Alligator Sesamoid Anatomy

We are happy to present a new project authored by Henry P. Tsai and myself entitled “Ontogeny of the Alligator Cartilago Transiliens and Its Significance for Sauropsid Jaw Muscle Evolution” which is out in PLoS ONE this week. The link to the paper is here. 

The paper describes a nodular structure characteristic to crocodilian jaw muscles known as the cartilago transiliens. Despite its familiarity to morphologists, anatomists, and the like, few studies have focused much on it. We tested the hypothesis that the structure is actually a sesamoid, or an intramuscular nodule, linking two historically disparate muscles. Historically, its been treated as a special structure without any particular developmental history. By using imaging, dissection and histology methods on a sample of different-aged alligators, we found that, based on a number of criteria, indeed the cartilaginous nodule is likely a sesamoid. Not earth-shattering research but it holds significance for understanding how the jaw muscles function, how they develop,  how they evolved among reptiles and the nature of the pterygoid buttress system of crocodilians. I had stumbled on this idea about the sesamoid/cartilago transiliens back when we published the 2007 J Morph Archosaur Jaw Muscle Homology paper. So, it’s good to see another paper spawn out of that work.

Besides integrating classical dissection and histology, the project was fun because we got to employ a relatively new staining technique using Lugol’s Iodine (I2KI) and MicroCT to visualize the 3D anatomy of the jaw musculature. I hinted at some of this last year and it’s good to see our first shot make it to press. Its remarkable how different iodine-enhanced CT is compared to MRI, which is sometimes used for muscle anatomy…though it’s best for brain and nervous tissue.

Similar coronal sections through same Alligator specimen using MicroMRI (Left) and Iodine-enhance MicroCT (Right)

We have put together a 3D model and pdf of the dataset, which is featured extensively in the paper. We bumped into a couple of technical difficulties at the last minute this week, so we aren’t able to launch at the same time the paper comes out (darn) however, it’ll be up soon enough. We’ll be employing this technique often in the Holliday Lab as it’s proven essential to understanding the 3D anatomy of muscles and other soft tissues that were always a challenge to convey on 2D figures, and almost impossible to get at using standard CT scanning and even MRI. Had this technique been around during my dissertation, it would’ve been a completely different monster. So jaw muscles v2.0 here we come.

The real milestone here is that this paper marks the 1st paper published with my 1st graduate student. hoo-rah. Henry is keen on limb anatomy moreso than heads, but in our Integrative Anatomy program, we have graduate students perform research rotations within their advisor’s lab as well as in other neighboring labs in IA or in other departments. This let’s them learn several subjects and techniques while they develop ideas for dissertations, get to know labs, etc. We thought this project would be a great compromise on learning bread & butter techniques in the lab, connective tissue biology & cartilage while working on a small soft tissue anatomy project on an animal we’re both quite fond of. Henry rocked it and was key in seeing its publication basically one year after he started graduate school.

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Lung Anatomy High School Workshop

Team Airway Anatomy: Holliday, Odum, Duff, Hammond, Skiljan, Gant, Tsai

The lab held it’s second high school workshop several weeks ago, the first being our Inside Alligators workshop. I just got the CD of pictures, so its share time. Again we partnered with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI) Maps in Medicine program, which organized 60 pan-Missouri High School students accompanied by a handful of their teachers. The students, most of which were in 10th grade, were spending an entire week on Mizzou’s campus as part of a Summer Academy, a science boot camp directed towards understanding infection, infectious diseases, biotech and the like while participating in a number of hand-on activities and lectures. They had already had a full day’s worth of activities by the time they came to us around 7pm on a Wednesday to learn about airway and lung anatomy as it relates to respiratory diseases, infections, other maladies.

Again, we had a mix of outstanding students helping out with the workshop including 2 Integrative AnatomyPhD students:Henry Tsai and Ashley Hammond, 2 Holliday lab undergrads: Cortaiga Gant and Rebecca Skiljan, as well as 2 senior Pathology Residents: Dieter Duff and Brian Odum. Everyone was responsible for particular workstations we had set up, although everyone got the chance to rotate around the room.  Our 4 stations included 1) Imaging and cross-sectional anatomy of the thorax; 2) General Airway anatomy using plastic models; 3) Histology and Pathology (led by our two Path Residents) and  4) Gross lung anatomy. The last station benefited from timing the workshop to follow on the heels of the summer’s Physical Therapy gross anatomy course so we could harvest about 20 pairs of lungs from the cadavers used. Students were able to dig out structures from within lungs, appreciate various pathological or disease conditions in the lungs, and generally have their way with them.

The Visible Plank

Each station was accompanied by worksheets asking the students to find things, think about structure-function and clinical problems, prescribe treatments, and map air and blood flow among other tasks. This was the second batch of worksheets like this I’ve put together, I’m getting better, but it remains challenging to appropriately steer the level of difficulty towards the students–they always end up surprising me in their knowledge, imagination, and ability to tackle some of the problems I’ve put before them. Like before, I’ll spam a bunch of pictures and let them to the talking.

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We’re still here. I’ve been struggling with my own writer’s block while trying to make progress on grants and other projects. I’ve found that I really enjoy editing/fixing other’s papers (not reviewing professionally perse) more than initiating my own–So, send me your unfinished MS’s, I’ll fix them up, for a price.  I’m waiting to hear about a couple of papers currently in review that I can’t wait to start talking about–one of which I got to rewrite/reformat 4 different times for different journals. what a life-sucking, joyless enterprise that was.

This past year has turned into a serious effort towards projects in crocodilian anatomy and evolution–not actually sure how-I think mainly because we had a bunch of alligators on hand, and they’re easy to get, or they were just “simple” projects waiting for their chance in the limelight to be expanded upon. Important questions to be answered! Regardless, besides the papers in the pipeline, we’ve got 5 abstracts from the lab in review for SVP,  2 for  LACVP in Argentina in September, mostly all with croc themes.  Crocodilian muscles, nerves, ligaments, symphyses, vessels, and more!  It will be the Crocopocalypse if they all get accepted, and of course published  (several are well on their way).

My favorite ongoing project is one on symphyses. Below is a panel from a recent university-event poster featuring imaging and histology of one from an 3-month old alligator.   The one histology pic doesn’t do it justice. We’ve been scanning all of our slides on an Aperio slide scanner; which affords the ability to get low mag, whole-joint pics (a real challenge using standard scopes and collaging them), as well as high magnification images from the same image. One can get lost in the images: students show up with freshly scanned histo and I waste their time while I pan around going Oooh and Aaaah, and “holy crap! that’s so cool” (replace crap and cool with more vulgar terms*). Once the papers come out, we’ll be (trying) to host the slide scan data (somewhere) since the software is freely downloadable. But the files are 20-140Mb in size…new challenges around every corner.

A motif I’ve been using recently is combining imaging data and models with histology. We used it in our lizard symphysis paper, gecko joints paper, and in a few others in the works. We’ve received a lot of positive feedback via direct communication, grant reviews, and word of mouth, about this combination of techniques and will continue to use it.   I’ve even recommended it in MS reviews as a means to link 3D models with their histological data (whoops, not anonymous anymore). Scout images for histo are certainly not new, nor are scout images for individual CT sections. But apparently, its a lost art, maybe not. Even though CT scanning gets you a lot of great bony data, I think we may have forgotten about the snot that holds all those fun wiggly bits together; so given the right image data, you can meet the histology half way.

*Regarding vulgarity, myself and all of my local (and many other) colleagues have incredibly foul mouths, it’s almost sporting. From my experience, researchers often communicate very effectively using language unacceptable for CDs sold at your local big box store. Our summer undergraduate fellows are here, and one in a neighboring lab apparently takes offense towards “vulgar language”.  I haven’t asked exactly what constitutes as vulgar language, but I may have to find out the hard way. Given their fellowship is to expose them to research environments, should they not experience most, if not all aspects? including the normal and acceptable vernacular? It’s not like I go on my almost comically disgusting tirades in front of them; I just speak normally. Poor UG fellows.

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The Internet is for Alligators-new educational and research resource

As I’ve discussed previously, 3D models of morphological data are becoming commonplace and natural forms of disseminating data on the web. Today, we are proud to present a new online web resource: the 3D Alligator.  The Holliday Lab and WitmerLab are co-hosting, and co-launching new, complementary sites which offer new 3D models of skull and soft tissue elements of the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis). Our site hosts models of an adult alligator; Witmerlab hosts new models of a hatchling alligator as well as other goodies from past papers.

Sample image from 3D Alligator, one of my favorite elements.

Both offer 3D pdfs, Quicktime movies and numerous other features. In particular, the Adult Alligator has separate pages for every element of the skull where there are Java-based Wirefusion models and labeled jpg images (visit the Laterosphenoid page). There are numerous structures and minutiae (to some) that were not labeled, and there are limitations to what 3D models of a medical CT dataset can show in web-friendly, smoothed format, but hopefully this is the next best thing to having a disarticulated alligator skull in your hands.

Rebecca Skiljan and the 3D Alligator poster at Mizzou Life Sciences Research Day

Most of the work on the Holliday Lab page is thanks to the efforts of Undergraduate Lab Assistant and now Hughes Research Fellow Rebecca Skiljan. Becci has been working on this site since early Fall 2010. Every student who comes through the lab learns the basics of digitally extracting parts of CT or MRI data to aid various ongoing analyses–this one took on a life of its own. Thanks to this experience, among other things, Becci was awarded a prestigious undergraduate research fellowship to employ her skills in a project on the feeding mechanics of a fossil crocodilian during her senior year.

Go check out the site! Please come back with you comments, ideas for additions, or any problems you may have. We expect the site to grow with some upcoming additions.

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Inside Alligators-anatomy and public outreach

This past February 12, the Holliday Lab participated in a fairly substantial day of activities. First, strike that…First, to prepare for the 12th, Henry Tsai and I beat a blizzard home by 15min (really!-a drive of legend) with a truck full of gators from Louisiana the previous week -the truck  o’ gators was snowed in in my driveway for 3 days. THEN, on the 12th, Darwin’s birthday, I gave a talk for Mizzou’s Saturday Morning Science program for the general public of Columbia-I think it was the largest crowd I’ve spoken to (Talk title: Inside Alligators: functional anatomy and evolution).  That afternoon, my lab and I hosted  students from 4 different regional high schools (some from as far as St. Louis) as well as a handful of Veterinary School students as part of the Howard Hughes Maps in Medicine Program, a scientific outreach program for high school students, their teachers, and select undergrads.

Few things beat holding a fossil (or gator viscera) in your hand, pointing out interesting things about it, and then handing it off to some interested stranger standing next to you. Whichever side of the transaction you might be on, few can argue that its not an exhilarating experience. I’ve done this at FLMNH with horse, sloth and Smilodon bits, Disney’s Animal Kingdom with Sue the Trex parts, as a grad student, and now as faculty–it never gets old. On the other hand, holding up a little vial of some possibly visible DNA, is something I do not find appealing. So, I’m happy to say that by the end of Saturday’s activities, dozens of people, of all ages, were able to touch, hold, and study some fossil specimens we have on loan, which for various reasons, will likely never be on display at a museum–they’ll likely be locked away in a cabinet. Many of these people may not even ever make it to museums. They also got to explore vertebrate anatomy in a way few get to.

Some of this is self-serving, professional development; I’m identifying avenues for broader impacts for my research that NSF finds appealing either as portions of a standard submission, or the more elaborate Career award. So I’m looking to bring my flavor of paleontology, evolution, and anatomy/physiology to various groups. Many of the activities were geared toward curricular guidelines the schools operate under. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy every moment of it.

We organized the afternoon workshop into 4 different stations followed by a final wrap up and integration period.  Each station had a worksheet to guide the participants through the exercises which included inferring behavior, drawing, measuring skulls, and wading through abdominal anatomy. Although the students originally split into 4 groups, by the end of the day, everyone had flocked to the dissection stations and many protested leaving.

Station 1: Skull anatomy: Objectives-to identify major features of the skull in humans,  ID  them with other vertebrates, and discuss functional differences

Station 2: Dental anatomy: Objectives- Compare and contrast features of dentition and infer diet and chewing behavior

Station 3: Estimating Size: Objectives-Measure portions of crocodilian skulls and using simple equations, estimate their head length

Station 4: Anatomy: Objectives-dissect and identify major organs and other structures in several specimens of Alligator mississippiensis. We also had help from 5 veterinary students interested in exotic medicine. It was their first gator dissection as well.

I’m going to use this post to share part of the day’s activities; it was quite a bit of work, but having just received a CD of photographs from the day, they reminded me of how rewarding the entire experience was-we will do it again. The photos speak for themselves. Thanks to the Mizzou Saturday Morning Science program, Terese Dishaw for photography, Bill Folk and Doris Shoemaker for recruiting the students and organizing the HHMI MAPS program, and Henry Tsai, Becci Skiljan, and Cortaiga Gant for spending their Saturday (and several days prior) helping organize the workshop.

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Visit to Texas Memorial Museum

Xradia microCT scanner at University of Texas

There have been lots of things going on lately, drawing my attention away from updating the blog.  Stay tuned, we’ve got some pretty cool projects in the pipeline.

Basement of the TMM

Last week I visited the Texas Memorial Museum in Austin, Texas. There, I was trying out their newish Xradia MicroCT scanner to collect some incredibly high resolution images of specimens (one is in the pipette tip in the middle of the picture) as well as working through their collections of extant and fossil archosaur material.

TMM’s collections are quite extensive, spanning everything from the Permian to the Pleistocene (it is a big state after all). I was able to study the face of the giant Cretaceous pterosaur Quetzlcoatlus, the jaws of the Permian synapsid Dimetrodon, and the skull of the Eocene crocodilian Pristichampsus, among other animals, largely those from the Triassic and Jurassic.

Trilophosaurus mandible

But damn the fossils, perhaps some of the most rewarding experiences included talking over specimens and history with the local faculty including Tim Rowe, Wann Langston, Ernie Lundelius, and Sterling Nesbitt. We can’t forget the most gracious of hosts, Matt Brown, who not only put me up during my stay, but who, with minimal scolding, quickly glued back the cusp of the Trilophosaurus tooth I broke while reenacting chewing behavior. One can’t always have a 3D, animated, trapeeze-swinging, hi resolution, strutting model handy to non-destructively test functional hypotheses.

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In memorium: Wolff

Wolff Obi 2010

I recently got an alumni postcard from UF’s Zoology Department. The back had  an obituary for Ron Wolff, their Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy professor for the past 3 decades. It’s a bummer.

I had him for CVA as well as an Environments of Extinction seminar in 1996 or so. His class was one of the ones that got me into this entire field, so I thank him for it; I borrowed lots of papers from him for term projects on carnivoran skull mechanics (Smilodon ftw) and  the Permian Extinction. I  even returned papers back  then.  As it was required for UF Medical and I believe Veterinary School, it was a huge class, well over 100 students (big for a CVA class) with a brutal lab exam. I took his class, and Dave Webb’s Vertebrate Paleontology class during the same semester. It was crazy. The entire semester, I was either in the CVA lab, or the VP range. Much like my job now.

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Toxic rejection

We had a paper rejected on the 2nd review this past week. Some of the comments were ok and fixable. But the main logic the editor used to reject the paper was that our paper dealt with Toxicology, not necessarily Anatomy, which thus removed itself from the umbrella subject matter of the journal (the paper was on tox effects on bone in an particular taxon). I have 2 beefs (which I’m considering sending to the editor):

1) They could have rejected us on this criteria upon our 1st submission and not wasted 2 reviewers’ time (both reviewers found the paper acceptable with slight revisions; it was the editor that chimed in as the dissenting opinion) as well as ours. The paper had been been turned down for review by other journals for its Tox subject matter. So to reject the improved paper-we did what  the editor asked (which cost some $$)- on a criterion that should have occurred early during the submission project grinds my gears.

2) Said journal publishes numerous papers on the effects of drugs, hormones, and other chemicals/enzymes etc on bone and other connective tissues. So what’s the difference between a common pollutant, and any other chemical you stick in your animal? I’d like to know. Fluorescing Bone labeling dyes, could be considered toxic to reptiles given they chelate calcium and can thus be detrimental to your low metabolic rate animal. I’m not a Tox person, but it all seems the same to me.

This scarlet letter of toxicology is worrisome to me (again, i’m not a toxicologist)  because, apparently you can’t get Tox papers into  normal organismal biology  journals–they all go to a handful of Tox journals. But results like the ones our paper discusses are important to organismal researchers that study (or collect) natural populations of animals…those populations are exposed to various pollutants, oil spills, Ag runoff and the like, and these exposures may be manifested in their phenotypes and skeletal tissues. This in turn may actually impact your results and observations depending on if your animal is stressed out, under physiological duress, or already manifesting problems you might not see from the outside.

Recently in journal club we discussed a paper from the last 5 years that was studying bone phenotypes from “natural populations” of our beloved North American crocodilian. However, one group of animals  (the individuals were pooled in the paper) came from a string of lakes in North Central Florida renowned for agricultural runoff and pollution; papers have been published on the obvious and deleterious effects of these pollutants on the physiology and skeletal phenotypes of the animals (males suffer some “shrinkage” among other effects). Organopollutants (from oil spills, Ag runoff etc) have an established literature that indicates they have effects on the endocrine system and skeletal tissue regulation.  So I wonder if these animals are good, representative individuals to use in not only understanding the biology of this taxon, but then to use these data to comment on the biology of their extinct relatives. We should be careful.

Regardless of our paper’s fate, it is important for biologists to know where their animals come from. Given our current issues with the environment, its likely going to be a growing concern.


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Jurassic Park Gave us Vegisaurus; Madagascar Gave us Vegisuchus

L. lateral view of Type Specimen, 2004

The SVP memoir describing the Cretaceous crocodyliform Simosuchus is published! Its magnificent and a great contribution likely full of more data and buried treasure than one person could ever use. Its a frequent problem that weekly Science/Nature articles describing new and amazing fossils never follow up with an adequate description and analysis; not this time, and the authors flaunt this fact. It took a few years, but with new specimens and comprehensive treatment, there’s little one can complain about.

I first saw this specimen being prepped at the Field Museum, jeez like in 99? maybe and said, “wow what kind of amphibian is that!?, Greg Buckley told me “it’s a crocodile” with clear intonations that I was a doofus for thinking otherwise. I thought it looked like a big frog or something in the state it was in. who’da thought? I got to return in 2004 to study the specimen (left).

The memoir has numerous articles about various parts  and phylo analysis of the animal (Turner and Sertich).  I only really care about the skull. But, the phylo analysis chapter has some exquisite comparative pictures of notosuchian skulls, and I REALLY like the way the authors illustrate character #s and their codes directly onto the pictures of the specimens; some specific labels fail a bit, but the thought counts and motif is greatly appreciated. It is such a help for those trying to pair up morphology and coding.The skull chapter is rich with cross-sectional data from the hi res CT scans they have been taunting us with for 7years. Perhaps the next generation of papers like this one will come with a high-res 3D model with codings attached as orbiting comments. A brief scan through the limb chapter (Sertich and Groenke) has muscles mapped onto the limbs, so it must be good!

Fig. 7 From Holliday and Witmer, 2009, JVP

With it’s virtually iguana/ornithischian-like multicusped teeth, short face, and vertical jaw muscles, Simosuchus takes the cake presenting fairly solid evidence of a plant-eating crocodile.  It bears other notosuchian characteristics like enlarged dorsotemporal fenestrae and pterygoideus muscles substantially smaller than your standard-fare flat-headed crocodylian–features that I care about. The rostrally shifted, small pterygoid buttress is way cool and I’m really interested in the ‘more in depth functional analysis to occur elsewhere’ they hint at in the Discussion of the skull.

I was very pleased a few years ago to hear from Nate Kley that our interpretations of an epipterygoid in the taxon in our 2009  JVP Croc Braincase Paper (Top Right) was supported by its presence in some of the additional specimens–it was also appreciated that the Simosuchus team allowed us to figure the specimen in that same paper. There’s a paper on the way out on a Metriorhynchid braincase that also supports our interpretations of epipterygoids in Thallatosuchians, so its a bit of a relief that our findings on croc braincases are making their way into the literature and that they’re being supported.

Trying to interpret the biology of such a unique animal is what paleontology is all about and the Discussion is fun with the authors debating whether the animal could use its head to burrow (probably not) (Nate Kley is an expert on fossorial reptiles) and I assume Justin Georgi taking head posture inferences to task. As for the latter, regardless of how one views the utility and significance of semicircular canals, it’d be nice to see a comprehensive treatment of how crocs hold their heads alertly with respect to ears, and/or occipital muscles, before strongly applying data from Pigeon ears to such a bizarre animal like Simosuchus. Such is life. I wonder if the huge palpebrals might have significantly limited its vision with a down-tilted head. Maybe it didn’t care as long as the Simosuchus-opener Masiakosaurus wasn’t lurking about.

The Discussion also notes that new data from the epipterygoid/braincase paper, and other adductor chamber features should benefit future phylogenetic analyses (hooray?maybe we should resurrect our supermatrix and new characters paper). Croc phylogenetics is a mess challenge with numerous virtually irreconcilable matrices lurking about, so I’m not particularly interested in touching that specific problem with a 10ft, stolen copy of TNT. That said, I’m funded to go to South America this next year to work up the Notosuchian end of my ongoing croc research more fully so stay tuned. Attila Osi is doing something similar, and certainly the local researchers on continuing their work. Maybe we can fold some new characters into “the matrix”; I’ve  played with our specific braincase characters, and they’re not pretty, particularly if you have an aversion to multi-state, non-independent characters, and holes & donuts. I think scoring cranial anatomy into independent 0s and 1s is a ludicrous, albeit, I suppose necessary? exercise.

The use of “glenoid fossa” as the identifier for the jaw joint throughout the paper is the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard with me since the glenoid is really either the scapular structure receiving the humerus, or the mammalian squamosal receptacle of the articular disk and dentary. -That- contextual issue aside, the glenoid fossa of mammals is nonhomologous with the articular fossa of sauropsids, so maybe we can move away from its usage in reptile heads one day. I might just shut up about it.  That said, the jaw joints of Simosuchus and other notosuchians are very interesting given their morphologies consistently suggest to paleontologists that there was propalinal (fore-aft) movement of the jaw. This morphology differs from the heavily buttressed, high-walled, ligament-scarred, articular fossae of torsional feeding, hard-biting crocodylians.

Awesome animal, and absolutely beautiful specimens; so many out of the Mahajanga Basin are.

Screw the Age of dinosaurs, the Mesozoic was the Age of Crocs!

I know we gripe about the use of “living fossil” or the “myth of living fossils” as a hook in the media, and “living fossil” is a lame, naive term and an all-too-common misconception. But I think that even though many people in Paleontology  have been aware of notosuchians, herbivorous crocs, and the Mesozoic explosion of crocs for a while now; they don’t always realize the general public still is not all that aware of them. There aren’t any TV shows on them, no kid’s books, no toys, no stickers, they’re not in cartoons, there’s no Notosuchian Train featuring Dr. Pol or the like. It’s rare that the Gondwanan  taxa get much limelight in the press in Laurasia and when they do, they get cute names.  I wonder if applying cutesy mammalish names to Gondwanan crocs like Dog-croc, cat-croc, rat-croc, boar-croc (ffs pancake croc?! is in its own category) etc are really doing croc evolutionary diversity, outreach, and science a disservice.  I can see how an analogy with mammals may be important to convey the niches we think these crocs occupied, but I think they sometimes fall short and are interpreted as just silly names scientists make up. Ooooo Simosuchus is “Pac-man croc”, like Pac-man frogs. What would you call Iharkutosuchus, which is arguably an even more bizarre Late Cretaceous croc than Simosuchus? Wait until we find monkey-croc, an arboreal, frugivorous croc only represented by a distal tibia whose significance for brain evolution will be hotly debated for years.

It seems to me like it wasn’t just the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs that opened niches to mammals, but the extinction of these crocodyliforms as well–they deserve respect.

From The most widespread of all living fossils, crocodiles have barely changed in the 230 million years since dinosaurs roamed the Earth. (Not!)

So, I’m still ok with “living fossil” for a while longer…some usages are indeed abhorrent and just wrong (Right). Just 2 weeks ago I turned in a talk title and blurb for a University/Town-wide talk & Dissection workshop in Early Feb here at Mizzou:

Inside Alligators: functional anatomy and evolution. The latest discoveries in crocodilians reveal bird-like lungs, dynamic skulls, herbivorous species, and numerous other insights that dispel the myth they are “living fossils”.

So I’m equally guilty, but I think we’re at the stage now where we as scientists and croc enthusiasts, can drive the point home that today’s crocs are indeed a relatively boring tip of a very rich tree, and hopefully be rid living fossil moniker in the near future, but through education, not snark. Maybe Simosuchus will help.

PS, I don’t think extant crocs are boring at all; they still hold alot of secrets as well.


Dec 14th: A follow-up to this post, USA Today had a nice writeup on the discovery and publication of Simosuchus. With it hitchhiked an addendum relating to several of the topics I mention above. Lets be clear that 1) armadillos eat worms and invertebrates, not plants so again, mammalimorphizing crocodiles fails; 2) galloping is not known among fossil terrestrial (ish) crocs particularly since their limb skeletons are largely unknown and certainly have not been studied to the extent necessary to make that sort of claim; 3) burrowing, remains quite unclear as well.

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My Day

When she was 1 or 2, my daughter would get a slip of paper from preschool called “My Day”. The teacher would document what kind of day she had, if she ate well, went to the potty etc. I wanted to share my own My Day (don’t worry about the potty or anything) because as a graduate student, you never realize how great you have it, how much time you actually have to spend working towards your own shit, however insurmountable it may seem. Now, in an academic job, there are lots, er most, of days that time just doesn’t exist. I don’t teach as much as my peers in non-med school positions, and I’ve been insulated from committee work so far too, but geez. It gets sucked away by a variety of issues, some are potentially relevant to productivity and fun, many are totally distracting from what could have been productivity, others are just inane.

Resources for faculty are many regarding time management skills and I read a few good blogs on life in academia, which is useful; most of this advice has two themes: unplug your email and close your door, and then put aside specific time to write or work on the fun stuff.  I tend to fail at those things; i don’t like a closed door when I’m in, unless I’m on private phone call (but my voice carries through doors regardless), I virtually always have email on, and I’ve tried to make certain times of the day for fun/real work, but that always gets chiseled away. Some have to-do lists–I make these sometimes. Some people actually keep journals (good god). To my best recollection, this is how today went; It was a “typical” day:

My Day: 745: dress and drive the kid to school; kid slept in a bit; later than I wanted to be; didn’t get enough coffee

820: arrive at work, cursing b/c I had to drive to the top floor of the garage since my 1st floor faculty red tag is still being withheld after 1.5yrs because apparently my salary precludes me from having a “faculty” tag.–this issue is currently being fixed, and not by means of a raise. (Yay for state government freezes and budget problems)

830: plug in, respond to and brainstorm a talk title and blurb  for an on campus talk in Feb. “Inside Alligators”. Start organizing logistics as we’ll be having a group of students from St. Louis coming to help dissect after the talk. yay! Briefly scan a histology/muscle methods paper.

850: Surprise of the day #1: ghost from book chapter past (like 2001) emerges from the email ether (wtf, I  forgot/had given up about this lost manuscript). Now, this chapter for a certain 2nd volume of Complete “taxon” was on Myology. One can guess how much has changed in the world of head and non-head muscle anatomy since 2001…let’s say, uh,  lots. They want edits “as soon as humanly possible” (of course). Still not sure what to do about this. No time to deal with properly  in apparently ridiculous time frame. maybe I’ll withdrawal, but then complain about whatever does end up getting published.

9: think about above some more. Maybe its my responsibility to write a good chapter on myology (muscle anatomy). Book chapters are not looked favorably upon for tenure compared to articles. ug

910-940: work on edits for article (for the Paleo Project Challenge), almost done, find best photos of last taxon to be included in paper, hopefully. Out to coauthor tomorrow I swear. Sorry Nick G, not -that- paper.

940: prepare for anatomy lab

10-1215: anatomy lab: feet! so boring. but the block is almost over, students are lost given their upcoming test is on not only lower limb, but also Thorax, Abdomen and Pelvis. They’re freaking. But its ok.

1215:  change clothes, read online garbage, get stabbed by CapriSun straw (to be given to daughter upon school pickup) which goes under my finger nail reaching for lunch, eat,. OW. talk w/ colleagues about lab/class

1245: meet with faculty about logistics for 4th year med anatomy class: too many students, not enough cadaver space, all over the holidays, which bumps into the January 4th yr block. Face-palm w/ shrug.

115: have a great, short discussion with student about traction epiphyses and RW Haines papers. (Yay!!! good times; shh, don’t tell the student). I ❤ epiphyses and sesamoids.

130: Surprise #2 deal with receipts from SVP, they need more paperwork asap regarding my emergency flight home with a broken knee. can’t get reimbursed until done. Ug

145: sigh, forage for coffee.

2: check in with undergrad, doing ok on finishing up 3D model.

210: start working on last of figures for above paper Yay! progress.

220: Surprise of the day 3: email: Block 1 anatomy remediation exam, they need questions from me asap (next 2 days). grrr. on my nerves, i need smaller nerves

3: questions submitted,  go across the hall and gripe to colleague: (fun, heartwarming, relaxing) Also likely disrupts and distracts them (now we’re even heheheh)

310: email from collaborator: cool questions, good news on diff project; respond; ponder a fossa on a dino face some have said houses a particular soft tissue; plot the rebuttal that will never happen (yay)

320: lost all focus. Check facebook, friend has awesome video of Fail (linked), perfect it was worth the 7min. Pic below. minute 4:06!

340: back to figures. omg its like 34o already. dropping backgrounds, tracing, etc. some tunes

410: phone: reminded to pick up kid. loose focus, get water, look at a blog, write a comment but then delete it. watching the clock to make sure I leave before shite traffic starts (it takes a long time to drive down from the top floor at 5pm).

420: back to figures, cool, progress

445: hustle out to leave.

530-911: family stuff. write this

after 9: let’s finalize this MS to send out to coauthor; maybe we’ll make it a late-nighter, already had coffee. stop fussing with this post!

Tomorrow: work on grant proposal (s), finally. hopefully, without too many distractions. oh right, i need to do these things too: dissect, fix lizard muscles. Send other muscles out for histo. photograph spindles in muscles (but at least I found some on Monday). Be a good coauthor and work on that other paper. Write lab practical questions for anatomy, due soon. crack the whip on some student projects. Write letters for more specimens. Animal Care Protocol… and on and on.

But likely only a fraction of that will get done, let alone what surprises await. Oh right! All-Med school Annual Faculty meeting!!! yay :/

I still have an awesome job, have great neighbors, work on kickass shit,and usually have a good time doing it. But sometimes… man. Anyone who has tips to share on juggling days like these, share away.

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