28 February 2021

Australia’s CSIRO expends welfare guidelines to include decapod crustaceans

The Crustacean Compassion website is reporting that Australia’s major government research agency, CSIRO, will now be requiring ethics approval for research on decapod crustaceans.

I’m searching the CSIRO website, but can’t find the specific policy.

External links

Professor Culum Brown on protecting decapods in scientific research

24 February 2021

Austin bats: A case study in successful science communication

Bike rack in the shape of a bat from Austin, Texas
Check out the bike rack on the right. It’s a picture I took in Austin, Texas. People in Austin love bats now.

They didn’t always.

The podcast 99 Percent Invisible just dropped a great episode that looks at how the bats under an Austin bridge went from being viewed as terrors that needed to be eradicated to a major tourist attraction.

Lessons for science communication?

The key advocate for bats, Merlin Tuttle, was no carpetbagger. He moved to Austin and became part of the community he wanted to change.

He built a team. It wasn’t just Merlin – he had started a whole conservation group.

He got the right visuals. He didn’t photograph bats while echolocating because their mouth was open and they were showing their sharp teeth. He photographed them so they looked like they smiling.

Perhaps most important, he was patient and never called people stupid.

This is an incredible success story for conservation. It should be a case study in classes on science communication.

External links

The batman and the bridge builder

23 February 2021

It’s my birthday but you get the gift

Yes, I have successfully completed another trip around the sun. Rather than a birthday present, you can do me a favour: pre-order my book!

Better Posters book cover

The Better Posters book is currently scheduled for release in mid-April, 2021. The exact date is hard to say, because the COVID-19 pandemic is still creating delays and uncertainty in the production and shipping process. It’s been a long journey, to say the least. 

30% off
Pre-orders help books tremendously, and I would like to sell enough copies to have to write a second edition. You can pre-order from the publisher here and get a big 30% discount by using the code “POSTERS30” at check-out.

You could also recommend your university librarian purchase this!

Thank you for your support!

External links

Pelagic Publishing site for Better Posters

19 February 2021

Author jitters

I finished reading the latest proofs of the Better Posters book this week. Having just done that a couple of days ago, I appreciate this quote from Charles Darwin.

Charles Darwin

When I think of the many cases of men who have studied one subject for years, and have persuaded themselves of the truth of the foolishest doctrines, I feel sometimes a little frightened, whether I may not be one of these monomaniacs.

This was in a letter to one Dr. W.B. Carpenter in 1859, about none other than Darwin’s most famous work, On the Origin of Species. Darwin wrote the letter the same month the book was released and sold out in a day. I found the quote mentioned in this article

Re-reading my own book more than a year after finishing the manuscript and that nobody else has seen yet (besides the publisher’s staff) brings up “Did I just write something that nobody else will want to read?” thoughts.

Also: I love Darwin’s hat and think there should be a new version that evolutionary biologists can buy.

13 February 2021

Eagles and Falcon

 I’ve mentioned before that the Eagle from Space: 1999 is my favourite spaceship.

What I didn’t know what its role in my favourite space move, the first Star Wars

I knew the Milleneum Falcon went through several redesigns. The shots inside of the Falcon don’t always make sense relative to the exterior, because the Falcon was originally the ship that became the rebel blackade runner.

What I didn’t know was that a good part of the reason the design changed was that it looked just a little too much like the Eagle transporter.

Early Millenium  Falcon model next to Eage transporter model.

Which, side by side, I can see.

External links

FAB Facts: Star Wars’ Millenium Falcon almost looked like a Space:1999 Eagle

The complete history of the Millenium Falcon

11 February 2021

The worm lizard that’s rather like a whale

May I introduce Bipes biporus, also known as the Mexican mole lizard or Belding’s mole lizard.

Mexican worm lizard (Bipes biporus).

It’s an odd and fascinating beast, because it has arms (forelimbs) but no legs (hindlimbs). You can see its front legs very well in the picture above. They even look pretty chunky relative to the head.

Head and forelimbs of Mexican worm lizard (Bipes biporus).

But there are no obvious rear legs.

Mexican worm lizard (Bipes biporus).

There are tiny remnants of leg bones in the back of the animal, but they are not visible just by looking at the animal.

Pelvic skeleton from Mexican worm lizard (Bipes biporus).

Above is Figure 8 from Zangerl (1945).

A more recent paper (Kearney and Stuart 2004) says Blanus (another worm lizard genus) has forelimb skeletal elements but only vestiges of rear limbs. But pictures of Blanus don’t show obvious limbs like Bipes does.

Why do I say this worm lizard is like a whale? Because like whales, only the forelimbs are visible. The hindlimbs are all but lost. In some ways, the worm lizard is a more impressive specimen of evolution because its forelimbs are still obviously arms, unlike the flipper of a whale, which is so heavily modified that its relationship to out own arms is obscured.


Kearney M,  Stuart BL. 2004. Repeated evolution of limblessness and digging heads in worm lizards revealed by DNA from old bones. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B. 271: 1677–1683. http://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2004.2771

Zangerl R. 1945. Contributions to the Osteology of the Post-Cranial Skeleton of the Amphisbaenidae. American Midland Naturalist 33: 764–780.