STL Science Center

STL Science Center

21 December 2014

Short Listed

Today there is not much out there. The newest finds usually have the fewest links and Archicebus is not that much different from any other fossil animal. There is a short round up on the About (http://dinosaurs.about.com/od/mesozoicmammals/p/Archicebus.htm) pages, which have always been pretty extensive in their coverage of the animal kingdom. Unfortunately, today is one of those rare days where we do not have a lot of specialized articles for people to let their kids loose on the internet to read. In that vein, however, it may be worth the time to go about searching safely and discuss what makes websites acceptable sources of information. There's a cheat sheet for that in case it is a topic that has never been discussed in your house (http://bit.ly/1CiN8tr).

20 December 2014

Creepy Smiles

© Xijun Ni
The creepy smile of Archicebus achilles in this restoration is a little odd, though if I grabbed an insect that size for dinner as a rather small primate I would be just as happy as Archicebus appears to be. The rather large toes of the hindlimb in the reconstruction are true to those of the fossil remains as well. The nearly opposable thumbs on the forelimb are obviously useful for grasping insects like this rather large piece of dinner. The only thing that has not been alluded to with the fossil used as a model for the illustration is the potential ability of the tail to be used in a prehensile manner. The illustration does appear rather tarsier-like, which is a good thing as the animal is hypothesized to have been a member of the tree living between tarsier and monkey families.

19 December 2014

That Prehensile Tail

© Xijun Ni
The first primates are probably what the populace thinks of when one says something like "prominent early mammals". Therefore, as the last of the strictly mammal weeks here, I present to allthe earliest recognized primate, Archicebus achilles Ni et al 2013. This little tree-scrambling primate is considered the first "haplorhine" or dry-nosed primate, a group that monkeys, apes, and humans all belong to as well. Its discovery in Asia supports hypotheses that primates first began to evolve in Asia and later migrated toward and eventually into Africa, where it is known that humans later evolved and originally migrated from. The name of the animal originated from the Greek and Latin combination meaning "Beginning monkey" with a reference to Achilles, supposedly due to a significantly novel calcaneus discovered in the fossil. The animal is comparable in weight to the smallest extant primates (Mouse Lemurs) but is thought to have been active during the day rather than nocturnally, like most small mammals were, and still largely are, when this little creature first began to confidently stride around on the planet.

18 December 2014

Cartoon Popularity

Cimolestes and other small mammals do not make it into the toy market very often, which is quite okay. They often do not make much of a mark in the video game market either. Cimolestes does, however, actually hit a good chunk of the popular arena marketed toward kids thanks to Dinosaur Train that includes both video games, even if it is still just a small portion of the games online that are devoted directly to the Dinosaur Train genre. The same goes for toys; Cimolestes only really appears where Dinosaur Train characters are concerned. These are both hard to find online either way though. It actually seems that the only way that Cimolestes has been introduced to the public over the years is through technical literature (popularized books are absent) and the Dinosaur Train series.

17 December 2014

What About Your Tail?

I noticed that there was a pretty fantastic piece of art out there but it has no illustrator credit and no dollar amount attached to it. Therefore, I present it to you today as a link to the bureau that apparently manages its release. I do not think that breaks any kind of copyright rules, so it should be okay. The image does not really address what I wanted to address today, but it is pretty fantastic looking. The thing I really wanted to look at today is the tail of Cimolestes. Most small rodents (e.g. anything smaller than Capybara and Beaver) we think of either have wiry little tails and use them as balancing tools or big bushy tails that can be used as balancing tools or to help provide warmth. Cimolestes is usually depicted with the wiry looking tail that we see in mice, rats, and shrews. It stands to reason, and considering the environment at the time, that there was not much need for Cimolestes to have a bushy tail for warming itself if this wiry tail counterbalance is correct. Balancing as it scrambled up and down the tree was probably the limit of what Cimolestes needed its tail for anyway considering that it used all four limbs to scramble around the tree. Any small help in balancing while running was a benefit for an animal scrambling away from dinosaur that could swallow it whole if it tripped or otherwise lost its balance when it was running away. Long tails in extant mammals sometimes serve the exact same purpose. Think about how well adapted Cimolestes was the next time you see a rat, mouse, or even a cat running along a fence top!

16 December 2014

Not Necessarily Correct

©Carl Buell
The image presented here is from a news story about a small mammal that mentions Cimolestes and discusses their habitat. The story does not mention whether or not this image of Cimolestes or the other small mammal that is being discussed, so we can use this image today to go with the other papers and articles that I found about Cimolestes that are pretty interesting. The first article that was really good today actually discussed Cimolestes in a round about way as it actually centered on the evolution of placental mammals rather than the mammal itself. Woodward's 1910 description of a mandible found in Montana is also a good addition to the reading list for today. It notes how small details can be used to attribute something as small as a mandible to a known species. The final paper worth reading for the day is about two new potential specimens from the Gobi Desert. The specimens do not belong to the genus Cimolestes, but that animal is described and discussed in comparisons to the two genera that are being described in the paper. This kind of cross identification and description are important to be aware of and to be able to understand when reading future papers (consider it a future preparation tool for you younger scientists)

15 December 2014

Hopping and Jumping

Aside from the episode of Dinosaur Train with Cimolestes there are not an awful lot (read: zero/none) of animated or puppeted references to Cimolestes in video, cartoon, or documentary of any kind. There is a nifty little animation that uses the scientific interpretations of the purported movements of the animal. It is a tiny little series of animations of Cimolestes hopping about, which is pretty cool looking honestly. The model is a little more mouse like than I think it should, in my most humble opinion of never having studied this animal in depth at all.