Although I’m studying for a PhD in ornithology, I’m a big fan of all things zoology. I had heard good things about the “TetZooniverse” over on Twitter, so this October I took the plunge and hopped on a train down to London from Glasgow for the 4th TetZoo (Tetrapod Zoology) Convention, an extension of the famous podcast of the same name. I had no real idea of what to expect and was travelling alone, so was pleasantly surprised to find a friendly, down-to-Earth crowd made up of scientists, artists and hobbyists to chat to!
As the name of the convention would suggest, the day was filled with a variety of great talks relating to tetrapod zoology, with particular focus on prehistoric creatures. The highlight of the day for me was a unique, engaging talk from Dani Rabaiotti on her new book: “Does it Fart?” Dani told the story behind the book – how one tweet about whether or not a snake could fart generated a big discussion that ultimately led to a book collaboration between two scientists and an artist (who still haven’t actually met)! I really enjoyed the illustrations from Ethan Kocak, especially the one of the sea cucumber… but you’ll need to buy the book to see it.
Another highlight for me was an informative talk by Beth Windle on thylacines – did you know that they made “yappy” sounds like dogs?! Beth discussed the public and scientific engagement with her popular Twitter hashtag #thylastream and also gave an emotional account of the story behind the last remaining thylacine “Benjamin” and its demise as a species overall. A sombre ending that made me think of the many other species that are unfortunately heading this way. On a happier note though, Beth baked an amazing thylacine cake for the convention!
TetZoo master Darren Naish gave a talk on Hunting Monsters and cryptozoology, debunking the photographic “evidence” behind Nessie (mostly overturned boats and models), and a discussion around the Patterson film/bigfoot. I really enjoyed Darren’s talk, although I admit I am still hoping to photograph Nessie when I visit Loch Ness 😉
The last talk of the day was by Ben Garrod of BBC fame, who gave a talk called “You can please some of the people all of the time“, during which he shared his secrets on being a science presenter on TV. Ben talked about the need for having a “thick skin” against critics, and how the language used to communicate science is adapted for different channels such as BBC One, Two and Four. He also talked about how it is important to have a niche if you want to get noticed… Ben is apparently the BBC’s “bone guy”!
During the day there was an art workshop, which I thought was a great way to break up a day of talks (academic conferences take note)! On entry to the convention, we were all given a Mesozoic animal to draw on one of two timelines on gigantic reels of paper. I was given Ouranosaurus, an early Cretaceous ornithischian. I enjoyed the workshop, but I think I need to start practising for next year already given that everyone’s drawings were so good. I sadly forgot to take a picture of mine…but have one by paleoartist Mark Witton instead!
After the convention, a large group of us headed on down to a nearby pub. Some beers and conversations later, I ended up chatting with paleoartist John Conway, and set him the challenge of drawing me a scene involving pterosaurs. I somehow ended up with a sketch of a “failed mating” of two Quetzalcoatlus on the wing… not entirely sure how that happened 😉
I was a bit nervous during the run-up to the convention – would I be accepted into the TetZoo clan? I am glad to say that I now feel part of the TetZoo group! Having learned a lot and made some fellow nerdy friends, I am very much looking forward to next year’s #TetZooCon already. I hear that it might even be two days of convention instead of one 😉 If you’re at all interested in zoology, I highly recommend you come along.
Can’t wait to see you there in 2018!
Check out the Tetrapod Zoology Podcast
Dani’s book: Does it Fart? A Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence (Available in the UK)