Thursday, May 27, 2010

A week in Warsaw

After last year's very enjoyable SVP meeting in Bristol, I was able to spend some time at the Paleontological Institute in Warsaw. Mike and I were there to look at Gobi ankylosaurs. The Polish-Mongolian Expeditions in the 1960s and 70s discovered many exciting new taxa of ankylosaurs, including Tarchia and Saichania, and an excellent juvenile Pinacosaurus.

The Institute has a public gallery in the Palace of Culture and Science, in the heart of the city. The Museum of Evolution is well worth a visit if you are in Warsaw. (Mike for scale in the above photo.)

The holotype of Saichania (a cast of which is on display in the museum) is a stunning specimen. In particular, I love how it shows the two bands of bone around the neck (the cervical half rings), which look kind of like yokes.

I was also a pretty big fan of this dapper Pinacosaurus, with his growly teeth and serrated tail club. Serrated! Can you imagine how terrifying that would have been?

In the background you can see the truly astounding Deinocheirus arms - I think all of us would like to know what the rest of that animal looked like. Tarbosaurus for scale in the foreground!

Poland also has its share of vertebrate fossils, including the interesting and somewhat enigmatic Silesaurus. If you've been keeping up on your basal dinosauromorph systematics (and I'm sure you have!), then you'll remember that a new sister group to the Dinosauria, the Silesauridae, was named this year and includes this animal.

I do enjoy touristing when I'm research travelling. Mike and I visited the Old Town part of Warsaw. This part of the city dates back to the 13th century, but was badly damaged during World War II. However, the Old Town is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to the careful reconstruction (using much of the original materials) of the area.

The mermaid as defender is the symbol of Warsaw and one of the most famous statues is this one in the Old Town. There are various stories about why the mermaid is the symbol, but my favourite is that this is the sister of the mermaid in Copenhagen.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

From Russia with Love.

Tetsuto is kind enough to let me post some of his excellent photos from our trip to Russia. Thanks Tetsuto!

This was our somewhat unconventional walk to the museum in the morning, through a very nice park between our hotel and the museum. Although we never found the exact path to the museum, and had to cross a field and squeeze under a fence to get there one day...

I certainly had not expected Moscow to be so green! It was wonderful to be so near a park, which had fairly abundant plant and animal diversity. There were plenty of songbirds that were mostly new to me, like the very cute white wagtail (Motacilla alba), as well as the hooded crows (Corvus cornix) that I had seen last year in Poland. We even had a few sightings of European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus)!

Here's an excellent shot of the courtyard at the museum.

In addition to the native fauna, Moscow has an enormous amount of (surprisingly polite) street dogs. It was always a bit of a surprise to see them lounging around the Metro underpasses.

We had visited a very nice touristy market but were caught in a sudden DOWNPOUR that thoroughly drenched everything and then just as suddenly ended. The rest of the week was beautiful and sunny, probably because we were inside all day at the museum.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Into the Mother Russia.

Guess where I was last week?

Later this summer I'm heading into the Gobi for the second time, but beforehand I wanted to look at some important and famous ankylosaur specimens that had been collected in the 1940s. But where were these specimens located? In Moscow! So, off I went with three of my labmates to spend a week at the Paleontological Institute in Moscow.

We spent a day touring around Moscow, mainly around the Red Square.

Phil with a rather large Saurolophus leg.

Tetsuto with a rather small Tarbosaurus.

Miriam with a slightly bigger Tarbosaurus.

And me, with a very nice Pinacosaurus! Victoria approves!

It was a splendid museum, and although I work on dinosaurs it was really wonderful to be able to see the enormous collection of Permian vertebrates on display in the Palaeozoic Hall. If for some reason you are visiting or passing through Moscow, make a point of visiting the museum. It is a bit off the main tourist track, but quite accessible by the Metro on the orange line.

Pareiasaurs and a very cool chandelier in the Palaeozoic Hall.

There was also a very nice courtyard with excellent and diverse statues!

Many thanks to all of the folks who helped us out during our stay, and put up with our nearly complete lack of Russian language ability. I hope to return someday!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Some congratulations are in order!

Congratulations to my fellow ankylosaur researchers Mike Burns and Robin Sissons, who defended their MSc theses this week. Mike studies ankylosaur osteoderms and Robin studies ankylosaur feet.

Last December the three of us published a paper in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology redescribing and resurrecting Dyoplosaurus, an genus of ankylosaurid that had previously been sunk into Euoplocephalus. Here we are examining the type (and only) specimen in the Royal Ontario Museum's collections. We are very photogenic. Many thanks are due to David Evans and Brian Iwama who made time to help us during the final phases of the very busy ROM Crystal palaeo gallery reopening!

Dyoplosaurus paper here via BioOne.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Big trees, big mammals, and big masks.

I finished my PhD Candidacy Exam last week, and on Thursday Pete and I headed to Vancouver for a short vacation before he starts work and I begin my frequent summer travels. This was a completely non-work-related trip and we were unplugged for a few days, which was nice. This was my first time to Vancouver. We did a lot of sightseeing, ate some great food, and stayed near English Bay Beach, which was really nice. We miss the ocean!

An attempt to go whale watching in an open zodiac boat was a bit of a bust due to bad weather, but before having to turn back we did get to see some California seal lions (the smaller and darker sea lions in this photo) and a few Stellar's sea lions (the large individual itching his head).

Luckily, we were able to get our cetacean fix at the Vancouver Aquarium. This isn't the largest aquarium I've ever been to, but it certainly had a lot of really unique displays, especially focusing on the amazing marine life of the rocky shores around British Columbia. This photo is of Pacific white-sided dolphins performing a few jumps during the short but informative show. There are also belugas (including baby belugas, and now you all have that song stuck in your head), sea otters, a nice tropical area with an aviary, and a very fun 4D version of Planet Earth: Shallow Seas.

I have a fairly strong interest in Northwest Coast culture (e.g. the Haida, Tlingit, Gitxsan, and Kwakwaaka'wakw). I love stories about Raven, I love the artistic styles used throughout the different nations, and I think totem poles are amazing ways to tell stories and histories. You can see a lot of Northwest Coast art and totem poles around Vancouver, such as the totem poles at Stanley Park and the Capilano Suspension Bridge, but if you really want to get a feel for the different cultures and meanings of the art, you need to go to the Museum of Anthropology at UBC. This is just one of many cases showing some of the masks and other items in their collections.

You can't go to Vancouver without visiting the truly stunning Stanley Park. I was amazed to learn that this forest was logged only a hundred years ago. I can't imagine what it will look like as an mature old growth forest.

Ok, I guess I did come across a few archosaurs during my visit...

I will also admit that I was jumping up and down with excitement when I found this place! How cool is that?