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Archive for the ‘crocs’ Category

Alligators are everywhere. They’re team mascots, Transformer toys, actors in Lubriderm commercials (and CSI: Miami), unwanted golfing partners, and even expensive cowboy boots. What might be a surprise is that they’re also “model animals” for scientists, meaning that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of published technical articles on all things gatorly. They’re also commonly used in K-12 and undergraduate classrooms. WitmerLab has been working on American alligators for years, because crocodilians are one of just two living groups (birds are the other) of that great tribe known as archosaurs that includes dinosaurs and pterosaurs. Now, we’re joining with Casey Holliday’s lab at the University of Missouri to present the 3D Alligator, two parallel, complementary, and growing websites that present alligator anatomy in all its 3D digital glory. In both cases, we’re starting with the skull, although we include a few soft-tissue systems that are active areas of research for us (brain, inner ear, sinuses, etc.). Casey’s team presents an adult skull, and we present a wee gatorling, a “day-0” hatchling that was stillborn on its birthday. Sad perhaps, but this little guy is now immortal, because we’re releasing him to the tubes of the interwebz. We also present some of our 3D alligator work on an adult done “way back” in 2008. Check out the WitmerLab 3D Alligator site and the Holliday Lab 3D Alligator site. (more…)

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Okay, that title is a little grandiose, but it was the first appearance WitmerLab research has made on a Top-10-rated network television show. We get requests all the time from the cable science networks  for materials for documentaries, and we’ve even personally appeared in a number of them. But in October, I got a call from a producer at CBS’s hit show CSI: Miami, saying that they were doing a show in which an alligator necropsy figured in a couple of scenes (Spoiler Alert: the gator was used as a murder weapon). They had heard that we did high-tech-y stuff with alligators, and they needed some animations to run in the background, and, oh, could they have them…um…now? (more…)

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Happy Halloween from the WitmerLab! A pair of Velociraptors face off, as if engaging in some dark ritual. Photography by Amy Martiny.

Halloween means something different in Athens, Ohio. Sure, we have kids running around, trick-or-treating in Spiderman, Harry Potter, and princess costumes. But we also have what is reputed to be the third largest block party in the country, involving not just Ohio University students and locals but people from all over. Our little town of about 25,000 residents and 20,000 students swells with another 20,000–50,000 revelers (read the definitive history, Athens News, 31 Oct 2009). Costumes are elaborate and planned months or years in advance. There’s music, there’s food…and, yes, there’s drink. WitmerLab members work extremely hard, but even they are not immune to the pull of this annual event.
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Casey Holliday measuring ostrich bones (2001).

A project that got its start way back in WitmerLab’s Triassic Period finally came to fruition, thanks to the professionalism and perseverance of lead author Casey Holliday. Today, in the freely available, open-access online journal PLoS ONE, we published an article (Holliday et al. 2010) on the caps of cartilage (known as epiphyses) that form the articulations between the long bones of dinosaurs and their modern-day archosaurian relatives (birds and crocs). For a long time, paleontologists had looked at the ends of dinosaur bones like the femur or humerus and suspected that something might be missing. The bones’ ends looked poorly formed, almost too simple, or were covered with a rough pattern of bumps and grooves. The logical conclusion was that many of these bones must have been covered with pretty significant amounts of cartilage.
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A "scan burrito": a crocodile head wrapped in foam sheeting wrapped in alcohol-soaked gauze and then all wrapped in a plastic bag.

One goal of this blog is to share some of our tips and tricks for CT scanning, 3D visualization, and presentation. The inspiration for this post came as I was scooting over to the OU MicroCT Scanning facility on my Vespa with a scan burrito tucked in my pocket. What, you may ask, is a “scan burrito?” A scan burrito is what we call the assembled packet of dead animal that we shove into our microCT scanner. The dead animal du jour was the fleshed-out head of a hatchling false gharial, Tomistoma schlegelii, (USNM 84247), which is an unusual and enigmatic species of crocodilian that today clings tenuously to life in rivers of Malaysia and Sumatra.

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