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Posts Tagged ‘freezer love’

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!

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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)

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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

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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

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We are coming up on the 1 year anniversary of this blog. I’ll discuss that anniversary and do a retrospective when the time comes; I have plans…

But first: Frosty feedback time! I want to involve current blog readers in guiding where this blog goes in the future. I renewed the URL for another year, so there will at least be that much more, and probably more than 1 year, since I have plenty of ideas and energy left and am enjoying this.

Let’s let the poll do the talking – and you, too! I hope for some discussion- please, your constructive criticism and suggestions! What do you honestly want more/less of, or totally new, within reason? Maybe I haven’t thought of everything I could do. In fact, I’m sure I haven’t.

3 choices at most per user (you don’t have to use all 3), please. And I think the poll will allow new entries (“Other”) to be added (EDIT: Hmm, doesn’t work the way I thought it did. If you do click “Other”, please add a comment below explaining it. Otherwise I don’t know what “other” means… EDIT EDIT– OK, if you’ve read this far, I will find out what you put in the “Other” box (it shows up in my WordPress admin stuff) but it isn’t made publically visible- see here if curious).

If there’s something you feel strongly about, such that 1 vote just doesn’t cut the mustard, speak out in the comments below. (Sorry, no, the bad jokes and terrible puns are here to stay :) )

Go for it! I’ll let the poll run for a week or so. Blog lurkers, please de-lurk! I want to hear from you, too.

Thanks,

John of the Freezers

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…a daily picture of anatomy! And today it is four pictures; da-da-dee! ♫

Welcome back again, again to Freezermas! 

Today I’m shimmying down your interwebz with a late delivery. I’ve promised before to show how we clean up our nasty gooey skeletons to preserve them for future research to use. This is the intended final destination of all critters that are tenants of my freezers– the freezer is just a lovely holiday home, but bony heaven is the end result. I’ve accumulated a little museum of the bones of exotic animals I’ve studied, using these cleaned specimens. Here is how I do that preservation– there are four basic steps, and I’ll show them in four photos.

Stomach-Churning Rating: 8/10; first just dry bones, but then some gooey bones and by the end we ratchet it up to bloody organs.

Step 1) We get the deceased animal from various zoos and other EU sources, CT/MRI scan it, and dissect it. That’s what most of this blog focuses on, so I won’t show that. But I will show the end result, and then how I get to that:

ele-rhino-bones

Those are some elephant and rhino bones, some of which you saw on the 2nd day of Freezermas. Elephant bones are super greasy; it’s almost impossible to get rid of that brown grease visible in this photo (upper LH side) without making the bones brittle and over-bleached. The bones of the whiter white rhino on the right show what I’m usually aiming for. How do I get this done? Well, here’s an example for an elephant shank:

Cookin' up elephant shank

I take the elephant shank and make soup.  (above) An Asian elephant’s patella, tibia and fibula were dissected, frozen for many years (queued up for cleaning; much freezer burn occurred on this specimen— it was jerky-fied), and then thawed. I put large specimens in this Rose cooker unit, which is a big ham cooker with a heater unit at the bottom. My baby, a Rapidaire MKV 5-ham unit is shown; oooh, ahhh!

The Rose cooker is filled up with tap water and been set it at around 60-90C. Then I let it cook away! A brothy soup develops, and sometimes it smells rather nice (my favourite aroma is giraffe leg). Sometimes… it’s not so nice. We check it every few hours to top up the water and remove stray tissue, and then change the water every day or so.

An elephant shank like this will take 2-3 days of cooking, longer if only switched on during work hours. The key thing is not to let it cook dry, which happened once with a faulty Rose cooker that did not do its normal auto-shutoff when the water ran low… showing up to work to encounter some fire trucks and unhappy college Health & Safety rep is not a good way to start your day, trust me!

This step is only slightly different for smaller (<30cm) specimens. Rather than the Rose cooker, we use the lovingly named “Croc Crock”, which isn’t visually impressive but you can see it here. As the name indicates, we’ve mainly used it for small crocodiles, and it is a crock pot. (a helpful thing is to add some detergent to the water for these small specimens; then bleaching isn’t so necessary)

Step 2) Then I empty out the water through the bottom spout, do the very nasty job of cleaning out the fat and other tissue that has accumulated (think 20 gallons of goo), hose off the bone, and set it in a ~10% bleach solution for at least a day, or up to a week or so for an elephant bone. Once it’s cleared up, I leave it out to dry (for big elephant bones, copious amounts of grease may be emerging for a few weeks). And then…

Elephant shank bones

Step 3) I varnish the dry bones with a clear varnish, and let them dry. Here is how that elephant shank turned out. Pretty good! Finally, they get to join their friends:

The bone shelves

Step 4) The prepared bones are labelled, given a number/name that I file in a world class comprehensive electronic database (cough, get on that John, cough!), and they become part of my humble mini-museum, shown above. Voila! The chef’s job is finished. Let science be served!

Happy Freezermas! Sing it: “On the fourth day of Freezermas, this blo-og gave to me: one tibiotarsus, two Darwin pictures, three muscle layers, a-a-and four steps of bone cookery!” ♪

Oh it’s Valentine’s day, so, err, have a heart today. Have four, actually!

giraffe heart - 1 white-rhino-heart-Perez Windfall-ele 054

chicken-heart

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A quick report on an exciting event for my team, from this week: We got a box! A big one! With 10 frozen crocodiles.

Stomach-Churning Rating: 5 out of 10. Just 1 picture with some blood.

 

These come from a breeding centre in southern France, and died of natural causes. Here is a little, icy box of five Crocodylus moreletii, a species that has featured here before:

And five young Nile crocodiles (remember WCROC?), one of which seems to have had an uncomfortable encounter with a larger relative:

Science shall blossom from their demise.

The end.

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A short(ish) post, but to me an important one. As I’ve mentioned here before, and still mean to write a detailed post on, I’m on a 1-year Royal Society Leverhulme Trust senior research fellowship (pause to breathe… long phrase there!) to study the mechanics and evolution of the kneecap (patella) in birds. Knees are very cool, and the patella is one of the coolest parts of the knee. My fellowship is aimed at returning to my roots, i.e. my PhD research on theropod dinosaur hindlimb evolution (anatomical and functional), to focus in great detail on just the patella (this, not this).

The patella is a mysterious structure: a sesamoid bone like I’ve argued elephant predigits are, and probably the best known sesamoid, but still quite enigmatic– especially in non-humans and most particularly in non-mammals. Why did it evolve three different times, at least? What mechanical/developmental environment encourages it to form? Why don’t some species have them? Does the presence of a patella tell us anything about posture, gait, or anything else? Why did no giant dinosaurs evolve patellae?

Anyway, I now have a related PhD studentship that I need a great EU/UK-based student to apply for, and I’m casting a wide net. It’s a very, very freezer-based PhD: imagine cutting up the knees of the frozen zoo of critters that I’ve shown on this blog already, to your heart’s content! And studying fossils, and doing histology (cool imaging techniques with RVC faculty Michael Doube and Andy Pitsillides, along with bone uber-guru Alan Boyde), and conducting experiments with real animals, and computer modelling both experimental and fossil data… this PhD has it all.

Here are the details. If you know anyone in the EU/UK looking for a good PhD that seems to fit the bill very well, send them my way please!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled frozen organisms… and there is a fun post coming tomorrow!

The knee of an emu from my freezer, showing the many muscles and other tissues that connect to or surround the patella. It’s complicated, and that makes for fun science!

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In case you haven’t heard, Saturday, September 22nd, 2012 (today, at this writing) is World Rhino Day! The main websites include here and here.  Ivan Kwan has also posted a fantastic blog entry “Rhinos are not prehistoric survivors” for WRD2012- check it out! And if you haven’t seen the WitmerLab’s AWESOME Visible Interactive Rhino site, you really really need to (in fact, quit reading this and go there first; it is soooooo good!).

I’ve written about the global rhino crisis before, and about rhino foot pathologies. The title of today’s post may be “cute”, or at least goofy, but the real situation is as grim as the images I’ll share. I won’t repeat the explanation, but all five living species of rhinoceroses are in serious trouble. There’s a good chance that most or all of them will go extinct quite soon– see the previous links for more information on this. Javan and Sumatran rhinos are dangling the most precariously over the precipice of extinction. My goal in this post is to share the beautiful, complex and exotic anatomy of rhinoceros anatomy and movement, and the joy of contributing new scientific information about poorly understood species.

Stomach-Churning Rating: 7/10– dissections, and there are a couple of pics where the specimens are not so fresh, and there’s big skin, and a huge heart.

Baby white rhinoceros. Will frozen specimens like this be all we have of rhinos someday?

The purpose of today’s rhino post is to share a bit more; especially images; of the work my team has done on rhinoceros gait and limb anatomy; all of it unpublished but hopefully coming soon. We’ve steadily been collecting data since ~2005. Because my previous post went through some of this, I’ll keep it brief and image-focused.

First, a video of one of our amusing encounters with a white rhinoceros, at Woburn Safari Park. In this study, we wanted to measure, for the first time really, the gaits (footfall patterns) that a white rhinoceros uses at different speeds, and how often it uses those different gaits. We attached a GPS unit on a horse surcingle around the rhino’s torso, which measured the animal’s speed once a second. We then observed 5 individuals (1 at a time over various days), following them in my station wagon (estate car) across the safari park. We filmed them with a conventional camcorder to document their gaits, and concentrated on the two periods of the day that they’d normally be active: when released from their overnight barn, and when coming in for the night back to that barn. They got rather excited and frisky some of those times. The GPS belt then kept recording speeds for the rest of the day; unsurprisingly, the rhinos generally did not do much. I have to thank Nick Whiting, rhino handler, for his help making this research happen. I’ve been meaning  for too long to finish the final paper… soon, I hope! Enjoy this tense scene of a rhino investigating my car (driven by me and with an undergraduate student filming) then having a nice canter/gallop across the field (accompanied by my jubilant narration).

Like our foot pressure research, we aim that this work provides baseline data useful to caretakers of rhinos; for example, to test if a particular animal is lame. This follows what we’ve successfully done with elephant gaits and feet, translating basic research into more clinical application. But my major scientific interest is in understanding more about what makes any rhinoceros, even a 2-tonne White rhino, so much more athletic than any elephant (even a baby or 2-tonne small adult Asian elephant). As the video shows, they can use a variety of gaits including cantering and galloping, and trotting at slower running speeds. No elephant ever does that, and no one knows precisely why. The leg bones are more robust, but the muscles aren’t that dramatically larger in rhinos.

An Indian rhinoceros forelimb- note the characteristic knobbly hide, unlike the smoother, more elephant-like hide of a White rhinoceros.

Similarly, the anatomical work we do with rhinos is intended to not only be useful science for comparative biologists like me, showing how rhino limbs work and how they differ from those of other animals, but also to aid clinicians in comparing normal vs. pathological anatomy. For conveying that anatomical work, I’m lucky to have been granted permission to use a professional photographer’s pictures of some of my freezers’ rhino specimens– big thanks to James King-Holmes and the Science Photo Library. The watermarked images below belong to them. I ask that you do not use them elsewhere, honouring their license to me for personal usage on this website (and I will only use them here). I’m in all the images, which makes me feel weird putting them up here, but it’s about the rhinos (and freezers), not me. First: the infamous “rhino foot freezer”, featuring some of its denizens:

Second, a re-introduction to multifarious contents of Freezersaurus, but this time featuring rhino feet (here, a skinned white rhino foot that we had already studied):

…and inside we go (and I begin to get frosty and numb-fingered from holding a foot; my smile soon fades):

Taking a rest with the skinned white rhinoceros foot:

And now warming up at the “digital freezer”, our CT scanner, and preparing to scan another rhinoceros foot, which segues nicely out of this image sequence:

Now over to some 3D anatomy– segmented reconstructions of rhinoceros fore (top) and hind (bottom) feet, from CT scans; if you’ve frequented this blog you know the drill. Here, the longest bones are the metacarpals/metatarsals and the upper bones are the carpals/tarsals, then the bones near the botttom are the phalanges, which connect to the hooves (visible in the bottom image):

I’ll wrap up with a series of images of basic limb muscle anatomy from dissections we’ve done of baby and adult Indian and White rhinoceroses. First, here’s what a rhino looks like underneath the skin:

But ahh that skin, that fabled “pachyderm” skin! A rhino’s greatest defense is also a real chore to get through in a dissection.  Here, we enlist the help of a crane and hook, hurrying to get down to the muscles of this forelimb before rotting takes over too much (as with other big animals, this is a tough race against time even in chilly England!):

Here is a closer look at that amazing armoured skin; sometimes 10cm or so thick:

Back to the forelimb muscles– stocky and well-defined for this athletic animal:

(late addition) Here are the massive shoulder muscles, such as the serratus and latissimus dorsi (this is a left limb in side view; head is toward the left):

And now a close look at the forearm muscles:

And then over to the hindlimb, here from an adult Indian rhino, whose thigh bone (femur) shows the characteristic giant “third trochanter” (toward the bottom centre of the image), which is an expanded bony attachment for the giant “gluteobiceps” muscle complex that retracts the femur for the power stroke in locomotion. Also, this specimen showed fascinating anatomy that I’d never seen before: the third trochanter has a thin bar of bone that extends up (toward the bottom left in the image) to fuse with the greater trochanter, opposite the head of the femur (upper left corner):

Damn my photography skills, cutting off the edge of that image and instead giving a view of my boots! Anyway, another interesting feature of that femur: the medial (inner) condyle of the femur (knee joint surface) has a pink stripe of worn cartilage. This is indicative of at least a moderate stage of arthritis, shown here (look for the pinkness amidst the shiny, healthy white cartilage on the upper right side). It is an exemplar of serious welfare problems that some captive, and probably some wild as well, rhinos face:

(late addition) Back up the limb, this baby White rhino shows the massive thigh muscles, especially that “gluteobiceps” that attaches to the third trochanter, noted above, and also showing the hamstrings:

Moving down the limb, we encounter the glorious three-toed perissodactyl foot of rhinos, and the robust hooves/nails, which are reasonably healthy in this animal– unlike others I’ve seen:

And the sole of that foot, showing a fairly healthy pad, below. Toward the rear (away from the nails), it culminates in a modest-sized fat pad, or digital cushion, akin to that in elephants but far less well developed and lacking the false “sixth toe” (predigit) (see also CT scan movie of the hindfoot above):

Here’s a view inside that marvelous foot, showing the HUGE digital flexor tendons. These help support the toes against gravity and, in theory, can act to curl them up– although in a rhino’s foot, as in an elephant’s, the toes are more like a single functional hoof, with reduced independence compared to a carnivore or primate:

And that ends our tour of rhinoceros limb anatomy and function. Help spread the word of how precious and threated rhinos are; educate yourself and others! And if you overhear someone talking about using rhino horn for medicine, try to politely educate them on the utter fallacy of this tradition. It is this cruel, greedy, ignorant practice that needs to die; not rhinos. I don’t enjoy receiving dead rhinos, on a personal level, even though the science excites me. I’d rather have many more alive and living good, healthy lives. And my team is trying to do what we can to help others on the “front lines” of rhino conservation make that happen.

For example, Will Fowlds, vet and co-owner of Amakhala Game Reserve, South Africa, recently sent us some images of a white rhino that had been caught in a poacher’s foot snare some years ago. The poor rhino still was having problems healing– we inspected x-ray images and external photos and helped to make an initial diagnosis of osteomyelitis, a nasty infectious, inflammatory foot bone/joint disease. We are following this case to hope that the rhino recovers and contribute help where we can, but the tough job belongs to the keepers/vets on the ground, not to mention the rhinos…

Furthermore, we’ve done foot pressure research covered here, and here is an example of the data we’ve collected (image credit: Dr Olga Panagiotopoulou), showing high pressures on the toes and low pressures on the foot pads:

Big thanks to people on my team that have helped with this and related research: Dr Olga Panagiotopoulou (and Dr Todd Pataky at Shinshu University, Japan), Dr Renate Weller in the VCS Dept at the RVC, Liz Ferrer at Berkeley, and former undergraduate student researchers Sophie Regnault, Richard Harvey, Hinnah Rehman, Richard Sheehan, Kate Jones, Bryony Armson and Suzannah Williams.

A White rhino’s heart, with more images below, all courtesy of William Perez’s Veterinary Anatomy Facebook pages. A mass of around 10kg (22 lbs weight) is not unusual! (Compare with even larger elephant heart)

White rhino closeup: coronary arteries

White rhino: branches of left coronary artery

White rhino heart: right atrium

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Much prettier now!

With the help of Heinrich Mallison of dinosaurpalaeo and his student Sebastian Marpmann (now having finished the Great Giraffe Deconstruction), I did a quick cleanup and reorganization of the big walk-in freezer we’ve all come to know and love as Freezersaurus. This had to be done because some of the big stuff was becoming a terrible obstacle to cross in order to get anything from inside; cue health-and-safety paperwork nightmares. And yes, the ice penis is now gone. End of an era…

All photos henceforth by Doktor Mallison:

Emerging from Freezersaurus; most big stuff removed (note our giraffe's metacarpus trying to escape, on right side)

The big stuff. Emus, elephant feet, too much giraffe (metacarpus continuing to sidle away), and horse legs.

Carnage remaining inside; needed to be taken out gradually and reorganized, to make more space on floor for intermittent human presence (i.e. walking in).

Elephant feet, mystery giraffe pelvis, oh my!

For ME!?!? Aww shucks, you shouldn't have. Reorganizing the small stuff on shelves. PhD student Mike Pittman makes a guest appearance, delivering crocodile vertebrae.

Sebastian poses with giraffe buddy. We emphasize the Buddy System when dealing with Freezersaurus; she is a treacherous hostess. Note that Sebastian has also cunningly halted the abscondence of the giraffe metacarpus.

Job done! Farewell Freezersaurus! You look mahvelous! Wall of archosaurs on the left; wall of synapsids on the right, and sundry giant mammals in the middle.

And so we finished, and so you’ve now had a very intimate look at Freezersaurus too! Don’t you feel lucky? :)

This post was brought to you by the wildly popular Nü-Folk-Metal post-bluegrass band Mystery Giraffe Pelvis, and the letter K.

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