Sunday 30 August 2020

500th Synapsida

Yes, it's been almost ten years since I started this blog and, while I don't do anniversary posts, since there are typically about 50 posts a year, this does happen to be my 500th post. Which is a fair few when you think about it. And, in general celebration of round numbers, that means it's time for another review of what's appeared in the last couple of years or so, and what might be coming next.

Even allowing for the series on Miocene animals, evolution has been one of the most common topics that I've written about in the last 100 posts, second only to animal behaviour. Which is hardly surprising, I suppose, given the number (and general popularity) of the posts I write about fossil species in general. Also common has been the perennial topic of reproduction, and there have been quite a few posts on animal communication and conservation as well.

In terms of types of animals, bats top the list in terms of the regular posts (although there's been nothing about them in 2020...), although clearly various kinds of rodents and members of the cat family have been particularly common subjects overall. Cetaceans seem to have taken a bit of a back seat recently, which is as likely due to what news I happen to have come across (or not) as anything particularly planned. The number of families of living mammal that received their first headline appearance in the blog is dropping; tenrecs qualify, but I'm not sure that anything else does. Yet, of course, there are still mammal families that haven't featured at all on this blog... most of them obscure kinds of rodent or bat, to be sure, but I've yet to do a post about (say) living tapirs or manatees.

While the top ten most popular posts of all time remain roughly the same ones that they were two years ago, there are some new challengers bubbling under. Among the most-read posts in the last twelve months (ignoring the possibility that spambots might have skewed the real figures) are the ones on babirusas, how baby bats learn to fly, the taxonomic position of whales, and the status of cave lions as a distinct species. The last is particularly notable, having only had a few weeks to leap to the #7 position for the entire year. 

Aside from those last two, posts in the last 100 that have notably more hits than others of the same age include my overview of the peccary family, another post on cave lions, and ones on fish-eating bats, sabre-toothed sea otters, and the origin of ducks. So, hey, well done to the bats and peccaries for beating out some of the fossils!

Of course, there have been posts on many other topics, too. I've also covered the fossil of a whale that had eaten another whale for dinner, the mystery of fluorescent pink squirrels in the forests of Wisconsin, the nature of the bones inside monkey penises, and what may be the smallest mammal ever to have lived. It's in the nature of writing a weekly blog that sometimes I finish a post and think 'well, that didn't work' and find it's far too late to do anything about it, but some posts that I liked and had particular fun writing include the two-part one on the diversity of living and fossil marsupials, and the one on how sewer and ship rats spread across the world. 

That, of course, was part of my 2019 series on British mammals. That was an excuse to write about the details of some particular species of small mammal, without needing to do anything as manifestly unmanageable as, say, try to describe every species in the squirrel family. The posts on rats and voles seemed to be the most popular, but, in general, it's not been up there with the series I've done on more charismatic groups of animal. But I do think it was worth it, covering a number of animals that might otherwise get left out; there are, after all, far more species of small mammal than large ones.

On the other hand, you can't get much more charismatic than cats. My current series, on all the world's small cat species, is surely suffering from the fact that there's quite a bit of coverage of this elsewhere on the internet, but it seems to be doing fairly well nonetheless. There are about another five posts to go in the series, covering species that are (with at least one notable exception) fairly obscure, but it should all be wrapped up by the end of the year.

It's fairly tricky to pick good topics for these series. Many families of mammals have too many species to cover in a year, many more contain too few (horses, say, or bears) and others aren't really varied enough to sustain an interesting series at that level of detail. The fact that it doesn't have to be a family is obviously a help here and, when I do return to carnivores, I'll probably cover a collection of related families rather than a single one. The 2021 series, though, is likely to be on something hoofed and, since it's probably going to be a large group, may require less detail on individual species in order to fit - and not become too repetitive. I'll see how that goes.

Turning to its less regular, but generally more popular, counterpart, I can see that, back in my 400th post, I said that I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to finish my series on Miocene animals by the end of this year. Well, I certainly won't, since I'm currently only halfway through Africa, and there's South America and Australia to deal with after that. So this really is going to be a multi-year project and one that will almost certainly still be ongoing by the time of post #600. Who'd have thought that 18 million years of worldwide history would take so long to describe, eh?

On the bright side, it also turns out that, while they don't give me any more free time, either, global pandemics don't stop me from sitting down in front of a computer and typing. Take that, covid-19! Best wishes for similar good fortune to everyone reading this, and I should be back with another of these posts in 2022...

[Photos by "Mnolf", NOAA, S. Taheri, and the US Fish & Wildlife Service, collage by "Prehistoricplanes".]

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on your new mark! It's my first time commenting but I have been reading your posts since i discovered this blog in 2016 and learned a lot since then! salutations from Brazil!