Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#SciFri: TetZooCon 2019

I know I promised you all a fieldwork update but that can wait, as hopefully I’ll have some juicy lab work to also shoehorn into everything – look out for that next week!

For now, I’m going to rant and rave about TetZooCon 2019 – you may remember that I also wrote a similar post about TetZooCon 2018 last year which was very well received. Hopefully I can keep the momentum going this year! In case you’re not in the know, TetZooCon this year was held on Saturday 19th October and Sunday 20th October at The Venue, University of London. This was only the 2nd TetZooCon I’d been to (embarrassingly) but it was the 6th held following their inception.

Following feedback from last year’s post – I’ve included the speaker’s Twitter handles where appropriate.

For those of you that don’t know what TetZooCon is, let me enlighten you. It’s an annual event held in London where a large group of people that love everything about tetrapods (and maybe fish) gather for a two day event to fulfil their wildest dreams. The meeting is the brainchild of Darren Naish (@tetzoo) and John Conway (@thejohnconway) – both of them work extraordinarily hard to up themselves each year (and ensure we keep coming back). Darren also writes the Tetrapod Zoology (or TetZoo for short) blog, of which most of the attendees follow. Back to the event, as Darren is a palaeontologist by trade and John is a palaeoartist there is always a fair share of dinosaurs mixed in with modern day science of the living animal kingdom.

John Conway opens TetZooCon 2019 whilst in the background, Darren is no doubt tweeting that things are officially go!

Although I’m not artistically inclined there is also a palaeo-art workshop where delegates can get some top tips from some of the pros. As I have the artistic skill of a toddler I always shy away from this option and instead prefer to talk science with the other professionals and enthusiasts that make up the crowd. That’s one of the things I love about the TetZooCon community, it is very inclusive and anyone can attend as long as they’ve got a passion for all things tetrapod! Darren himself is the embodiment of how science should work being a prolific author and science communicator as well as an all round top bloke that’s extremely modest and humble. Future scientists, take note!

Ellen’s opening slide – the talk was full of whaley-good puns and lots of interesting science!

As always there was a really good range of talks, the first being from Ellen Coombs (@ellencoombs) on her PhD research looking at whale strandings in the UK. This was particularly interesting to me as I have been aware of Ellen’s research for over a year as I did one of my Masters projects with her supervisor at the Natural History Museum (except I was looking at frogs). Whilst I was there, I never bumped into her despite hot-desking in Ellen’s office so it was great to finally sit down and hear all about it! It seems that whale stranding are only going to get even more numerous over the coming years which will keep my colleagues at CSIP busy!

Jack’s title slide gives it all away!

We also had a great talk from Jack Ashby (@JackDAshby),a good friend who is the manager of the University of Cambridge Zoology Museum. Jack’s talk was on the way that natural history museums are inherently biased by factors such as the Victorians, the British Empire and gender bias in collections. All interesting stuff, especially for someone who has worked with museum collections in the past! After a very interesting discussion of dinosaur and pterosaur biology, Mike Dickison (@adzebill) gave a fascinating talk on the factors that are used to classify native bird species in New Zealand. Again, to someone working with non-native species this was very interesting and I hope to write on the whole subject at length at a later date.

Alice’s title slide (sorry for the poor quality) with a photo of a common toad (Bufo bufo)

After a break, we broke into two groups. One attending the palaeoart workshop and the other carrying on with the talks. The first of these was given by my good friend and fellow herpetologist Alice Pawlik (@alicepawlik), talking on her work to help head-start pool frogs (you can read more here) as well as an introduction to her PhD research (which is similar to the talk I gave last year). To wrap up the first day we had also had a quick talk from Amber Eames (@AmberEames) on her latest project to film Bewick’s swans to raise their conservation profile, before another discussion with other film-makers on how to achieve your goals and pursue a career in wildlife film-making. This was highly interesting and I took notes for my own video making ideas. Following this discussion, there was a drinks reception and palaeoart exhibition.

Some of the art on display at the palaeoart exhibition – it puts my ability to shame. The artists also had stalls selling their art which is always a guaranteed way to lose all of your money!

Then came the 2nd day – one which started with a number of talks all on dinosaurs and pterosaurs. This was to be expected, they had to be in there somewhere didn’t they? This also gave the palaeontologists involved with the discussion on the Saturday to speak about their respective research. Chris Barker (@palaeoguy12) was the first to kick these off giving a talk on diseases and injuries in theropod dinosaurs, Rebecca Lakin (@rj_lakin) then spoke on her research investigating parental care in birds and dinosaurs. David Hone (@Dave_Hone) then discussed the issues with terminology when defining dinosaurs in the media and other outlets, which often lead to confusion. This was then followed by a book signing of his book ‘The Tyrannosaur Chronicles‘. On the Saturday, Jack Ashby also had a book signing for his book ‘Animal Kingdom: A Natural History in 100 Objects‘ and of course I bought a copy! After another tea break because we all need our tea, Jordan Bestwick (@JordanBestwick1) presented a talk speaking about his research to reconstruct the diets of pterosaurs. I certainly got my palaeo-fix for another week or two following everything!

The talks continued with the dead theme as Amy Schwartz (@lizardschwartz) took the stage to speak about her research with the snazzy title of ‘Project Splatter’. For those of you that don’t follow Amy on social media, the idea of the project is to use citizen scientists to investigate wildlife roadkill. Again, the audience was informed of the biases in the data such as the lack of reptiles reported and the fact that pheasants seems to be bred to fly into cars. After more tea (us Brits love tea and need it to survive) we had a talk from Lauren McGough (@eaglefalconer) on eagles and using them for hunting. Sounds like quite a fun talk and it was because who doesn’t like flying a huge flying predatory bird with the ability to take down deer?

The penultimate talk was from the great Ross Barnett ( @DeepFriedDNA) who had travelled from Inverness to London to discuss his research and new book (The Missing Lynx). There was one very important take-home message from Ross’s talk that I felt many of us often overlook. When we lose a species to extinction, that’s it. De-extinction technology is a long way off and arguably the money it costs could be better spent saving what we have. Therefore, for every species that we lose, we should fight twice as hard to keep the ones we still have. This means acting when needed and not monitoring them to extinction, protecting habitats and putting our money where our mouth is. Afterwards there was a book signing and of course I had to buy a copy – I will be reading and reviewing all of the books purchased at TetZooCon in the next couple of weeks (when I can find the time) so keep an eye out!

Tim Haines’ title side – doesn’t really give much away does it?

The final talk was by a hero of mine and his title slide doesn’t give his true identity away. It is a man who constructed the most powerful onscreen images when I was a child, the likes of Walking with Dinosaurs and Primeval as well as the founder of Impossible Pictures. It is of course Tim Haines and it was amazing to hear him talk about how things have changed since the late 90’s and how we may be about to live through the golden age of photo realistic dinosaur programming thanks to the actions of Netflix and their high budgets. He also spoke about the difficulties he’s has through the years and how now to do things which was also entertaining. Tim’s talk was followed by the TetZoo Quiz which really sorts the men from the boys, due to the high amphibian content I managed to score 10/30 (which is more than I got last year).

Finally, as always there was the traditional TetZooCon meal held at a local chain of Carluccio’s in Russel Square. It’s always great to go to dinner with people from the conference and just hang out, with some beer and some grub and discuss whatever pops into your head. I find this particularly useful as most science takes place in the pub (which may explain why you can often find me there). Thanks again to Darren and John for organising such a great event – I loved every second of it! Also thanks to everyone that attended, it’s always a great to meet new people and to catch up with old friends. If you’re at TetZooCon next year then feel free to come and say hello and grab a beer, I’ll certainly be there!



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