Monday, May 28, 2007

Phoebastria rexsularum

My friend Anne Leightner Kienlen has helped make history! She found a very old albatross bone fossil which was among the specimens used to name an extinct and heretofore unknown albatross species: Phoebastria rexsularum. She donated the bone to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. They returned to her this plaster cast of her albatross bone. Two views are shown below - one with the foot facing up, the other with the foot facing down.

Photos by Anne Leightner Kienlen, used with permission.

Although the Smithsonian Institution Press announced the new species in 2001 (see footnote below), Anne found out about it just this past week when she received in the mail the article which mentioned her by name. How cool is that?!!

The article describes a collection of 10,000+ fossils representing at least 112 different species of birds, only 5 of which were albatrosses. All the bone fossils came from the Pliocene era 5.3 to 1.8 million years ago. These Pliocene fossils were lying about for easy collection rather than buried deep under the earth’s surface because they had been uncovered by the mining operations of the Lee Creek Mine located on the south side of the Pamlico River, near Aurora, North Carolina. The particular bone that Anne picked up was the least-common size of albatross found there.

For any scientists reading this, Anne’s find was a topotypical paratype, the proximal end of right tarsometatarsi. The rest of us need a lot of help with that statement, so let's dissect it bit by bit.

Paratypes are best understood when defined together with holotypes. A holotype is the specimen that’s the ultimate name bearer of the species. Paratypes are next in importance. They constitute all the other specimens upon which the original new species description is based. So Anne’s bone is part of a collection of bones which, taken together, defined the new species, Phoebastria rexsularum.

Topotypical means pertaining to a topotype. According to the Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, a topotype is “a specimen from the locality where the original specimen was taken.” So Anne’s paratype came from the same area as the the holotype.

Tarsometatarsi is the plural of tarsometatarsus, which is a compound bone between the tibia (in humans, the shinbone) and the toes of a bird's leg. The tarsometatarsus is formed by fusion of the tarsal and metatarsal bones. This picture should help.

Proximal is most easily defined in relation to its opposite, distal. These two terms are most commonly used when referring to the limbs. Distal refers to structures further from the trunk while proximal refers to structures nearer to the trunk. For example, the foot is distal to the knee, while the knee is proximal to the foot. So Anne’s bone, the proximal end of the right tarsometatari, is the tarsometatarsus of the bird's right leg as described in relation to its body.

My friend Anne is not a paleobiologist, or any type of scientist for that matter. She is an avid and educated avocational collector of fossilized sharks teeth. In pursuit of shark's teeth she occasionally came upon other interesting specimens. By donating her more significant finds to the Smithsonian, she has helped define a new species of albatross. Additionally, she has demonstrated that what we do with our leisure time can be just as significant, possibly even more significant, than our paid occupations.

The authors of the article said, "we owe our greatest debt to the many collectors whose sharp eyes spied thousands of small bird bones on the mine spoil piles and whose generosity in donating the specimens to the Smithsonian has permitted this study." Let me offer my congratulations as well, dear Annie. You have helped to discover an extinct albatross, and just as important, you have shown that it is possible to make a significant contribution using the bits of time left to us after attending to the necessities of life. You are an inspiration to us all!

Olson, S.L. and Rasmussen, P.C. 2001. Miocene and Pliocene birds from the Lee Creek Mine, North Carolina, p. 233-365. In Ray, C.E. and Bohaska, D.J. (eds.), Geology and Paleontology of the Lee Creek Mine, North Carolina, III, Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology, No. 90.

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sorcha Dorcha at Lower East Side Festival on May 25

If you find yourself in New York City on the eve of the Memorial Day weekend, come on down to the Lower East Side Festival on Friday night. Sorcha Dorcha will be playing a 15 minute set at this annual event. We're scheduled to play at 7:53 pm in the Cabaret Theater, one of two theaters housed within the Theater for the New City.

Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue (between 9th and 10th Streets)
Click on either of the links above for directions.

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Sorcha Dorcha in Stuyvesant Square Park on May 20

On Sunday May 20th from 1-3 pm EDT I will be performing with my Irish band Sorcha Dorcha in Stuyvesant Square Park in Manhattan. We are contributing to the citywide semi-annual It's My Park Day taking place this weekend. Thousands of volunteers will come to approximately 150 park sites in all five New York City boroughs to paint, plant, and clean up the parks in their neighborhoods. If you live nearby, please come help in the park and look for us in on the west side of Second Avenue near the statue of Peter Stuyvesant.

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cantor's Turtle Nesting Ground Discovery

Various news agencies are carrying articles about the Cantor's giant softshelled turtle (Pelochelys cantorii) whose Cambodian nesting ground was recently discovered by conservationists. The Cantor's turtle is one of the world's largest and least studied turtles. Instead of an exterior shell, the Cantor’s turtle has a rubbery skin with ribs fused together to form a protective layer over the internal organs. It spends 95 percent of its life hidden in sand or mud and can extend its neck with lightning speed, more rapid than a cobra strike according to the press release. It bites with jaws powerful enough to crush bone. Not a turtle you want to stumble over at the beach!

For the future protection of the species, Conservation International, World Wildlife Fund, and the Cambodian Turtle Conservation Team plan to employ local community members to protect nesting beaches for the turtles and to conduct patrols during the dry season to prevent illegal fishing of the species prized as an expensive delicacy in neighboring Vietnam. The organizations will also provide the communities with financial incentives to offset the potential loss of revenue from illegal trade in the turtles.

Here's Conservation International's May 16 press release with more details and some good pictures.

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Spring Comes to 14th Street

Many people find it surprising to learn how many trees and flowers there are in NYC. All the residential areas -- even in Manhattan -- are lined with trees, and flowers sprout from flower beds and window boxes.

My apartment complex, Stuyvesant Town, was particularly lush and green this morning. Here's the view from my window at 7 AM.

Just last week the trees in Union Square (3 blocks away) were that pale green color which lasts only a few days, when the buds have just burst open and the leaves are not yet fully unravelled.

When the flowering trees were in peak bloom, there were white trees on 14th Street just outside Stuyvesant Town ...

and pink trees further down 14th Street at Union Square.

There were azaleas outside my building ...

and daffodils by the subway entrance.

This week the flowering trees are have changed to green and the leaves are fully open. Here's the center of Stuyvesant Town as seen from the kiddie's playground outside my building.

Yes, some call it the concrete jungle. Betcha they don't live here!

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Friday, May 04, 2007

Hangin' in there

Photo by Harry Peronius, used with permission.

My friend Harry snapped this little guy at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Last Sunday I attended an exhibition sponsored by the West Side Art Coalition where Harry was showing two sets of pictures - the face and hands of a Finnish farmer and of an Indian peasant woman. You can view Harry's work online at the Silver Pix Gallery.

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement