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Chickenosaurus

@benteh


Jack Horner is a paleo-dude of the purest water. He is funny, knowledgeable and loves dinosaurs so much he wants to build one. And it is actually feasible. Chickens are basically altered dinosaurs, and fiddling with switching on and off genes will give you a chickenosaurus. See the TED talk. Best dude around.

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W. B. Gould: artist and convict

@benteh


William Buelow Gould (1801 – 1853) was an English artist convicted for stealing a coat, and was sentenced to seven years of labour in Van Diemens Land (Tasmania). He constantly got into trouble, also in the penal colonies, and was regularly punished for offences such as drunkenness, petty theft and forgery.

His talent however, got him assigned as house servant to colonial surgeon Dr James Scott who made use of his abilities. Later he was also a servant of another amateur naturalist, Dr William de Little (“amateur” meaning something a little different then than now).

He painted still life, portraits, botanical specimen, native flora and fauna, sea life collected on the beaches and landscapes. He continued painting after having been granted his certificate of freedom in 1835, but the quality was faltering, and he seems to have spiralled down into poverty, drunkenness and prison sentences.

His work is greatly acclaimed, and his Gould’s sketchbook of fishes was recognised as a document of world significance by UNESCO in 2011.

My absolute favourite is the leafy sea dragon.

Living evolution: archaeopteryx, pterodactyl, hoatzin

@benteh


I am going to skip over the arguments against the imbeciles who believe that the world is 6000 years old. Richard Dawkins are nobly taking that task upon himself.

JPTLWPteranodonAbout 150 million years ago, the pterodactyl roamed the skies ( pterodaktulos, meaning “winged finger”). There is something about that shape (and size!) that seems to still take hold of human imagination and fear; imagine the shadow crossing your path. Though they were not excellent fliers, it must have been pretty useful for a carnivore reptile.

Archaeopteryx_NTThen, the paleobiologists got wildly excited when they found various fossils of what is seen as a transitional creature; half bird, half reptile. The gorgeous Archaeopteryx “original bird” or “first bird”). Teeth, claws, wings, reptile tail. It is pretty much more reptile than bird. A reptile with feathers.

So, as the theory go, the flying reptiles changed into birds, and lost the obvious reptilian traits. But evolution is a wonderful thing. In the swamps of South America lives Hoatzin_in_Perua bird called Hoatzin  (Opisthocomus hoazin).  Though it is definitely a bird as we know them, (and the adult is one of the coolest-looking birds!) The chicks have a curious trait: they have claws on their wings like the pterodactyl and the archaeopteryx . Living above water, the chicks sometimes fall in, and to be able to get back up, it uses those extra claws. They retract as the chick grows older and are capable of flying. The taxonomic placement of this brilliant species are greatly debated, and it is odd in several aspects: it is purely herbivore, and its digestive system are close to bovine as it uses bacterial fermentation to digest plant material.

But no contest: the coolest thing about it is the chicks claws.

 

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Ernst Haeckel: art and science through the microscope

ErnstHaeckelErnst Haeckel (1834 – 1919) was what we call a renaissance man. He was a professor, biologist, philosopher, physician, naturalist and artist. His contribution to biology, evolutionary theory and art is still mind-boggling; we owe a great deal of biological understanding and terminology to him. He was a great promoter of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and created amazing visualisations by intense use of microscope. Maybe his greatest talent was the art of seeing. To actually observe and recreate what he saw into art. And science.

And look at him: how can you not love the guy in that portrait?

 

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Some of his plates have since been found to be inaccurate, but in my book that I can forgive him. The value of his work, his art and the importance of combining art and science cannot be underestimated. I am not going to get into a massive biography or description of his scientific work; go forth and research yourself. I will simply show some of his stunning observations.

Using the ever better technology of the microscope, he stared at sea creatures and reproduced what he saw in painstaking detail. His artistic ambition, was to show the world the amazing shapes in nature, shapes that was not accessible to the general public. His scientific ambition was to use the insight to elaborate on his theories of the shape-shifting of natural selection. Spanning art and science. The place I want to live.

He published a lot of his art in a series called Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms of Nature) that are still – to me at least – a source of inspiration and wonder. They are both abstract and accurate; both fiction and science. It does not get better than that.

Age-of-Man-wikiHe also made several trees of life; visualisation of the idea of evolution. There are a lot of efforts to do this; we still struggle with it today, but this is one of my favourites. Though some knowledge has been added, some geological time has been shuffled, renamed and changed, it is still impressive in its noise-to-signal ratio. What is easily seen, and abundantly clear looking at this, is how the various groups waxes and wanes, diminish and expands. You can see the extinction of dinosaurs, how they transformed into birds, how few reptiles we have left, and how mammals took over most niches. It is well worth a study.

 

 

So without further ado; here are some of his amazing art. And science:

 

 

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Black & white

@benteh


The world looks different in black and white. I think it might sharpen some parts of the visual processing, to see the world in ebony and ivory.

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Bow to the masters: learning from Ernst Haeckel

@benteh


There is no better way to learn, than to study what the masters studied. Even though Haeckel might have been a little too creative in some of his visual analysis, he is up there with the best of them.

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Diego Mazzeo: mechanical animals

@benteh


Green with envy, I present Diego Mazzeo and his wonderful mechanical animals. I am speechless; they are absolutely stunning and perfect in detail. I am particularly fond of the insert heart on the dragon, with the magnification in the corner. Inspired!

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