you are. Additional context: we’ve worked together on Eureka’s “Be the Dinosaur” simulation/exhibit and are now doing “Be the Astronaut.” I suppose this sketch foreshadows the next step: “Be The Astronaut Riding the Dinosaur in the Land of Badassedness”.

Stay tuned for a big post tomorrow…

Read Full Post »

…a daily picture of anatomy! And today it is two pictures, tra-la-lee!

Welcome back to Freezermas! And HAPPY DARWIN DAY! Last year our whole lab got involved in DD2012, but this blog was just a twinkling in my keyboard back then. This year it was a more mellow, somber occasion for DD2013. But Heinrich Mallison of the dinosaurpalaeo blog took part, and took photos (all credits go to him), and the result kicked ass and took names. Bring it on!

Darwin amidst the bones

Here is Darwin amidst a selection of greatest hits from my bone collection; post-freezer denizens. How many can you identify? Have a go in the comments below. A few should be quite familiar to blog followers… More about these bones later this week. Incidentally, Darwin is standing on a Kistler forceplate. So biomechanics afficionados can geek out about this, too.

An offering to The Master

And here I am hamming it up again. Give it a rest, John! But ’tis merely a humble offering to The Master. I’m sure he’d appreciate it. Any guesses what it is?

Happy Freezermas! Sing it: “On the second day of Freezermas, this blo-og gave to me: one tibiotarsus, a-and two silly pictures with Chucky D!”

(don’t know the song? Try this version)

Read Full Post »

Boo!

At the Structure and Motion Laboratory, we’re not boring scientists who robotically focus only on writing grants and publishing papers, much as senior management might want us to pretend. We’re human. We like fun. And we like Halloween. And brainssss! What follows is some good, jolly, Halloweenerly, spooky, sciencey fun that we came up with yesterday (in between writing grants and papers, ahem).

First, our surreal B-movie extravaganza: It Came From the Biomechanics Laboratory. See if you can piece together the plot:

(subtitle: Open John’s freezer… if you dare!!!)

And in case you want more of the ritual sacrifice of the pumpkin at beginning, here are two versions in glorious slo-mo, from our AOS high-speed digital video cameras:

and

Finally, an outtake from the film, in which Gary, the RHex robot from Andrew Spence’s Spencelab, takes his gory vengeance on a hapless cameraman, and then turns on his masters!

Thanks to our brave participants: Miguel Lamas (who compiled the first video), Luis “Demon Emu” Lamas and his squad of brave –but now devoured– emu-wranglers from the RVC, Andrew “Robo Arrigato” Spence, Jeff “Giraffe Leg” Rankin (nice acting, Jeff!), Olgascoob Panagiotopoulou-doo, Becky “Schrodinger’s Evil Cat” Fischer, Rich “Sit, Stand, KILL!” Ellis,  Hazel Halliday, and finally that unnamed plucky, cute little kitty-girl (lone survivor and heroine of our story)!

Happy Halloween… muhahahahaaaaaa!!!

Read Full Post »

(The following post has a Stomach-Churning Rating of 3/10; the dried fish may not get you, but the bad jokes could. A respite before I slap some freezer-spawned Grand Guignolishness on you in future posts.)

Continuing this crazy summer’s theme of anatomy exhibits in museums, here’s a different twist: using cadavers, or mockups of animal bodies, to create chimeras – fusions of the bodies of multiple species to create new, fanciful organisms. This post was inspired, and will be illustrated, by my visit to Salzburg, Austria’s Haus der Natur, which is well worth a visit for its eclectic cornucopia of exhibits. I’ve also read that the Field Museum’s Mythic Creatures is worth a peek. The post is particularly timely as true chimeras are more and more a thing of scientific reality these days (unsettling testimonial here), although lion-(dragon/snake)-goat hybrids are not coming anytime soon–we can all hope. Enjoy the links! I’ve added a lot of external links to more content if you want to further explore this post’s subjects.

Anyway, my favourite Salzburg escape (from Mozart overdoses that are an all too real- and lethal- threat) was the “Fabel und Mythos” exhibit in the “Mensch und Natur” section of Haus der Natur, which is about just what it sounds like: how natural history and mythology/fantasy intersect. That theme is a passion of mine, as a sci fi/B-movie monster/horror/fantasy film and book fan and as a scientist. It is a big part of why I became a scientist (especially evolutionary biologist/anatomist/palaeontologist) — the junctures of art and science, imagination and reason, fantasy and reality, fascinate me, and if teamed up with the grotesque, monstrous, whimsical and nightmarish, I’m helpless to resist, much as I suspect many of this blog’s readers are. So sit back and enjoy.

Chimeras (in the broader sense of mixed-up animals) have a long history of cultural significance, from Greek myth (and an atrocious recent film featuring The Worthington) even to the godfather of taxonomy, Carl von Linne, and his Animalia Paradoxa. The chimeras (and basilisks, cockatrices, etc.) have featured prominently in the art of the past as well as of the present. People today remain fascinated by the role chimeras and other anatomical tomfooleries have played in hucksterism and hoaxes, as evidenced by many online exhibits such as the Museum of Hoaxes, 15 Craziest Biological Hoaxes, April Fool’s hoaxes, kickass artworklamest hoaxesposts by The Bloggess, sightings of real (i.e. freakish) unicorns in real life, and taxidermy-gone-berserk sites like here and here and here and this cautionary tale; this also overlaps with cryptozoology and WTF-is-that internet fetishes. And let’s not forget the man-bear-pig. No, we shan’t forget that… Nor shall palaeontologists soon forget some famous chimeras in our field, particularly the infamous Piltdown man and Archaeoraptor. These hoaxes incidentally, ended up being not just a temporary embarrassment for science, but also an exemplar of how science is a self-correcting process, so frauds inevitably get unmasked– and in some cases (e.g. Archaeoraptor consisting of two very important legitimate fossils!), science makes new discoveries and advances in that process of corrective peer review.

First up in this blog post: the Bavarian Wolpertingers (leaking into native Austrian culture as the Raurackl; AKA Rasselbock, Dilldapp, Skvader and other names; and leaking into video games too)! The wolpertinger is a small and not-so-scary chimera, but often with fairy powers, and is very much akin to that folkloristic mainstay of Americana, the jackrabbit-pronghorn lovechild called the Jackalope. In contrast, however, the jackalope mainly has powers of being a lame souvenir, although fable has it they are prone to ventriloquism, pugnaciousness and whiskey– a fearsome combination (don’t try this at home). This panel from the museum illustrates the diversity and anatomical disparity of Wolpertingers:

And the museum did a great job making some physical chimeras using the wonders of taxidermy… aww, do you want one of your own now?

With closeups below–e.g. the jackalope from hell:

A flight of fancy?

Some quizzical quackery:

Echt toll, meine Freunde! A bit more about wolpertingers and their kin is here. Pokemonologists, take notes. People laughing at the alternative name for wolpertingers, “poontingers,” behave…

One can hardly discuss chimeras and fake animals/taxidermy hoaxes without getting into mermaids (no, I won’t discuss THAT recent TV debacle) and then into Jenny Hanivers; “devil fish”, seabishops or sea fairies. The hanivers go back to at least the 16th century, even being used by sailors to prove they’d had an exotic adventure after their voyages, or sold to supplement their meager salaries. There is plenty written on this phenomenon and how numerous people were skate punk’d (AHEM) by a simple dried fish. But then, skates (not to be confused with an altogether different, but related, kind of chimera) do look odd, and many people don’t know their anatomy or are just credulous, prone to self-deception and confirmation bias.

Stuart Pond was so kind as to send pics of a J.H. that he has in his shed (spinoff potential: What’s in Stu’s Shed???) for me to share— thanks again man! Note the apparent “legs” (probably organs used in mating’; claspers; but sometimes just snipped bits of the tail, which is also evident here):

Obviously the typical Jenny Haniver is a skate that has been messed with a bit to emphasize the humanoid features, but then there’s a sucker born every minute, and PT Barnum famously took advantage of that rhythmic nativity in the 1842 hoax he called the Fiji (Feejee) mermaid, which was a monkey’s head/torso with fish body and papier maché coating. Below, a wolpertinger-like “horn” is visible; this is the remnants of a nasal process of the chondrocranium of the ray; the flanges to either side of it are parts of the front of the head that have been cut apart to make the haniver’s head look more humanoid:

With a “face” only a mermother- or chondrichthyologist- could love– note that the “eyes” are actually nasal openings:

And thanks to Sven Sachs for some extra photos of a Jenny Haniver at the Zoological Museum Liege in Belgium– thanks Sven!:

 

But, in the world of academic science, there is perhaps no greater you-fools-I-invented-a-fanciful-critter hoax/joke than the Rhinogradentia (snouters, or rhinogrades), rumoured in 1905 but first described in Gerolf Steiner/Harald Stümpke’s (latter= pseudonym; AKA Karl D.S. Geeste, Hararuto Shutyunpuke) wonderfully over-the-top, tongue-in-cheekish 1957 faux-scientific monographic book Bau und Leben der Rhinogradentia. Darren Naish‘s blog Tetrapod Zoology (along with others, in 4 parts) has done far better justice to the snouters than I could ever hope to, and others have contributed to the legend. But at least I can share some pics of the first reconstructed (or were they, hmm…?) rhinogrades I’ve ever seen in physical form (again from the Haus der Natur):

Here are the closeups; first Orchidiopsis rapax:

And next Otopteryx volitans:

Last but not beast, an infamous nasobeme, Nasobema lyricum!

Whether this post was hit or myth, please contribute more thoughts, stories and pictures in the Comments below. What’s your favourite hoax story, conglomerated creature, misidentified monstrous mushwee little false beastie or taxidermy horror/beauty? Why do you enjoy fanciful creations like these?

And watch out- those chimeras can pack a whallop!

Read Full Post »

Utterly puerile post ahead. I was just in one of those silly moods… Six-year-old daughter, lately with a strong potty-humour tendency, will do that to you. So with that forewarning in mind…

I was rummaging around in the back of Freezersaurus yesterday and was quite surprised to encounter this:

I am deeply, deeply disturbed. And shocked. And a bit violated. Cover your shame, Freezersaurus! Now, I’ll freely admit, penises are great. Hilarious floppy bits to the common person, and fascinating adaptations to the scientist; e.g., duck penises, alligator penises… I’ll never forget the time my invertebrate zoology teacher showed a video of barnacle penises (immobile animals that need to reproduce by copulation– you do the math). But I digress. I was conveying my disturbed feelings about this blatant ICE PENIS in my freezer. Clearly Freezersaurus was either very happy to see me; perhaps titillated by all my rummaging around; or I need to get out more and get my mind out of the anatomical gutter. C’mon, look closer:

In any other place, it might just be an icicle. But here, under the baleful Eye-of-Sauron-like gaze of Freezersaurus’s fan unit, it can be only one thing. Penisicle. I’m not sure what to do with it now. It was such an awkward moment, I had to back off and leave The Freezer to its privacy. Not sure if I can go back there, especially not alone.

My therapy sessions start Monday. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. In the meantime: My gift to you: another emanation from The Freezer; because the last Mystery Dissection pic was too hard and then too easy after a not-so-subtle nudge…

Read Full Post »

hypnotosov comments that “a band named \\\Maytag uses refrigerator sounds as the basis for ambient black metal” and I could not resist delving deeper into this revelation; nor could many others, it seems.

Indeed, the “music” that resulted from their efforts is suitably majestic for this blog. CoverFeast your ears on this gem that is awesomely entitled “The Saga of the Frostbitten Lands of Frigidaire”:

And if that’s not enough aural assault for you, they are on Myspace; rejoice! I’m more of a “Frost Hammer” metalhead man myself, but I can appreciate a song like “I’m On a Fridge.”

In other news that is cold off the presses, here is an explanation of the phenomenon of freezer burn. And a Burning Man event held in the frigid wastes of Alberta, called Freezer Burn. Well I didn’t know of these things, anyway! I am learning as I go. No Siberian sage am I. Amazing what you can learn when you google random phrases. Just stay away from subjects like freeze-dried pets if you know what’s good for your sanity. Or don’t. Some sojourns down the rabbit hole are not meant to be taken.

To fit with the randomness and WTF-ness that infests this post, ponder this picture. I’ll discuss it in the next post.

Image

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 209 other followers