Not All Ferns Look Like Ferns (botany for paleoartists part I)

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7080457021_8385cb3a1d_zI was recently (and rather persistently) informed that paleoartists might find this sort of articles useful: easily approachable pieces about botany as relevant to paleoart. Most paleoartists are, understandably, primarily interested in prehistoric animals. Unfortunately animals don’t often live on lifeless deserts, so depicting vegetation tends to be essential part of the trade.

Full reconstructions of prehistoric plants or even photographs of plant fossils are often frustratingly hard to find, resulting in quite stereotypical vegetation in much of paleoart. Some ginkgoes, some monkey puzzle trees, cycads that almost always tend to look like Cycas revoluta. And, of course, ferns.

But not all ferns have the nondescript green, bipinnate leaves like the ones we all think of when hearing the word ‘fern’. Paleoartists have a lot more choice than that, even when looking just at the modern diversity. Before the onslaught of hyper-diverse, overly competitive flowering plants and drying climates, ferns were probably vastly more diverse than now. Today’s ferns are pushed into marginal habitats, mostly damp and dark places like forest undergrowth layers (photo: Platycerium elephantotis in Uganda, Bernard Dupont/Flickr).

Still, ferns show a remarkable diversity of leaf shapes. Continue reading

The Horses of Arctic Eden

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Chauvet´s_cave_horses

Prehistoric animals often feel only slightly more real than mythical beasts. Known only from bones darkened by time and flattened to rocks, it’s hard to imagine them as living animals. How did the animal move? How it behaved? What color was it?

During the last decade or two, more and more wonderfully preserved fossils of dinosaurs have been found. Researchers have even learned to look for traces of their coloration in life. But still, the most vivid window to life in the past is that presented by the megafauna of steppe grasslands, which was skillfully immortalized by our own ancestors as cave paintings. (Painting from Chauvet Cave, France, photographed by Thomas T.)

Continue reading

The Ancient Fish-dragons of Africa

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Africa is, among other things, the land of weird fish. It has a strange combination of modern and ancient lineages and extremely odd ecologies. There are fish with lungs, fish that live underground, blind fish that look like cavefish but live in rivers instead. There are fish swimming upside down, fish flying in the air and fish singing love songs in electric pulses.

And then there are bichirs. Continue reading

The Strange Magic of Lapland

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grass-of-parnassus bog-star parnassia palustris maija karala laplandLapland holds a special place in the hearts of many Finnish people. There are dozens of songs and poems, books and paintings about its beauty and magic. Thousands of people travel to this cold, barren land on their holidays, sparing no expense. What on Earth is so wonderful in there?

I have been captivated by Lapland for as long as I can remember, but I still have no idea why. Because I’m a penniless student, I haven’t been able to visit since the start of my university years. Last summer I finally got the chance and am no longer perplexed why naturalists – including Carl von Linné – tend to love Lapland. Continue reading

The Birds that Became Bees

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Black-tailed_Trainbearer_(Lesbia_victoriae)After naming my blog The Humming Dinosaur, I obviously needed to write about humming dinosaurs as soon as possible. I’m not talking about hypothetical musical sauropods, but actual living, breathing dinosaurs. Today, we call them birds. And the birds that hum are, well, hummingbirds.

Tiny, jewel-like and acrobatic, hummingbirds might be among the most intriguing birds. The Aztecs gave such credit to their fiery nature and liveliness that they carried pictures and body parts of hummingbirds as talismans (photo: Michael Woodruff / Flickr). Continue reading

Dogs from the Land of Fire

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fuegian dog pseudalopex culpeus pataconian fox zorro culpeo maija karala

At different times and places, humans have domesticated a a fair number of animal species, from goats to guinea pigs, horses to chickens. The dog, however, seems to be the oldest of the domesticated animals, and by far the most versatile. Man’s best friend, it is called, and with a good reason.

Dogs hunt with us, guard us and our livestock, herd sheep and cattle, guide the blind and hear for the deaf. They act as therapists, diagnose cancer, look for bombs and drugs, catch criminals. They will even find truffles. Dogs are so smart and adaptable they can be taught to do almost anything.

Maybe it’s exactly because of this versatility that canids, or members of the dog family, have been domesticated multiple times. Archaeological finds and historical records provide interesting details of tame canids from the time before dogs. Continue reading

Dogs Never Grow Up, and Neither do Some Foxes

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English setter

31 000 years ago huge glaciers still ruled the northern lands. Stone Age people wandered Europe in search of big game, making skillfully crafted weapons and paintings. In Goyet Cave, Belgium, some memories of this time can still be seen. Bones, midden piles and others signs of life accumulated to the back of the cave, where they have lasted until this day. A few years ago researchers found something interesting among the miscellaneous bones: the skull of a domestic dog. Continue reading

Hello World!

ginkgo nimiWelcome to my brand new science blog. I am a freelance science writer and illustrator from the almost arctic forestland known as Finland. I started writing popular science texts three years ago. Now I write one Finnish blog and contribute to another, and make a living from writing articles and making illustrations for magazines and newspapers. Now it’s time to try my hand at another language.

By training, I am an almost-graduated biologist. I study ecology and evolutionary biology in the University of Jyväskylä, though if everything goes right, I’m receiving my Master’s degree in just a couple of months.

My (perhaps too) broad interests cover, among other things, dinosaurs, animal cognition, tropical plants, all sorts of things that could be called living fossils, bichirs, genetics of domestication, evo-devo, electric fishes, evolution of feathers. Expect something along these lines in this blog as well.

I have been considering writing in English for a while, but an important push towards the decision came from DeviantArt. This picture got a huge amount of comments, of which multiple asked if they could read the article this picture was made to illustrate. So I thought “why not? I could start by translating that one.” When I mentioned the idea on my DeviantArt journal, I got very supportive comments (thanks, if you’re reading this!), and here we are.

Without further blabbering, have a picture of me with a wild animal, and expect the first actual article soon.

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