Nick Pyenson

Nick Pyenson is a paleobiologist and PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, in the department of integrative biology and the museum of paleontology. Nick grew up in Canada and in Louisiana before moving to California for graduate school. He received a BS from Emory University and an AA from Oxford College of Emory University.

Carving the holiday dinosaur: a phylogeny of wishbones

A wishbone from a theropod and a turkey.This week, many of us celebrated one of the most American of holidays: Thanksgiving. Following tradition, most of us probably had a bite or two of turkey — if you were one of the fortunate to get your hands dirty, you may have used this New York Times … Continue reading Carving the holiday dinosaur: a phylogeny of wishbones →

Science v. Pseudoscience On Trial

NOVA commemorates the historical evolution trial of 2005. Credit: NOVAIf you tune in or point your web browser to PBS this week, you’ll see a whole bunch about evolution. It’s not Charles Darwin’s birthday, but it’s a celebration that may one day carry much more significance: it’s the two year anniversary of the Kitzmiller vs. … Continue reading Science v. Pseudoscience On Trial →

A Whale in your Backyard

Carcass of a Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus Credit: analog chainsawWhen zoologists speak about superlatives among animals, blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) often play a key role at the high end of the scale of organisms. With good reason, too: they are not only the largest baleen whales, but also the largest mammals ever to have lived … Continue reading A Whale in your Backyard →

Roll over you bears! (Part 2)

Joseph Grinell (center) and team, in 1908Last time, I wrote briefly about the history of grizzly bears in California and how there are no grizzlies in California anymore (an irony, given the animal’s image on many of our state’s symbols). The story of the grizzly’s demise in California is the same narrative for many other … Continue reading Roll over you bears! (Part 2) →

Roll over you bears! (Part 1)

Grizzly bears are iconic Californian mammals — they’re on our state flag; many creeks, hills and passes are named after them; and they’re the mascot of many UC schools — but you won’t ever see one out in your backyard or anywhere else in California. Unlike black bears, which are relatively common in the state, … Continue reading Roll over you bears! (Part 1) →

Champion divers of the deep-sea

Photo Credit: John CalambokidisChances are, if you’ve ever been swimming, you understand that it’s hard to dive deep. But marine mammals do it all the time — and they dive to depths beyond our imagination. Sperm whales, beaked whales, elephant seals all have an amazing ability for deep-diving, and along with that, fascinating specializations to … Continue reading Champion divers of the deep-sea →

Whales in the desert, and vandalizing World Heritage Sites

Credit: P.D. Gingerich, Univ. Michigan.This past week, fossil whales made it into the newswires again. This time, the news wasn’t strictly about a new discovery or new insight — instead, it has to with accusations of vandalism. About 150 km south of Cairo lies a huge expanse of desert, called Wadi Al-Hitan. Unlike the classic … Continue reading Whales in the desert, and vandalizing World Heritage Sites →

…and penguin-look-a-likes from the Northern Hemisphere (Part 2)

Credit: NHM, London. With a string of Hollywood smash hits about penguins and polar bears, more people than ever now know that polar bears live near the North Pole, and penguins live at the South Pole. Penguins not only just live at the South Pole–they thrive all throughout the Southern Oceans, from the South Pole … Continue reading …and penguin-look-a-likes from the Northern Hemisphere (Part 2) →

Giant penguins from the Southern Hemisphere… (Part 1)

Photo courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History Earlier this summer, you may have heard about a surprising paleontological discovery from southern Peru. In a paper published in the journal PNAS, a team of paleontologists announced the discovery of two new species of fossil penguins, Icadyptes and Perudyptes, from an area a few hundred … Continue reading Giant penguins from the Southern Hemisphere… (Part 1) →

The real Davy Jones locker

Laboratory photo of one of the newly discovered bone-eating worms, Osedax frankpressi, which has been removed from a whale bone On the heels of two humpbacks leaving the Sacramento River for the ocean, you may have seen this other news report on a rotting gray whale carcass on waterfront property at Point Richmond. (There’s a … Continue reading The real Davy Jones locker →

Whalesong and underwater noise pollution

Humpback in Sacramento River. Image source: U.S. Coast GuardFor the past 12 days, residents of the Bay Area have been following the day-to-day saga of two humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) swimming far up to Sacramento River delta. Of course, we don’t expect fully ocean-going, marine mammals to wander this far up a freshwater river system, … Continue reading Whalesong and underwater noise pollution →

Of Arctic sea cows and Russian fur-traders

Drawing of a Steller’s Sea Cow circa mid 18th centuryWhen we think about kelp forests, we envision froclicking sea otters, kelp fronds, sea urchins and a suite of other nearshore marine organisms. And, until a few hundred years ago, a 30 foot-long dugong. This isn’t a joke: Steller’s sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas) was a North … Continue reading Of Arctic sea cows and Russian fur-traders →

Bay Area herpetology: salamanders, part 2

Last post, I introduced one of the classic examples of a ring species: the distribution of Ensatina species in California. Basically, Ensatina species are distributed in a great ring all around the Central Valley, with some species extending along the coastal ranges both north and south, and with other species distributed in the Sierra Nevadas. … Continue reading Bay Area herpetology: salamanders, part 2 →

Bay Area herpetology: salamanders, part 1

California newt (Taricha torosa)It is about the time of year when, on a hike pretty much anywhere in the Bay Area, you can turn over a rock or a log and find a salamander. Like frogs, the breeding habits of salamanders coincide with the seasonally wet weather of the spring time; and as amphibians, water … Continue reading Bay Area herpetology: salamanders, part 1 →