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Monday, May 29, 2006

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Ancient marine reptiles

For a long time, I have wanted to obtain a really good book on ancient marine reptiles: ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs and so on. I was in an ordinary second hand bookshop on the weekend, for a few moments, idly looking at their small biology section, when I was delighted to find a copy of "Ancient Marine Reptiles" by Callaway and Nichols. It was a pristine copy for only 16 dollars. Why so cheap? I suspect because, as one of the reviewers at the Amazon site notes, it is "technical and dry". The cover is very colourful, indeed almost lurid, but the book is basically a collection of quite technical papers. It is not at all a popular work. Still, it was exactly what I have been looking for. Animals - even prehistoric monsters - are not just made to be gawped at: there comes a time to study them seriously.

I had heard about a new book on prehistoric marine reptiles recently, but I suspect it was this one: "Sea Dragons" by Richard Ellis: which looks to be more popular. Most people have heard of plesiosaurs, for example, but surprisingly little has been written specifically on such creatures.


Julian

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

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Scientists have emotions, just like real people

One of H G Wells' less well-known short stories is "The Moth", about the hatred that develops between two entomologists. The hatred in the story began when one scientist "extinguished a new species" created by the other. That is, he wrote a paper claiming that a supposedly new species was only something that had already been described.

The latest issue - Volume 6 - of "Calodema", the "journal devoted to promoting knowledge about the flora and fauna of Australia and the Pacific" has a paper that reminded me of the H G Wells short story. Dr Dewanand Makhan has written an indignant article in which he forcefully restates his view that three Chinese water beetle types that he has studied really are new species, and not merely specimens of already known species. Dr Makhan supplies drawings and photomicrographs to support his case. He has also made some further observations that he says show that his species are truly novel finds. I am no expert, but he seems to have made his case. Of each water beetle, he writes that it is "hereby reinstated as a full and distinct species".

As H G Wells meant to show in his short story, scientific scholarship is not immune from strong emotion.

Dr Makhan has contributed another paper to Volume 6 of "Calodema", on another of his fields of interest, jumping spiders (Salticidae) from Suriname in South America. Also on the topic of spiders, there is a book review by Englishman Maurice Pledger of Dr Trevor Hawkeswood's "Spiders of Australia". Trevor (spilopyra@hotmail.com) is the Editor of "Calodema" and a prolific field biologist with an international reputation. As Pledger notes in his fulsome review, this book on Australian spiders is an especially good guide because it includes so many original observations and conveys the inspiring message that research on Australia's natural history remains an exciting work-in-progress.

Other papers in this issue of "Calodema" cover a variety of taxa and topics: a description of the pupa of a stag beetle from Queensland; notes on a beetle that lives in dead individuals of the distinctive "grass trees" of Australia; more on Trevor Hawkeswood's signature group - the jewel beetles; extensive butterfly checklists provided by Kelvyn Dunn from Australian National Parks, including the very rich Iron Range National Park of Cape York Peninsula; and a herpetological survey of an ecologically degraded area of New South Wales.

Most people interested in natural history are interested in the Australian zone. "Calodema" is a rich source of relevant material, especially for those with a more than casual interest.

Julian

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

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More listening to air traffic control

I regularly listen to air traffic control at this site; cf. my last post.

I find it very relaxing and satisfying. JFK Tower ("Kennedy Tower") in New York is on as I write - it seems busy at this time - and it is one of the best to listen to. I recently heard a pilot tell air traffic control that he had hit a bird, and just missed two others. Such a bird strike can be serious.

Also worth listening to are Sydney air traffic control, Dublin, Johannesburg, Toronto. The varying accents are good to hear. I am slowly picking up some of the jargon, such as the callsigns for the different airlines.

The New York air traffic controllers are polite on the whole, constantly wishing their clients "Good day".

Julian

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