Transactions of the Royal Sounds of SVP

Yes, the seats squeaked upon sitting on them at this year’s Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting. During talks, most people sought to avoid the chirping by gently sliding laterally onto the cushion. But at the banquet, every applause was followed by waves of seat barks. Stay classy SVP!

All in all, the meeting was well executed, at a great location. Well done Host and Program Committees, and all the participants that made it possible.

Calls of the Wild

By: Ally McEntire

The calls of the baby gator in the Holliday lab got me thinking about alligator vocalizations. On a whim, I decided to look this up and found a little more than I had bargained for. Alligators and other crocodilians have a different vocal structure than any other reptile, amphibian or bird– all nearby relatives. Their vocal structure is actually quite similar to that of mammals. Instead of a syrinx like birds have, which involves air passing through the trachea while it vibrates at different rates; they have vocal folds—a larynx—just like humans.

This article details a study done on live juvenile crocs to study their vocalizations. It discusses a number of very specific things like sexual dimorphism in calls and amount of time the noises lasted. What I find more interesting than all of that is that their vocal structure is so unique. Even though they are evolutionarily related to these 3 other branches, their system of making noise is not really like any of their closest relatives. Basically, they have vocal folds, which contract and/or relax when the gator breathes out, like mammals.

This made me want to find out more about the ancestral line, if the present one is so estranged. Would other archosaurs resemble birds, lizards or crocs more closely? I’m not sure there’s a way to know this, considering the vocal cords are a soft tissue, and therefore incredibly difficult to preserve. But, if there were tissue attachments that could be identified, I think it’s something worth looking into.

Also, if you’re curious to hear our captive alligator making his own vocalizations, check Romer out here:

Romer Chirping

Reaching Out for Science

What is it that scientists do all day while they are watching their shrimp walk on a treadmill?  How do scientists know how Tyrannosaurus may have chewed or ran? How do they know if a molecule will work as a drug to target some disease? Scientists often find it difficult to translate their work’s importance to the public in a way they can understand without losing some of its content. Often “laypeople” are left confused with what looks like a waste of money in the name of big science.

So, how can the general public learn more about the inner workings of a research laboratory? Perhaps the key is to train student researchers early in their careers on how to write about science to the average person.

As a social experiment this year, members of the Holliday lab will try to bridge this gap by writing their own short pieces on relevant and interesting science.

By learning to translate often wonky, jargon-laden research to more palatable, engaging prose, lab members will hope to shed light on what happens in our lab, what questions we are asking, what discoveries we hope to make, and most importantly, why anyone should care.  

Of course, this should help the writers learn about science as well. Although the lab focuses on Vertebrate Functional Anatomy and Evolution, do not be surprised if other topics creep in.