Photo of the Day: Stranded Jelly

26 09 2007

Jellyfish

A dead jellyfish, rocking in the surf of Cape May, NJ at about 6 in the morning. Simple, maybe, but it’s still one of my favorite shots from this past summer.





8 things about me[me] returns

23 09 2007

Mark, of The Divine Afflatus fame, is back, and upon the occasion of his triumphant return has tagged me with the “8 Random Facts” meme. Although I was tagged by Bora back in June, I figured I might as well give it another go, especially since I would hope that there are least 8 more things of potential interest about me.

1) My wife and I drove down to Haddonfield, NJ today to visit the site where Hadrosaurus foulkii was discovered. I’m planning an uber-post about it’s discovery so I won’t go into those details here, but I have to say I was extremely disappointed with the “park.” After driving about an hour, we made our way through the suburban sprawl to a dead end, a commemorative plaque plastered to a rock sitting right across the street from a newly-built house. Thinking there must be something more to see, Tracey and I made our way down the embankment to the fetid, mosquito-infested and trash-ridden streambed below. While the Cretaceous marl was easy to locate, the only thing of note we found was a discarded Sears credit card. Further exploration was blocked by vast pools of stagnant water and the fact that the “park” was a patch of land surrounded by private property, the monotonous whir of a nearby lawnmower letting us know we were practically in someone’s backyard. Rather unfitting, overall, for one of the most important sites in the history of paleontology.

2) I heard the New Found Glory cover of Go West’s “King of Wishful Thinking” yesterday and I can’t get it out of my head (trust me, the NFG version is much improved over the original). The song can be found on the band’s new album From the Screen to Your Stereo II.

3) Although I would have normally waited for the paperback, I purchased the newest Terry Pratchett book, Making Money on Friday and have been reading it aloud to my wife. Although we somewhat fell out of the tradition, for the first 6 months or so of our marriage I’d read some Terry Pratchett to her every night before bed.

4) When I was in preschool I once played a Stegosaurus pitched in battle with Allosaurus during the ever-popular “Dinosaur Night.” While I was expected to lose, at the close of the confrontation I pleaded my case to the parents on scientific grounds that Allosaurus wouldn’t dare try and take down such a large and spiny critter, but my protest ended up being in vain. At least I got some dinosaur-shaped cereal out of it. (My later high school stage appearances included Eugene in Grease!, Mr. Kraler in the Diary of Anne Frank, and Father Drobney in Don’t Drink the Water).

5) Many people once had imaginary friends, but I had an imaginary enemy. Named “Snuff,” he was a demonic, shortened version of Sesame Street’s Mr. Snuffleupagus, and if touched by his trunk you would become paralyzed (and subsequently eaten). You know that high pitched whine you sometimes hear when a television is on even if you can’t see it? I thought that was the sound of his impending arrival, and I once heard it while riding my tricycle in the driveway. I abandoned my vehicle, which my mother ran over while backing out of the driveway, and although I did get in a bit of trouble spare parts were found and all ended well.

6) During the last year of high school and the first years of college I used to frequent the local clubs, seeing a punk/emo/ska band just about every other weekend. The first show I ever went to was for a local group called Shades Apart (they had a song, “Stranger by the Day,” on the American Pie soundtrack), although they are long defunct. The place that I saw them and many other bands, The Birch Hill, was torn down a few years ago, and now most of the shows are at The Starland Ballroom (although I haven’t been there in at least a year and a half).

7) Up until recently I wanted to study marine ecology at Rutgers, specifically what was happening to sharks off the NJ coast (no one seemed to be studying it, given the funding cuts to the EPA, DEP, and Fish & Wildlife in the state). When I told one of my professors about this he replied “What are you ever going to do with that? No one studies sharks” (which was the entire point, from my perspective). Frustrated with the academic wall I kept running into, I ended up taking a course in paleontology & “evolution and geologic time,” which definitely helped establish my current line of interest. Overall, I think I’m better for it.

8 ) This blog, as you and I know it, will soon become extinct. I know I’m using on of the oldest tricks in the book and that I’m terrible because I’m going to leave you all hanging (at least for a little while), but some big changes will soon be going into effect. I think you all will be pleasantly surprised, but for now mum’s the word. In time all will be revealed, but I’ll still be writing regularly until I can divulge the secrets in my possession.

So there you have it, 8 little tidbits of information that may or may not have replaced something more important that you were supposed to remember (i.e. the location of the car keys). Everyone who immediately comes to mind as far as tagging goes has already been tagged previously, so I’ll leave this one open ended; if you feel compelled to write, just leave a comment and I’ll set up the links. And now to finish up the scraps of reading I have left over…





It’s too early for Friday notes, or is it?

21 09 2007

Some time ago I confessed my overall ignorance when it came to pterosaurs, so I was definitely happy when a 1966 reprint of H.G. Seeley’s Dragons of the Air arrived yesterday. Being written in 1901 it’s bound to be a bit dated, and Seeley seems to focus on the European pterosaurs more than anything else, but it’ll make for an interesting and quick read. I hope to finish G.G. Simpson’s Attending Marvels and Simple Curiosity during the course of the weekend as well, which should be an easy task as I’m more than halfway through both.

I do make time for fiction every now and again, though, and I was definitely pleased to find that Terry Pratchett’s newest book, Making Money is now out. Being that Going Postal is my most favorite of the Discworld series to date, I am certainly looking forward to reading of the continuing trials and tribulations of Moist von Lipwig.

Lycaenops
Lycaenops at the AMNH

Tomorrow morning I’ll be hopping the train with some Rutgers students to the AMNH to teach them something about Deep Time and paleontology. The Big Bang, stromatolites, fossil horses, and whatever petrified critters they take an interest in will be covered, and I am definitely looking forward to using the 4th floor fossil halls as a sort of classroom. I’ve only got them for about 3 hours, however, so I’ll have ample opportunity to run around on my own for a bit afterwards. I have to start making up my PPT presentation for next week as well, so this weekend will be a busy one. If the weather is good I want to try to visit Haddonfield on Saturday to see the site where Hadrosaurus foulkii was discovered and see if I can’t find the chocolate marl from which it came, but that might have to wait.

Finally, although it only appeared in the news reports for a quick moment, a new paper in Science seems to show evidence of feathers on Velociraptor in the form of quill attachments. Unfortunately I can’t access the journal from home, but I am not glad that I was delayed in writing about another recent feathered dinosaur in the news so I can put them together in one post. Speaking of journals, I finally was able to get someone to sign my membership form for SVP as well, and I am looking forward to receiving the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology in the mail. My post on “wee little sauropods” is still in the works as well, but I have many more papers to read before I can be sure I’m actually making sense and not just writing fiction myself.





A day at the fair Faire

17 09 2007

Here are some of the aforementioned shots from the NY Renaissance Festival in Tuxedo, NY.

Dish

When we pulled in to the lot, we saw this oddly creepy dish. The set up of the area suggested that it may have once served as a small airport, but my friends and I had no idea what the dilapidated structure was used for.

Turkey Leg

It wouldn’t be a day at the Renaissance Festival without a huge turkey leg. My friend Victor poses with a drumstick of the cooked dinosaur descendant.

Pillory
“All I said was the earth goes around the sun…” My friend Tim, to the right, was locked up for taking a few too many hits off his flagon of mead and making a spectacle of himself.

Nottingham

The loathsome Sheriff of Nottingham, victim of a vicious pie-fight.

Evil Witch

An evil witch takes control of a “pawn” during a rather unorthodox human chess game.

Robin Hood

Robin Hood strikes a pose.

Robin Hood fights the Sheriff

Me

Observing the joust from atop a rock, sporting my spiffy new Skulls Unlimited t-shirt.

Joust

Tim and the Wenches

Tim being fawned over by the Singing Wenches. Never have I heard so many bawdy rhymes (well, other than some of the hip hop blasting out of souped-up Honda Civics along College Ave.)

Sunset

Sunset, taken from the passenger seat of Victor’s car as we drove along the Pulaski Skyway just outside of Hoboken.

bea and charlotte

And for no reason, here are my cats Charlotte (the ‘lil black one) and Beatrice (the larger one, and she still needs a good home…).





Back to school, back to school…

4 09 2007

Today kicks off the fall semester here at Rutgers, and I just don’t know if I’m prepared for the overwhelming excitement that will be Soils and Society later this afternoon. As my friend John suggested, I could definitely get Darwin involved in the course by using his The Formation of Vegetable Mould Thhrough the Action of Worms, with Observations on Their Habits as the basis for a paper if I must write one (I think there are just 3 exams, unfortunately), but geophagy is interesting and I’m sure I’ll get something from the course.

I also have recently received some more good news; I am not going to mention the details as yet, but it looks like I’ll once again have the opportunity to teach other students about evolution this semester. I’m also going to try and organize some Darwin Day lectures for February (it’s never too early to start), so I definitely have a lot to do at Rutgers in terms of evolution this year. I might give Darwin’s Beagles another shot, although it seems that there just isn’t enough of an undergraduate interest at this particular university. Even if most students don’t care, however, I’m still having fun with it, and so don’t expect the science writing to stop anytime soon.





Pictures from Petsitting and the Delaware Water Gap

28 08 2007

These are a bit long in coming, but here are some photos taken while petsitting a few weeks ago and during the trip to the NJ side of the Delaware Water Gap. Unfortunately I’m not too familiar with fungi so I can’t say I know what many of the species pictured are, but many of them were impressive all the same.

Spider

This spider was busy building a web outside the house I was staying at a few weeks ago. I’ve never seen an abdomen on a spider like this one has.

Blue Jay

I usually only see Blue Jays during the winter (or at least only remember seeing them during winter), but this one stopped by the bird feeder.

Cardinal

A Cardinal pair also came by, although they were more skiddish and difficult to photograph.

Birds

Finches

Eastern Goldfinch and Cedar Waxwing were the most common visitors to the feeder, however.

Turkey Vulture

A Turkey Vulture also circled overhead for a while, although it didn’t find anything interesting in the yard.

Deer

White-Tailed Deer also came by many times during the day, although the amount of brush and shrubs made them a little hard to photograph.

Fawn

Fawn

Fawn

The second round of summer fawns also came by in the mornings and evenings, usually.

Katydid

A very large Katydid with a color pattern I hadn’t seen before also paid us a visit, albeid inside the house.

Now on to the photos from the hike along the Appalachian Trail to Sunfish Pond;

Harvest

Early on we came across these two fighting harvestmen (“daddy long legs”).

Fungi

Fungi

Fungi

Fungi

Fungi

Fungi

Fungi

Being that the ground was relatively damp, there was fascinating fungi everywhere. The last two shots are among my favorites, and could the “S” on that last one be intelligently designed? (If you are new here, sprinkle the last bit of that sentence liberally with sarcasm)

Frogs

Frog

Once we got up to Sunfish Pond, we were greeted by scores of Bullfrog and Leopard Frog young, which hopped, almost in unison, back into the shallows.

Toad

Toads were also present over the entirety of the hike. We counted at least 20 over the 10 miles.

Three Lined

Three Lined

We also saw two Five-Lined Skink (thanks for the correction, Lars) on a log and tree near the pond, the one on the tree have a brilliant blue tail.

Frog

Fish

Millipedes

Corn Snake

The area that we sat down to lunch at was absolutely full of life as well, from fish and frogs to a small snake that was getting ready to shed.

In all, I’ve been able to get more photographs of NJ wildlife this summer than I have in previous years, and I hope that next year I’ll be able to get some better pictures overall.





In search of Deep Time

28 07 2007

In reading Gideon Mantell’s Medals of Creation Vol. I, I happened across this passage, quoted from Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology, which is in turn a translation from a 13th Century Arabic manuscript, describing how difficult it sometimes is to understand that the earth as it is now is something novel, and its history extends far beyond the life of any man, family, or civilzation;

“I passed one day by a very ancient and populous city, and I asked one of its inhabitants how long it had been founded? ‘It is, indeed, a mighty city,’ replied he; ‘we know not how long it has existed, and our ancestors were on this subject as ignorant as ourselves.’ Some centuries afterwards I passed by the same place, but I could not perceive the slightest vestige of the city; and I demanded of a peasant, who was gathering herbs upon its former site, how long it had been destroyed? ‘In sooth, a strange question,’ replied he, ‘the ground here has never been different from what you now behold it.’ ‘Was there not,’ said I, ‘of old a splendid city here?’ ‘Never,’ answered he, ‘so far as we know, and never did our fathers speak to us of any such.’

“On revisting the spot, after the lapse of other centuries, I found the sea in the same place, and on its shores were a party of fishermen, of whom I asked how long the land had been covered by the waters? ‘Is this a question,’ said they, ‘for a man like you? this spot has always been what it is now.’

“I again returned ages afterwards, and the sea had disappeared. I inquired of a man who stood alone upon the ground, how long ago the change had taken place, and he gave me the same answer that I had received before.

“Lastly, on coming back again, after an equal lapse of time, I found there a flourishing city, more populous and more rich in buildings than the city I had seen the first time; and when I fain would have informed myself regarding its origin, the inhabitants answered me, ‘Its rise is lost in remote antiquity – we are ignorant how long it has existed, and our fathers were on this subject no wiser than ourselves.'”

How fortunate are scientists today who recognize that not only have empires risen and fallen, but so have the seas and all manner of extinct creatures. Sometimes when riding on the highways in the southern half of New Jersey, I wonder what it must have been like during the late Cretaceous, my minds eye inserting massive Hadrosaurus browsing on the side of the parkway, a stealthy Dryptosaurus lurking somewhere in the shadows of the pine forest beyond the barrier. Even when working at the Inversand Pit, uncovering marine crocodiles, ratfish, turtles, and mosasaurs, sometimes I stop and imagine myself standing on the bottom of a 100-foot-deep coastal shelf, watching a Mosasaurus maximus or Thoracosaurus (a marine crocodile) swim by. Still, even though I can create this vignettes, if I were to try to think sequentially backwards, hitting every century from now to the beginning of the Triassic, I don’t think I could do it; it is almost to my advantage that there are divisions in the rock that give paleontologists look at parts of time, as a continues record would be very hard to categorize indeed. In fact, many of the major divisions in geological strata are distinguishable because of the change in fauna, and Mantell especially notes this in the Permian/Triassic division in his 1853 book.

Call it childish if you like, but I do find it liberating to let my imagination run wild in Cretaceous New Jersey at times, pondering modes of behvior, colors, and landscapes I’ll never get to see firsthand. Perhaps this is part of the allure of studying ancient vestiges; regardless of how many scientific papers I read or the tentative qualifications I will have to make in future publications, the Mesozoic lives in my head, just as I’m sure that it does in the minds of everyone else who’s acquired an attraction for fossils.