Thursday, November 1, 2018

Ancient Interpretations of Ancient Birds.

Our understanding of the Origin of Birds has grown exponentially over the last two decades, thanks in part to the early 1990s discovery of spectacularly preserved bird fossils in the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning.

Juts prior to that, John Ostrom of Yale University discovered a new theropod dinosaur in Montana called Deinonychus. Here, Ostrom laid out the many similarities between birds and theropod dinosaurs, leading to new ideas about dinosaur metabolism and activity levels, forming what is known as the dinosaur renaissance, which began in the 1970s and continues to this day.

Lost in today’s highly publicized discoveries are the early publications regarding ancient birdlife.

No, I’m not referring to Gerhard Heilmann. Heilmann was a Danish artist and paleontologist who created artistic depictions of Archaeopteryx, Proavis and other early bird relatives apart from writing The Origin of Birds (1926), a pioneering and influential account of bird evolution.

Though he was incredibly important to the topic of bird origins overall, Heilmann’s writings and artwork can be looked at today as more of a bridge to older, forgotten efforts.

The 1800’s were a critical period of change in geology, paleontology and natural history. The term “Dinosaur” is established in 1842 by British anatomist Richard Owen. Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species was published in 1859. Archaeopteryx, the transitional fossil was discovered in Germany in 1861.

Masterful for their time, and still very much relevant today were works such as Ichnology of New England, by Reverend Edward Hitchcock published in 1858, and Othniel Charles Marsh’s Odontornithes: A Monograph on the Extinct Toothed Birds of North America, published in 1880. 

Othniel Charles Marsh
Image Credit: Wikipedia
However, there were other publications from the 1800’s that also provided a glimpse of what earth was like millions of years ago. Two of those books have now become part of my own personal collection; The World Before the Deluge by Louis Figuier (1866) and Creatures of Other Days by Reverend H.N. Hutchinson (1894). 

The World Before The Deluge and Creatures Of Other Days
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
While not intended to be a true book review, todays posting is a rather quick peek at some very early artwork and writings concerning non-bird dinosaurs and archaic birds.

Let’s start with the older of the two books, The World Before the Deluge by Louis Figuier (1866).

Louis Figuier (15 February 1819 – 8 November 1894) was a French scientist and writer. He was the nephew of Pierre-Oscar Figuier and became Professor of chemistry at L'Ecole de pharmacie of Montpellier. 

Louis Figuier
Image Credit: Wikipedia
Based on the title, it’s no surprise that The World Before the Deluge is written with a creator in mind. Like other scientists of the day, Figuier’s focus was natural theology, which attempted to unify and reconcile science and religion.

In his 448-page book, we find a classic passage clearly expressing Figuier’s thoughts on the workings of the natural world.

     [Cuvier says of the Plesiosaurus, “that it presents the most monstrous assemblage of characteristics that has been met with among the races of the ancient world.” It is not necessary to take this expression literally; there are no monsters in nature; the laws of organization are never positively infringed; and it is more accordant with the general perfection of creation to see in an organization so special, in a structure which differs so notably from that of the animals of our days, the simple augmentation of a type, and sometimes also the beginning and successive perfecting of these beings. We shall see, in examining the curious series of animals of the ancient world, that the organization and physiological functions go on improving unceasingly, and each of the extinct genera which preceded the appearance of man., present for each organ, modifications which always tend toward greater perfection, The fins of the fishes of the Devonian seas become the paddles of the Ichthyosaurii and of the Plesiosaurii; these, in their turn, become the membranous foot of the Pterodactyle, and, finally the wing of the bird. Afterwards come the articulated fore-foot of the terrestrial mammalia, which, after attaining remarkable perfection in the hand of the ape, becomes, finally, the arm and hand of man; an instrument of wonderful delicacy and power, belonging to an enlightened being gifted with the divine attribute of reason! Let us, then, dismiss the idea of monstrosity, which can only mislead us, and only consider the antediluvian beings as digressions. Let us look on them, not with disgust; let us learn, on the contrary, to read in the plan traced for their organization, the work of the Creator of all things, as well as the plan of creation.]

World Before the Deluge by Louis Figuier
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
Though his works are highly respected, it is often unmentioned that he was in fact a staunch racist of the time. Figuier played a key role in perpetuating the blatantly myopic misconception that people of black origin were mentally inferior, were not fully human, smelled poorly, and were promiscuous. His citing of these ill-formed concepts is of course not true, yet he remains celebrated in his "achievements".

Despite his views of the world, and people, Figuier employed a variety of well-accomplished artists for his publications. One of Figuiers favorites is Édouard Riou.

Édouard Riou (2 December 1833 – 27 January 1900) was a French painter and illustrator who illustrated six novels by Jules Verne, as well as several other well-known works.

Edouard Riou
Image Credit: Wikipedia
Providing one of the very first images of Archaeopteryx in print is the artist who I believe is Auguste Faguet. Faguet (1841–1886) was a noted 19th-century French botanical illustrator, well known for his contributions to major botanical works.

World Before the Deluge by Louis Figuier
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
Did Faguet find time in his busy, short life to help illustrate The Deluge is still not for certain? Scrawled initials at the bottom of the Bird of Solenhofen and the Ideal Landscape of the Upper Oolitic Period, is all that suggests he was. Riou, on the other hand, is the only artist credited by name on the title page. 

The World Before the Deluge by Louis Figuier
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
Of the Bird of Solenhofen Figuier writes;

     [The most remarkable fact which occurs in this period is the appearance of the first bird. Hitherto the Mammalia, and these only imperfectly-organized species, namely, the marsupials, have alone appeared. It is interesting to witness birds appearing immediately after. In the quarries of lithographic stone at Solenhofen, the remains of a bird, with feet and feathers, have been found, but without the head. These curious remains are represented in Fig. 119, in the position in which they were discovered. It is usually designated the bird of Solenhofen].

Three decades later we find another publication dedicated to the understanding of prehistoric life; Creatures of Other Days by Reverend H.N. Hutchinson (1894).

Creatures of Other Days by Reverend H.N. Hutchinson
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
Henry Neville Hutchinson (1856-1927) was an Anglican clergyman and, during the 1890s, a leading writer of popular books on geology, paleontology, evolution and anthropology.

Though knowledge of bird life of former ages was rather sparse at the time, Hutchinson is still able to devote an entire chapter on ancient birds, thanks in part to the new discovery of Cretaceous-aged fossils of Hesperornis and Ichthyornis.

Creatures of Other Days by Reverend H.N. Hutchinson
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
It is written of Hesperornis and Ichthyornis;

     [It may fairly be concluded that, for a long period of time, circumstances were eminently favorable to Hesperornis and its allies, for apparently it had no enemies in the air above, and an abundance of food in the water. We may well imagine that it was more than a match for the gigantic toothless Pterodactyls (such as Pteranodon) which hovered over the waters here in such great numbers, and the other inhabitants of the air all appear to be small. The ocean in which the bird swam teemed with fishes of many kinds, and thus a great variety of food, easily obtainable, was at hand. In this aquatic paradise Hesperornis flourished, disturbed only by the serpentine Mosasaurus, which may have been the cause of its extermination. Another bird discovered by Professor Marsh in the same region, also with strangely blended characters, is the Ichthyornis. Unlike the big diver above described, it had well-developed wings and a strongly keeled sternum for the attachment of muscles with which to work its wing. It was about the size of a rock-pigeon. The jaws were armed with teeth placed in distinct sockets, as in some extinct reptiles. The wing bones show that it possessed considerable powers of flight. Here we may note that the Cretaceous birds at present known were apparently all aquatic forms, which, of course, are most likely to be preserved in marine deposits, while the Jurassic Archaeopteryx was a land bird].

It is interesting to note that in the previous chapter we see both Hesperornis and Ichthyornis depicted as inhabiting a terrestrial landscape with other large herbivorous dinosaurs. How did this happen? Was there some type of miscommunication between the author and artist? How could Hesperornis and Ichthyornis end up in a terrestrial landscape after Hutchinson himself clearly states that “Cretaceous birds at present known were apparently all aquatic forms”??

Creatures of Other Days by H.N. Hutchinson
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
The artist, Joseph Smit (18 July 1836 – 4 November 1929), was a Dutch zoological illustrator.

In spite of this error, Joseph Smit does a remarkable job overall with his illustrations in the Hutchinson book.

Smit was born in Lisse.  He received his first commission from Hermann Schlegel at the Leiden Museum to work on the lithographs for a book on the birds of the Dutch East Indies. In 1866 he was invited to Britain by Philip Sclater to do the lithography for Sclater's Exotic Ornithology; he prepared a hundred images for the book.

Smit’s artwork in Creatures of Other Days also hits close to home for me with his rendition of Anchisaurus, the oldest known dinosaur. 

Creatures of Other Days by Reverend H.N. Hutchinson
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
Hutchinson’s comments on Anchisaurus; [As far back as the year 1818, a portion of a skeleton was discovered in the Connecticut Valley, near Windsor (CT). Another was found near Springfield (MA), and described by Hitchcock, in 1865, under the name Megadactylus. Later on, in the year 1884, Professor Marsh announced another discovery, near Manchester, Connecticut].

These locations, incidentally, are a minutes-drive from my place of birth.  

As a religious figurehead of the late 1800’s, Hutchinson takes a surprising open minded, and cordial position on the origin of birds, as well as evolution;

     [When did the bird make its first appearance, or debut, on the earth? In other words, when did that primitive, but as yet unknown reptile from which the feathered tribe came, first take to itself feathers and assume both the habits and appearance of a bird? This is one of those interesting questions which remain to be solved by the labors of the paleontologists, or, more probably, of a generation of paleontologists. We have already alluded to Professor Huxley’s theory that birds are descended from Dinosaurs; but though there is much to be said in favor of the idea, we prefer, for our part, to wait and see what evidence may turn up on this subject. Sir R. Owen never favored the theory, and, for all paleontologists can tell, it may just as well be that birds and pterodactyls (flying reptiles) both are descended from a common stock; one line choosing to fly by means of a thin membrane attached chiefly to a single long finger, while the other thought they could do quite well, in fact better, by growing feathers on their arm and fingers. All great problems in nature are solved slowly, by the patient accumulation of evidence; and the one above alluded to is no exception to the rule].


Information regarding author and artists were all found through Wikipedia.

Friday, October 26, 2018

48-Million-Year-Old Fossil Owl Is Almost Perfectly Preserved

Live Science Animals

48-Million-Year-Old Fossil Owl Is Almost Perfectly Preserved

By Laura Geggel, Senior Writer | October 23, 2018 

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — About 48 million years ago, an owl swooped down to catch its prey, not by the light of the moon but in broad daylight.

How do paleontologists know this fowl wasn't a night owl? They found the exquisitely preserved remains of an owl, and its skull shares a telltale characteristic with modern-day hawks, which also hunt by day, the researchers said.

The finding is extraordinary, largely because it's rare to find fossilized owls, especially one that has so many preserved bones, said project co-researcher Elizabeth Freedman Fowler, an assistant professor at Dickinson State University in North Dakota, who dubbed the specimen "the finest fossil owl."

"There is no fossil owl with a skull like this," Freedman Fowler told Live Science. "Bird skulls are incredibly thin and fragile, so to have one preserved still in three dimensions, even if slightly crushed, it's amazing. It even has the hyoids at the bottom, the bones that attach to the tongue muscles."

The skull is in such good shape that the researchers noticed that the supraorbital processes (the regions above the eye sockets) have a bony overhang, making it look as if the owl had a mini baseball cap on top of each eye, according to the research, which was presented here at the 78th annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology on Oct. 19. The study has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

This overhang "gives you shade so you don't get dazzled [by the sun]," said project lead research Denver Fowler, a curator of paleontology at the Badlands Dinosaur Museum in North Dakota. This feature is weak or absent in nocturnal owls, but it's common in modern hawks and daytime owls, he noted.

The finding isn't completely out of the blue. Birds are diurnal — or daytime — creatures, and at some evolutionary point, the owl changed course and became nocturnal, he said. What's more, there are diurnal owls alive today, including the northern hawk owl (Surnia ulula) and the northern pygmy owl (Glaucidium gnoma), Marc Devokaitis, a public information specialist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York, previously told Live Science.

What's unclear is whether this mysterious specimen was an early form of owl that hunted during the day, before most owls became nocturnal, or whether it was an owl outlier that hunted during the daytime while other owl species stalked prey by night, Fowler told Live Science.

In all, the researchers have about 45 percent of the owl's skeleton, including the skull and bones from the legs, feet, wings and lower jaw. That's way more material than what has been found with other discoveries of fossilized owls — some of which are given scientific names based on a single fragment of a bone, Freedman Fowler said.

The owl was discovered by project co-researcher John Alexander, a research associate at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington, while he was digging for fossils of ancient lemur-like animals known as Notharctus and Smilodectes in the Bridger Formation of southwestern Wyoming in 2007. Given that he was looking for mammals, he said he was surprised to find a bird of prey.

"This is the first predatory bird skeleton found in that formation, and people have been looking in there for 150 years," Alexander told Live Science.

However, it wasn't until recently, after showing the specimen to Fowler, that Alexander realized the specimen was an owl — one a little larger than a modern barn owl (Tyto alba).

It's not yet clear whether the owl is a newfound species, or whether it's already known in the scientific literature, but only from a fragment, Freedman Fowler said. But they expect to find out soon, as well as learn as much as they can about the ancient hunter.

"We just CT [computed tomography] scanned this, so we'll get the results back from that soon," Freedman Fowler said. "We can look at things like neck mobility — we have the cervical vertebrae, so we can see how far it could move its neck."

In addition, the braincase (the inner part of the skull that held the owl's brain) is well-preserved, "so we'll be looking at the different parts of the brain to see what its senses were like, [including] how well it could hear and how well it could see," she said.

This wasn't the only owl finding presented at the conference. Peter Houde, a professor of biology at New Mexico State University, found bones from two different owl species in the Clarkforkian-Wasatchian beds of north-central Wyoming, one dating to about 56 million and the other to about 55 million years ago. That's a bit younger than Ogygoptynx, the oldest owl on record, which lived in what is now Colorado about 61 million years ago, just a few million years after the nonavian dinosaurs went extinct about 65 million years ago, Houde told Live Science.

Monday, October 22, 2018

First fossil lungs found in dinosaur-era bird

Preserved for 120 million years, the organs offer fresh perspective on the origins of avian flight.

From National Geographic

By Michael Greshko

Published October 22, 2018

Image courtesy of J. Zhang, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

About 120 million years ago in what’s now northeastern China, a bird met its end during a volcanic eruption. Ashfall buried the animal so suddenly, its soft tissues didn’t have time to decay, and over millions of years, minerals infiltrated these tissues and preserved their form.

Now, researchers have unveiled this breathtaking specimen, which contains the first fossilized lungs ever found in an early bird.

The species Archaeorhynchus spathula lived alongside the nonavian dinosaurs during the Cretaceous period. The newfound fossil, which preserves feathers and considerable soft tissue, shows that this primitive bird's lungs closely resemble those found in living birds. This suggests that birds’ hyper-efficient lungs, a key adaptation for flight, first emerged earlier than thought, and it underscores how birds—the last living dinosaurs—inherited many iconic traits from their extinct ancestors.

“Everything we knew about lungs, about respiration, about evolution of [birds] was just inferring based on skeletal indicators," says study coauthor Jingmai O’Connor, a paleontologist at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, China. "And now we know that we were inferring less generously than we should have.”

O’Connor presented the discovery on October 18 at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s annual meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the finding will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This is an exciting discovery,” says Colleen Farmer, an anatomist and physiologist at the University of Utah who reviewed the study. “Finding bird-like lungs in this group of dinosaurs is to be expected, but it is incredible to uncover hard evidence of this soft structure.”

Fossilization itself is rare, and rarer still are fossils that preserve traces of soft tissue. So far, researchers have found ancient fish with fossilized hearts and armored dinosaurs with pebbly skin. O’Connor herself has found ovarian follicles—the sacs that hold unfertilized eggs—in dinosaur-era birds. And three earlier studies have described bits and pieces of fossilized lung.

Having the lungs of a fossil bird is exceptionally handy, though, when you’re trying to reconstruct how birds evolved into such effective fliers.

Lungs work by exchanging oxygen and CO2 across a thin membrane full of blood vessels. The bigger and thinner this membrane is, the more efficient—and intricately folded—the lungs become. In some people, the inner surfaces of their lungs add up to more than 500 square feet.

Since powered flight is a brutal workout, birds take their lungs to the extreme. They have such highly subdivided lungs, the tissues curl around their ribcages for support. Unlike in other animals, bird lungs don’t expand and contract. Instead, they’re connected to a series of separate air sacs that sit beneath the lungs and act as bellows. These adaptations, Farmer says, let the lung membranes get exceptionally thin—which makes them exceptionally efficient at absorbing oxygen, all the better for nourishing flight muscles. But when did these specialized lungs evolve?

Initially, O’Connor and her colleagues at China’s Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature weren’t looking to figure out this respiratory riddle. Instead, they were interested in the fossil because it was the first that preserved A. spathula’s plumage, including its ornamental tail feathers—the first ever found in this group of extinct birds.

But as O’Connor and her colleague Xiaoli Wang examined the fossil, they noticed two unusual mats of white speckled material in the bird’s torso. The structures formed two distinct lobes in the animal’s chest, a sign that they might be fossilized lungs.

When the researchers initially wrote up a description of the fossil, they focused on the feathers, mentioning the possible lungs only in passing. According to O’Connor, their initial study was rejected after one reviewer lamented that the team hadn’t definitively proven the structures were lungs.

In response, O’Connor and Wang decided to analyze the potential lungs in greater detail. Using powerful microscopes, the team revealed honeycombs of tiny voids less than a tenth of the width of a human hair. To make sense of these voids, O’Connor emailed University of Johannesburg professor John Maina, an expert on birds’ lung anatomy. Maina, who is one of the final study’s coauthors, replied that the structures looked like the finely subdivided inner chambers of a bird’s lungs. The microscopes even showed individual air channels.

“They rejected me … and I was like, bone wars!” jokes O’Connor, referring to a period of intensely competitive fossil hunting in the 1800s. “So, then I went and [examined] it, and I was like, boom! Lung tissue.”

Other experts agree that O’Connor and her colleagues make a strong case that the structures are lungs.

“More will need to be done to confirm this identity, but it looks very promising to me,” says University of Southern California paleontologist Mike Habib, an expert on the biomechanics of flying animals such as early birds.

Many questions remain, however, such as how the lungs fossilized in the first place. University of South Florida paleontologist Ryan Carney, an expert on the feathered dinosaur Archaeopteryx, suggested one possible explanation in an email: “One hypothesis is that this potential lung preservation—and possibly the unusual, ‘speckled white material’ itself—was due to the bird's inhalation of volcanic ash.”

In the meantime, O’Connor stresses the importance of studying fossils’ soft tissues whenever possible, since they can reveal features that bones simply can’t record.

“A theme that's come up within paleontology the last five years is that when we learn about the soft tissues … we see that the skeleton always lags behind in the evolution of specialization,” she says. “When we’re just studying the skeleton, we’re basically being conservative.”

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Avian Tibiotarsus; its length can tell us a lot about a birds behavior.

The bones of the avian leg are laid out in a fairly regular pattern, the femur, tibia and fibula, and the tarsometatarsus. The bird’s tibia has been fused with some of the upper bones of the foot to form the tibiotarsus. A small toothpick-like remnant of the fibula parallels the tibiotarsus along its length. 

From Avian Osteology; Gilbert, Martin, Savage. 1996
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
Whether it’s looking at a diagram of a bird skeleton, or picking through a pile of dried bird bones, the tibiotarsus is often overlooked as the go-between, linking two of the more familiar leg bones. Let’s see what we can do about changing this misconception.
From Manual of Ornithology; by Proctor N.S. 1993
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
One of the things I notice most about birds is how often they revert back to their terrestrial roots. Despite their unique ability to fly and perch in trees, almost every bird, at some point of the day, will find their feet planted squarely on the ground.

How they carry themselves from here can tell us a lot about their daily behavior. Are they like the Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis), which hop about circling in a somewhat confined area? Or do they methodically walk across expansive lawns searching for food like the American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)?

More surprising are the terrestrial habits of the Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis). It too can fly long distances; however, catbirds prefer to instead spend most of their time running through the underbrush chasing insects.

Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)
Image Property of
Not much is often made of the catbirds running capabilities, but one website interestingly mentions its wings and wing musculatures having experienced a decrease in development; by which its terrestrial habitats have led to a corresponding improvement in its running ability (source; beautyofbirds).

Should this adaptation for running be detected in the catbirds skeletal structure? The answer to this question is yes.

The Gray Catbird shows a dramatic difference in ratio between the femur and tibiotarsus. A shorter femur meant that each leg was able to cycle faster through each rotation. A longer tibia/fibula reaches farther with each step. 

Gray Catbird (Dumatella carolinensis) femur and tibiotarsus
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) femur and tibiotarsus
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
Paleontologist use this same femur/tibiotarsus length ratio to determine the speed of some dinosaurs. The highly cursorial ornithomimosaurs were a group of ostrich-like dinosaurs that must have had a similar lifestyle (source; Dinosaurs. A Concise Natural History. 2016. Fastovsky and Weishampel). 

From Dinosaurs. A Concise Natural History by Fastovsky and Weishampel. 2016
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
The tibiotarsus is also important to leg musculature. The tibialis anterior is a muscle that covers the anterior surface of the leg along the tibiotarsus, originating on the distal end of the femur and inserting on the proximal tarsometatarsus. The tibialis flexes the tarsometatarsus forward, helping the bird lift its foot off the ground (source; Manual of Ornithology. Proctor, N.S.). 

From Manual of Ornithology; Proctor N.S. 1993
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
Another muscle that controls the thigh and leg is the ambiens. The ambiens attaches to the ilium and pubis; making its way down through the knee tendons to its insertion at the top of the tibiotarsus.

Monday, October 8, 2018

THEM: Age Of Dinosaurs. A Pictorial Book Review.

When is a dinosaur book considered too big? The answer to this question is, “when its unable to fit on any of your custom made library shelves”.

However, with regards to today’s pictorial book review, the answer may very well be; “a dinosaur book can never be too big”.  

“THEM: Age of Dinosaurs - A Science Art World book by ZHAO Chuang and YANG Yang” is a themed exhibition based on works by the two founders of PNSO and produced by Yiniao Sci-Art.

THEM: Age Of Dinosaurs, by ZHAO Chuang
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
Originally known from their production of dinosaur figures, PNSO is certainly an up and coming name in bringing life to many of today’s significant fossil discoveries.

From working with paleontologists from across the globe, to hosting major dinosaur exhibitions, Chinese artist ZHAO Chuang has gained a well reputation for accuracy and insight.

Published in 2015, THEM: Age of Dinosaurs, is a celebration of ZHAO Chuang’s artwork, which brilliantly captures a time when dinosaurs ruled the earth.

A 239-page hardcover book measuring 14x11 inches, THEM: Age of Dinosaurs offers the reader a unique opportunity to closely study the artists handiwork in a larger than life format.

ZHAO Chuang’s talents as an artist is on full display in this book, mixing highly detailed subjects with slightly passive backgrounds, creating a three-dimensional look to much of his artwork. 

THEM: Age Of Dinosaurs, by ZHAO Chuang
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
I also enjoyed his use of darkened backgrounds, with shadows and light, which is incredibly exhibited in the theropod Indosuchus, shown peacefully resting on its haunches. Along the same lines, and equally impressive, is a nighttime hunting Dilong. 

THEM: Age Of Dinosaurs
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
THEM: Age Of Dinosaurs
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
Detail is where ZHAO Chuang excels, and in his painting of Yi, it is hard to imagine a better visual of such a strange and special creature. The underside of the wing membrane structure is remarkable. 

THEM: Age Of Dinosaurs
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
Selling this book and ZHAO Chuang’s art to the masses is easy when one set eyes on his rendition of Yutyrannus and pack-hunting Sinornithosaurus. Convincing in so many ways. 

THEM: Age Of Dinosaurs
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
Oddly enough, the image that moved me the most in this impressive book is the painting of Epidendrosaurus. Simply placed clinging to a small tree sapling, one can sense a feeling of both fear and fearlessness throughout this animal’s entire body. A moonlit sky reflects off a large eye, implying nighttime feeding habits. 

THEM: Age Of Dinosaurs
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
ZHAO Chuang also provides some diverse artistic styles in this coffee-table sized book. His version of Luoyanggia and Yunmenglong makes you wonder how the same artist could have painted the head profile of Carnotaurus a few pages earlier. It still boggles my mind! 

THEM: Age Of Dinosaurs
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
THEM: Age Of Dinosaurs
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
One of the most mysterious images of THEM: Age of Dinosaurs, is found on page 210 featuring Qianzhousaurus, a tyrannosaur. Describing it is difficult, appearing as a collage of different art mediums; from paint and digital photography, to 3D computer graphics for sculpture. Maybe I’m wrong, but nowhere else in this book do you find a style of artwork designed quite like this one. 

THEM: Age Of Dinosaurs
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione
The accompanying text to the artwork is provided by fairy tale writer YANG Yang. Fanciful in every way, YANG Yang’s short stories place thoughts and emotion into each and every dinosaur illustration. Odd however is the idea that many of the wandering creatures were outwardly described as lonely and yearning for a friend. To be fair, this must be a cultural thing, hard for some westerners to actually understand.    

So, if you are a person who loves paleoart, or collects really cool dinosaur figures, especially feathered ones, this book is a gift and nod to you. Enjoy!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo (Neomorphus rufipennis). All Birds Considered

All Birds Considered Doc. for BLOG

Inspired by David Attenborough’s book, The Life of Birds, is a monthly spin-off segment of my blog called “All Birds Considered”, which I hope will bring attention to some of the more unusual, and lesser known birds of our world.

The Life Of Birds by David Attenborough
Photo Credit: Paul Cianfaglione

Species; Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo (Neomorphus rufipennis)

Introduction; This mysterious species was first described more than 150 years ago from one specimen collected on the lower Orinoco River in Venezuela; since that time, we have garnered virtually no additional knowledge on the life history of Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo. For example, the assumption that the species is not brood parasitic (as are many other cuckoo species) is based on a single observation of a young bird accompanied by its parents while they foraged on an anthill. Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo is often wary of intruders and, as such, it may be difficult to observe as it runs swiftly along the forest floor. It can be most easily detected by its loud single-noted hooting vocalization, which is somewhat dove-like in nature, and its distinctive bill-snapping. Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo occurs at low density in the tropical lowland forest of northern Amazonia, from eastern Colombia to southern Venezuela, Guyana, and the northern tip of Brazil in the state of Roraima.

Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo (Neomorphus rufipennis)
Image Credit: Neotropical Birds, Cornell University
Description; The adults are about 50 cm (20 in) in length. They typically have a semi-shiny dark-green feather on the back. The crest is a glossy black with a purple-undertones. Its throat is ash-white to gray but some have been seen with black coloring. Its wings are dark red and the belly is distinctly scaled

Voice; The territorial call of the Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo is a loud forceful whOOu (Hilty 2003) with a frequency of 0.8-0.9 kHz that lasts about 0.3 sec (Hardy et al. 1990). The call has a dove-like quality (e.g., Blue Ground-Dove, Claravis pretiosa; Haffer 1977), but is clearer, louder, and more far-ranging (Zimmer and Hilty 1997, Hilty 2003). Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoos may give their call when walking on the forest floor or when perched 0.5-3 m up on a tree branch or log. The maximum calling rate is typically about once every 5-10 seconds for up to several minutes (Hilty 2003).

Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo (Neomorphus rufipennis)
Image Property Of: Wikipedia
Behavior; Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo is primarily terrestrial; although, they are capable of rapid flight, particularly when startled (Meyer de Schauensee and Phelps 1978, Hilty 2003). It has been described as solitary, restless, wary, and difficult to see (Meyer de Schauensee and Phelps 1978); however, it may be approached very closely on occasion (Hilty 2003).

Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo usually is seen walking or running swiftly along the forest floor in pursuit of prey. When pausing, they may raise their slightly spread tail somewhat above the horizontal. They also hop into low vegetation or perch on branches a meter or so up in the understory (Haffer 1977).

Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo (Neomorphus rufipennis)
Image Property Of: Macaulay Library
Habitat; Rufous-winged Ground-Cuckoo occupies tropical lowland evergreen forest (Parker et al. 1996) and upland terra firma forest (Zimmer and Hilty 1997); it sometimes also occurs in seasonally-flooded (várzea) forest in Venezuela (Erritzöe et al. 2012). Prefers foothill zone of mountains from 100 to 1100 m (Meyer de Schauensee and Phelps 1978, Parker et al. 1996, Hilty 2003). It is found primarily in undisturbed forest but can be observed rarely in disturbed forest in the Iwokrama Forest Reserve, Guyana (Ridgley et al. 2005).

Conservation and population; The population has not been recorded. Because the bird has a very wide habitat and range, it is not considered vulnerable. Even though its population is estimated to be trending downward. It is expected to decline less than 25% over the next 13 years. It is a restless and solitary bird that spends a majority of its time running along the ground.



The Life of Birds by David Attenborough, 1998.

Birds of Southern South America and Antarctica. 1998. Martin R. DE LA Pena and Maurice Rumboll

Friday, September 28, 2018

These Moths Drink the Tears of Sleeping Birds

An incredible article and photos that I just had to pass along...…….

PUBLISHED September 27, 2018

By Sandrine Ceurstemont

These Moths Drink the Tears of Sleeping Birds

These Moths Drink the Tears of Sleeping Birds.
Image Property of Leandro Moraes
A moth was spotted drinking a sleeping bird’s tears in the Amazon jungle in Brazil, the first time this behavior was reported in the country and only the third known case worldwide.

Moths and butterflies have often been observed feeding on the tears of crocodiles, turtles, and mammals. It’s thought to be a way of obtaining salt, an essential nutrient that isn’t present in nectar and can be hard to find elsewhere.

Birds’ tears may be targeted for the same reason. However, the area where the latest case was witnessed is flooded annually by a nearby river and the water soaks up lots of salt from the soil. Since salt is readily available, Leandro Moraes, who made the recent discovery published last week in the journal Ecology, is puzzled.

“The intriguing thing here is why these moths are complementing their saline diet by drinking tears from birds in such an environment,” says Moraes, a biologist at the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Manaus, Brazil.

A Rare Sight

Moraes was looking for amphibians and reptiles at night when he spotted the strange behavior. In the forest alongside the Solimões River, he saw a Gorgone macareamoth sitting on the neck of a black-chinned antbird. Even stumbling upon a sleeping bird is unusual, he says.

“The biggest surprise, however, came when I noticed what was happening, realizing that the moth was inserting its proboscis into the eye of the bird.”

The moth’s proboscis, a long tubular mouthpart, is used to suck up liquid like a straw. Another bird-tear-imbibing moth spotted in Madagascarhas hooks on its proboscis that may help anchor it during feeding, but whether the Amazonian moth’s proboscis has hooks too has yet to be investigated. However, it is long enough to allow the moth to remain quite far from its host’s eye and avoid waking it up.

Moths don’t typically use their “straw” to feed on animals though. In the part of the rainforest where the new tear-drinking moth was spotted, butterflies and moths congregate near flooded soil and slurp up the salty liquid with their proboscises, a behavior called mud-puddling. (Related: The surprising dark side of butterflies.)

However, as flood waters disperse, the salty fluid may be transferred elsewhere leaving the insects at a loss. “Scarcity of resources in a particular region in a specific month may explain why moths are seeking additional sources of nutrients in the tears of birds,” says Moraes.

Moths may also be seeking out another type of nourishment altogether: protein. Although they typically source the substance from plant nectar, tears—which contain albumin and globulin, two types of protein—can act as a supplement. A protein boost can help them fly longer and enhances their reproductive success and lifespan.

These Moths Drink the Tears of Sleeping Birds
Image Property of; Leandro Moraes
“Vertebrate fluids are the main alternative source for obtaining proteins,” says Moraes. Vampire moths, for example, feed on the blood of animals—or humans. (Related: Meet the vampire moths of Siberia.)

No Harm, No Fowl?

Regardless of what the moths are getting out of drinking tears, whether tear-feeding affects the bird hosts still needs to be solved. Moths target the animals while they are asleep, and it’s thought that the birds are indifferent to the tear extraction since they don’t show signs of discomfort.

“Sleeping birds usually wake up quickly and escape when they perceive a danger,” says Moraes.

It’s possible that the behavior could pose risks to birds. Tear-drinking moths are suspected of transmitting eye diseases to livestock, such as cattle and water buffalo, when they poke their eyes.

Moths aren’t the only insects to feed on tears, either. According to Michael Engel from the University of Kansas, who reported the first case of a tear-drinking stingless bee in Sri Lanka last year, new cases of different insects sucking up tears are growing. (Related: Tear-drinking flies spread parasitic worms to a woman’s eye.)

The behavior, however, has rarely been reported in the Amazon jungle, the biggest tropical rainforest in the world and home to an incredible diversity of animals, including about 1,300 bird species and an estimated 2.5 million types of insects.

A few years ago, an erebid moth was seen feeding on the tears of a roosting ringed kingfisher in the Colombian Amazon, the first case involving birds in this region. Solitary bees were also documented drinking the tears of river turtles in the Ecuadorian Amazon for the first time in 2012.

But most observations of the behavior have been in tropical parts of Africa, Asia, and Madagascar. “The new discovery helps expand an interesting biogeographic region where tear-feeding should be diverse and yet is scarcely known,” says Engel.

As Moraes continues his fieldwork in the Amazon, he will be carefully observing his surroundings. This report is “only a single case involving two Amazonian species, which leads me to imagine what other thousands of unknown ecological relationships exist,” he says.

See original article here;