About Synapsida

Who am I?

My name is Jamie Revell, and I live in southern England. I am not a research scientist, nor a science journalist, or in any other way professionally involved with the field that I write about here - I am just an interested amateur, although I do have a degree in zoology, dating way back to the 1980s.


What is this blog about?

The science of mammals. That includes their behaviour, their physical adaptations and biology, how they evolved, and even what different kinds there are.

Most of the posts here tend to be stories about recently published scientific studies, which I try to place into context, and to describe in a more accessible and informal style than the original versions in the technical literature. Many of these stories are available, as formal research papers, free online, for anyone to read, but others do require a subscription. That I am not a professional, and don't have ready access to a physical research library, will inevitably limit the range of sources that I can use, but, even so, I think I have so far managed to cover a fair range of different topics.

Not all the posts here are taken from scientific papers. Every now and then, I write about a particular group of animals, or about a general topic of relevance to mammalogy. These can cover pretty much anything that strikes my fancy in a particular week, although there will be some ongoing themed topics that crop up from time to time.


Which mammals?

The only living species of mammal that I won't cover here, except by way of comparison with something else, is that of humans (Homo sapiens). Human biology and medicine are, after all, very much their own fields. Similarly, there will probably be little coverage of domesticated animals, or of veterinary medicine, although I wouldn't necessarily rule out the former altogether, where it has some wider relevance. Otherwise, all species of mammal are fair game, from wolves to moose, from mice to whales, or from monkeys to kangaroos. In general, I try to keep a fair mix, although, since I rarely plan these things more than a day or so in advance, that's not something I can guarantee.

Nor do I stop with living mammals. Synapsida will also consider all the species of extinct, fossil, mammal to be fair game, and quite a few posts will be on the subject of palaeontology, especially where it can tell us something about living species, and how they came to be. In this instance, the blog may occasionally stray beyond the mammals proper to look at some of the extinct animals from which they may have evolved.


What are those branching diagrams?

Most posts include something called a cladogram, which I usually draw in plain text. These show how different groups of mammal relate to each other, to help keep the specific animal we're talking about in context. At some point, I will probably write a more detailed description of how scientists arrive at these things, and what they mean, but the basic idea is that they trace our best guess as to the path by which those animals evolved, and which ones share a common ancestor. The link at the end of each post usually explains where I got the information to construct the cladogram from; I try to use the most current published information I can find.


What does the word "Synapsida" mean, anyway?

Synapsida is the evolutionary line that includes the mammals. By the terms of modern taxonomy, that means that mammals are a special type of synapsid. Since they're the only ones alive today, when we're talking about living species, "synapsid" is just a much fancier (and completely unnecessary) word for "mammal" - however, the word is much more useful when we're talking about fossils, since many early synapsids were not, in fact, mammals, but rather their close relatives.