Ungulates: Celebrating Them, Conserving Them, And Eating Them..? (Part 1)

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An infographic celebrating ungulates of the world  from Peppermint Narwhal Creative, a fantastic graphic design company which used their superb work to advocate for environmental conservation.

June 6 was International Ungulate Day, and numerous preoccupations have made me very late to finishing what was supposed to be timely recognition of a notable zoological holiday (many zoos and conservation foundations commemorate this day, so no I’m not just making it up). Since then, it has remained in the static position of a draft which has been somewhat nagging to me. I also began to expand this post in an unexpected direction, to the extent that I feel it necessary to split into two articles, with the forthcoming one being a musing on conservation at a time of dietary shift. This first article acts as a sort of homage to hoofed mammal lineages across the globe, in which I share some personal photographs and lesser known information that I’ve come across.

Spanning from a childhood obsession with cattle to the many hours my family and I have spent observing elk, ungulates have played an integral role in my life and have often been the primary source from which I gained an appreciation for biodiversity. While many belittle ungulates as boring, placid animals that do little more than graze and provide meals for carnivores, those who work and live with these animals can attest to their charismatic nature and profound ecological importance. I suspect that the aforementioned perspective is one founded in an anthropocentric lack of concern for these animals, as they provided more fuel than competition or danger to our species’ expansion. The diversity of the ungulates is tremendous: from tiny duikers slinking cryptically through deep African bush, to massive and culturally distinct orcas coursing through the water as they strategically hunt their prey. I must note that the term ‘ungulate’ seems to have largely fallen out of use in the scientific literature, with some specialists now considering it to merely function as a form taxon or folk taxon rather than a technical grouping. Referring to cetartiodactyls, perissodactyls, and paenungulates is more proper but, for the sake of International *Ungulate* Day, we can let it slide for now.Read More »

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Eco-Advisor: A Guide to Rewilding Your Heart and Curing Ecological Boredom

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My family has been on multiple wildlife-related excursions throughout the course of my lifetime, with one of the most unforgettable being whale-watching at Booth Bay Harbor in 2006. The experience of observing this massive humpback whale spyhop so near to the vessel we were on made an indelible mark on my memory. My own ecotourism experiences like these certainly shaped my passion for wildlife education and conservation from a young age.

For the past two months, I have had the wonderful opportunity of attending Canisius College as a freshman majoring in the Animal Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation program, and have met plenty of like-minded individuals as a result. The major has established a strong, tightly-knit network of zoologically-inclined students and is truly shaping a bright future for our planet’s biodiversity. The ABEC program distinguishes Canisius as one of the first institutions to include ethical considerations in its animal behavior curriculum, and it has led discussion on prominent topics in the zoological community through the affiliated Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relationships. One area of particular focus has been ecotourism, the topic of a 2015 symposium able to be viewed here. We live at a time of growing environmental consciousness where people are anxious to experience and conserve the remaining areas of truly wild habitat for fear of the heavy hand of widespread global climate change and deforestation. Ecotourism, defined by The International Ecotourism Society (2015) as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education”, may be seen as fulfilling this desire. Two brilliant and trendy concepts characterize what I feel is the drive behind this movement: George Monbiot’s (2015) notion of ‘ecological boredom’ and Marc Bekoff’s (2014) idea of ‘rewilding our hearts’. Both center around humankind’s distancing from the natural world in which it evolved, and the likelihood that reestablishing this connection through greater immersion into nature would be beneficial both to our well-being and that of the biosphere on which we depend. I wish I could devote more time to these notions now, but that is not the focus of this particular article. Recently, I learned of the latest contribution to ecotourism coming out of Canisius: an innovative travel appraisal site called Eco-Advisor.

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Redating Homo floresiensis and Reconsidering the Genocide Hypothesis

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The Liang Bua cave (LB1) Homo floresiensis individual and the cover of Dr. Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee (Source; Source)

I have no intention for this blog to act as a regular news source, but I will occasionally cover current zoological issues or findings if I feel that I can offer any sort of valuable commentary. This is an example of a brief news-oriented article. A paper published last Wednesday in Nature titled Revised stratigraphy and chronology for Homo floresiensis at Liang Bua in Indonesia proposes a new date for the diminutive-bodied and small-brained hominins uncovered in 2003. Rather than attempt to summarize the paper, here is the abstract:

Homo floresiensis, a primitive hominin species discovered in Late Pleistocene sediments at Liang Bua (Flores, Indonesia)1, 2, 3, has generated wide interest and scientific debate. A major reason this taxon is controversial is because the H. floresiensis-bearing deposits, which include associated stone artefacts2, 3, 4 and remains of other extinct endemic fauna5, 6, were dated to between about 95 and 12 thousand calendar years (kyr) ago2, 3, 7. These ages suggested that H. floresiensis survived until long after modern humans reached Australia by ~50 kyr ago8, 9, 10. Here we report new stratigraphic and chronological evidence from Liang Bua that does not support the ages inferred previously for the H. floresiensis holotype (LB1), ~18 thousand calibrated radiocarbon years before present (kyr cal. bp), or the time of last appearance of this species (about 17 or 13–11 kyr cal. bp)1, 2, 3, 7, 11. Instead, the skeletal remains of H. floresiensis and the deposits containing them are dated to between about 100 and 60 kyr ago, whereas stone artefacts attributable to this species range from about 190 to 50 kyr in age. Whether H. floresiensis survived after 50 kyr ago—potentially encountering modern humans on Flores or other hominins dispersing through southeast Asia, such as Denisovans12, 13—is an open question.

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Of ‘Giant Horned Bunnies’ and Perplexing Phylogeny

The large uintathere Eobasileus as illustrated by Tim Morris. Read on for why this impressive mammal has significance to this particular article.
The large Eocene uintathere Eobasileus as illustrated by Tim Morris. Read on for why this spectacular mammal has significance to this particular article.

Phylogeny, which can defined as the study of the evolutionary history and relationships amongst the animal kingdom, is one of the branches of zoological research which most captivates me with its complex and often unexpected nature. In the earliest article published on the Blogger-based Bizarre Zoology blog, I made brief reference to an obscure phylogenetic hypothesis which I first caught word of in paleozoologist Dr. Darren Naish’s Tetrapod Zoology Book One. This was done with the intention of introducing the sorts of topics which would form the focal point of my writing, yet I did so quite poorly in that I neglected to elaborate beyond a few sentences. To kick things off after this blog’s relocation, I have chosen to return to this topic which has been given scant attention in scientific literature but just enough to grab hold of my taste for all that is bizarre and zoological. This is the fascinating albeit tenuous link proposed between Dinocerata and Lagomorpha, something which may not sound so interesting unless you are familiar with the animals grouped within these taxonomic orders.Read More »

An Introduction to Bizarre Zoology

Logo of the Bizarre Zoology blog, illustrated by Essex artist Thomas Finley
Logo of the Bizarre Zoology blog, illustrated by Essex artist Thomas Finley

All too often, I encounter people who somehow regard the animal kingdom as being static, boring, and irrelevant to ‘the human world’. In reality, Zoology has shown it to be a plethora of diverse and truly bizarre species, evolutionary histories, anatomies, and behaviors. Reflecting a lifelong interest in such matters, I set out to start a blog through which I could share my musings on noteworthy findings and speculations relating to the fields of Zoology, Cryptozoology, Paleontology, and Paleoanthropology. Since August of 2012, I have been writing at a blog titled Bizarre Zoology (see former location here) with over eighty articles published. This site exceeded 300,000 views at its most recent publication and was home to 1,031 comments. Despite this considerable success, I have since moved its location to WordPress, an act which may lead one to wonder why I have started anew. The answer largely lies with issues arising from the Blogger platform, such as the small text size and inability to upload images. The features which a WordPress domain has to offer are also better-suited for my blog. Through media attachment capabilities such as the inclusion of PowerPoint and PDF files, I will be able to vary the content I produce and perhaps include some of the related work I have done during the schooling which has otherwise prevented my ability to produce articles. I may run into some unexpected drawbacks or even revert back to the Blogger domain entirely, but I am currently hopeful about the future of this blog’s relocation. As you will see in forthcoming articles, my style of writing has changed somewhat in contrast to what can be found on my older site. The overall tone and structure has improved, which I owe to the spectacular education I have received from my highschool’s English department. Also, the organization of my articles has changed so as to better relay my thoughts in writing, as I am now using titles to better distinguish and space out my points.

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Various photographs taken by the author, with each representing one of the blog’s focal points of Zoology, Cryptozoology, Paleontology, and Paleoanthropology, respectively.

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Have A Merry Christmas and A Zoological New Year

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The annual Bizarre Zoology Christmas card; “On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me: five Heuvelmansian sea serpents a-swimming…” The illustration is by Cameron McCormick, with the festive additions by yours truly.

Why not kick off the new face of the Bizarre Zoology blog with some Christmas cheer? For those of you who may be very confused, check out the former version of Bizarre Zoology located at Blogger and keep watching this space for future, more intelligent posts. Regardless, this annual Christmas card should give you some sort of an idea as to what this blog will be about and all will be explained in the near future. Until then, have a blessed Christmas and a wonderfully zoological New Year.