Sunday, 13 April 2014

Six years on, and 'away until back' again

Six years of blogging led me to compare the State Of The Blog to that of one year ago. The blogger 'stats' information states that the number of page views is over 307,000. Compared to last year's 225,000 that means that some 80,000 pages were viewed, or at least flickered up on a computer screen somewhere, however briefly. The 80,000 page views of the last year make up 26% of all page views in a six year period, which suggests a big increase. But shouldn't that increase show up in the graph of page views over time?


Click to enlarge
Here it is.  Hovering the mouse over the points of the graphs pops up the number of page views for that month. Apparently. Or not. The numbers for May 2008 to April 2009 are completely missing, and so are those for May 2010 to April 2011, and for May 2012 to April 2013. That is 36 months missing over a 155 month period. The months that are depicted in the graph together add up to 307,000 page views. Does this mean that the actual number of page views was  quite a bit higher? Blogger also provides a list of page views for each individual post.

Click to enlarge
Here it is, after some transformation in Matlab. The horizontal axis shows time in days with the present as zero on the left. The total number of views according to this method is over 145,000, or less than half of the other estimate. I do not know which data are correct. Oh well; note that the peaks do not say when a given post accumulated its page views. For some posts the views were all gathered  in the past, whereas others still attract new views every day. That holds mostly for the big peaks, and the posts they concern have been indicated in the graph above. For a list of the specific posts and links, you will find that most can be found in last year's summary here.  

The graph shows that there haven't been any big peaks for some time. The reason for that can be found in which posts attract the most attention, and that is most often because they link to a film or book with a big media presence. There haven't been recent films with alien wildlife in it that was interesting to write about recently, so that is part of the explanation of the absence of recent big peaks. Some of the posts on biomechanical subjects still attract attention, but it has become more difficult to post more on that, as I already dealt with the most obvious subjects.

After 197 posts, this one included, I have started wondering whether it is time to stop blogging. As I wrote before I have an impression that the blog is not as  fresh as it used to be, but perhaps that this just the result of having had less time than ever to work on Furaha or on the blog. Perhaps the blog and I need to go on vacation, but probably not together; I think it is time for another sabbatical, similar to the one two years ago.

I do not know when the blog will return, but some events will make me come back. One of these is that I have been trying for several months to get a session of talks on speculative biology on the programme of the next World Science Fiction Convention. That will be 'Loncon3', next August in London (I have only been to a WorldCon once before but can recommend it to all who like science fiction; they are not often held in Europe, so perhaps you should consider going if you are in Europe; there will be some 8000 participants). My efforts seem to be paying off, so if all goes well there will be talks, not just concerning Furaha, but about other Speculative Biology projects as well. I am tempted to disclose who else is likely to be there, but as the programme is not final it is better to be prudent and stay quiet. I expect the programme to become final and public in June, and will certainly come back to write about it here.

But now it's off towards the sunset again....

Monday, 24 March 2014

Walking on Kepler-22b, or: How many legs are best for megamonsters? II

The documentaries 'Alien planets revealed' and 'Aliens: are we alone?' are nearly identical productions about the Kepler satellite, looking for planets around other stars. Planet hunting has been very successful: in a few years knowledge expanded from not knowing whether our own solar systems was the only one in existence  to the realisation that planets are a dime a dozen. The free app 'exoplanet' regularly updates what is known about such planets. At the time of writing it has data on 1768 confirmed exoplanets. Most are 'hot Jupiters', massive planets very close to their stars. They, and any moons orbiting them, are too hot for Earth-like life, so what everyone is really looking for are planets of an Earth-like mass circling their star in its habitable zone. This 'Goldilocks zone' is not too hot, nor too cold, but just right to have water in fluid form and therefore life as we know it.

From Exoplanet app; click to enlarge
The various techniques of detecting exoplanets all have in common that the planets most easily detected are the most massive ones close in to their star. Even so, techniques gradually get better and smaller and smaller planets can be detected. The graph above was produced by the exoplanet app, and shows the mass of planets compared to the year of discovery: if techniques keep on getting better, many planets with a mass around that of Earth will be discovered in the near future, and we may even expect much smaller planets to be discivered. I suppose that for a while each new Earth analogue will be announced everywhere, and perhaps that will generate interest in speculative exobiology as well ('Hey! We thought so all the time. Come and have a look at Furaha, Nereus, Snaiad and the others!').

'Alien planets revealed' is in part about the planet Kepler-22b, while 'Aliens: are we alone?' is about Kepler is about '701.04', or Kepler-62f, discovered later. The radius of Kepler-22b is 2.38 times that of Earth, and its mass is estimated to be 6.4 times that of Earth; for Kepler-62f the values are 1.41 times Earth for its radius and a mass of 2.8 times Earth. Both documentaries use the same image material to illustrate the consequences of a high gravity for legged locomotion, which is perhaps more apt for Kepler-22b than for Kepler-62f. Oh well, never mind...

video

Both might be 'ocean worlds'. Both contain a discussion of life in the seas, of which a short clip is shown above. While the text mentions the need for streamlining as something of universal value for a swimming animal, the animals are less streamlined that I would have thought. Perhaps, but I am guessing here, that is due to an unwillingness of the animator to give the animals a completely fish-like of dolphin-like shape. Even though that would make sense, the result might not look sufficiently alien anymore.

My attention was caught more by a discussion of life on land. A high surface gravity has been discussed in the blog more than once, which is not surprising as it affects so many design features of animals and plants (for instance here and here). The documentary is about walking, and high gravity can be expected to have at least four effects on the design of a walking animal.

Firstly, to minimise muscle energy expenditure you may expect pillar-like vertical legs. Any position with angled bones requires energy to keep the joints from bending. You can expect legs to become more vertical on a planet as animal mass increases, which is very visible on Earth. You would also expect animals with the same mass to have more columnar legs on a high-gravity than on a low-gravity planet; I may do the calculations one day to investigate how animal mass and gravity together should affect bone and muscle size. 

A second effect not directly found in textbooks, but which seems to make sense to me, is the 'zigzagging' of a series of leg bones: they will tend to angle forwards and backwards in alternating fashion (the principle is discussed here and here). The idea behind that is to keep all joints fairly close to a vertical line from the hip down to the foot: this decreases the leverage of the joints and again saves on muscle effort. 

A third effect is found in the number of legs. In a post entitled 'How many legs are best for megamonsters? For megamonster syou may read 'high mass animals on an Earth-sized world', but also 'medium maas animal on a high-gravity world'; the effects are very similar. I calculated the relation between the mass of an animal and the mass of all leg bones, assuming that each leg would support its fair share of the animal's mass. I was surprised to find that the least bone mass was needed if the animal had fewer legs, so theoretically one legs would be most efficient. However, that high 'efficiency' only holds true if less bone mass is the only factor to be considered. But there are other factors, and an optimal solution is biology usually represents a careful weighing of many factors. A larger number of legs would protect against falls and allows better survival chances in case of injury of a leg. In the documentaries, someone must have decided that this risk avoidance would be best served by equipping the animal with eight legs. I do not think that we know what the optimal number is, but meanwhile I have nothing against eight legs.
  
video

Finally, there are gaits to consider: there is an infinite number of ways to describe the order in which you can move eight legs in a walking cycle, but which is best? The safest solution is to move just one leg at a time, leaving the other seven on the ground. At the other side of the spectrum there are very fast gaits using just two legs: even crabs and cockroaches can run bipedally! But running can cause falling, and a fall on a high-gravity world may kill you. A safe solution is to always support the body by at least three legs, forming a tripod. So, based on safety and a guarantee that there must be three legs on the ground at any time, how many legs are needed?  It the animal has four and uses a lift-one-leg-at-a-time strategy, the puzzle can be solved. With six legs you can form the basic insect gait with two alternating tripods. That is shown above: note that the left and right legs of each pair move alternately, and each pair is exactly out of phase with the pair in front of it. The results are, going front to back, the left-right-left pairs move in unison, as do the right-left-right legs; but exactly out of phase, of course.

video

Are eight legs better? Well, it allows the animal to lift more legs at a time while still having three on the ground, and that can be done in various ways. Another solution is simply to expand the principle of the hexapod, and have the new pair of legs move exactly out of phase with the one in front of it. Each tripod becomes a tetrapod; a 'table' if you like. In the 'double table' scheme shown above you can lift and move each table and keep the animal perfectly stable and safe.

video

And here is the result of the documentary. The person doing the introduction is Lewis Dartnell, who once introduced Furaha at the Cheltenham science fair. Hi Lewis! The documentaries develop the same 'double table' gait through a genetic algorithm. That is fascinating, as it is based on a model taking many forces into consideration. The person who did those simulations, dr. Bill Sellers, has a very interesting home page on animal movement simulation. I had hoped that the genetic algorithm would have resulted in something a little more surprising than the double table that the old-fashioned logical approach predicted, but the double table does make good sense. I am playing with the idea of writing a genetic algorithm myself to see whether this is just one optimal solution, or whether there are several that are nearly just as good. Perhaps it will help to begin to answer the question 'what is the optimal number of legs for large animals taking lots of variables into consideration?.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Creative Radiation of Cloakfish (Archives IX)

Cloakfish have not featured on this blog often (here and here); the last time was almost two years ago, so it is time to have another look, this time at their earliest evolution. Note that in the 'Archives' series of posts, 'evolution' often does not refer to the fictional biological evolution of these animals, but the evolution of the concept.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk
Leafing though the mouldy sketches in the damp crypts of the Museum of Furaha Biology reveals that their creative evolution started as an offshoot of Fishes. Furahan Fishes started their biological evolution not with series of paired limbs, but with an undulating membrane on either side of the body. Thinking about the movements of such membranes generated cloakfish as an offshoot. The sketch above was originally annotated in Dutch, but for this blog I overlaid them with an English translation. I hope they more or less speak for themselves. The  uppermost picture shows an undulating membrane with a central plane -a rectangle-. The second row shows the 'movement volume' of such an undulating membrane: over time, each point in this volume will be occupied by part of the membrane. In the third row I played with the idea of what would happen is this central plane would not be flat, but curved spirally itself. On the right side you can see how the membrane would undulate up and down around this central plane. The bottom row shows the movement volume of the membrane assuming such a curved central plane. The bottom right picture shows what would happen if you were to group three such volumes together, and that grouping is where Cloakfish depart from Fishes forever: we now have multiple membranes around a central axis, not one at each side of a body.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk
The next leaf of the sketchbook shows the evolutionary jump to a fully developed cloakfish:  the four membranes, the cloaks, surround a central rod, which I could not resist calling a 'dagger'. The body is largely a cylinder stabilised by four fins. The picture also shows an immediate variation on the theme: such a device can pull just as well as it can push. But the central plane of each membrane has reverted to a flat rectangle. I thought that undulation of the membrane around a curved surface would result in a net rotation force, so the poor animal would start rotating around its longitudinal axis. Perhaps I ought to consider the forces of that approach again, but at any rate that is how the basic cloakfish came into being.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk
Once there is a plan, it becomes tempting to start pulling at it to see where that leads to. The top animal here departs quite a bit from the general cloakfish, as its frontal cylinder is nowhere to be seen! It is in fact a tadpole with a cloak-and-dagger propulsion system (well, it also is not much like an earth tadpole in that it has no jaws and multiple eyes). The middle animal certainly is a generic cloakfish, although again with some twists: the front fins have rotated by 45 degrees compared to the cloak-and-dagger. The cloaks are much larger at their end than at the front or middle: this is probably as close as you can get to propulsion with a screw without continuous rotation. The bottom one has the fins and cloaks aligned, causing its four eyes to rotate as well. Whether bending the central rod as shown here would work well is dubious, is think.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk
Here is the result of more pushing the envelope. The left image shows a vertical cloakfish. I certainly did not spend enough attention on the cloak movement, as their shape looks rather unconvincing; then again, visualising the position of four membranes over time is not all that easy. The animal, looking suspiciously like a potted plant, could perhaps travel up and down as day makes way for night to filter plankton wherever it is most abundant. An animal with a horizontal position can do that as well, and if this animal is limited to the vertical position, that will limit its manoeuvrability severely, whereas a horizontal cloakfish could still choose to swim vertically upwards it is needs to; I like that idea. 

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk
Of course, cloakfish can be flattened. That separates the cloaks so their movement volumes no longer all touch one another around the animal, but the membranes could still interact in pairs. How the membranes interact is explained on the main Furaha site (which is currently being redesigned). Note that this lineage has rotated its general body alignment by 45 degrees compared to the general pattern, so there no longer is a top fin, but there is a top eye. The dagger has increased in girth and now houses most of the body's internal organs; in conventional cloakfish this part of the dagger is hidden by the front cylinder.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk
Why not flatten the animal laterally? Here you see the result, this time with the overall rotation set to the 'top fin' mode. I doubt that such an animal, which probably has exquisite control over its cloaks, needs the four fins emanating from the front cylinder fro movement, but they do look good. The one on the right has also flattened the cylinder laterally, and is an overall exaggeration of the left one. I have this feeling that these are reef cloakfish.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk
Has the creative evolution of cloakfish stopped after this early burst of adaptive radiation? Not at all, but creative evolution is like biological evolution in that there may be periods of sudden intense speciation followed by slower adaptation. Dixon's recent mention of equipping his animals with a mother of pearl finish made me want to want to paint an animal with such a finish, and here is a first attempt. The result does not work well yet, but that is not surprising: painting a mother of pearl effect is difficult (if you want to see it done much better, search Google for 'Paul Quade Cambrian').



If I manage to reach that level I will certainly post the result here. Meanwhile, here is a  bioluminescent general cloakfish, another painting experiment.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Dougal Dixon's Microplatia; part II

The previous post dealt with an unknown project by Dougal Dixon meant for the Science Museum, and today's post will deal with the rest of the project.

First, I must rectify something I wrote previously. The 'bones' of animals on Microplatia are very springy and tend to curve in one direction; they are curved the other way by muscles. On Earth, vertebrate and arthropod limbs with a joint with one direction of movement need muscles pulling the bone or segment one way and other muscles pulling the other way. On Microplatia here are just two elements: a bone curving one way and a muscle pulling it the other. The fact that such bones can bend poses interesting problems regarding their capacity to withstand compression, as you would not want to load a bent bone too much. Then again, quite

Anyway, I assumed that the tube slung under the fishing rods of the Walkingmouth would represent the muscle, but I was wrong. Dougal remarked:
"The 'muscle and spring' arrangement is not visible. The trunk-like organ below the 'fishing rod' is merely the gastric tract. All the musculature involved in casting out the 'fishing rod' is contained within the body of the beast. So the action involved is just like that of an angler casting his line. The 'muscle and spring' arrangement is better seen on the bubbles-on-stilts; I attach a sketch and the photo of the model (now alas lost to me)." 


Click to enlarge; copyright Dougal Dixon
Before we go on to 'bubbles-on-stilts' I will post the remaining sketches of the Walkingmouth. The one above shows some surface structures. I rather like the idea of a 'mother of pearl' type iridescence.  I have considered painting an animal with such a surface myself, but will need to study the visual appearance of mother of pearl in more detail before I can paint that in any believable manner. I wonder how the model makers charged with building model Walkingmouth for the Science Museum exhibition would have solved that problem. As far as I know there is no paint that gives that effect.

Click to enlarge; copyright Dougal Dixon
Here is the next picture. It shows that the animal is equipped with three slug-like feet. This image is also the first to show the animal's eyes, placed on the front below the 'fishing rod/gastric tract' ensembles.  I will just call it a 'tackle' to save words.

Click to enlarge; copyright Dougal Dixon
Moving on... literally, in a way, as this sketch shows how the tackle can move: it is interesting that the text says the bow is being 'cast'. I would expect it to be deployed slowly and deliberately, but the image of these five tackles flying out and being reeled in slowly is appealing and quite alien.

Click to enlarge; copyright Dougal Dixon
Here is a mouth unit, of which the animal as a whole will have five. I think that the structures that look a bit like scimitars in their overall shape are examples of the 'bone/muscle assembly', with the bow forming one curved edge of the structure while the muscles fill the concave side. There seems to be a scraper on the underside of the mouth. I see four small 'limbs' near the mouth, two vertically and two horizontally, while further along there are two much larger limbs on each side. My guess is that four smaller ones are there to manipulate food into the mouth, and that the four large ones are the ones that actually walk the mouth over the ground. I wonder what types of food the Walkingmouth eats. If I am right in thinking that the lower 'jaw' is a scraper, its food might consist of animals secured to the substrate such as clams. Then again, plants need to be freed from the ground too. That's all I can show you of Walkingmouths.

Click to enlarge; copyright Dougal Dixon
Another body plan resembles a Walkingmouth turned upside down: the bubbles-on-stilts. The sketch above shows a few; they remind me of Wells' Martian tripod walking engines because of their overall shape.   There are four here, which certainly helps to make their gait a lot easier to imagine than if there would have been three only. Then again, the order in which their legs move is probably the easiest thing to visualise as far as their legs are concerned. The nature of the 'curving bone plus muscle' arrangement is well visible here. Each walking legs apparently consists of a large proximal segment and a smaller distal segment curving the other way; we might as well call it a foot. The front view shows that the animals are quite narrow. That is not surprising at all; if you look closely at many large mammals, including elephants, you will find them to be quite narrow in relation to their other dimensions as well. The build of the legs must say something about the internal structure of the curving bones: their direction of bend depends on their own curvature and the muscles pulling on them, but they must be ery resistant to bending in other directions as I see no muscles controlling their curvatures in other directions than the front and aft one.

Click to enlarge; copyright Dougal Dixon
Finally, here is a photograph of a bubble-on-stilt model. It shows the translucent carapace covering the body quite well, as well as the structure of the legs. The reddish parts of the legs have considerable size in the fore-and aft dimension, no doubt to provide leverage for the muscles.         

It is a pity the model was lost, and a greater pity that the exhibition, perhaps with an accompanying book, was not realised. There are not many projects on Speculative Biology that actually make it to the stage of a book of a television programme, so each one counts. I would have liked to see more of Microplatia, and am visualising a mother-of-pearl Walkingmouth in crystal-clear sea water, gobbling up pearly clams. I wonder which kind of animal in turns feeds on Walkingmouths...
a few vertebrate bones are not held vertically when loaded, and I see no reason that such bones could not be bent. As always it will depend on the mass to be carried relative to gravity.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

An unknown speculative biology project by Dougal Dixon: Microplatia I

I recently exchanged emails with various people involved in speculative biology, including Dougal Dixon, about a possible common project. This bit of knowledge might just make you a little bit curious, but I will not say more about it until we know that it will go through. That should be in a month or two, and if it does I will definitely write about it here. 

Anyway, Dougal mentioned that he had drawings and illustrations from a project on exobiology with the Science Museum in London. Unfortunately the project was abandoned when the sponsor decided to withdraw. Apparently there were models as well, but those got left with the animation house and are no longer available. Somehow I forgot to ask whether any actual animations were ever done.

Dougal Dixon does not need an introduction in a blog on speculative biology; you could say that he introduced speculative biology. He put two of the three major fields of speculative biology on the map: the first was future evolution in the book 'After Man (1981)', and the second was alternative evolution in the book 'The New Dinosaurs' (1988). I have seen some of the themes in those books referred to as clichés, and perhaps they are now, having been copied and paraphrased many times. But nothing is a cliché when done for the first time, and these books were full of novel ideas. Scientific American recognised that not long ago and published a slide show on his work: Dougal's 'alternative dinosaurs' were less alternative than anyone could have guessed in 1988. Subsequent dinosaur discoveries showed that actual dinosaurs had features very similar to Dougal's earlier fictional ones. Moreover, if it had not been for recalcitrant publishers, his book on the third field of speculative biology, 'fictional exobiology', would also have appeared long ago. As it is, you need to speak Japanese to read 'Greenworld', about which I wrote earlier here and here.   

Back to the aborted project; I was curious and asked whether he would mind sharing some of that material. He did not, and was kind enough to send me several images and an accompanying text. So here is his text on 'Microplatia' and three images. I shall be cruel and post the remaining five images later. 

MICROPLATIA

Geology

As with the Earth, Microplatia’s structure consists of a core, mantle and crust. The core is very large and consequently the mantle is shallow. Tectonic plate movements take place on the surface as they do on Earth - expanding and shrinking oceans and moving the continents about in continental drift - but as the mantle is shallow, the convection currents are very small. This results in a large number of very small tectonic plates (Microplatia - geddit?) that move around quite quickly.

With small continents - mostly no more than island chains - and rapid tectonic movements, the surface conditions are dominated by what we would term “natural disasters”. Not a day goes by without earthquakes, volcanic eruptions of all sorts, geyser and hot pool activity, tsunamis and so on. The energy of these movements is what supplies the energy that is exploited by the life forms (like the life forms around the hot smokers in the depths of modern earth oceans).

Life forms

No magnetic field, and so nothing to block out dangerous solar radiation. Most animals protect themselves by wading in the shallow seas. Those permanently on land have developed sun-proof shells, or transparent body coverings making them look like jellyfish.

Plant life is protected by layers of translucent resin that solidifies and persists as glassy cities and towers even when the plants that produced them inside have died off. They act as greenhouses protecting a whole range of animal life beneath them. Frequent earthquakes bring them shattering down, and the shards are used as raw materials for the next generation.

Amongst the animals the walking limbs are not like ours - rigid bone with muscles on each side pulling one way and then the other. Instead the bone is springy and the muscles are only on one side - muscles pulling one way and the spring pulling the other. (There is precedent in our own zoology.)

Attached are the plans of two of the animal types developed for the project.

The first is the Walkingmouth. A big animal of coastal shallows. Spends most of its time with its body just under the water. Several mouths on the ends of long springy rods that are cast out like an angler’s fishing rod. Each mouth has a set of legs that allow it to go looking for food on the shoreline. The youngsters grow on the back, and are broken off and carried inland on tsunamis, surfing on the giant waves.

The second are Bubblesonstilts. These are land-living animals that forage on the slopes of the volcanoes."

Click to enlarge; copyright Dougal Dixon
Here is the planet. It looks like Dougal painted over an existing sphere to produce the map. I did exactly the same thing to produce an actual globe of Furaha, but never finished it: it became fairly boring to paint yet another mountain range.

Click to enlarge; copyright Dougal Dixon
This shows the ancestry of  Walkingmouths and Bubblesonstilts. I wonder whether these names are temporary placeholders or were meant as the final names of these groups. I rather like the idea of starting with an ancestral pattern and developing your life forms from there. Personally I did it the other way round, and am paying for that: having given my beasties' evolution more thought, the poor creatures on my paintings find that their transformation into digital form is accompanied by a ruthless rearrangement of their anatomy.

Have a look at the animal's arms or branches: these consist of the elements Dougal described above:  a springy bone, labelled 'gristle' with muscles attached to it to pull it against the direction the gristle pulls in, which must be upwards. When I read the text I imagined that the two structures would be placed alongside one another, but there is a lot of space between them along most of their length.  That is best visible in the Walkingmouth sketch at the bottom.

Click to enlarge; copyright Dougal Dixon
And this is a more detailed sketch of the Walkingmouth. The top view shows a rotund body with 'up to 5 mouths', and the side view shows just one of those mouths, or perhaps 'mouth limbs'. The gristle is now at the top, and forms a bow-like shape. What would be the string on a bow is defined as a 'trunk like gullet', with a 'mouth unit' at the end. These have there own 'legs', the details of which will be shown in another post.

That is a pretty radical departure of 'life as we know it', but there is more:  the youngsters on the back are described as the 'haploid phase'; there is another phase as well? 




Saturday, 1 February 2014

Film with Furahan life in it on Dutch TV today!


A year ago I mentioned that Furaha appeared in the film 'How to describe a cloud' by David Verbeek. It did well, and now I am informed that it will be on television tonight. I have known that for a few days only and had no time to write about it earlier.

So, those of you with access to Dutch television can tune in to the 'Nederland 2' channel. The file starts after midnight at 00:20 hours, local time and is broadcast by the 'Boeddhistische Omroep Stichting'; that is -incorrectly spelled- Dutch for 'Buddhist Broadcasting Foundation'; I had no idea such a foundation existed, by the way.

The film is in Chinese, and I assume that it will be subtitled in Dutch (although the cinema version was subtitled in English).
----------------------------


This post will probably have the shortest half life of all my posts, many of which are still read and even commented upon five years after publication. Oh well, tomorrow I intend to publish something that may attract attention over a longer time period: it will be about an unknown and unpublished speculative biology project by Dougal Dixon.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Furahan biology and one of its allied matters: origami. Yes, origami!

My series of rusp posts have created something I never expected: an origami rusp. For more on rusps, simply start at the previous post in this blog. Regular commenter Petr (Petr Stuchlý) has sculpted four models of Furahan animals in what for me is a novel medium: origami. He posted photos of one of them, the brontorusp, on DeviantArt under the title of Xenorigami, which I rather like. Petr was kind enough to send me all four models in a neat package, which I appreciate very much.

Click to enlarge
Let me show you the models. Here are all four of them along with a prototypical matchbox  for size. Let me close in on all of them.

Click to enlarge
 First, of course, the origami model of the brontorusp (Brontocrambis brucus). I have never published a complete image of the brontorusp, so Petr could not know that the front and hind heads are not identical. If you take a look at the image of the origami brontorusp on his DeviantArt page, you will see that the front and hind heads are identical. Once we got to talking about that he has made some changes to the model, and now the hind head no longer has a rostrum (snout). Before you ask about two-headedness (the Janus effect), here is an explanation. The basic ancestral rusp design involves developed segments with eyes on each one. When the lineage increased in complexity, 'cephalisation' set in, so nerve clusters, eyes, whips etc., concentrated in one spot leaving the animal with a head... Actually, no!. That may be what happens usually, but in rusp evolution there was not just an increase in complexity, but cephalisation also involved a loss of some functions, such as visions in middle segments. That, probably coupled with a need for defence on both ends of the rusp, stopped the loss of vision there, so there are eyes there, with a fully functional whip capable of giving any predator a good wallop. There is also a circular secondary brain, the neurannulinus, communicating -we assume!- with the neurannulus in front. There is no hind mouth though, so no rostrum there, and rusps definitely have a front and a hind part.

Click to enlarge

Let's look at the details. I think that Petr caught the shape of the brontorusp's head very well. I have only a very vague idea of how you would go about to create such an intricate design from a square piece of paper of 50x50 cm. From his own comments ("hell on earth to fold!!! XD") it was not exactly the easiest thing to do.
 

Click to enlarge

The many folds at the rusp's bottom are interesting. Petr explained a particular featre as the result of his folding technique, but regardless of the cause the design parallels my rusp design in a surprising way.  Rusps, as large animals, have vertically-orientated legs that swing forwards and backwards under the body, and not sideways, so there is a risk of them kicking one another. That problem was sidestepped (sorry for that one) by having the legs alternately offset to the centre or the side of the animal. The origami rusp has the same feature!



What you see here is the 'crease pattern' of the rusp laid out on a piece of paper. The 'CP' has lines indicating valleys and ridges, and helps the designer shape a flat piece of paper into a remarkably solid and three-dimensional sculpture.


Click to enlarge; bottom : copyright Gert van Dijk

Petr has also made a hexapod neocarnicore, with its typical 'raptorial appendages'. The model captures the form well, which must be difficult as it is a very small model: he wanted to keep the models within a certain scale range. They are not fully in the same range, but I do not think I ever published enough data on exact rusp size for him or anyone else to judge the size accurately. Above is a new scale diagram for The Book, so you can see how large brontorusps are.

Click to enlarge
A marshwallow! It is complete with three horns, and even seems to have the continually irritated expression that humans project on the animal's cranial features...

Click to enlarge
 And finally, two sides of the marblebill, here suspended from a Japanese eating stick, to stay  in style. Origami paper can have one colour on one side and another on the other, and here that principle was obviously expanded by having a two-layered sheet of paper with metal foil on one side. Somehow Petr managed to have the dark paper end up on the dorsal side of the upper limbs and the metal side on the palmar side, doing justice to the pattern of the marblebill.

It is obvious that Petr is rather good at origami. If you wish to learn more about his art visit his Flickr pageDeviantArt page or a page at an English origami site. If you like palaeontology, and the chances of that are high with a blog like this one, you should visit his page on origami versions of extinct animals.They're very good.