TetZooMCon 2021

Conference

It came out of left field: after the first online edition of TetZooCon, named TetZooMCon (this is a Pune or play on words) was a great success in December 2020, Darren Naish announced the next one for early September 2021, well under a year later and on relatively short notice. 3 September was the day we once again sat down at our laptops for a series of interesting talks delivered directly to our homes. Unfortunately, this was the first ever TetZooCon event that Marc Vincent couldn’t attend, which definitely meant this edition was missing something, though ultimately this didn’t detract from the fact that we had a wonderful evening of talks, workshops and chats to look forward to. TetZoo subjects include dinosaurs andotherprehistoricanimals, the relationships between humans and nature, cryptozoology and palaeoart. All subjects were richly covered between the six talks.

For this particular occasion, Darren chose to kick things off by showing off his legendary toy collection. It’s a truly astounding array of animals living and extinct reproduced any way imaginable in tiny – and sometimes not so tiny – plastic form. Shelves upon shelves of them. There’s even fish. After giving everyone something to drool over, Darren introduced the first speaker.

Kannan Raja – Your Carma Ran Over My Frogma

Kannan Raja’s talk was about his project monitoring roadkill in Singapore, with the help of observant citizens. Not only is this project valuable for gathering data about wildlife – particularly reptiles and amphibians – on the densely populated archipelago, it might also help provide better solutions for wildlife safety. Kannan did not hold back on showing the bloody results of fatal encounters between animals and cars, and the talk was not for the faint of heart. Kannan’s talk gave me big flashbacks to Amy Schwartz’ talk at TetZooCon 2019 about a similar project in the UK, which if I recall correctly was called Project SPLATTER. I had the opportunity to talk to Kannan for a minute and asked him about that, and it turns out he was indeed inspired by Amy’s project. And so the TetZoo fam becomes ever more interconnected. Drive safely!

Riley Black – The Cronch “Cat”

As a reader of the Laelaps blog, I was looking forward to Riley’s talk, and she did not disappoint. She gave an introductory talk about Patriofelis, a carnivorous, panther-sized mammal (not a cat, hence the quotation marks) from the Eocene which has been known for a long time and whose taxonomic relationships and lifestyle were muddy for most of it. Its superficial resemblance to an otter has led many to believe that the animal may have had semi-aquatic habits, which Riley doubts. Patriofelis’ unique dentition, crushing jaw power and ecology might suggest the interesting possibility that Patriofelis could have been a specialized turtle eater. True to form, Riley’s talk was easy to follow, well structured and very exciting. One of the highlights of the day.

François-Louis Pelissier – The Beasts of Gévaudan

Cryptozoology time! François-Louis Pelissier came to us with a story of folklore, monsters and man-eaters that was unknown to me but was, like Darren promised, quite extraordinary. For a few years in the 18th century, a province in France was terrorized by one or several apparently man-eating wolves, which allegedly killed anywhere from sixty to hundreds of people. Several wolves were killed at the time, but it never became clear whether the culprits were among them. François-Louis has researched the case, and hypothesizes that the attacks came from a pack of Italian wolves, which best fits the description given for the killed animals. Among them might have been one or a number of wolf-hound hybrids (which are really just wolves, strictly speaking). Don’t tell this story to any anti-rewilding farmers who might be listening.

Duane Nash vs. Darren Naish – Dinosaur Enlightenment

Besides the superficially similar names, I have no idea why Duane Nash and Darren Naish are confused for one another, they aren’t particularly alike. But for two outspoken dinosaur enthousiasts of very different temperament, one a somewhat controversial figure, the other no stranger to making enemies of controversial figures, they got on famously and made for an interesting odd couple. Duane Nash began by laying out some of his famously wild, sometimes grotesque, speculative ideas about dinosaurs and the big picture of their ecology. Then followed some back and forth with Darren that amounted more to friendly banter than a heated discussion. I wonder if the Dinosaur Enlightenment will truly catch on, but Nash is tireless and takes criticism in good humour, setting himself apart from those controversial figures Darren doesn’t get on with.

Elsa Panciroli – Beasts Before Us

Elsa Panciroli’s object of research is the evolutionary history of mammals andothersynapsids, and she makes it a point to tell the stories that no one else is telling. The history of mammals in the Cenozoic is well told, so her talk – accompanying her new popular science book of the same name – highlighted the mammals and synapsids of the Mesozoic, when our forebears are ususally seen as little scuttly mousy things living in the shadows of dinosaurs, and the Palaeozoic, when they are often called, heaven forfend, “mammal-like reptiles”. Sad emoji. Not only does Elsa shine her light on the fascinating diversity of these forgotten creatures, she also tells the stories of figures in the history of palaeontology who have likewise been forgotten. As you might expect, these include many women and people of colour. The presentation was peppered up by fantastic artwork by April Neander. It was a most excellent talk, and I immediately ordered a copy of the book which, no doubt, will get reviewed in due course.

Darren Naish – Art, Anatomy and the Stars

Darren Naish, national treasure, gave himself the well-deserved honour to end this series of talks with a deep dive into the Dinosauroid, that notorious Little Green Man who would have allegedly evolved from Troodon had that pesky meteorite not got in the way. This thing showed up in nearly every damn dinosaur book in the 80s and 90s, often stated as fact, even though the idea is not all that plausible. Darren delved into the history of the Dinosauroid, its eccentric creator Dale Russell and its curious legacy. Darren especially delved into Russell’s religious beliefs, and how those informed his ideas about evolution and the supposed inevitability of the humanoid shape. This topic is sometimes considered taboo when discussing Russell, but the link is probably too obvious to ignore. It was surprising to hear how the Dinosauroid even found its way into the work of Carl Sagan. The Little Green Man That Could definitely has an interesting afterlife, and I’m sure the last chapter in its history has not yet been written. Some ideas are just too weird to get rid of.

Palaeoart Workshop

I have a love/hate relationship with the TetZooCon Palaeoart Workshop. On the one hand, I’m always the least talented person in the room, and I feel some survivor’s guilt in relation those people who couldn’t get a ticket and would probably get more out of it than me. (Fortunately, thanks to a generous donation, Natee was able to participate after it looked like they might have been too late.) On the other hand, it’s always a fantastic education to get a lesson from one of the masters of the craft, especially if that person is the dashing and wonderful Jed Taylor. Jed’s talk was a deep exploration into the anatomy of dromaeosaurs, fascinating not only from an artistic but also a general dino-nerd standpoint, and I walked away with a new appreciation for these animals, and for the people who draw them. Natee informs us that they loved their session with Joschua Knüppe, as well.

Once again, I wasn’t able to stick around for the afterparty for very long – Darren should really plan these on days I don’t have to get in early – but I hear that things went on until the wee hours, true to form. It’s been a great collection of talks, once again, and great to see all these familiar and unfamiliar faces. My felicitations once again to Darren and John for making this great event happen! It does make one long for meetings in real life. Please get vaccinated if you can. As for TetZooCon: Darren has more or less confirmed that there will be more online events forthcoming, though surely one day before we’ve all gone the way of the dinosaur there will be real events also? In any case, whatever happens, your Chasmosaurs team will be there.

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