Sunday 3 January 2010

British Wildlife: Z

Happy New Year to all Disillusioned Taxonomist readers! And welcome to the FINAL instalment of the British Wildlife series. If you're wondering what's next, stay tuned for a sneak preview in the coming week... In the meantime, here's Zanclodon, Zootoca and Zicrona, and an overview of all three alphabets I've covered in the last six months.

Zanclodon cambrensis (Newton, 1899)
Megalosauridae; Saurischia; Sauropsida; Chordata

For our final prehistoric British animal, I've gone with a tiger-striped reconstruction of a Zanclodon. The name may be unfamiliar to many dinosaur enthusiasts: it is a junior synonym of Megalosaurus, and the species Z. cambrensis, or M. cambrensis, is a nomen nudum, since no proper description was given along with the name.

Natural cast of anterior part of the mandible of Zanclodon cambrensis
Natural History Museum
March 2008

The name Zanclodon is a controversial one, and has been used for as many different animals as sabre-toothed cats (i.e., Smilodon), megalosaurids, plateosaurids and rauisuchians (crocodile-like early archosaurs). This animal doesn't really belong in my A-Z, but I felt it needed a tiger-striped theropod.

Viviparous, or common, lizard
Zootoca vivipara Von Jacquin, 1787
Lacertidae; Squamata; Sauropsida; Chordata

Formerly placed in Lacerta, Zootoca vivipara is the only member of its genus, and is one of only three species of lizard native to the British Isles (excluding any of the outlying smaller isles like Jersey where green lizards - Lacerta bilineata - are sometimes considered native). Despite it being common, I have never, ever seen one, despite years of looking. The species gets its specific, and one of its vernacular, names from its ability to give birth to live young. In reptiles, this is called vivipary, or more accurately, ovovivipary (lots of 'v's there!), in which a membraned young is born which immediately hatches. True vivipary is pretty much limited to mammals.

Another of Zootoca's claims to fame is that it is the most northerly species of reptile, which, along with the adder (Vipera berus), penetrates the Arctic Circle. As well as being found so far north, the viviparous lizard ranges across the whole of the Eurasian continent from Ireland in the west to Sakhalin, Russia, in the east. Obviously, vivipary is a good strategy.

(Blue shieldbug)
Zicrona caerulea (Linnaeus, 1758)
Pentatomidae; Hemiptera; Insecta; Arthropoda

The zicrona (I cheated here and used its scientific name as a common name, get used to it) is a dazzlingly turquoise insect which incidentally is a true bug. Most people, myself included at some times, will assume all insects are bugs, but the term has a very specific meaning. Only those members of the Hemiptera ('half-winged') can be properly termed bugs. Something all bugs share in common is sucking mouthparts: all bugs eat liquid food of some form or another: sap, blood, decomposed matter etc. Most other insects either have no mouthparts or those for biting and chewing (an exception being lepidopterans - butterflies and moths - whose adult stages use a modified pair of mandibles known as a proboscis to extract nectar from flowers by sucking)

Members of the family Pentatomidae have pentagonal bodies that look like shields. Most shieldbugs can fly but are reluctant to do so, and will prefer to produce an odour instead: this gives shieldbugs their alternate name of stinkbugs. Nice.

This brings us neatly to the end of the British alphabet series. I hope you've enjoyed it. What was your favourite illustration? Which article was the most enlightening or fun to read? Please tell me.

Here's a reminder:
A - the plesiosaur Attenborosaurus conybeari, the long-tailed tit Aegithalos caudatus and the avocet Recurvirostra avosetta.
B - the theropod Baryonyx walkeri, the barbastelle Barbastella barbastellus and the European beaver Castor fiber.
C - the sauropod Cetiosaurus oxoniensis, the smooth snake Coronella austriaca and the chaffinch Fringilla coelebs.
D - the stegosaur Dacentrurus armatus, the great spotted woodpecker Dendrocopos major and the red deer Cervus elaphus.
E - the theropod Eotyrannus lengi, the hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus and the white-tailed eagle Haliaeetus albicilla.
F - the trilobite Flexicalymene cambrensis, the wildcat Felis silvestris and the red fox Vulpes vulpes.
G - the crocodylomorph Goniopholis crassidens, the jay Garrulus glandarius and the red grouse Lagopus lagopus.
H - the ornithopod Hypsilophodon foxii, the grey seal Halichoerus grypus and the harvest mouse Micromys minutus.
I - the ornithopod Iguanodon anglicus, the blue-tailed damselfly Ischnura elegans and the ingrailed clay Diarsia mendica.
J - the jawless fish Jamoytius kerwoodi, the wryneck Jynx torquilla and the jackdaw Corvus monedula.
K - the symmetrodont mammal Kuehneotherium praecursoris, the sharpleaf cancerwort Kickxia elatine and the kingfisher Alcedo atthis.
L - the pliosaur Liopleurodon ferox, the mountain hare Lepus timidus and the lapwing Vanellus vanellus.
M - the woolly mammoth Mammuthus primigenius, the hazel dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius and the pine marten Martes martes.
N - the theropod Neovenator salerii, the water shrew Neomys fodiens and the palmate newt Lissotriton helveticus.
O - the pterosaur Ornithocheirus simus, the great bustard Otis tarda and the otter Lutra lutra.
P - the ankylosaur Polacanthus foxii, the great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus and the puffin Fratercula arctica.
Q - the trilobite Quinquecosta williamsi, the purple hairstreak Quercusia quercus and the quail Coturnix coturnix.
R - the pterosaur Rhamphorhynchus jessoni, the water rail Rallus aquaticus and the robin Erithacus rubecula.
S - the thyreophoran Scelidosaurus harrisonii, the red squirrel Sciurus vulgaris and the stoat Mustela erminea.
T - the sauropodomorph Thecodontosaurus antiquus, the mole Talpa europaea and the common toad Bufo bufo.
U - the cave bear Ursus spelaeus, the guillemot Uria aalge and the red underwing Catocala nupta.
V - the ornithopod Valdosaurus canaliculatus, the adder Vipera berus and the water vole Arvicola amphibius.
W - the early amniote Westlothiana lizziae, the barred hooktip Watsonalla cultripes and the Dartford warbler Sylvia undata.
X - the sauropod Xenoposeidon proneneukos, the hoverfly Xanthogramma pedissequum and the carpenter bee Xylocopa violacea.
Y - the pachycephalosaur/theropod Yaverlandia bitholus, the spindle ermine moth Yponomeuta cagnagella and the yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella.
Z - the theropod Zanclodon cambrensis, the viviparous lizard Zootoca vivipara and the blue shieldbug Zicrona caerulea.


traumador said...

i'm sad to see the series go, but it was awesome while it lasted.

awesome work mo. not sure i'd have the patience to stick with such a project through to the end.

i learned a few things along the way, AND got to see a few britsh kingfishers.

can't wait to see what comes next, and hope you had a great holiday!

Glendon Mellow said...

w0000t! Congratulations on seeing it through, Mo! Excellent! And might I add, while I usually enjoy your brighter colours, that Zootoca is something special.

My favourite line of the whole series: "This animal doesn't really belong in my A-Z, but I felt it needed a tiger-striped theropod."

How do you feel? What did you learn that will stay with you from such a huge series of drawings?

m said...

Thanks both of you for your comments! All of the drawing was done back in the summer, but the text was written week by week.

I enjoyed creating the series, with the extinct A-Z being the most fun, not least because of the awesome variety, but also for the chance to go crazy with colours. Although I'd love to see a pink-and-yellow badger or a psychedelic crow, it's the monochrome versions that belong in this series. Thinking up three species for each letter was not easy: letters like J,Q and X for obvious reasons, but even the 'easier' letters posed their challenges, like choosing representative species from different taxonomic groups and not just my favourites.

I always learn something when I draw something new, or in more detail than I have before, and many of those, like the insects and trilobites, were novel to me. Drawing something, as I'm sure you guys both know, an excellent way of learning what something looks like, because you study the subject in detail before you put pencil to paper, or brush to canvas, or whatever :)

I'm away from home at the moment, but hopefully tonight or tomorrow I will give a preview of my current mammoth project (which may or may not feature actual mammoths!), but I can say a few things: there are a series of illustrations, probably put on here over a long period of time, with usual taxonomic snippets and other information; there will be a geographic focus, but much broader than the previous project; there are a few extinct creatures featured, but they are far outnumbered by the extant ones; there are mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians represented, with maybe some basal tetrapods too.