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SOLNHOFEN, NZ WRENS, OXPECKERS etc
Remind me not to move house again. Took longer than I thought. Here
are various responses to assorted recent messages.
March 15th, David Marjanovic wrote...
1. It's mantra time: There Were No Trees At Solnhofen. (I don't think 3
m high bushes are suitable for such pouncing.)
Apparently this isn't correct - ginkgo trunks and other bits of large
fossil plants have been recovered from Solnhofen. IIRC Feduccia
(1996, 1999) mentions these - they've also been discussed on the list
before. I think they were part of a collection that has since been
destroyed (in WWII) or lost.
March 16th, Ron wrote....
Furthermore, the only really small flightless birds in historic times
have been rails and the Stephen Island Rock Wren, and of these most
became extinct before anyone could study their behaviour and/or lived
on treeless or near-treeless islands
Minor correction - the Stephen Island wren (_Traversia_) was only
restricted to Stephens Island in historic times. Earlier in the Holocene
it was found throughout NZ: fossils known from both North and
South Island. Having recently reread some of Worthy's papers on NZ
wrens and examined xenicid specimens at Tring, I do now think that
_Traversia_ was flightless (and that it deserves its own genus apart
March 23rd, Larry Febo asked...
Tanystropheus,....could it have been vegetarian??
As Silvio noted, this is not supported by the animal's dentition and an
inflexible neck with rod-like vertebrae would presumably be an
extreme handicap for herbivory. As an item of historical interest
though, Barry Cox did suggest in the 1970s that _Tanystropheus_ may
have eaten submarine algae, cf. _Amblyrhynchus_ (Galapagos marine
iguanas). I believe this was published in a review article in _Nature_.
Matti Aumala noted recent work on oxpecker (_Buphagus_) ecology -
the birds eat as much blood and skin as they do skin parasites and are
not wholly beneficial to their hosts (despite claims in older literature
that _Buphagus_ and host mammals are symbionts). I also recall a
recent study (published in 1997 or thereabouts) which found that
African buffaloes deprived of oxpecker hosts quickly developed
unsightly buildups of ear wax - so severe that they actually hampered
the buffaloes' hearing. They may therefore be tolerated by some species
because the benefits of oxpecker grooming outweigh the costs.
Incidentally, apparently oxpeckers have exceptionally recurved pedal
Finally, I'm surprised that some list members are themselves surprised
about inclusion of _Pan_ and _Gorilla_ in Hominidae - this is pretty
much standard in primatological texts nowadays and has been since at
least the early 90s (though there is a minority view supporting a
monophyletic [and 'traditional'] Pongidae - doesn't stand up in
parsimony analysis though and is based on only four or so weak
characters). Indeed, _Pongo_ and all ramamorph/dryopithecine
hominoids are also generally included in Hominidae I think, sometimes
as Ponginae. I'll emphasise that I'm no expert on primate systematics
though. I do not have appropriate refs to hand but can send them if
If I owe you an email please hang on. Oh well, back to the pliosaurs
"Nice to see a familiar face"
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