The closing date of submissions for this year's OpenLab, an annual collection of the year's best science-blog writting (as judged by the judges), is the 1st of December - a week from today. If there has been anything here at Catalogue of Organisms over the past year (since December the 1st last year), please (please!) submit it for consideration. Please! Go through the archive in the right sidebar, pick out your favourites, and make your contribution towards restoring my fragile sense of self-worth.
Otherwise, your humble host is still fairly knackered after getting back from the field yesterday (two weeks away = nearly three hundred e-mails [mostly spam], 1000+ entries on Google Reader, one pair crossed eyes). So just a brief finishing note:
This is the braincase of Talpanas lippa, a subfossil duck species, about the size of a mallard, described from Kauai by Iwaniuk et al. (2009) in Zootaxa today (and the article is freely available to all comers). As well as the braincase, Talpanas is also represented by pieces of jaw and leg bones and a partial pelvis. The name means "nearly blind mole-duck" - Talpanas would have had small, piggy little eyes, quite unusual in a bird, and would have almost certainly been nocturnal and flightless (flying blind is not usually recommended). Though the complete beak is still unknown, the available jaw pieces indicate that it would have been very broad. The leg bones indicate that Talpanas was a walker rather than a swimmer, so Talpanas was probably a forager for small invertebrates among forest litter; this is the lifestyle currently pursued by the kiwi, another nocturnal bird with relatively small eyes. Iwaniuk et al. suggest that Talpanas also resembled a platypus in using its broad bill to feel for invertebrates amongst the soil. The opening for the trigeminal nerve in the braincase is very large like that of a platypus (it's the opening labelled 'V' on the images above - take a look, it's freaking huge), indicating that Talpanas' bill would have been very sensitive to touch. Unfortunately, the skull of Talpanas is so unusual that its relationships with other anseriforms are obscure.
The Litiopids: Small Sea-Snails among the Weeds
10 hours ago in Catalogue of Organisms