The Skeleton in Silhouette

Fans of the Biodiversity Heritage Library and their amazing work making valuable old zoological manuscripts freely available online might have seen that they now have an absolutely exceptional Flickr site. It’s got thousands of beautiful old zoological and botanical illustrations and is an absolute joy to browse through. I came across this book, Die vergleichende Osteologie, CH Pander and E d’Alton, published from 1821-1838 as a series of folios dealing with different parts of the animal kingdom, albeit with some quirky taxonomy compared to today. It’s a pretty cool old example of an art style that’s frequently used by palaeontologists today, ie. silhoutted skeletons showing the soft tissue outlines around the bones. I’d love to know how common this kind of illustration style was at the time! Here’s just a couple of samples of some of my favourites, but there’s many more in the book, so go check out the Flickr page!

Pangolin! (Manis crassicaudata) Continue reading

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Life on the Edge

Storytime! When I was an undergraduate student at Dalhousie University, BACK IN THE DAY, I spent my summers making slides of rocks brought up by drills from offshore Nova Scotia and identifying and counting coccoliths (or, nannofossils). One of my supervisors for these projects was Dave Scott, a micropalaeontologist who also taught me invertebrate palaeontology at Dal. One day, unprompted, Dave offered up the fascinating personal tidbit that he hated seals, and when pressed for some kind of explanation for hating such a universally beloved animal, explained that it had to do with his time spent on Sable Island many years ago. Sable Island is a ridiculous, giant sand dune that is, hilariously, part of Halifax despite being located 300 km away in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s inhabited by feral horses, about 5 human beings, and seals, and that’s about it. Why did Dave hate the seals on Sable Island? “One hissed at me.”

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Evolution at the Zoo

Zoos, aquaria, and natural history museums all showcase amazing biological diversity in their exhibits, but after years of visiting both kinds of institutions across the globe, I’ve noticed that zoos emphasize different messages than natural history museums. Natural history museums are great at telling the story of evolution, and explaining the science behind evolutionary biology, through exhibits based on palaeontology and biodiversity. Museums do a great job of explaining the role of extinction in shaping diversity in the past, and modern exhibit renewals are often doing a great job of linking changes in Earth’s history to the changes we see around us today.

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Rhinos and dinos and whales, oh my!

A few weeks ago I took a road trip down to visit the smaller Arbour sibling who is currently based at the University of Washington, and we made a point of visiting the Burke Museum on campus. The museum is about to be on the move, so in a couple of years this post will be out of date – despite it getting some shiny new digs in the near future, it’s still a pretty impressive museum for a university campus, and it has some unique treasures! Let’s get to it!

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Heroes in a half shell

In my continued quest to betray my dinosaurian research roots, I went to the American Museum of Natural History in New York to look at turtles! And what turtles they were – this is the skull of Ninjemys (the ninja turtle!), a giant meiolaniid turtle from Australia. Meiolaniids are the best turtles you’ve never heard of and it’s a crying shame that they don’t feature more prominently in prehistoric popular media.

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