May 11th, 2006


Bahndwivici ammoskius

Paleontologists who don't specialize in dinosaurs or hominins have long since learned that, so far as the popular press is concerned, new discoveries rarely get much, if anything, in the way of media coverage. It isn't surprising, therefore, that the lay impression of prehistoric life and evolution generally involves that which is either titanic and scaly or somewhat furry and humanoid. Witness, for example, the recent attention received by new dinosaurs such as Erketu, Mapusaurus, Guanlong, and Juravenator. Likewise, the new hominins Homo floresiensis and Sahelanthropus tchadensis. Exceptions generally involve taxa which can be touted as dramatic "missing links" or examples of macroevolution and be used as fodder in the supposed evolution/creation "controversy."

And since such creatures make up only a tiny fraction of new fossil taxa described, most everything gets overlooked. For example, the truly wonderful lizard Bahndwivici ammoskius from the Eocene Green River Formation of Wyoming. The cover of the new issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology went to the baby Triceratops, which truly is a wonderful thing, but no less wondrous is this 20-25 cm. lizard:

FMNH PR 2260, the holotype of Bahndwivici ammoskius. I accidentally cropped the end of the tail when I scanned the image.

One of the most exciting things about this remarkable fossil is that it's almost indistinguishable from the semi-aquatic present-day Chinese crocodile lizard, Shinisaurus crocodilurus. Jack Conrad, who describes Bahndwivici in the new JVP, writes that "Bahndwivici and Shinisaurus share morphological details in nearly every aspect of their known osteologies, despite being separated by more than 48 million years of time and living on separate continents. This is a remarkable degree of stasis within a clade." Indeed.

Conrad also states, in a particularly cogent and honest bit of scientific writing:

Generic separation of any two morphologically similar taxa is a sticky undertaking and the current case is no exception. Taxonomy is a tool for discussing clades of organisms, a tool that will be used differently by different systematists. Shinisaurus and FMNH PR 2260 are similar in all known aspects of their osteology [skeletons]. The differences...are morphological features that may be used to identify and distinguish the two taxa. Geographic and temporal distance further help to separate these species and to justify their separation at the generic level. In the end, however, some researchers are likely to refer to both these shinisaurids as Shinisaurus and others will adopt the recommendation of generic distinctiveness given here.

Oh, here's a shot of a modern-day Chinese crocodile lizard:

By the way, the genus name of this new fossil lizard comes from Latinization of the Shoshoni Bah-n-dooi-vee-chee, or "handsome in the water." The species name is derived from two Greek words, Ammos ("sandy") and skia ("shade"). Hopefully, I have bored none of you to excess. It's just that sometimes I get very, very excited about these things. These stones and bones, this grand continuity of life, are my most reliable medicine against the black-and-white monotony of words...

winter relapse

The weather forecast has been growing a little less pleasant with each day. Now it's predicting that Saturday's high will only be 64F, and the highest high forecast over the next ten days is only in the mid-seventies. Blegh. May should feel like May, not March.

Yesterday proved to me that I had good cause to fear those notes I'd made during the most recent Daughter of Hounds read-through. Fortunately, I had Spooky here to keep me focused and moving ahead. But it was the very definition of tedium. About 4 p.m., we took a break and drove over to Springvale Park (the setting for Sirenia Digest's "Bridle"). But it was raining, and there were mosquitoes, and we didn't stay very long. A got a Red Bull and headed home again and back to the ms. pages. We were at it until after 6 p.m. And we almost managed to finish with that set of notes. When we finally stopped, only a few things had not been checked off. Unexpectedly, I found myself expanding the last scene before the epilogue, which still has me a little nervous today. Anyway, speaking of today, I'll get to what I didn't get to yesterday and try to get through the old notes from the first read-through back in January/February. Ugh. I haven't abandoned hope that tomorrow can be my last day with this ms., but I still have the appendices to proof.

The best part of yesterday was the mail, which brought a book I'd purchased on eBay. A Snake-Lover's Diary by Barbara Brenner (1970, Young Scott Books). This is the book which began my fascination with herpetology, particularly snakes, and led to a period late in elementary school and early in junior high where I stopped wanting to be a paleontologist and decided, instead, that I would be a herpetologist (much to the chagrin of my snake-hating/fearing family). When I almost stepped on the DeKay's snake last month, I remembered this book, which I'd not read (or even seen) since at least 1979 or so. But I found an ex-library copy cheap on eBay (formerly of the Mission Glen Elementary School, Houston, Texas). Anyway, I scanned the cover:

While we were having dinner, around 7:45, the power went out and was out for an hour or so. An hour at the most. It was kind of nice actually. I lay in bed listening to the rain.

Last night, we finally finished Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess Worshipers, and Other Pagans in America Today. All in all, it's the best book on Neo-Paganism I've read so far, but it is dated and does have its shortcomings. The first few chapters are the best, and then Adler seems to lose focus and the book begins to meander and double back upon itself. She relies far too heavily on quotes. Still, the scholarship is much better than average. Most importantly, Adler's book has reassured me that I can call myself Wiccan and think of myself as Wiccan without having to succumb to superstition and gender polarity, dogma and "magical thinking." I rather liked this line from the epilogue, where Adler is writing of George Mylonas' work on the excavations at Eleusis:

What little we know of the Mysteries [of Eleusis] seems to indicate that these rites emphasized (as the Craft, at its best, does today) experience as opposed to dogma, and metaphor and myth as opposed to doctrine. Both the Mysteries and the Craft emphasize initiatory processes that lead to a widening of perceptions. Neither emphasizes theology, belief, or the written word. (p. 441)

Having finished Adler, we began Ronald Hutton's The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, which promises, I think, to be superb.

Okay. The platypus is a lonely hunter. Time to get back to the pages...

New Sirenia Digest Poll

So, a new Sirenia Digest poll. On Tuesday, I was speaking with Bill Shafer at Subterranean Press about possible strategies for increasing the readership of the digest, as well as freeing up more of my time for full-length short-story work. I'm a little disturbed that over the last year I've only written one short story, "Night," and one novella, "Bainbridge." One idea that emerged is that I might change the format of the digest from something which is primarily devoted to dark fantasy/horror/sf erotica, to a publication which would offer readers one brand-new, full-length sf or dark fantasy story per month. Say 7,000-15,000 words, depending on the story, and I'm thinking I'd mostly be doing short fiction along the lines of "Riding the White Bull" and "Bradbury Weather," as well as new "yellow house" stories about the ghouls and changelings, etc. The length of the digest would remain the same, only the content would change. There'd still be illustrations. And I'd probably still toss in a vignette every now and then.

My goal is to raise the number of subscribers from 145 to 200, which would put me on more solid financial ground while I'm writing the next novel, Joey LaFay. It really doesn't seem like it should be that difficult to pull off. I've heard from many readers over the last seven months or so who say they'd subscribe to the digest if it weren't erotica. So, I'm hoping this shift could be made, sometime this summer, if not sooner, and that we'd gain a significant number of readers while losing no one. Here's your chance to be heard on this proposed change. Please vote, and comments and questions are very welcomed.

Poll #727054 The Nature of the Beast.

If you're already a subscriber, how would you feel about the proposed format change?

Fine with me.
I'd prefer it to the current format.
I'd cancel my subscription.

If you're not currently a subscriber, how might you feel about the proposed format change?

After the change, I would subscribe.
I still would not be interested.