Things I Found This Week: April 12-18 2014

La Brea’s megafauna attracts the visitors, but a fossil bee tells the real story of California’s past.

A grad student recreated a fossil plant and it’s beautiful.

And the debate continues: Commercialization of fossils.

Geological maps of Middle-Earth.

A map of the United States based on the nearest National Park.

A map of the places in the United States where no one lives.

Dying in a Living Room‘: the exotic pet trade is a dangerous thing.

How living walls save lions and cattle.

Another GoPro, this time a view from beneath a giraffe, and another inside a leopard’s mouth.

Stop calling hyenas disgusting.

Sleeping on the job: guard dogs mated with wolves.

Best job I’d never heard of: polar bear poop tracker.

Alligator snapping turtles turned out to be 3 different species, but either way they’re endangered.

What do golf courses have to do with salamanders?

Don’t worry, you don’t actually swallow spiders in your sleep!

The discovery of a new insect sex organ!

How ferns became masters of shadow.

The truth about the Gulf oil spill.

Human Races May Have Biological Meaning, But Races Mean Nothing About Humanity‘.

How is Captain America like a Wood Frog?

Your cell phone can hear if you’re depressed.

Brazil is a dangerous place for environmentalists.

Clouds blocked my view, but did you get to see the lunar eclipse ‘Blood Moon’?

Really, you should watch Cosmos.

What do we know about ‘The Waters of Mars‘?

Saturn may have spawned a new moon.

Like 2048, but with chemistry.

The eastern United States might have been cold, but for the rest of the world, this winter was warm.

Ontario, Canada has stopped using coal to generate electricity.

What happens to a Peep in a vacuum?

A statistical analysis of paintings by Bob Ross.

People Like Their Music Served Medium Funky‘.

The best gif. Ever.

Alex Dainis finally has another Bite Sci-zed video!


This Week I Found: February 1-7 2014

Another story of new species hidden in plain sight: this time in a boulder at an elementary school.

Monarch butterfly populations have plummeted to record lows.

Animals Sitting on Capybaras.

Megafauna feel greater impacts of climate change than smaller species.

The chemistry of tea.

Were Neanderthals humans? It’s complicated.

Week One of ’14 Days of Genitals’ (probably NSFW): moose antlers, the politics of bee sex, snakes and lizards have 2 penises, how to castrate large mammals, vervet monkeys have blue testicles, the logistics of squid sex, and the female hyena pseudo-penis.

Have you ever seen Stan the T. rex? I’ve seen him in two different museums.

In honor of the Super Bowl: 14 facts about Seahawks and 14 facts about Broncos.

Footballs were never made of pigskin.

It feels worse to lose by a little than to lose by a lot.

On the physics of field goals.

Pathologies are my favorite part of osteology and here is a collection of pathological skulls from the California Academy of Sciences.

Yes, the snow that paralyzed Atlanta was real snow.

Greeks and the secret of Sherlock’s mind palace.

Who Was the Snuggliest Dinosaur of All?

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Przewalski’s Horses.

Before dinosaurs, some awesome synapsids ruled the world.

These fossil mammals are why I study paleontology.

The Great Lakes’ water level is dropping.

The physics of falling cats.

Some fossils are weird: Atopodentatus’ skull in profile looks like a tape dispenser.

Answers to Buzzfeed’s questions from creationists.

I bet you don’t know about the woman who discovered trisomy 21 (I know I didn’t).

It’s difficult to make prosthetics for the Winter Olympics.

How the Cold War Created Astrobiology‘.

Chickens with artificial tails walk like dinosaurs.

Science, Humanity…and Spock?

850,000 year old human prints found in Britain are the oldest ever found outside of Africa.

This Week I Found: January 18-31 2014

Woodpeckers think that emerald ash borers are delicious.

In a preview of ‘Your Inner Fish’, Holly Dunsworth and Neil Shubin talk about when human ancestors lost their tails.

Dear tv shows, consult osteologists before including skeletons.

Fungi sequester more carbon than leaf litter‘.

The story of Sue the T. rex is long and complicated.

Paleontologists are Speakers for the Dead and fossils are important.

A Vibrating Watch That Messes With Your Perception of Time‘.

Do we live in a simulation?

‘Why King Alfred’s remains are more exciting than Richard III’s‘.

Happy 8th birthday to the Tetrapod Zoology blog!

Britain might have a wild beaver for the first time in 500 years.

Moths may be the key to the reason why sloths come to the ground to poop.

Fewer trees, more syrup. Syrup production could become more commercial.

For people who bring smartphones into the wilderness: 14 apps you might enjoy.

Science Explains Why You Suck at Texting and Walking‘.

I learned about salps and the Taxonomy Fail Index.

Paleoclimatology offers a unique perspective on the drought in California.

Last week one of the closest supernovae in recent history was visible in the night sky, and it was discovered by students.

I like bones, and I especially enjoyed this post on segmental hypoplasia on the Veterinary Forensic Pathology blog.

And speaking of dental pathologies, see what pipe smoking can do to your teeth.

I love to listen to paleontology podcasts when I work in the lab and here is a great review of some of the best.

Sex does not equal gender.

Between the Northern Lights and these pillars of light, northern latitudes seem to have all of the cool lights in the sky!

Cows produce more milk for daughters than for sons.

I have a soft-spot for The Mammoth Site and loved this write-up about Dr. Agenbroad.

Climate change could have an impact on the Winter Olympics.

Alien Moths Are Coming for Your Nuts‘.

The physics of the Olympics: figure skating.

The connection between blood clots and birth control.

Did Sauron lose because he didn’t give his orcs vitamins?

Foot-Long, Sex-Crazed Snails That Pierce Tires and Devour Houses‘.

What’s it like to be the only female vulcanologist in North Korea?

Looking for a scientist memoir to read? Here’s a helpful list.

A nice, simple overview of why osteology is important.

The same species of rattlesnake has drastic variation in venom: one goes for the blood, one goes for the nerves.

If you like Emily Graslie, The Brain Scoop or museums, check out this interview.

Did sauropods like Brachiosaurus swim?

I Am Curious Yellow: Life With Synesthesia‘.

When moles move, they look like they’re swimming.

Check out this video of the global weather of 2013.

Having bedbugs might be terrible, but so is injuring yourself getting rid of them.

Thank Jurassic Park: ‘How Dilophosaurus Became a Rock Star‘.

Beelzebufo (the ‘Devil toad’) is one of my favorite scientific names. This frog was scary!

Don’t listen to ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ while you’re driving.

First-person view of Felix Baumgartner’s Space Jump.

Kari Byron answers important questions, like how to blow things up while you’re pregnant.

The blog Mary Anning’s Revenge is writing up 14 days of animal genitalia.

Check out this video on the Yucca Giant-Skipper butterfly!

Word Wednesday: Australopithecus

Paleontology and paleoanthropology are full of unwieldy scientific names and these names crop up from time to time in news stories. I will be discussing the meaning of the names of three alliterative hominid species: Australopithecus afarensisAustralopithecus africanus, and Australopithecus anamensis.


Australopithecus breaks down into two parts: australo and –pithecusAustralo comes from the Latin word ‘australis‘ which means southern and pithecus comes from the Greek word ‘pithekos‘ which means ape. Australopithecus is a genus of gracile hominids that originated in eastern Africa around 4 million years ago and went extinct around 2 million years ago.


Anamensis breaks down into two parts: anam and –ensisAnam comes from the Turkana word for lake, and ensis is a Latin word which means belong to or originating in. Therefore, Australopithecus anamensis means southern ape originating in a lake. The first fossils were found  near Lake Turkana in Kenya and were named for the region. Fossils have also been found in the Middle Awash of Ethiopia. Australopithecus anamensis lived in East Africa between 4.2 to 3.9 million years ago.


Afarensis breaks down into two parts: afar and –ensisAfar is a region in Ethiopia and we already know that ensis means originating inAustralopithecus afarensis therefore means southern ape originating in the Afar. Many fossils have been found in East Africa and fossil sites include those in Hadar (part of the Afar region of Ethiopia) and Laetoli in Tanzania, as well as other sites in Ethiopia and Kenya. Australopithecus afarensis is best known for including Lucy and the makers of the Laetoli footprints. Australopithecus afarensis lived in East Africa between 3.85 and 2.95 million years ago. 

The Taung Child (By Guerin Nicolas via Wikimedia Commons)


Africanus is the Latin word for Africa, so Australopithecus africanus means southern ape from Africa. Unlike Australopithecus anamensis and Australopithecus afarensis, this species has been found at 4 sites in South Africa: Taung, Sterkfontein, Makapansgat, and Gladysvale. The first Australopithecus africanus fossil was the Taung Child found by Raymond Dart in 1924. The Taung Child was the first specimen to be included in the genus Australopithecus. They lived in South Africa between 3.3 and 2.1 million years ago.

This list only includes some of the gracile australopithecines. There are other species within Australopithecus, as well as the robust australopithecines that have been placed in either Australopithecus or Paranthropus. However, that is a discussion for another day.

To learn more about the species I mentioned above, I recommend the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Human Origins website. If you want to learn more about human evolution, I highly recommend John Hawks’ blog.

Check out this song about australopithecines!

Lots ‘o’ Links: Finals Edition November 23 – December 13 2013

The semester has come to an end, and I suddenly have a lot more time on my hands. So here is a selection of links from the last three weeks that you can enjoy during your Winter Break!

The Rising Star Expedition ended a few weeks ago, so be sure to catch up on the excitement.

Museum collections can hold evidence of climate change.

More geologizing with Doctor Who!

I Never Met A Fella Who Didn’t Like a Good Patella‘.

Fossil birds with false teeth were terrifying.

Get vaccinated: Guide to Forgotten Diseases.

A remarkably preserved baby dinosaur was uncovered in Canada.

The FDA is cracking down on 23andMe and here’s why.

There are deep sea invertebrates that eat only land plants.

More birds are killed by nuclear plants and fossil-fueled power stations than by wind farms.

A sneaky new cat species was found in the Amazon.

Everything you ever wanted to know about pecans.

Here’s a neat zoomable vertebrate Tree of Life, and a beautiful visualization of the geologic time scale.

I prefer Black Fly Day to Black Friday (but I still can’t get behind Spider Monday).

I get a big kick out of this list of insect adjectives.

The sticky ethics of displaying human remains in museums.

The koala’s mating call is nothing like you would expect.

Humans are becoming more carnivorous‘.

Beautiful scientific sketches.

How the platypus and a quarter of fishes lost their stomachs‘.

A billion years ago, North America tried to split down the middle, but it failed. Here’s how we know.

Cats Recognize Their Owner’s Voice But Choose to Ignore It‘. Here are some other obvious things confirmed by science.

Not all fighting fossils were fighting.

You should check out the Ohio Historical Society Natural History Blog. I especially like the Freak of the Week!

The Answers in Genesis ark is a really bad idea.

A scientist mapped the climate of Middle Earth.

Crucifixion is a terrible way to die.

Predatory birds might be one of the biggest obstacles for Amazon’s delivery drones.

In Search of the First Human Home‘. Here’s a piece about the author Ian Tattersall.

The rise and fall of the great sabercats.

Emily Graslie on online science videos.

Monitor lizards have unidirectional lungs like birds and crocs.

The “ghosts” of extinct birds in modern ecosystems‘.

In the books, James Bond averaged about 92 drinks per week!

Don’t Be Duped By “Duon” DNA Hype‘.

What is the sound of one ant walking?

Check out this TED-Ed video about mosquitos.

This Week in Science: November 9-15 2013

Saxophone lung‘ does not sound pleasant.

I have a soft-spot for Ice-Age megafauna: here’s the Woolly Rhino!

Tyrannosaur problems‘ or why you should keep your files properly labeled.

Giant armadillo burrows are home to many animals.

Skulls, Shakespeare, and Tchaikovsky.

Giraffe necks are very strange. How many vertebrae do you think they have?

The Nazi Anatomists: How the corpses of Hitler’s victims are still haunting modern science–and American abortion politics.’

The Rising Star Expedition is excavating hominid fossils in a South African cave. Follow the excitement on National Geographic and Twitter (Rising Star Expedition, Lee Berger, John Hawks, and Alia Gurtov).

How does the world’s largest flower bloom?

Here are 5 creative and unexpected ways that some creatures use their genitals. Here’s another way.

Who knew that there is a saber-toothed opossum?

Armadillo’s bad eyesight could shed light on human blindness‘.

It’s a moss mimicking mantis!

Meet Kevin, the finest known Apatosaurine snout.

Mammograms aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

The oldest big cat fossils found in Tibet may reshape the feline family tree. And here’s some new research on the origin of domestic dogs.

Have you heard about Dinovember?

The Phylogeny of Little Red Riding Hood‘.

Statistics can be misleading: linking acacia trees to traffic accidents.

Do Dodo bones belong in a museum?

‘Paleoscatologist’ Karen Chin studies fossil poop and it has a lot to say.

Why do Americans refrigerate our eggs and should we? 

A gigantic Chinese cave has its own weather.

These fossil ‘walrus whales’ are really strange looking.

Some fluid dynamics behind wine snobbery.

Why are some South Carolina dolphins turning into half dolphins?

This Week in Science: November 2-8 2013

How to pin butterflies.

Check out some of the coverage from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting.

Selling fossils makes me sad and seeing them ‘advertised’ at SVP makes it even worse.

Check the blog Mary Anning’s Revenge. Amy and Meaghan have a hilarious, snarky way of talking about paleontology.

Is Europa Too Prickly to Land On?

Linnaeus’ type Asian elephant specimen is actually an African elephant.

This was a good week for dinosaurs! Deinocheirus mirificus, CoelophysoidsLythronax argestes (also here and here), and a clumsy theropod.

The Botanist in the Kitchen teaches you more about the plants you eat.

The oldest fossil tomatillo was discovered in South America.

Were sabertooth teeth deadly, sexy, or both?

The Animated Life of Alfred Russel Wallace, and a slide show of his life narrated by David Attenborough.

Why, and how, do leaves change color and fall?

One of my goals in life … is to make biology look like astrophysics.’

70 million years ago, a baby shark ate a baby turtle and died, and we know this because of poop.

Denali’s DIY ‘Google Street View’.

‘There’s a pretty remarkable fly photograph making the rounds of social media today, and while it originally had me going “Oooooh!”, the more I think about it, the more I feel like we’re staring at clouds.’

A New “Golden Spike” Monument in Colorado Marks Geologic Time‘.

‘We’re lucky if long-deceased creatures preserve anything relating to behavior. This is exactly why the few examples of prehistoric sex are so special.

Enzymes in acacia sap prevent ants from eating other sources of sugar.

Some tags on marine animals could double the normal amount of drag on the animal.

The Science Behind Earth’s Many Colors‘.

The science of Thor.

Crocs eating fruit and hippos eating wildebeests: animal diets are rarely straightforward.

Abolished parks, the Kraken, and dead plants: Geological Society of America’s 125th Annual Meeting

I was lucky enough to spend the better part of last week at the Geological Society of America’s 125th Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado. This was my first conference and it was an amazing experience!

My flight to Denver can be described with one word: mountains. I left the ancient Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee for the younger, taller Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The views were beautiful and the temperature in Denver was much more pleasant than what I had left in Tennessee!

Some of the exciting things I did:

On Monday, I presented my talk  ‘Paleoclimate Reconstructions of Three Mid-Atlantic Miocene Sites’ in the session Quantitative Reconstructions  of the Large-Scale Cenozoic Climate Change.

I met Dave Marshall of Palaeocast fame and he interviewed me about my paleoclimate research. On Tuesday we had the opportunity to interview Drs. Bob Bakker and Matt Mossbrucker. If you check out the Palaeocast recap of the conference, you can hear me talk about my research at ~21:05 on Day 2 and on Day 3 at ~14:48 you can hear Dave and I talk to Drs. Bakker and Mossbrucker about the tale of the Brontosaurus.

I really enjoyed Dr. Holly Dunsworth’s talk ‘The Sub-Saharan Origins of Cercopithecoids, Hominids, Hominins, and Humans‘. It was nice to have a little biological anthropology sprinkled in amongst the geology!

On Tuesday night the Denver Museum of Nature and Science was open after hours to students at the GSA conference. It’s a fantastic museum and I highly recommend visiting. I especially enjoyed the Prehistoric Journey exhibit.

At the end of the conference, I went to Dr. Mark McMenamin’s talk ‘The Kraken’s Back: New Evidence Regarding Possible Cephalopod Arrangement of Ichthyosaur Skeletons‘. The room was packed and there was even a film crew! Dr. McMenamin is a fantastic speaker and the presentation included beautiful artist reconstructions, but overall I was not convinced that there was evidence of Kraken attack and subsequent arrangement of bones.

Some of the interesting things I learned:

For me, the first morning of the conference was dominated by the session Geology in the National Parks: Research, Mapping, and Resource Management I. I learned about Fossil Cycad National Monument, a former national monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota that was removed from the National Park System in 1957.

I made sure to attend Dr. Benjamin Burger’s talk ‘Mammal Species Durations in the Fossil Record: Answering the Question, Which Species has the Longest Duration in the Fossil Record?‘. The answer was the fossil insectivore Centetodon magnus. I was pleasantly surprised that a Gomphothere came in second place!

The session Dinosaurs & Diamonds: 125 Years of Geoscience in Museums started with the talk ‘Let’s Talk About Rex, Baby: Communicating Science and the Myth of Dumbing Down‘. Dr. Richard Kissel addressed the idea that museums ‘dumb down’ their material for the visitors. This is not necessarily, and should not be, the case. Instead, it just takes a different way of presenting the information.

On Tuesday afternoon I went to Richard Harris’s (of NPR) talk ‘Why People Trust Scientists but Not Science: Climate Denial in Context’. He talked about the fact that most scientists believe that the lack of acceptance of science (particularly with respect to climate change) stems from the absence of information. Instead, it likely stems from different moral priorities as well as a misunderstanding of how science works.

All in all, the GSA Annual Meeting was a great experience. I met some interesting people, learned some geology and paleontology, and had the chance to miss classes to spend a week in Denver! Hopefully I’ll get the chance again next year!

This Week in Science: October 19-25 2013

‘How many ‘human’ species are there? Is it even a real question? Why does anybody care?’

You want a great white shark on your side during the zombie apocalypse.

Even turtles get the bends.

The past meets the future: paleontology and photogrammetry.

The man who forgot everything.’

Since it’s almost Halloween: ‘Where did the fear of poisoned Halloween candy come from?

Losing fossils to thieves and private collectors is a terrible thing for science.

When did humans split from Neanderthals?

Caitlin Syme explains some of the details of her taphonomy research.

If only I had found a juvenile hadrosaur when I was in high school! It’s so cute! Here’s more about it.

Interested in paleontology? Check out the Palaeocast podcast.

Sorry to break it to you, but crocs eat fruit, as well as everything else.

And if you are curious as to how croc sex works

The remipede is the only venomous crustacean and it means business.

More on the Dmanisi skulls.

The level of preservation of these Archaeopteryx fossils is incredible.

Plants aren’t as harmless as you might think. Even plants you eat every day can be lethal if not prepared properly.

Why is human childbirth so painful?

How do scientists know the age of rocks and fossils?

This Week in Science: October 12-18 2013

Maritime Moose Sex Corridor‘.

Our planet didn’t always have oxygen in the atmosphere and the key to life came from life.

Giant Chinese salamanders are the size of a person, smell like pepper and sound like a child.

A lot of Snapple’s “Real Facts” aren’t facts at all.

The myth of NASA’s expensive space pens‘.

I love Emily Graslie’s YouTube channel and you should check out how she ended up being a passionate advocate for museums.

If there is ever a zombie apocalypse, nature will win.

Bogs, bugs and bryophytes: reconstructing past climate from peatlands‘.

Almost like Jurassic Park: a blood-filled mosquito fossil.

11 Unsung Science Heroines You Really Should Have Heard Of‘.

This might come as a surprise, but Finding Nemo wasn’t entirely accurate: whales don’t shoot water out of their blowholes.

Ancient oceans: their names and how we know where they were.

The Brilliant Botany YouTube channel is amazing and informative and I highly recommend it!

Which T. rex is the largest of them all?

Fish Evolve Stabbier Genitals When Predators Are Near‘.

A Nervous System From Half A Billion Years Ago‘.

Fossil skulls from Dmanisi shed light on human ancestors.

The government shutdown could have a permanent impact on science.

Check out this video about why paleontology rocks!