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    Ending Epidemics: A History of Escape from Contagion: “Ending Epidemics is an important book, deeply and lovingly researched, written with precision and elegance, a sweeping story of centuries of human battle with infectious disease. Conniff is a brilliant historian with a jeweler’s eye for detail. I think the book is a masterpiece.” Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone and The Demon in the Freezer

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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Posts Tagged ‘Feathers’

Pterosaurs Just Keep Getting Weirder

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 20, 2018

Wild and crazy anurognathid

by Richard Conniff/Scientific American

Even experts often resort to the word “bizarre” when describing pterosaurs, the winged dragons that ruled the skies for more than 160 million years. This is especially true of the group of short-tailed pterosaurs called anurognathids, which used to dart and bob through Mesozoic era forests like bats, hawking for insects.

Now it appears anurognathids and other pterosaurs may also have worn a weirdly varied coat of feather- and fur-like structures, according to a new study published Monday in Nature Ecology & Evolution. A team led by paleontologist Zixiao Yang from Nanjing University in China reached that conclusion based on two near-complete, pigeon-size anurognathid pterosaur specimens found in northern China.

The idea that pterosaurs (which lived from around 228 million years ago to the Cretaceous extinction 66 million years ago) may have had some kind of furlike coat is not by itself new. Researchers have proposed as much since the discovery of the first known pterosaurs in the 19th century. But the exact character of this covering has been difficult to determine from the short, filamentlike structures—called pycnofibers—preserved in pterosaur fossils. The new study set out to fill in that gap with the help of a battery of advanced technological tools. As a result, the authors characterize what they say are Read the rest of this entry »

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Jurassic Park and the Fear of Feathers

Posted by Richard Conniff on May 9, 2013

Anchiornis huxleyi in full feather (Illustration:  Michael DiGiorgio)

Anchiornis huxleyi in full feather (Illustration: Michael DiGiorgio)

The much-delayed Jurassic Park 4 sequel was delayed again early this week, and it’s tempting to imagine that animal science might be the reason. (Okay, tempting and really, really stupid, but indulge me for a bit.) This lucrative movie franchise dates back 20 years now, to 1993, which is like saying it started somewhere in the Cenozoic as far as our understanding of dinosaurs goes.

When the original Jurassic Park was still in its first theatrical run, paleontologists were already digging up what has since become a gaudy parade of fossils demonstrating that dinosaurs were in fact frequently tricked out with feathers, feather-like filaments, and even a three-inch-thick coating of “dino fuzz.”

Universal Pictures grudgingly acknowledged this new science when it released Jurassic Park III in 2001. Like an anxious parent in the Punk Rock era, it allowed Velociraptor to flaunt a miserable little mohawk of about a dozen filaments sprouting out of the top of its head. 

But otherwise the franchise has conformed to the stereotype of dinosaurs as scaly, naked red-eyed monsters. And for an obvious reason: A Tyrannosaurus rex that looked like Big Bird might not have audiences wetting their pants in the balcony, or opening their wallets at the box office. So back in March, Colin Trevorrow, tapped as the latest director in the series, tweeted:  “No feathers. #JP4”

But maybe now he’s gone back for a re-think.

A Hollywood velociraptor

A Hollywood velociraptor

Here’s where the fossil evidence currently stands, as outlined by Julia Clarke, a University of Texas paleontologist who is also the author of an article “Feathers Before Flight,” appearing today, May 9, in the journal Science: Paleontologists have been thinking about the connection between dinosaurs and living birds since the discovery of the fossil bird Archaeopteryx back in 1861, and especially since 1970, when John Ostrom at Yale University pointed out the many similarities between bird skeletons and those of the Theropoda dinosaurs, including T. rex and Velociraptor.

The current revolution began in the mid-1990s, when  … to read the full article click here.

Posted in Biodiversity, Sex & Reproduction | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »