Steve's Herpetological Blog

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


#SciFri: TetZooCon 2023

For those eagle-eyed among you, you may have noticed on Twitter recently that I attended TetZooCon 2023 on the 3rd and 4th December. Like last year, which I couldn’t attend as I was recovering from submitting my PhD thesis, dozens of palaeontology and zoologists descended upon Bush House in London for two days of amazing talks and workshops. There was an optional panel session on the 2nd December but unfortunately other commitments meant that I could not make this – although I would have liked to. TetZooCon is co-organised by Darren Naish of TetZoo fame, who also co-curated the Monsters of the Deep exhibition that I visited recently (I can’t escape the guy!). This was my first in-person TetZooCon since 2019, thanks to the disruption caused by the pandemic. What an event it was though! This year was the 10th annual TetZooCon, being the biggest and best ever. This did have a downside though, as at some points there were three parallel sessions meaning you had to decide where you wanted/needed to be ahead of time.

Darren Naish introduced Dean Lomax ahead of his talk on the Rutland Sea Dragon

The first day of TetZooCon 2023 was extremely ichthyosaur heavy, but that helped to make it coherent and you need to have a running theme when trying to entertain 200 people. This was also cleverly planned as Darren was also promoting his new book Ancient Sea Reptiles throughout the event, which I may have purchased. On that first day, among the talks about extinct marine reptiles, that by Dean Lomax was my favourite for a number of reasons. To start, Dean and I have been interacting online for a few years now and have never managed to be in the same place at the same time, until now! Secondly, Dean is an absolutely stand-up guy and I enjoyed hearing about his current projects. Finally, I was looking forward to hearing about the Rutland Sea Dragon, the largest and most complete ichthyosaur ever found in the UK. Dean’s energy and enthusiasm was electric, and I may be slightly jealous about the whole project. Emily Swaby’s talk on Temnodontosaurus crassimanus (Yorkshire’s giant ichthyosaur) complimented Dean’s talk perfectly, both following Judyth Sasson’s presentation on plesiosaur semiotics. Whilst at TetZooCon, Dean was selling copies of his book Locked in Time, which I bought almost immediately upon arrival as I knew they would sell out fast (as they previously did).

My good friend James Pascoe introducing me before I gave a talk on our national project studying midwife toads. Photo by Georgia Witton-Maclean

One of the main reasons that I was attending TetZooCon (apart from catching up with old friends), was to present a talk on the ongoing project I am involved with regarding the presence of midwife toads in Great Britain. I was gracefully introduced by James Pascoe before being let loose on the audience, wowing them with photos and stories about midwife toads. When a project has been one of your passions for eight years you tend to pick up a number of tales along the way. Also, where the bloody hell has all of the time gone? In the audience for my talk we old friends such as Neil Phillips of the UK Wildlife Podcast and some of the guys I met up with London previously to visit the Titanosaur at the Natural History Museum. That is one of the great things about TetZooCon, the feeling of community, acceptance, and wonder. As well as old friends, I made a number of new ones too that I am looking forward to working with in the future. Fingers crossed everyone who attended my talk had a lot of fun, and I didn’t just end up chatting a load of bollocks.

Just some of the merchandise I picked up at TetZooCon 2023 – where the authors were also kind enough to sign their books for me

There were a lavish number of other amazing talks on topics such as fossil fossil dolphins from New Zealand such as Nihohae matakoi, characterised by it’s sharp slashing teeth, as well as mention of its relatives from the same time period by Amber Coste. We also had a talk from Hana Ayoob who I collaborated with back in the pandemic, trying to help people understand misrepresented species more with my effort being focussed on snakes. Hana discussed her journey through science communication and what it takes to make things engaging to all audiences. I definitely took a few notes to give a go myself next year. On the Sunday, there were talks by Jennifer Campbell-Smith on the study of corvids, and Todd Green on cassowary research. Both of these talks had similar themes regarding the implications of such research on extinct non-avian dinosaurs, but also how tricky it is to go about completing that research to begin with. Thankfully grass snakes or midwife toads aren’t going to kill you/get wise to your tricks as easy as with some intelligent avian dinosaurs! Finally, Evon Hekkala gave an extremely thought provoking talk on crocodiles and how she has been going about uncovering the secrets of African crocodylians.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the memo about not meeting your heroes

My personal highlight of TetZooCon 2023 (aside from the social activities in the evenings) was getting to meet Nigel Marven again. Nigel gave a talk about his work with extant species such as snakes and lizards (yay!), but also projects such as Prehistoric Park and Sea Monsters. As you can imagine for a large group of nerds that we are, the attendees gave Nigel a standing ovation when he finished his talk (although some people were already standing as we were squeezed into a tiny lecture theatre as the main auditorium was an icebox). Afterwards, I got the chance to chat to Nigel and buy a copy of one of his DVDs (photographed above). That pretty much wrapped up TetZooCon apart from the quiz, where I only scored 9/30 points – but it is notoriously difficult. If you’re hoping to attend next year, bring lots of money as things quickly get expensive when you’re buying books and other paraphernalia. Also, cram every single page on Wikipedia about tetrapods that you can for the quiz, and you’re bound to win!

We were also fortunate enough to be able to sample some of London’s finest architecture throughout the talks

Finally, I would like to thank Darren Naish and John Conway for inviting me to speak at TetZooCon, as well as for organising it. I know a number of other people also worked tirelessly in the background to make things work seamlessly despite the multitude of problems we faced, so thank you. Thanks to Kings College London for hosting us, and for everyone in attendance for making TetZooCon 2023 one to remember!

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