STL Science Center

STL Science Center

26 October 2016

First Day of SVP

Welcome to SVP if you are here, and it is okay if you are not, I have some interesting observations from the day so far. Most of the sessions I sat in were bird related today. There was a lot of discussion of bird evolution, recreation of skulls digitally, and mapping of shape changes of the ear. Particulars about these talks can be found under #2016svp on Twitter; I think that my recounting exact talk details is a little hypocritical as I advocate for an opt-in rather than an opt-out system AND this has already been done, so why waste the time, honestly? However, I can say that there is no shortage of dinosaur casts represented here and the museum reception will be glorious. At the end of the week I will post all of the photos (yes, even the awful ones) that I take this week. I am sure tonite will have a glorious showing. I wish I had a real camera with me!

23 October 2016

A Short History Lesson

Paleontology  was not really recognized as a science for over a century after naturalists began to originally pull fossils, in a concerted and organized effort, out of the earth. Natural historians, as the first paleontologists were typically referred to as once there was a recognized practice of discovering and describing fossils, have been studying the animals of the past in ever increasingly nuanced and complex ways for many years now. Paleontology has taught us a lot about the way the world used to be. Everything from the air and rocks to the plants, vertebrates, and invertebrates have been described by a variety of paleontologists and natural historians over the years. Over the course of history paleontologists have formed societies, often beginning with groups that consisted of scientists of multiple disciplines coming together, and culminating, within the last century, with the formations of multiple paleontology specific groups. The most prominent in North America is certainly the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP), though it is not the only society on the continent. The SVP was organized in 1940 as a non-profit organization. Though based mostly in North America, the SVP reaches globally and has members from all continents that attend annual meetings. As the name states, SVP is an organization for, and run by, vertebrate paleontologists, meaning that a large portion of the paleontological record is not represented by the society's members, however, topics at meetings and in the journal often broach non-vertebrate topics because they have to in order for the vertebrate history of the fossil record to make sense.  Anyone wanting to learn more about the history of the society can visit the society website here.

22 October 2016

History for Today

This week is going to be a lot different from any other week that we have done here. A good portion of this week is going to involve a conference, and therefore it will be difficult to dedicate this week to a single taxon and do it justice at the same time. Rather than giving a fossil animal a short shrift on purpose, this week will be peppered by history notes on the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, a little background to my research (without giving away anything), and maybe some highlights from talks that do not have limitations on tweeting and social media sharing. This is the first time that I will do anything of this sort at a conference and it will not be in realtime (this is mostly because I prefer to gather notes during talks rather than using my phone the whole time, no hard feelings people always on their phones!), but there will be some interesting notes I am already sure. Plus everyone gets to hear about my research; who doesn't want to know what I have been doing the whole time I've been writing this blog? This will be an exciting week, so try not to be too sad that we are not discussing a specific dinosaur or other fossil!

21 October 2016

A Skipped Dog

I skipped yesterday's post entirely. The lack of popular reference materials for borophagine canines makes writing a post on the popular reference materials moot prior to placing pen on paper, or fingers on keys in this instance. Borophagus may not have been overly popular in the culture, but it makes many appearances in many illustrations and, as we saw on Tuesday, it has been rather well studied prior to and after the lumping of several genera into the singular Borophagus. This is in part due to its odd capability to crack bones in a style similar to hyenas but it also because this bone-cracking dog is recognizably a dog. The combination of the animal's feeding ability and our human ability to recognize the animal as a dog make it intriguing and wondrous, and that makes us want to see more and more art and discover more and more secrets about the canid. One thing that is known for sure about the canid, by both science and artists, is that the shortened face, large molars, and novel bone-cracking surface (4th instead of 3rd molar as in hyenas) of Borophagus has painted a readily identifiable picture of the animal. The shortened face also immediately contains notes that, in the United States at least, brings up thoughts of some of the most fierce dogs that are regularly bred, like pitbulls (we are told time and again by different outlets that these dogs are aggressive and can be violent). This and the penchant for paleo-artists to paint the hunting activities of carnivores may explain why there are not many cuddly dog images associated with Borophagus.

19 October 2016

Spots and Stripes

(Getty Images)
We do not know the coat color of Borophagus in any particular species of the genus. Using what we know about dogs, wolves, and extant megacarnivores (bears and felids mostly), there are a number of hypothetical fur patterns we could assign to Borophagus. Living on open plains, as we typically see in illustrations of Borophagus, we expect to see the kinds of camouflage and fur patterns that we see in hyenas, leopards, and tigers. These are the types of camouflage we do often see in these illustrations. It is nice to see what you expect. Would that be the case if we had a living Borophagus? We do not actually know, of course, but we can make informed inferences from clues from the environment and the reasons that the illustrations appear as they do are often related to these kinds of inferences. What would people like to see in terms of Borophagus coat colors? My "official" opinion is that the spotted and striped Borophagus is interesting, but perhaps a little convergent on hyenas for the sake of tying in their fantastic bone-cracking capabilities with that kind of fur patterning. There are also plenty of wolf-like patterns illustrated, but tonite is about the spotted bone-cracking dog shown here.

18 October 2016

Finding Papers Under Old Names

Some of the best papers about Borophagus were written prior to the lumping of several other genera into Borophagus. Rather than describing multiple papers and mentioning which obsolete names they are attributed to, here is a handy list of papers and taxa:
Borophagus: Tseng and Wang, Rensberger and Wang
Osteoborous: Wederlin, Johnston
Porthocyon: Wang, Tedford, and Taylor
Hyaenognathus: Stock, Martin

17 October 2016

Looking At That Jaw

As stated earlier, there are no videos of this animal, despite how amazing Borophagus appears to be. Perhaps a dog that can break open the bones of the mega mammals of the Late Pliocene. The mammals we are talking about include mastodons and gomphotheres as well as large birds like Titanis. The mandible of Borophagus is a robust mandible and can be seen in the only video that exists that is accurately dedicated to the animal. It is not much, but appreciate this single mandible and the teeth that remain in the mandible.