Thursday 8 December 2022

Tetzoocon 2022 - Day 1

Well guys, I have done it. I have managed to attend Tetzoocon for the first time! As you know, I am not from the UK, so this was part of a wider London vacation, during which I also visited the Natural History Museum and the Crystal Palace Geological Court, as well as a bunch of non-zoology related stuff (like the pretty awesome War of the Worlds Immersive Experience), but those stories I will tell in future posts. Before I begin telling you about the first day of Tetzoocon in this post, here are a few climatological and anthropological observations I made during my first visit to the UK in over a decade:

  • You know how in Breaking Bad any scene that is meant to take place in Mexico is tinted with a yellow filter? I felt like the same happened in real life as soon as I stepped out of the plane, but with the colour grey. I have never seen such greyest of greys as I did in London.
  • During a bus tour at night to see the Christmas street lights I noticed that the skyline gives the grey night sky quite an alien glow. In front of this backdrop, this gave the London architecture quite a sinister appearance. 
  • The British have technologically advanced enough to have already invented the traffic light. However, nobody in this remote part of the world has apparently had the idea yet that these lights are on occassion supposed to turn green for pedestrians, creating a peculiar culture of ritualized jaywalking. Perhaps the constantly grey environment has led an aversion to the colour green. 
  • Fish and chips taste the best when the restaurant-owner is a Turkish man.
  • This is the only country I know where law enforcement and other state employees dress like they purposefully do not want to be taken seriously.
  • The public transport system could use some work.
  • Everyone was very nice.

Day 1 of Tetzoocon began early in the morning with everyone arriving and the presenters setting up the stalls. One of the first people I got to talk with by coincidence was Gert van Dijk, who is a pretty nice dude. He asked me how I solved the problem of a convincing tripod walk-cycle with my Hellasic Dyles, to which I sheepishly had to answer that my aliens are tripods more out of Martian genre obligation rather than biomechanical sense. He certainly got me there. I also got to meet my friend C.M. Kosemen for the first time in person, which was pretty great. He even brought some memento-cards for our podcast. Memo and his wife were a bit late to the event so Me and my girlfriend helped them set up his stall before going into the first presentation. 

The event was of course opened by Darren Naish himself, no surprise there, who quipped some jokes and explained some things to newcomers.

The first proper presentation was then given by naturalist Jack Ashby, who gave a talk about his book Platypus Matters: The Extraordinary Story of Australian Mammals. It began with some fun facts about platypodes, some of which were certainly new to me, such as the venom produced by the animal's ankle spur being able to cause pain for months. Many of these amazing facts about the platypus Ashby then used to ask the question of why, when we talk about Australian animals, we use such traits as a reason to describe them as weird or primitive, while animals more familiar to western audiences with equally unique traits get called amazing or magnificent. From here Ashby went into the colonial history of othering Australian animals and how this not only has a lasting effect today but also how inaccurately viewing Australia as an evolutionary backwater has had a tremendously negative effect on trying to preserve the continent's fauna. Overall, a great presentation. As I myself have written about the othering of certain animals, Ashby said a lot of things that resonated with me and he definitely convinced me to buy his book.

Hana Ayoob's planned talk unfortunately had to be cancelled, so next up was Dean Lomax talking about Locked in Time, a book on paleoethology which I had already read and can thus highly recommend. Lomax went into the history of what inspired his book and presented some of his favorite examples of fossilized behaviour. Pretty standard, but Lomax's energy and enthusiasm made it a very enjoyable talk.

After that was already book signing and lunch pause, where I helped Memo out at his stall and got to talk to more people. There was an interesting guy who bought three whole original drawings made for All Yesterdays, among which was Memo's version of Johann Jakob Scheuchzer's Homo diluvii testis. Working for the museum where most of Scheuchzer's original collection is stored (though the original salamander fossil is unfortunately still in Haarlem), I told the man some facts about that story, which led to him wanting to record my voice because apparently I was the first German-speaking person ever who could tell him the correct pronunciation of Scheuchzer's name. Pretty bizarre experience. Edit: As it turns out, the person in question was zoologist Paul Stewart.

Then came the big talk where Kosemen, Naish and Conway reminisced on the anniversary of All Yesterdays. Most of it was Naish retelling the story of how the book came to be, with some added details by Kosemen and Conway. I felt like I had heard most of it already and wished they had gone more into detail about the different reactions to the book and the movement it started, as well as what direction they thought paleoart might be heading into in the future. But hey, I will probably ask Memo that directly in the podcast.

Sitting at the talk were also these chaps from a little known website called Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs. Maybe you have heard of them.

The next presentation, of which I unfortunately forgot to take pictures, was Jennifer Colbourne talking about tool use in animals and if certain non-bird theropods could use tools as well. The different classifications of tool-use were interesting to learn about and there is nothing disagreeable with her assessment that, if troodontids did use tools, it would have been only a very basic, biologically pre-programmed practice. I did disagree however with her statement that there is no way fish could use tools.

Then came Cassius Morrison with his presentation about Ecological niche partitioning among non-coelurosaur theropods. The things he talked about were very interesting, among which being the idea of using megalosauroids, whose diets are pretty well-known, as a sort of rosetta-stone for various Mesozoic ecosystems, as well as the realization that megalosauroids may have already had strongly water-adjacent diets even before the evolution of spinosaurids. This might mean that giant carnivores like Torvosaurus should be imagined more as ecologically bear-like rather than as apex-predators. The problem was just that the way Morrison presented all this felt very long-winded and dragging. I think he could have summarized many things more concisely and I believe he also went noticeably overtime.

At last was Darren Naish's talk on the often overlooked herpetofauna of Britain, which was pretty good. Naish went into the fossil history of reptiles and amphibians of the British Isles, as well as many unfortunate mistakes in assessing the true herpetological diversity of the country, such as when pool frogs were for a long time mistaken as an introduced species, leading to their British population going extinct before it was realized they were natives all along. There is apparently also still a debate over whether treefrogs were ever native to the area or not. The presentation then took a surprising turn when Naish revealed that there were various Victorian societies that purposefully tried to integrate exotic animals into the native British ecosystem, which today has in some cases made it difficult to say which lizards living over there were ever native or introduced. Really fascinating stuff and presented by Naish in a very engaging manner. I also have a suspicion that he came across some of these things while earlier researching the phenomenon of British big cats.

After the presentations came the art gallery where I think everyone had a great time conversing with each other. Dougal Dixon signed my original German copy of After Man, Miranda was infatuated with Gert van Dijk's alien art...

...and I got to meet Mr. Biblaridion of Alien Biospheres fame himself. Fantastic guy, I must say. We talked about the joys of mass extinction in spec-evo, languages and the regrets we have for some of our older content. Afte the event, Memo, Michael and Me went together to a Chinese restaurant and had a nice evening.

But that is not all of course, since the event continued the next day and we will get to that soon.

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  1. What a fantastic event! Thanks for documenting it for us :)

  2. Ah sorry, was speaking a bit off the cuff there - I definitely think marine animals can (and do!) use tools, I was trying to highlight the challenges of the medium for its evolution and failed to get that across, oops! Loved your blog summary of the conference - Jen Colbourne