Couple of fun things here. First, if you’d like to play with — or print — 3D models of megalodon teeth, there are a bunch of them on Sketchfab, helpfully curated by Thomas Flynn, the Cultural Heritage Lead there. As of this writing there are 24 meg teeth in the collection (link), and by my count 14 of them are downloadable, 11 for free and 3 for sale. If you’re not already on the ‘fab, it takes like 2 minutes to create a free account, and then all you gotta do is click on the download icon next to each freely downloadable tooth.

Second, I obviously named this post series after Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, but the sad fact is that Discovery Channel documentaries long ago took a steep nose dive into being mostly garbage. I guess if you like seeing the same footage half a dozen times in a 40-minute documentary, being repeatedly beaten over the head with the same three very basic facts (or, too often, “facts”), and wondering which thing the creators have more contempt for, the actual science or you, the audience, then go ahead, knock yourself out.

If, on the other hand, you like non-repetitive, vibrant footage, non-repetitive, useful and informative narration, and coherent programming you can actually learn from, let me suggest the Free Documentary – Nature channel on YouTube.

“Rise of the Great White Shark – A History 11 Million Years in the Making” is excellent, with tons of great footage and some very nicely-done explanations of the sensory and thermoregulatory adaptations of great whites and other sharks — and, whaddayaknow, a fact-based, non-sensationalized, and still awesome segment on megalodon.

I also learned a lot from “Shark Business”, about the growing ecotourism business of boat- and scuba-based shark tours or shark encounters. Two things in particular stood out: first, because sharks don’t have hands, their exploratory way of interacting with objects in their environment is to give everything a test bite. The vast majority of shark “attacks” on humans consist of a single bite, with a quick disengagement and no pursuit of the human by the shark. It’s just that sharks have super-sharp teeth and incredibly powerful jaws, and even a comparative gentle (to the shark) test bite can leave a person severely injured or dead. That sharks most often don’t intend any harm is probably cold comfort to people who have been subject to test bites, but it’s a useful thing to understand if you’re genuinely interested in sharks.

The other thing that jumped out at me is the 50-second segment that starts at 7:45, in which a tour guide is shown pushing on the snouts of great white sharks with his bare fingers as they approach the boat. The sharks roll their eyes back, open their mouths, and seem to go catatonic for a bit. Although they don’t make this connection explicitly in the doc, sharks generally roll their eyes back when they go in for a bite, presumably to protect their eyes from the object they’re sampling. I wonder if the nose touch signals to the shark that it’s bite time, and it rolls its eyes back, opens its mouth, and waits for something to bite down on. It seems like a useful thing to be aware of in case a shark is ever coming at you — a gentle push on the snout might put the shark into zombie mode for long enough to get out of the way. On the flip side, if you push the shark’s snoot and don’t get out of the way, it might be super-primed to take a hunk out of you. Note: I am not a shark expert, this is not professional advice, and I assume no liability if a shark eats your arm off. I just thought it was an interesting bit of shark biology that could conceivably pay off in an emergency.

Is this really going to be a whole week of shark posts? Beats me! I’m making this up as I go. Let’s find out.

No, not his new Brachiosaurus humerus — his photograph of the Chicago Brachiosaurus mount, which he cut out and cleaned up seven years ago:

This image has been on quite a journey. Since Matt published this cleaned-up photo, and furnished it under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC By) licence, it has been adopted as the lead image of Wikipedia’s Brachiosaurus page [archvied]:

Consequently (I assume) it has now become Google’s top hit for brachiosaurus skeleton:

Last Saturday, Fiona and I went to Birdland, a birds-only zoo in the Cotswolds, about an hour away from where we live. The admission price also includes “Jurassic Journey”, a walking tour of a dozen or so not-very-good dinosaur models. In an interpretive centre in this area, I found this Brachiosaurus skeletal reconstruction stencilled on the wall:

I immediately knew it was the Chicago mount due to the combination of Giraffatitan anterior dorsals and Brachiosaurus posterior dorsals; but I found it more hauntingly familiar than that. A quick hunt turned up Matt’s seven-year-old post, and when I told Matt about my discovery he filled me in on its use in Wikipedia.

So this is 99% of a good story: we’re delighted that this work is out there, and has resulted in a much better Brachiosaurus image at Birdland than the rather sad-looking Stegosaurus next to it. The only slight disappointment is that I couldn’t find any sign of credit, which they really should have included given that Matt put the image out under CC By rather than in the public domain.

But as Matt said: “Even though I didn’t get credited, I’m always chuffed to see my stuff out in the world.” So true.


A couple of weeks ago, I said I was going to toss out my hardcopy issues of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology unless someone wanted them and was prepared to pay for shipping.

The good news is that Andrew Stuck did want them. We got in touch and arranged shipping, and they arrived at his house a few days ago. Here they are in their new home:


Andrew apologises that “they may not have the best bunkmates, as they fit best next to my collection of old creationist children’s literature. I think my shelf might spontaneously combust.”

But I’m glad to see that (on the lower shelf) he has both the Thunder Lizards edited volume and Gerhard Maier’s definitive book on the Tendaguru expeditions, African Dinosaurs Unearthed. (If I ever get the Archbishop description done, I will cite the heck out of this!) Also, Mark Witton’s Pterosaurs, the Normanpedia, and more.

I’m really glad that these journals ended up somewhere they can do some good, rather than recycled as paper pulp or dumped in a landfill somewhere.

Next up: I am going to get rid of nearly all my printed journal articles — I am guessing about 7500 pages. (I’ll keep a few that don’t seem to exist in electronic form, and a couple of others that have really nice print quality in the illustrations, such as my Janensch 1950.)

I’m trying to free some space in my office, and I’m going to let my run of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology go:

2016-03-24 07.42.13-2--stack-of-jvp

It covers everything from 25(4) to volume 29(2) — a run from December 2005 to March 2009) — and also includes the lone issue 29(4) for December 2009 and the SVP meeting abstract volumes for 2006 and 2008 (i.e. issues 26(3s) and 28(3s)). (I don’t know what happened to the 2007 and 2009 SVP abstract volumes, sorry.)

All in all, they make a stack about 25 cm tall, and weigh just a little short of 17 kg.

Does anyone want them? Let me know within a week if you do. You either come and pick them up yourself from our home in the Forest of Dean, or pay for me to send them to you by your preferred method.

If no-one wants them within a week, they’re going in the bin.

(Note to self: size of package: 33x25x27)

Liem et al 2001 PPTs - intro slide

Functional Anatomy of the Vertebrates: An Evolutionary Perspective, by Liem et al. (2001), is by some distance my favorite comparative vertebrate anatomy text. When I was a n00b at Berkeley, Marvalee Wake assigned it to me as preparatory reading for my qualifying exams.

This scared me to death back then. Now I love it.

This scared me to death back then. Now I love it – sharkitecture!

The best textbooks, like Knut Schmidt-Nielsen’s Animal Physiology (which deserves a post or even series of its own sometime), have a clarity of writing and illustration that makes the fundamentals of life seem not only comprehensible, but almost inevitable – without losing sight of the fact that nature is complex and we don’t know everything yet. FAotV has both qualities, in spades.

Where vertebrae come from.

Where vertebrae come from. Liem et al. (2001: fig. 8.4).

I’m writing about this now because Willy Bemis, second author on FAotV, has just made ALL of the book’s illustrations available for free on his website, in a series of 22 PowerPoint files that correspond to the 22 chapters of the book. All told they add up to about 155 Mb, which is trivial – even the $5 jump drives in the checkout lanes at department stores have five to ten times as much space.

Aiiiieeee - a theropod! Aim for its head!

Aiiiieeee – a theropod! Aim for its head! Liem et al. (2001: fig. 8.17).

Of course, to get the full benefit you should also pick up a copy of the book. I see used copies going for under $40 in a lot of places online. Mine will have pride of place on my bookshelf until I enter the taphonomic lottery. And I’ll be raiding these PPTs for images from now until then, too.

Countercurrent gas exchange in fish gills - a very cool system.

Countercurrent gas exchange in fish gills – a very cool system. Liem et al. (2001: fig. 18.6).

So do the right thing, and go download this stuff, and use it. Be sure to credit Liem et al. (2001) for the images, and thank Willy Bemis for making them all available. It’s a huge gift to the field. Here’s that link again.

Liem et al 2001 PPTs - shark jaw and forelimb musculature

Dangit, if only there was a free online source for illustrations of shark anatomy… Liem et al (2001: fig. 10.12).

But wait – that’s not all! Starting on June 28, Dr. Bemis will be one of six faculty members from Cornell and the University of Queensland teaching a 4-week massively open online course (MOOC) on sharks. Freakin’ sharks, man!

“What did you do this summer? Hang out and play Nintendo?”

“Yep. Oh, and I also took a course on freakin’ sharks from some awesome shark experts. You?”

As the “massively open” part implies, the course is free, although you have the option of spending $49 to get a certificate of completion (assuming you finish satisfactorily). Go here to register or get more info.


  • Liem, K.F., Bemis, W.E., Walker, W.F., and Grande, L. 2001. Functional Anatomy of the Vertebrates. (3rd ed.). Thomson/Brooks Cole, Belmont, CA.