The dromaeosaurid dinosaur family — which includes such fan favourites as Velociraptor and Deinonychus — continues to offer surprises. Known for the sickle claw on one toe, dromaeosaurids have also been found to have feathers — and quite possibly venom. Now a new, strange dromaeosaur has been discovered in Romania. Balaur bondoc, a close relative of Velociraptor, had two sickle claws on each foot — it re-evolved its big toe: it has four toes on each foot, very unusual for a theropod dinosaur — and gave it a big claw too. Paleontologists were expecting some weird stuff out of late Cretaceous Europe, which was at the time a series of islands — and natural selection gets funny in insular populations. Not this, though. (Frankly, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this turned out to be a case of prehistoric polydactyly — this is just too weird.)
A few weeks ago, one of our two male Red-sided Garter Snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis) — the last of the great litter of 2002 — decided to bite himself, at which point he recoiled in alarm and surprise. He and his brother are curious and friendly (albeit very ravenous: they’ll bite your fingers, though it’s not personal; they’re just hungry), but they’re just not very smart.
By no means is that the first time I’ve seen one of my snakes bite itself. Normally it’s something I associate with Common Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula); I recall seeing both California and Speckled Kingsnakes chew on themselves. Apparently it’s more than a kingsnake thing.
Last week, though, I was summoned to answer a question on Ask MetaFilter from someone whose son’s California Kingsnake chewed on its own tail on more than one occasion. You can read my answer there; I’m going to flesh it out a bit more (and organize it a bit better) here.
In 1948, the Library of Congress purchased a collection of colour images taken by Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944). Taken during a series of surveys of the Russian Empire on behalf of the Tsar prior to World War I, these photos were produced by taking a series of black-and-white photos through red, green and blue colour filters; Prokudin-Gorskii created colour images by combining the images with a special projector using the same filters. (This method is still used by astrophotographers, who use specialized monochrome CCDs to take a series of images through special filters.) The result, when processed with modern-day tools (hello, Photoshop), is a series of stunningly vibrant colour photos from a period otherwise remembered in sepia, and from a part of the world not often seen in the West, even at the time. A total of 2,607 images are available in the LOC’s Prokudin-Gorskii Collection; an online exhibition from the LOC and The Big Picture offer some of the more stunning examples. Above: a portrait of the Emir of Bukhara.