\ Visualizing Evolution: December 2008

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Linkfest: Spider, Orangutan, and a dozen others

Last entry for the year! Hope everyone enjoys their extra second of 2008! Now some links:

From Science Daily: How the Spider Spun Its Web: Missing Link in Spider Evolution Discovered
Even in this form, spiders creep me out.

From National Geographic News: Whistling Orangutan May Hint at Language Evolution

From Wired Science: 12 Elegant Examples of Evolution

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Darwin - Big Idea Big Exhibition

London's Natural History Museum just opened an exhibition in celebration of Darwin's 200'th birthday in February. Darwin Big Idea Big Exhibition is on display until April 19th, after which I really, really hope it becomes a traveling exhibition. Mainly so I ogle this with my face pressed helplessly against the glass:

These photos are from the slide show on the Natural History Museum website, by the way. That first one is of course Darwin's notebook, and the very first cladogram he drew when working out his idea.
And here is a model of the HMS Beagle. I have always wanted a model of the HMS Beagle. Always, always.
These are the mockingbirds Darwin collected on the Galapagos. The birds there inspired Darwin to think about species changing over time.
Is this a first edition of On the Origin of Species? Why yes! Yes it is!

Meanwhile, the National Museum of Australia in Canberra is having a Darwin exhibition of their own until March 29th. And theirs features this Augustus Earle painting!
If you're lucky enough to be close to either of these museums, don't miss out!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Weekend Poetry

I got an email from Craig Gosling today, and he sent me some more poems! So, Weekend Poetry is back!
Archaeopteryx Nightmare

The Archaeopteryx is fictitious, shall I tell you why?
It doesn’t fit into God's plan; it's just a secular lie.
Fossils found all over the world are not the missing links.
As is said of fishy facts, something in Denmark stinks.

I can't let facts get in the way when I read my bible.
I can't let science confuse me, it's simply secular libel.
How can scales turn into feathers, a beak turn into teeth?
How can legs turn into wings, the concept causes me grief.

As I lay me down to sleep, I hope I don't have dreams
Of flying reptiles with feathers and teeth, animals so extreme.
The Archaeopteryx cannot exist, the bible tells me so.
Fossils are lies and science is wrong, this I truly know.

I'll stick to claims of Iron Age profits with faithful resolution
and ignore all those scientists who do swear by evolution.
Archaeopteryx, you never lived, you're not a missing link;
you don’t fit into God's plan, for those of us who don't think.

- Craig Gosling

Also, I see this has been bumped from the front page yet again... *sigh*
I'll have an actual blog entry sometime this week, once I sort through all the Google Alerts in my inbox I've ignored for the past two weeks. Ciao

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

AMI Website

The Association of Medical Illustrators has finally launched their new website, and I am extremely impressed with it (especially considering what we used to have.)

Check it out: www.ami.org

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tiktaalik (Your Inner Fish)

The star of the 2008 Penn Reading Project and everyone's favorite tetrapod, Tiktaalik now has his own music video!

Music by the Indoorfins

Penn Reading Project
And here's a video interview with Tyler Keillor, the artist and fossil preparator who made the Tiktaalik model, which won the 2008 Lanzendorf PaleoArt Prize for three-dimensional art.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cladograms: History, Diversity, and/or Geography

Cladograms at their most basic level give information on which species or groups of species are most closely related--in other words, which have the most recent common ancestor. Cladograms can also give information on evolutionary history (how long ago the branching events occurred) and diversity (which branches became most 'successful').

Here is one from Nature that does both of these things:
What's more unusual is to have a phylogeny that also includes geographical information. I came across this one yesterday on the blog Living the Scientific Life:
Read the above linked blog for a summary of the article. I'm just here to show you the cladogram! This one combines the traditional phylogeny with history (in this case by color-coding the nodes and including a key) and geography, by ending each branch at the location of the modern species. In this case it seems to have worked out cleanly, with only one case of crossed lines. But, I'd imagine other attempts, perhaps with non island-dwelling species, would be much messier.

What I want to find now is a cladogram that manages to combine all three: evolutionary history, diversity, and geography, in one image. Perhaps in some cases it would even be possible to place the nodes on the geographical location where the common ancestor is thought to have lived!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Evolution of a Tasty Meal

Someone on SomethingAwful.com, in a thread on wallpapers, shared this awhile back and I forgot to post it! Unfortunately, I don't know where it's from originally. Watermark your digital art, people!

Never mind the fact it shows a dinosaur evolving from a pelycosaur. It's cute!
click for big

Monday, December 8, 2008

Illustrating Turtle Evolution

New fossils of the earliest-known turtle, Odontochelys semitestacea ("toothed, half-shelled turtle"), have given new, and long searched-for, evidence of how turtle shells evolved. Press release here.
dorsal view

Here you can see the full plastron and the partial shell extensions which grew out to form the partial upper-shell. The take-home messages of this find are:
  1. Odontochelys was likely aquatic
  2. Odontochelys had a plastron (lower shell) but not a full carapace (upper shell)
  3. Odontochelys had teeth! (all modern turtles have toothless beaks)
The challenge to the illustrator is to communicate all of these ideas in one image. Illustrator Marlene Hill Donnelly of the Field Museum in Chicago solved this problem in an efficient way: by drawing two turtles! One from above and one from below.
illustration by Marlene Hill Donnelly - click for big!

What a beautiful and bizarre looking creature! For more on turtle evolution, check out the UCMP Berkeley's page on anapsids here.
extra photo because turtles are awesome

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Lego-man March of Progress T-shirt

Here's yet another take on the March of Progress illustration, this time from a really cool design and T-shirt place called Glennz.com. Clever stuff! I might have to own that rocking horse shirt...

edit: and while I'm posting evolution T-shirts, here's another awesome one from BustedTees:

Friday, December 5, 2008

My Royal Ontario Museum visit

I'm back! Just as I predicted, there weren't many VE posts in November. Over the week of Thanksgiving, I visited Toronto, Ontario, where I went to graduate school and lived for two years. I spent an entire day at the ROM (the Royal Ontario Museum) taking photos. Tons of photos. Maybe some will even be useful as references for scientific illustrations in the future. Here are a few of them now:

It was my first time seeing the inside of the Crystal, and the reopened Dinosaur Hall. I think I noticed the Oviraptor first:
The coolest dinosaur. The new exhibit had a couple of features I really liked. For one, the displays included these nice illustrated cards which showed in color which parts of the fossil were real and which were casts.
... so that when you look at the actual fossil, you know what's actually original! Which is something fossil nuts appreciate.
In addition to lots of impressive dinosaur mounts, which I won't show all of here, the dinosaur hall also had some more humble displays prominently featured, such as this one comparing living and fossil pine cones:
Sometimes the surprising thing about evolution is how organisms don't change over time! Similar to this was a display of fossil insects, with live--er--recently killed... extant? insect specimens for comparison:
Nice cricket!
Tucked away in a side room, I almost missed Plateosaurus, a critter I'm all-too familiar with due to its similarity to Massospondylus.
He's right by the bathroom. Seems pretty disrepsectful for the most famous of prosauropods... And this Pachycephalosaurus was just too : D for words:
: D

There was a mom there with a couple of young kids, a boy and a girl. We were the only ones in the dino hall, and I was just terribly impressed with them. They were going through very slowly, not just looking and saying "oh cool!" but reading the descriptions, watching the videos, and she would ask them questions, like "so is a chicken a dinosaur?" to which they'd give an enthusiastic "yeah!"

I bumped into the kids at the Bambiraptor, where I informed them that Bambiraptor was like a tiny, feathered Velociraptor and probably the cutest thing that has ever lived on the planet.
The Bambiraptor display also included a few other feathered dinosaurs such as Caudipteryx and several panels about the bird-dinosaur relation, including this illustration showing skeletal morphology comparison. Or, for the kids, look at how the dinosaur and the bird have lots of bones the same!
Tucked away in the corner of the 2nd floor of what used to be the building's main entrance, they have a neglected collection of Burgess Shale fossils. It's such a dissapointment that these don't have a better location. They're not even properly lit back there in the dark. And they should be on display someplace obvious... too many people will miss them! And they have an Anomalocaris!
This is one of my favorite critters of all time. And I had to use the flash on my camera to even get a photo.
Move the Burgess Shale display, ROM! Please put it somewhere better or at least put some lights over it!

I arrived at the Rom at about noon on Tuesday, photographed everything in the dino and mammal halls, then had some lunch, wandered the bird room and bat cave, went upstairs to the archaeology/history sections, and finally saw the special exhibit on diamonds, where no photos were allowed and arm guards were everywhere. I got about 6 inches from the Incomparable Diamond which was... well... you know what? It's a rock. I just couldn't get excited about it.

I guess it is kind of pretty, though.
It was pretty dark by the time I left...
After buying this most excellent book at the gift shop, I left the ROM and met a couple of Asian women for Korean food and then ice cream. Or Yogurt...? I think it was some sort of ice-yogurt hybrid. It was delicious.
It was a good day.