Archive for April, 2012

Like I said, oh hai! Wow, I wasn’t expecting all of you here! Enjoy a random photo of some awesome anatomy, Boing Boing universe, and thanks for the nice story!!

Note that an elephant’s heart does not end in the stereotypical single apex (point) at the left ventricle. Elephants have a 2-pointed heart, with two large ventricles used to pump blood to the body AND lungs… who else has this feature? Ahh yes, their closest living relatives: seacows (manatees, dungongs; the Sirenia)! Probably a leftover swimming adaptation. Big, muscular ventricles (the darker purplish tissue to the left and right of the yellow-pinkish line of tissue running from top to bottom along the middle) are useful for pumping blood against resistance, such as when using the trunk as a snorkel while swimming.

The bottom of the heart is at the bottom of the screen; you’re looking straight at the front of the heart.

Human heart for comparison, from Wikipedia; scale relative to pic above is not too far off (elephant relatively a bit undersized):

For more info on elephant hearts, see here and here, and for the hardcore anatomists, here and here.

And more about elephants from Inside Nature’s Giants, too!


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Good morning, Freezerinos! Here is a twin treat for you to puzzle over. Two things, perhaps rather squidlike at first glance, but not cephalopods. There is a conceptual connection between the two images. Can you identify both of these structures? Huge bonus points if you can identify the taxon they belonged to, but stabs at it are encouraged; there are clues in the images…

(labels have been removed to protect the innocent)

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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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Without further ado, what’s up with this specimen from The Freezers? What is it, what animal etc?


(admin note, 28 Oct 2012: Mystery Dissections 2-3 do not exist, mysteriously. At the time, in the jumbled freezers of my mind, they corresponded to Mystery CT Slice(1) and Mystery CT Slice 2. But we can pretend that MD2-3 are just an eternal mystery of this blog, subject of numerous conspiracy theories that you are welcome to expound upon!)

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There’s no better way to kick things off after a holiday than with a celebration of the Inside Nature’s Giants series, which I had a small part in early on, including these shots I took during the time they spent filming at the RVC >3 years ago (!?!?); most of these animals spent multiple holidays inside The Freezers:

Elephant arriving…

Elephant revealed

Private moment with elephant

Stunning emergence of The Guts

So you are impressed by the guts too, ehh? It was pretty amazing to watch it happen. The tension was intense- the animal had been dead for a while and was rather bloated. So cutting it open was a task gingerly taken…

Bloated elephant

RVC dissector Richard Prior stuck a scalpel in the upper abdomen when the time was right… the piercing whistle and the sulphuric odour silenced the crowd watching… and then quickly out came the guts.

Everyone was pretty amazed by the scale.

The guts just went on and on…

Not a 1-person job by any means.

Spreading them out to see the whole GI tract.

I waited patiently and watched the show filming; what a great, professional crew. Then I got to take the legs away for our research.

But not just elephants, no sirree! The Windfall Films/ING team filmed giraffe, crocodile and big cats episodes (4 total) at the RVC too; a crazy period of a few weeks (including a major blizzard that hit us during the croc filming) in 2009. Some of the stars follow:

Frozen lion waiting for CT scan, shot 1

Frozen lion waiting for CT scan, leg shot

Frozen lion waiting for CT scan, shot 2; eerily contorted pose

Frozen tiger waiting for CT scan, shot 1

Frozen tiger waiting for CT scan, shot 2

Frozen tiger waiting for CT scan, shot 3

…and here is the tiger’s head after scanning

…and I’m rather fond of that tiger’s neck– check out the hyoids (roaring/tongue apparatus in throat; bottom of movie)!

…and here is the adult Nile crocodile’s head after scanning

…and another view of that big Nile croc, just because I like how this reconstruction turned out

…and here’s one of the small (~1m long, 10kg) juvenile Nile crocodiles from the show, with a pilot CT scan showing the skeleton nicely- and possibly a last meal or stomach stone on the left side of the abdomen (bright white blob; I need to check this now that we’ve dissected it)

Foetal giraffe; stillborn; from the show, in process of dissection in our lab to measure its limb anatomy. Trust me, it looked –and smelled– better on the inside than it did from the outside. Eew.

How most of the specimens from the first 4 episodes ended up after all dissection was done (part of my/RVC’s collection of skeletons). Sadly, I did not get great photos of the 3.7m Nile crocodile or the two giraffes before they were reduced to bits, but I do have the skeletons and CT scans.

Giving a tour (including The Freezers) to A Certain Esteemed Visitor.

(Another) Gratuitous shot with one of the sweet old Red Kangaroos at Alma Park Zoo near Brisbane, Australia. Experiments on hopping we did there will be briefly featured in the new Inside Nature’s Giants show on Channel 4, 16 April @2000- details at http://t.co/SkjsMeVC.

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I’m off soon for a sunny break on the beaches of Morocco, but as an Easter gift to you, my (admirable, sagely, few, beautiful) readers, here is an image of two specimens, formerly from my freezers, to consider:


Both are the right pelvis (hip bones; crocodile pelvis is a bit broken toward the bottom) and femur (thigh bones) of living archosaurs– a 27kg emu above, and a 278kg nile crocodile below. The head would be toward the right side of the picture. A tenfold difference in mass between the bird and the crocodile, and yet some of the dimensions are so similar in both of them (femur length etc.), or so vastly different in the bipedal runner vs. the quadrupedal not-so-fast-runner (much bigger pelvis for leg muscle attachments in the former).

This image says it all. It is why I study the evolution of locomotion in land animals. It is why I am so fascinated by the transition from vaguely crocodile-like early archosaurs to modern birds by way of earlier dinosaurs. Anatomy, size, mechanics, behaviour, phylogeny… the photo captures all the facets of why I am so enraptured by research in this field.

It also might evoke thoughts of what features are expected in a terrestrial vs. aquatic animal, and thoughts of how some numbskulls still think big dinosaurs lived in the water (no I will not link to the execrable story from BBC today that I am thinking of!)…

I hope you appreciate it, too. Have a freezer-burn-free holiday period, folks!

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Heinrich Mallison’s photo-rific dinosaurpalaeo blog has the first of what might, if the Gods of the Freezers remain kind, be a series of posts on our dissections of some of the verrrrrry same giraffe limbs featured earlier on this blog. Have a brush with greatness- see the giraffe legs in deconstruction! For free! What more fun could you possibly have (legally)?

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