Sunday, 19 August 2012

100th Synapsida

This is the 100th post on Synapsida. Granted, that's counting the introductory post, which didn't really say much, but it's far easier to keep track of that way. Synapsida started in October 2010, initially with around 2 or 3 hits a day, and currently tends to get around 80. Not the most successful blog in the history of the internet, then, or even of science blogging, but hardly a disaster, either.

In that time, I've covered a wide range of mammalian topics, although there's still a number I believe haven't yet had a fair shake. The subject I've written most about turns out to be reproduction, followed, more generally, by animal behaviour. These are topics there's a lot to say about, and there's plenty of research ongoing, as well as being easier to make interesting than, say, the diversity of nitrogen isotopes in reindeer. Still, I'd like to do a bit more on morphology - the general shapes and anatomy of animals, and how that differs between groups.

I've covered members of 33 different families of mammals in the main articles, and so far, I've generally not gone into detail on any given species more than once. Still, some types of mammals have definitely featured more frequently than others. Aside from the obvious, the most commonly mentioned family of mammals turns out to be the dogs, followed by the bears. In general, carnivorous mammals have got the most airtime, but there are also a number of posts on marsupials, bats, primates, and cetaceans, among others.

Of course, this means there are still entire orders of mammal, let alone families, that I have yet to touch on. The 'missing' orders are generally those with relatively few species (colugos, say), but some of the families are at least fairly familiar - there's nothing on pigs or hedgehogs, yet, for example. Perhaps I'll get to fill some of these out over the next 100 posts.

The most popular articles overall are the one about carnivoran teeth - apparently due to a large number of searches for 'fox skull' - and the one about polar bear jaws, which I can't help but think might be due to the alternative meaning of 'polar bear'. Posts with 'sex' in the title also seem do better than average! Still, questions about why cows have a four-chambered stomach, and whether or not rabbits are rodents direct a number of google hits my way, and hopefully, the questioners did find what they wanted. I obviously have to think of some more general questions like that...

I've also looked at some aspects of evolutionary theory, and whether deer are frightened of predators they've never seen before. I've described what happened to the European bison, and how different kinds of sabre-tooth lived together along the shores of a prehistoric lake. I've discussed not only the behaviour of well-known animals, such as bears peeing in the woods, but also at studies of the general lifestyles of lesser known animals such as tree porcupines and the monito del monte. Just in the couple of years I have been running, I have been able to report a number of new species discovered (and, of course, this list is far from comprehensive), including some discussion of how this sort of thing is done.

Perhaps the most notable feature of the blog in recent months has been the ongoing quest to describe every single species in the weasel family. I picked the weasels partly because they are the largest carnivoran family, so its unsurprising that this is taking a long time to complete - I started in September of last year, and there's still twelve species to go. It will be done by the end of this year, but its been fun to write and research, and the articles on pine and beech martens and on assorted mustelines seem to have proven fairly popular, at least if google hits are any judge. Which means that, once they're done, there will be a similar series on another group of mammals. They're going to be herbivores this time, and there aren't quite so many of these animals as there are weasels, but you'll have to wait to find out what they are.

In addition to the weasels, and, before them, a look at some of the underground mammals, I have, more recently, started to take a more general look at the Pleistocene, the most recent epoch of the Age of Mammals before our own, and one dominated by the Ice Ages. This is proving to be a longer series than I'd originally expected, because it's really quite a broad topic, but it will probably appear less regularly than that on the weasels has done. Once its completed, I'll probably turn the clock back a bit further, and look at the Pliocene, the epoch before that.

Which brings me to the one topic I've wanted to cover but haven't yet found a way to do. That's the subject of synapsids that aren't mammals. They're all long extinct, of course, so it will certainly fit in with the fossil discussions, but I haven't yet thought of a good way to introduce the topic, or found much in the way of recent studies on those beasts (though, of course, there are a few). But some day, the title 'Synapsida' will seem more appropriate than just 'Mammalia'...

[Composite image by Hans Hillewaert, 'Latorilla', John Mittler, 'Yaaay', and 'Wikicurious', from Wikimedia Commons]

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