In and Around Marseille

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This is a combination post for sightseeing, birding, and exhibits. I was too busy finishing up that service project when I wasn’t in collections.

The only sightseeing trip I got to take was when my hosts tried to take me swimming in the Mediterranean my first day there, but a storm rolled in and we had to leave. But I did get to see some gorgeous landscapes in the process.

The tail end of Marseille and the prison from the Count of Monte Cristo are in the far-off background. In spite of swimming not being allowed there, quite a few people were swimming in that little inlet in teh center of the photograph.

The tail end of Marseille and the prison from the Count of Monte Cristo are in the far-off background. In spite of swimming not being allowed there, quite a few people were swimming in that little inlet in the center of the photograph.

Vertebrate fossils (I can't remember what kind) were found when crews were digging this old tunnel

Vertebrate fossils (I can’t remember what kind) were found when crews were digging this old tunnel

I didn’t get any good bird pictures, but I managed to get one lifer without really trying. As soon as we got to my host’s house, a little Crested Tit hopped into a nearby tree and started chittering while foraging for seeds (EDIT: I also saw Pallid Swifts and Grey Partridges). There were probably Mediterranean Gulls flying around where we tried to go swimming, which would have been lifers for me, but they were too far off in the distance for me to tell them apart from common Yellow-legged Gulls. I’d like to come back here someday and go to a nearby natural park a former UI postdoc from France recommended to see what else I can find.

I also didn’t have time to walk through the exhibits of the Marseille museum. Which was a bummer because what I saw on the way to/from my host’s office looked pretty awesome. They even had a taxidermied Mediterranean Monk Seal, which is one of the most critically endangered mammal species. They also had the best, most dynamic mosasaur mount I’ve ever seen.

Notice how the end of its tail is downturned? That's a recent finding. Mosasaurs had previously been reconstructed with paddle tails (imagine a moray eel's shape), but someone looked at the shape of the vertebrae and realized their natural position was to be ever so slightly angled. After that, at least one specimen was found with the outline of an upper fin preserved. It's nowhere near as pronounced as in derived icthyosaurs, though--more like the primitive icthyosaurs, which means it was probably only just starting to evolve.

Notice how the very end of its tail is downturned? That’s a recent finding. Mosasaurs had previously been reconstructed with paddle tails (imagine a moray eel’s shape), but someone looked at the shape of the vertebrae and realized their natural position was to be ever so slightly angled. After that, at least one specimen was found with the outline of an upper fin preserved. It’s nowhere near as pronounced as in derived icthyosaurs, though–more like the primitive icthyosaurs, which means it was probably only just starting to evolve in at least some species.

I have two more posts to make for my Western Europe trip, but they won’t go up until the second week of August. I’m leaving for Natural Trap Cave in a few hours and will be there for a week!

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Basel Birding

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I took one birding trip here after finishing working in the collections. But I also managed to get a couple lifers from my hostel. While I was walking down the road it was on, I saw a White Stork fly by overhead. The building had a green roof. The kitchen/dining room/lobby area was only one story and I could see its roof from my window. A little Black Redstart was there everyday foraging in the plants. It liked to sit on top of a skinny pole and preen when it wasn’t catching food. There were also an enormous number of Common Swifts flying in flocks and screaming overhead every afternoon.

Black Redstart

Black Redstart

I had originally wanted to go to a natural reserve just across the French border, but it turned out there wasn’t an easy, cheap way to get over there and back. There was a smaller city park on the edge of Basel and a large patch of green on the map beyond it in an adjoining town, Münchenstein. I took one of the trolleys to the former and found out that it was mostly a residential area. And the way the place was set up, it was sometimes hard to tell where public walking paths stopped and private property began. Which meant that I didn’t hike to the top of any of the mountains and did a lot of backtracking in order to avoid accidentally trespassing.

But the trip was still worth it. I saw so many raptors both in transit and there. Lots of Common Buzzards seen from the trolley. A pair of Sparrowhawks were soaring the thermals together in Münchenstein. One of them perched on the top of a conifer for quite some time. I walked up the hill to try to get close enough for a good shot, but as soon as I rounded a bend that gave me a good view, it took off. A Black Kite was soaring overhead as well.

There were a lot of House Martins there (the European version of Tree Swallows). You could tell that some of the nests under the eaves of houses had been there for a while because the owners had installed overhangs over their windows to keep the poop from piling up in front of their windows, and there were some huge piles of poop on top of them.

The young ones were almost to the point of fledging. You could see them impatiently sticking their heads out of their nests and begging any time an adult flew nearby, even if they weren’t actually heading to the nest. I tried to get a shot of a parent actually handing an insect off, but they only alighted for a split second before taking off again.

Feed me!

This is the closest I managed to get. Setting your camera to take multiple shots with each press of the shutter button is a must with swallows…

Aside from the Black Kite, I was only seeing common birds, so I decided to head to the park. There were plenty of other things to look at, though. There was all sorts of fruit growing everywhere—blackberries, pears, something that looked sort of like a small plum but I’m not sure what it was, plus several types of berries that humans don’t eat. I found some little invertebrates hanging out on one of the trees.

Some sort of stinkbug

Some sort of stinkbug

The snails had retreated into their shells and plugged them up to keep from losing moisture.

The snails had retreated into their shells and plugged them up to keep from losing moisture.

The park I went to was called Park im Grünen. It was a rather nice place. There were a couple little restaurants, ponds, forest, grassland, creeks… All manner of good habitat for birds. I saw two separate people feeding cheese puffs to birds. Why, I don’t know. That….isn’t a good choice for bird food. Even bread would be better.

This one somehow managed to get four in his beak before leaving to eat them in private

This Carrion Crow somehow managed to get four in his beak before leaving to eat them in private

You can see here that some of their wing feathers are actually a slightly bluer shade of black

You can see here that some of their wing feathers are actually a slightly bluer shade of black. The Crows here were really chatty.

The waterfowl were the usual collection of European park fowl—Mallards, Eurasian Coots, Mute Swans, Tufted Ducks, Red-crested Pochards…

A sleepy female Red-crested Pochard

A sleepy female Red-crested Pochard

This is a male Red-crested Pochard, but he's an eclipse morph, so he lacks the red crest and basically looks like a female with red eyes and a hot pink beak.

This is a male Red-crested Pochard, but he’s an eclipse morph, so he lacks the red crest and basically looks like a female with red eyes and a hot pink bill.

Odd position to nap in...

Odd position to nap in…

I was very happy to spy a Cetti’s Warbler amongst the plants at the edge of the water. It stayed pretty hidden, though, so I wasn’t able to photograph it.

I did manage to remember that my new camera can take video, though I kind of suck at it. It doesn’t seem to make much difference for the minnows, but you’ll want to change the coot video to 1080p.
The baby coots were being very belligerent. There were also big schools of minnows swimming near the surface and eating the floating algal mats.

Mostly repeats here, but I still managed to get four lifers!

  • Wood Pigeon
  • Rock Dove
  • Carrion Crow
  • House Sparrow
  • Common Swift
  • Great Cormorant
  • *Black Redstart
  • *White Stork
  • Mallard
  • Mute Swan
  • European Coot
  • Common Moorhen
  • Red-crested Pochard
  • Tufted Duck
  • Common Buzzard
  • *Black Kite
  • Sparrowhawk
  • House Martin
  • *Cetti’s Warbler
  • Blackcap
  • Grey Heron
  • European Blue Tit
  • Great Tit

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American Food According to or as Adopted By Europeans

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One of the first things that get carried between cultures is food. But because different cultures grow up with different palates, or because the people spreading the new food to their culture might not know or care about how to be completely authentic, the food will invariably change upon introduction.

I think most of us are aware that “ethnic” food is rarely truly ethnic. “Mexican” in the US is actually Tex-Mex. Chinese American is nothing like actual Chinese. And the “French” food in China was just confusing. So it was fun to see what other cultures think American food is like. I saw the following faux American foods for sale in Europe.

Paris–La Americaine

Ham, egg, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise on a baguette (Though apparently there’s another sandwich by the same name in France that’s very different? I didn’t see it, but it’s what searching for this sandwich on the internet pulls up.)

Aside from the baguette and egg, that’s spot on for a basic ham sandwich.

London–Southern Fried Chicken Salad

Macaroni, mayonnaise, yogurt, creme fraiche, sweet corn, red pepper, spices, and bits of fried chicken

Southern fried chicken is apparently a big thing here. I saw it in salads and wraps. The yogurt and creme fraiche are definitely not correct, but the rest is par for the course (You think we use them fancy things in Southern cookin’? Ha!).

Basel–American Restaurant

A little grab-and-go cafe in the train station.

It seems American food is muffins, desert breads (e.g., walnut bread, banana bread), and sandwiches on bagels. Including a “Nordic Bagel”. I couldn’t understand the ingredient list, but why is there a “Nordic” bagel in an “American” cafe?

Basel Exhibits and Marktplatz

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The day I walked around the exhibits, the place was oddly empty. I talked to the security guard and he said that, since it was such a nice day out, people were spending their time outside instead. They get more visitors on rainy days. It was strange to me that that day was considered nice by the locals because it was horribly hot and muggy. The cool, dry interior of the museum was far preferable to me.

My camera battery was about to die on me because I’d forgotten to charge it the night before, so I didn’t take many pictures of the exhibits.

Chalicotheres! One of my favorite extinct groups. They're related to rhinos, tapirs, and horses. There were two groups of them. The group in the picture here was characterized by having long arms like an ape and knuckle-walked like them too.

Chalicotheres! One of my favorite extinct groups. They’re related to rhinos, tapirs, and horses. There were two groups of them. The group in the picture here was characterized by having long arms like an ape and knuckle-walked like them too.

And their relative the tapir, demonstrating what the attachment site of a proboscis looks like.

And their relative, the Malayan tapir, demonstrating what the attachment site of a proboscis looks like.

Cainotherium, a member of Cainotheriidae, which is distantly related to camels.

Cainotherium, a member of Cainotheriidae, a group I’d never heard of that Wikipedia tells me is distantly related to camels.

They used actual patterned feathers to make this Archeopteryx reconstruction. They had several other fake taxidemied extinct birds as well, but I only took one picture because of my battery.

They used actual patterned feathers to make this Archeopteryx reconstruction. They had several other fake taxidemied extinct birds as well, but I only took one picture because of my battery.

One of the interesting things about the Basel exhibits was that some of their objects were just out on the floor with no stands or rope fences around them. This is unusual, because those are normally put into place to prevent people from touching the specimens and causing damage to them. But I have to admit, it was kind of cool to just walk right up to a life-size Woolly Mammoth.

One of the interesting things about the Basel exhibits was that some of their objects were just out on the floor with no stands or rope fences around them. This is unusual, because those are normally put into place to prevent people from touching the specimens and causing damage to them. But I have to admit, it was kind of cool to turn a corner and see a life-size Woolly Mammoth just standing in the middle of the room.

Stick insects! Demonstrating what's probably the closest to true isometric growth I've ever seen in nature. ...And no, it's not completely isometric. I'm a big enough nerd that I actually took measurements to find out.

Stick insects! Demonstrating what’s probably the closest to true isometric growth I’ve ever seen in nature.
And no, it’s not completely isometric…I’m a big enough nerd that I actually took measurements to find out.

This was an interesting room. You see a set of glass double doors with no apparent way to open them, but they slide open when you get near with a sound and slickness that seems very sci-fi. Then you enter this room that's even more sci-fi. Taxidermied mounts and skeletons in white and aqua boxes in a climate controlled room. It's full of recently-extinct and highly endangered animals, like the panda, dodo, Steller's sea cow, and saiga. One can very much imagine an archive like this, of species humans drove to extinction, in a futuristic building or ship. It was very well done.

This was an interesting room. You see a set of glass double doors with no apparent way to open them, but they slide open when you get near with a sound and slickness that seems very sci-fi. Then you enter this room that’s even more sci-fi. Taxidermied mounts and skeletons in white and aqua boxes in a climate controlled room. It’s full of recently-extinct and highly endangered animals, like the panda, dodo, Steller’s sea cow, and saiga. One can very much imagine an archive like this, of species humans drove to extinction, in a futuristic building or ship. It was very well done.

And I’m not going to devote an entire extra post to the marketplace outside the museum, but it was cool.

A very colorful building

A very colorful building

This is the weird charge I mentioned previously. It's a very stylized bishop's crozier and the symbol of the city.

This is the weird charge I mentioned previously. It’s a very stylized bishop’s crozier and the symbol of the city.

I'd never seen a male siren before. You're probably most familiar with them through the Starbucks logo, which is taken straight from a 16th century Norse woodcut.

I’d never seen a male siren before. You’re probably most familiar with them through the Starbucks logo, which is taken straight from a 16th century Norse woodcut.

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Basel Collections

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The Basel museum is predominantly a mammal repository. There are a few cabinets of crocodylomorph fossils, mostly scraps. But they do have a few good skulls I was interested in seeing.

There was a nice, nearly complete, 3D Diplocynodon ratelli skull and jaws. Its sutures were almost as good as that braincase in Paris. It’s also an example of why modern fossil restoration doesn’t restore parts with similarly-colored material. Back in the day, fossils were restored purely for display, so they wanted them to look as un-jarring as possible. Nowadays, they care more about making it easier for future scientists to tell what’s real from what’s fake. It’s not always as easy as it sounds because some of them do a really good job of making their parts look real.

You can pretty easily tell by the coloration that part of the tip of its snout is fake here. There are other fake bits visible, like parts of the jaw joints, but the lighting in this picture makes it a little harder to tell.

You can pretty easily tell by the coloration that part of the tip of its snout is fake here. There are other fake bits visible, like the same part of both jaw joints, but the lighting in this picture makes it a little harder to tell. If one couldn’t tell the jaw joints were fake, though, they might code them (and the restorer won’t necessarily have looked at other specimens of the same species to restore them), resulting in false codings.

There were also two skulls of a species that used to be called Hispanochampsa muelleri, but it turned out to be synonymous with Diplocynodon, so now it’s D. muelleri.

Dorsal view of D. muelleri's skull with jaws

Dorsal view of D. muelleri‘s skull with jaws

And the ventral view! Someone prepped out both sides of this slab while still keeping it safely supported by the matrix. Nice prep job!

And the ventral view! Someone prepped out both sides of this slab while still keeping it safely supported by the matrix on the sides. Nice prep job!

They also had a partial skeleton of an Italian Diplocynodon. I had originally planned to go to Italy to see more of them, but that didn’t work out, unfortunately.

Italian Diplocynodon in lignite

Italian Diplocynodon in lignite

They had a few other crocodylomorphs outside the crown group, as well.

Alligatorellium, an atoposaur

Alligatorellium, an atoposaur

Pelagosaurus, a teleosaur (a type of obligately marine croc)

Pelagosaurus, a teleosaur (a type of obligately marine croc)

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Brussels Exhibits

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I didn’t have a lot of time to spend at them, but the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) has some fantastic exhibits. I don’t usually spend time in mineral galleries because it’s very hard to make an attention-grabbing and aesthetically-appealing exhibit on minerals. You almost always just get case after case with rows of minerals divided by class with labels telling you their name, their formula, and where that specimen came from. Something about the RBINS geology exhibit made it slightly more interesting. Maybe it was the irregular layout? I’m not really sure. I’d still like to see an exhibit genius make a great exhibit on minerals, though.

One of the many forms of asbestos

One of the many forms of asbestos

Sometimes minerals and rocks can superficially look like fossils, which trips a lot of hopeful amateur fossil finders up. A crack in the rock allowed mineral water to seep in. It then spread in a branching shape. When the water went away, it left behind something that looks like a fossil plant but isn't.

Sometimes minerals and rocks can superficially look like fossils, which trips a lot of hopeful amateur fossil finders up. A crack in this rock allowed mineral water to seep in. It then spread in a branching shape. When the water went away without the minerals, it left behind something that looks like a fossil plant but isn’t.

Sting wrote a song about this gypsum formation once

Sting wrote a song about this gypsum formation once

RBINS has a very large hall devoted to dinosaurs—the largest in the world, in fact. A very large percentage of it is taken up by multiple Iguanadon mounts. The museum has 30 in all and they’re the symbol of the place. They were an important discovery because, prior to that, there was a lot of misunderstanding about what their posture was like. The first skeletons found of this species were very fragmentary. At first, it was only teeth and reconstructed as a giant Iguana. Then more bones were found, including what we now know is a thumb spike. Reconstructions shifted to the quadrupedal rhinoceros-looking thing of Crystal Palace fame (Which has fallen into disrepair, by the way, in spite of its historic significance. Some locals are trying to lobby the place’s caretaker to actually take care of it.) with a horn on its nose. Then, the RBINS collected the Bernissart Iguanadons and reconstructions shifted to an upright, kangaroo-like posture. And finally, we figured out that the tails couldn’t bend like that because of ossified tendons along the spine, and thus the modern posture (quadrupedal adults, possibly bipedal juveniles).

In the background, the old "kangaroo" posture; in the foreground, the modern quadrupedal posture

In the background, the old “kangaroo” posture; in the foreground, the modern quadrupedal posture

Cryolophosaurus, an allosaur from Antarctica (when it used to be covered in lush forest habitat)

Cryolophosaurus, an allosaur from Antarctica (when it used to be covered in lush forest habitat)

If you take Age of Dinosaurs, you'll be using another cast of this Coelophysis in lab (offered every fall by the Earth and Environmental Science department).

If you take Age of Dinosaurs, you’ll be using another cast of this Coelophysis in lab (offered every fall by the Earth and Environmental Sciences department).

The tiniest dinosaur in the hall, Archeopteryx. It's cool to see a reconstructed 3D mount of one rather than a cast of a pancaked slab.

The tiniest dinosaur in the hall, Archeopteryx. It’s cool to see a reconstructed 3D mount of one rather than a cast of a pancaked slab.

I would like to take a moment to cheer about something. RBINS has a T. rex mount. If you’ve ever been to the Field Museum in Chicago, you’ve seen Sue, another T. rex mount. The craftsmanship of Sue’s mount is excellent. Next time you’re there, take a moment to notice how, rather than simply being utilitarian, it’s also a work of art. There are wavy lines holding the vertebrae on. And if you go to the second floor and stand at the corner behind Sue and to its left (I say ‘it’ because we don’t actually know what sex it is), you’ll see that it stands in a very dynamic pose.

But there’s a problem. Two, actually, that result in one unfortunate effect. Take a look at the heads of the ribs. They aren’t actually attached to the vertebrae—they kind of float a little above them. And the gastralia (belly ribs) are also not mounted, though you can see them in a case on the second floor. Both of these purposefully create the effect of making Sue look more svelte. See, T. rexes actually had sizeable guts. But people don’t like to think of the king of the dinosaurs as having a big belly. Even ABC’s Dinosaurs got the gut size backwards, with Earl the Megalosaurus being the fat one and Roy the T. rex being about as slender as any of those puppets got.

So when I saw that the RBINS actually mounted their T. rex correctly and completely, I was ecstatic. The world should know that T. rex had a potbelly. Then maybe we can all agree that Allosaurus is much cooler.

The dynamic front view

The dynamic front view with the gastralia visible at the level of the knees to ankles

Seriously, look at how big that belly is.

Seriously, look at that belly.

I traced another view for you in case you were having trouble visualizing the belly in the flesh. Pretend it's covered in tiny feathers. I already spent too much time drawing this to add them.

I traced another view for you in case you were having trouble visualizing the belly in the flesh. Pretend it’s covered in tiny feathers. I already spent too much time drawing this thing to add them. Oh, and the bush is there because someone’s head blocked my view of the foot. *grumble*

But Dinosaur Hall doesn’t actually only contain dinosaurs. There are a small number of other Mesozoic critters in there, including crocodyliformes such as Bernissartia.

Alligatorellus, a tiny little atoposaurid crocodyliform

Slab and counterslab of Alligatorellus, a tiny little atoposaurid crocodyliform

Crocodilaemus, a little pholidosaur crocodyliform

Crocodilaemus, a little pholidosaur crocodyliform with a stubby tail

A small gallery on the bottom floor is devoted to mosasaurs, a group of marine monitor lizards. Some of them were quite large, upwards of 50 ft (some estimates say more, but exact lengths haven’t been settled on). You can see one mounted in the basement of Trowbridge Hall. The “rock” it’s in is fake, but the bones are real.

One of the most historically important fossils in existence (granted, I think this is a cast of it)

One of the most historically important fossils in existence (granted, this is a cast of it; the real one’s in Paris)

Mosasaurus is historically important because, when Georges Cuvier examined it and realized it was a giant lizard, that was the first time anyone in the Western world really thought about the fact that things could become extinct. Prior to that, real life was like a video game as far as anyone was concerned—you can shoot all the animals/monsters in sight, but they’ll still respawn later (migrate from elsewhere, in the case of the real world). It’s also the reason there’s a misconception out there that every dead reptile is a lizard. Once Cuvier correctly identified a giant extinct lizard, lesser anatomists jumped on the bandwagon and started giving things names ending in -saurus, which comes from the Greek word for ‘lizard’.

The extinct animals are only part of the displays at RBINS. There are quite a few galleries devoted to modern organisms.

Brussels used to have a zoo, but the animals weren't replaced as they died. This elephant was the last one.

Brussels used to have a zoo, but the animals weren’t replaced as they died. This elephant was the last one.

I like it when taxidermists show behavior

I like it when taxidermists show behavior. There’s some good examples of this in Mammal Hall in UI’s own natural history museum. Look for the little weasel peeking into a log and the mouse trying to escape predation on the end of a reed.

And then there's bad taxidermy... The mounts themselves are actually good, but their arrangement it a problem here.

And then there’s bad taxidermy… The mounts themselves are actually good, but their arrangement is a problem here.

If you ever find yourself arranging an exhibit, please make sure your dead animals aren't staring intently at each other's butts.

If you ever find yourself arranging an exhibit, please make sure your animals aren’t staring intently at each other’s butts.

Part of this hall was devoted to comparative anatomy. Most animal exhibits are set up based on environment, geography, or phylogeny. It was nice to see one set up to discuss the evolution of various body parts and systems. I wish I’d had more time to spend here because this looked like quite a good gallery.

The vasculature inside your lungs

The vasculature inside your lungs

Lampreys are weird. Some of  the anteriormost gill arches here are homologous with our jaws.

Some of the anteriormost gill arches in this lamprey are homologous with our jaws.

If I were a fish, I would have nightmares about lampreys attaching themselves to me and sucking my blood.

If I were a fish, I would have nightmares about lampreys attaching themselves to me and sucking my blood.

Another thing I enjoyed about the RBINS exhibits is that there was a huge swath of galleries devoted to invertebrates. Oftentimes, they get overlooked, with vertebrates getting a disproportionate amount of the attention. But here, there were galleries for molluscs, poriferans, arthopods, tiny things living in soil, and even for zooplankton. It was awesome.

Foraminifera are single-celled amoeboid plankton with calcium carbonate shells and lots of pseudopods.

Foraminifera are single-celled amoeboid protists with calcium carbonate shells and lots of pseudopods.

Is it just me, or does this Difflugia pyriformis (another amoeboid protist) look like a Pokémon?

Is it just me, or does this Difflugia pyriformis (another amoeboid protist) look like a Pokémon?

Vorticella campanula, a ciliate protozoan

Vorticella campanula, a ciliate protozoan

I don't remember the species, but some snails grow really elaborate shells.

I don’t remember the species, but this snail has a really elaborate shells.

The Australian trumpet, the largest living snail in the world (up to 30 cm)

The Australian trumpet, the largest living snail in the world (up to 30 cm)

The living nautilus species actually aren't the only living cephalopods with external shells. But the shell of this argonaut, a type of octopus, isn't actually homologous with plesiomorphic cephalopod shells--it's unique to this genus. It's an agg case that's excreted by females and lacks the air chambers of a true cephalopod shell.

The living nautilus species kind of aren’t the only living cephalopods with external shells. But the shell of this argonaut, a type of octopus, isn’t actually homologous with plesiomorphic cephalopod shells–it’s unique to this genus. It’s an egg case that’s excreted by females and lacks the air chambers of a true cephalopod shell.

This is a giant roly poly, pill bug, whatever you want to call them. Those little crustaceans that live in rotting wood and curl into balls will you pick them up. The ones living on the bottom of the ocean, like this Bathynomus giganteus, can reach over a foot in length.

This is a giant roly poly, pill bug, whatever you want to call it. It’s an isopd just like those ittle crustaceans that live in rotting wood and curl into balls when you pick them up. The ones living on the bottom of the ocean, like this Bathynomus giganteus, can reach over a foot in length.

They had three species of Pachnoda beetle, all with very different and striking coloration and patterns. This is P. sinuata.

They had three species of Pachnoda beetle, all with very different, striking coloration and patterns. This is P. sinuata.

This is Damon spinatus, a whip spider. There are some pretty freaky-looking arachnid groups out there.

This is Damon spinatus, a whip spider (a different group from both true spiders and whip scorpions). There are some pretty freaky-looking arachnids out there.

Sminthirus viridus. Springtails are kind of adorable.

Sminthirus viridus. Springtails are kind of adorable.

Oribatid mites look like tiny, underground tanks on legs.

Oribatid mites look like tiny, underground tanks on legs.

And then there was the gift shop…

Shelf after shelf of Papo figurines (and this was only one section of them)? Yes, please, take my money. I wasn't using it anyways.

Shelf after shelf of Papo figurines? And this only one section of them? Yes, please, take my money. I wasn’t using it anyways.

Anatomically correct animal figurines are my weakness. I managed to tear myself away from the modern animals and some of the extinct ones, but I still came home with eight new figurines. I swear they were trying to make me go broke. On the plus side, they make for fun minis in tabletop games (D&D, Pathfinder, etc…) when they’re small enough. Also good as visual aids for Age of Dinos students when they’re learning about various extinct animals.

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First Impressions of Marseille

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  • I was expecting it to be hotter here. It was much hotter and muggier in Basel. No complaints here!
  • The landscape is actually reminiscent of scrub habitat on ridges and valleys in parts of the American Southwest.
  • But the rain my first afternoon here? Reminiscent of the light afternoon storms in my old college town. 🙂
  • It’s so windy here! Also like my college town.
  • My host says Marseille is a dangerous place…not what I was expecting. Lots of fighting (some fatal) between people wanting to control the local drug trade. We passed a car whose window had been broken into on the walk to his car. There was still glass all over the sidewalk.
  • Parts of Marseille look pretty from far away- peach and cream houses nestled into scrubland hillsides and around a bay of the Mediterranean. But when you look closer, it’s very run down. Graffiti everywhere, and none of it pretty. The (I assume) newer buildings lack the peach and cream theme and are strictly utilitarian, not aesthetic.
  • But my host lives in a small town nearby. It’s quite pretty here.
  • You can see a big cave from their window. Seems Pleistocene bears have been found there.
  • I’m very much enjoying staying with him and his wife. Having conversations in mixed English and French is actually pretty helpful since what I can say isn’t as restricted as trying to speak only in French. And he’s able to translate when she and I don’t know what each other said.
  • Collared doves EVERYWHERE.

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