Monthly Archives: June 2011

Podcast de la entrevista

He aquí el link para escuchar o descargaros el podcast de la entrevista en Radio 5 emitida el 13 de Junio de 2011:

Entrevista a la vista

Hola a todos,

Para aquellos de vosotros que escuchen la radio, y que además lo hagan en horas de trabajo, os comunico que el lunes día 13 de junio a las 11:45 me entrevistan en Radio 5 de RNE. El tema de la entrevista será nuestro nuevo libro “La Gran Migración” (Jordi Agustí y Mauricio Antón 2011, Crítica).

Aquí incluyo una de las ilustraciones inéditas incluídas en este nuevo libro, concretamente una reconstrucción del entorno de Damnisi, Georgia hace 1,8 millones de años.

A scene in the early Pleistocene of Dmanisi Georgia

A scene in the early Pleistocene of Dmanisi, Georgia

How I came to paint a reddish-brown giant penguin

Shame on me, the first story in this blog does not deal with sabretooths, but I warned you I could post about many different things… Instead of a sabretoothed cat, a sword-beaked giant penguin. I just came across this post in the NGS web

I did that penguin illustration a few months ago for the April 2011 issue of NGM, but had forgotten about it until I saw it last week on the june issue of the Spanish edition of the magazine.  It is not everyday that you have the opportunity to reconstruct an extinct vertebrate for which you have direct information about its coat colour, and that is precisely the case with Inkayacu. The fossil specimen, from the Oligocene of Peru, miraculously preserves evidence of the bird’s feathers, with tiny pigment packages known as melanosomes. These structures show that the bird did not have the solid black back of most extant penguins, and unlike any of them its plumage had reddish-brown tints. However, the fossils don’t show us the exact coat colour pattern of Inkayacu, they just show the presence of the brown pigments. So the pattern you see in the illustration was based on that seen in various modern penguins and other aquatic birds. I avoided the dark brown chest shown in several previous reconstructions, because I wanted to give the animal somewhat lighter underparts which are so common in vertebrates that spend a lot of their time swimming -one more manifestation of the old theory of “counter-shading” in animals, also known as “Thayer’s Law”. Recent studies suggest that the advantages of this pattern are not so obvious for land animals, but they remain convincingly clear for animals that spend time in the water because they benefit from a “background match” mechanism, and I would guess that the extreme pattern (dark above, light below) of modern penguins has so much to do with their marine habits as it has with anything else.

Hopefully one day somebody may find a wonderfully preserved sabretooth fossil which may tell us something about those animal’s coats, but meanwhile we are left to speculate about their patterns. What a pity.

Welcome to Chasing Sabretooths

Hello everybody! I am starting this blog in order to share  events, findings or ideas that seem relevant in this quest to reconstruct the life of the past. The blog’s title relates to what I have been doing for the last few years (decades, already): chasing sabretooths – trying to learn how those animals really looked like, how they moved, how they behaved… chasing ghosts, one could say. You never catch a sabertooth, you may seem a bit closer with every fossil finding, with every new insight into evolution and anatomy. But from the start you know you will never get to know it -not the way you can know a living cat. And if you think you have caught it, then the ghost is gone and all you have is an empty shell (sorry if this sounded a bit too poetic…)  So the key to this process is to keep it moving, to keep it dynamic, and always to remind yourself that you really don’t know. I use the sabretooths as a sort of emblem for the more general subject of extinct life, all of it beautiful and all of it worth learning about.

This journey has stops in many, sometimes unlikely places (at least for me). So my posts may relate to any part of the process of reconstructing past life. They may have to do with fossil finds, or with drawing, or with any aspect of modern nature that provides both information and inspiration for this task of recreating the past.  I am bad at keeping my activities separate, and I mix art and science all the time in a rather disrespectful manner. Sorry, I don’t see art or science as sacred masters to serve, but as means to an end, and this end is to learn more about the world around us, and to learn how to be a part of it while enjoying the ride. OK, first I sounded poetic and now I’m sounding philosophical, so obviously it is time to end this post… One last word however: don’t expect me to bore you daily with my posts: when I am not too busy, I will likely be feeling too lazy to achieve such a feat. Nonetheless I will try to be here whenever there is something worth telling.

At this point, this blog is nothing but bare bones. Give me some time and I will try to put some flesh on it, as I do with my fossil subjects!.

So welcome and please stay tuned!

Hoplophoneus mentalis

A quick sketch of the sabertooth hoplophoneus mentalis, yawning.

PS: I add a piece of eyecandy, a quick working sketch of the skull and soft tissues of the nimarvid sabretooth Hoplophoneus mentalis.