Sunday 17 February 2013

Celebrating Dinosaur Island in September 2013

The University of Southampton has announced it will be hosting a meeting called Celebrating Dinosaur Isle: A Jehol-Wealden International Conference on 20th and 21st September 2013 at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton. UK and Chinese palaeontologists will present their research, and the meeting will be an excellent opportunity to forge new contacts and discuss future research. There will also be an opportunity to visit some of the main fossil sites on the Isle of Wight, which is a hop over the Solent from Southampton.

More programme information as it comes through, in the meantime here is the poster.

In the interests of full disclosure I have to state I am a research associate with the University of Southampton and also designed the poster. The image on the poster is a reconstruction of the skull of Neovenator salerii, a theropod dinosaur unique to the Isle of Wight.

Sunday 3 February 2013

The Chooks got the look: the soft tissues of Gallus gallus domesticus

Like many people, my experience with Gallus gallus domesticus is largely confined to consuming the poor creature in variety of rather tasty dishes; indeed, as I write this a deceased, plucked, eviscerated and recently defrosted Gallus gallus domesticus is on a plate in the fridge awaiting its fate as tonights Sunday roast dinner. This is a shame because for all it's familiarity the humble domestic chicken is a beautiful bird that is deserving of more attention outside of supermarket freezers and specialist breeders.  Darren over at Tet Zoo has discussed them briefly but yesterday I had the good fortune to visit the High Peak Poultry Show which was being held in Bakewell, Derbyshire and got the chance to see these birds in a different context to the usual.

Palaeontologists spend a lot of time wondering about how dinosaurs looked and moved in real life, and these thoughts recently were expressed by the recent shift in ideas about external appearance of dinosaurs that move away from the more traditional scaly-hided, shrink-wrapped Paulian beasts of the last forty years to the new anatomically rigorous yet rationally speculative reconstructions illustrated in the brilliant All Yesterdays or Matthew Martyniuk's equally inspirational Field Guide to Mesozoic Birds and Other Winged Dinosaurs.

My trip to the poultry show added plenty of fuel to the fires of imagination when it comes to thinking about the reconstruction of the soft tissues of dinosaurs, as the various breeds of chicken present had a bewildering array of wattles, combs and other ornamentations. They were equally diverse in terms of body shape and type of feathery integument as well as the placement of feathers over the body. In short, some looked they had really funny haircuts, some quite weird faces and fleshy bits and others looked duller but distinctly dinosaurian and at least one breed looked cuddly. Never thought I'd say that about a chicken.

Here are the pictures. I took these with my iPhone and so they're not great quality and them chucks have a habit of not staying still at all. I didn't get the breed names of most of these birds so apologies for the lack of clear labelling. However, I hope they convey some of the beauty of a bird it's all too easy to take for granted.

First up, this chicken with a mostly naked head.

A more traditional looking bird, with an elaborate, flat comb.

The cuddly chicken.

This bird would not stay still hence the motion blur, but has very distinctive ear lobes.

Another chicken with prominent fleshy wattles, ear lobes and comb.

A lovely wattle/comb/feather combo on display here.

This breed is quite spectacular, and slightly weird (in a good way).
In the Tet Zoo Gallus post Darren notes this breed is a Transylvanian Naked-Necked Chicken. 

A very solid comb and prominent fleshy eyelid, plus feathery ear coverts.

Er, obviously not a chicken, but a Dewlap Toulouse gander.