Saturday, 19 November 2011

A future book on future evolution from France

Click to enlarge; copyright M Boulay / JS Steyer

Yes, there will be a new book on speculative evolution, a real proper book, that you can actually hold in your hands. It will describe life on Earth 10 million years in the future, or well after man. Future evolution on Earth is a branch of speculative biology I have hardly discussed in this blog, but I thought I would make an exception for this project. Do not run to the bookstore just yet, as the book will probably be published in the second half of 2012. This means you have about a year to brush up on your French, because that is the language it will appear in.

It will be entitled 'Demain: les animaux du futur' ('Tomorrow: animals of the future'), and will be published by 'Éditions Belin'. The authors, Marc Boulay and Sébastien Steyer, told me that they are currently working on the second of what will be five chapters. Marc is a digital sculptor and Z-Brush expert, who has an extensive knowledge of animal sculpture and whose work has featured on this blog before. Does anyone remember me posting on an exposition in Brussels where future animals were shown, posted in February 2009? Well, Marc proved to have had a hand in their design, as I later found out and discussed here, here and here. Sébastien is a palaeontologist from Paris, who does not limit himself to going on fossil-hunting expeditions in Africa and writing scientific papers, but took the time to write a -very readable!- book on 'Earth before the dinosaurs'. If you like that subject, you might wish to take a look the French or Dutch versions; an English version is in the works. Together with Pierre Godlewski they have formed a firm, Cossima productions, to produce not just the book but other projects as well, probably including a television documentary as well as a book. The idea for the project began in 1999 and is completely independent of 'The Future is Wild'.

So what will be in the 'Demain' book? Obviously, we do not know yet, but you can get some glimpses at the site of Marc Boulay and of Cossima Productions. Perhaps the animals that were once shown on their sites will appear in the book. As these sites have been shut down, only some hints remain here and there, including on my own blog.

Click to enlarge; copyright M Boulay / JS Steyer

I really liked Benthogyrinus. The accompanying text says that it about the only surviving amphibian, a descendant of the frog species Xenopus. It has developed glands to expel salt and now lives in the seas. It reproduces in its larval stage and exhibits profound sexual dimorphism, i.e., males are much smaller and are shaped differently than females. For more images on this animal please read the original post.

Above is a demo reel of Diatrymimum boiseï, obtained from the links above. It is a large predatory bird, that has not just lost the power of flight but has lost its wings altogether, bones and all. It evolved from a parrot (Psittacus). As you can see the authors did their homework: whereas most people would limit their skeletal studies to some sketches, in this instance the skeleton has been worked out in full 3D detail. From then on the video shows how the body is shaped, and after that there are some colour studies. The background, with iits light to dark gray gradient, is typical for ZBrush. As a whole the demo shows what can be done with ZBrush (if you are a very accomplished 3D artist, that is!). What struck me is that the femur (the thighbone) is not horizontal as in ostriches but is oriented much more vertically, making the limb much more reminescent of that of a predatory dinosaur such as Tyrannosaurus. Such dinosaurs can afford to have their limb in this position because their tails balance the weight of the front part of the body, meaning that their centre of gravity is near the hip joints, and as long as the feet are directly underneath the centre of gravity, the animal won't keel over. Ostriches do not have heavy tails, meaning their centre of gravity is well in front of the hip joints. In order not to fall the feet still have to be underneath the centre of gravity, and the ostrich does that by having its thighs in a more horizontal position than Diatrymimus. I think Diatrymimus gets away with this by having a short and rather small body.

And this demo reel shows more of Marc's ZBrush work. There are ants, Burgess shale animals as well as dinosaurs and other Mesozoic animals, but about 40 seconds after the start there are glimpses of animals that may well be future animals, but whether they are part of the project described above, I do not know. Perhaps the authors will let us know. At any rate I will keep you informed when the book comes out, hopefully a year from now.


Additional remarks (November 12 2011)

Marc sent me an email that he was happy with the post and added a file of a much better quality video. I agree that the videos I had shown you were not very good. The problem was not the source material, which was excellent, but in getting that quality here on the blog. The Google blogger program alters videos and shrinks them to fit one and the same size. Unfortunately, I cannot therefore replace the videos above with better ones. But what I can do, and should have done, is to point out where you can find better quality ones.

Both videos can be found on Youtube: here is the Diatrymimus one, and here is the 2010 demo reel.

Marc also added some other images for you to look at:

Click to enlarge; copyright M Boulay / JS Steyer

This is D. boiseï again, this time with lots of details of the head. I suppose that readers will have noted the development of teeth-like structures, lost by its bird ancestors a long time ago? The two commenters so far drew attention to the lack of feathers. I can understand how feathers might be lost on the head for predators: many vultures have unfeathered heads. But there is as yet no explanation for the total loss of feathers elsewhere on the body. We will either have to wait for the book, or perhaps Marc or Sébastien will take the bait and write a comment...

Click to enlarge; copyright M Boulay / JS Steyer

And a new species as well! It is called 'Spatamagnalis ruber'. If memory serves me right, a 'spata' is a short or broad sword, and ruber is definitely 'red'. Apparently, there are more flightless birds in this future. And featherless too... is it the climate?


Evan Black said...

Beautiful work! I've always been a fan of marc boulay, and I'm excited to see new published material on speculative biology. It makes me think there's hope for the rest of us! :)

I'm also impressed by the work put into the parrot descendant, both with digital artistry and with attention to biomechanics. I really should put more work into the skeletal structures of my own project, even if it means some radical redesign (which I wouldn't mind doing).

Diatrymimus is certainly a fascinating future animal, and I like how Boulay used real world sources for coloration because it gives them a more natural and organic feel. I do wonder, however, why the skin is colored and why the creature has lost its feathers. It makes sense that coloration would remain even after the loss of feathers because the lineage is already hardwired for mate selection based on coloration, but why lose the feathers in the first place? Could it be an issue of size and thermoregulation, such that the feathers were far too good an insulation and were selected against? Why lose them completely? A few display feathers could go a long way...

It makes sense that few amphibians would survive to the future, if any; they're under such threat now, and in order to survive they would have to adapt to new conditions. But if, as I assume, Benthogyrinus is a truly pelagic creature, reproducing in larval form and living in the sea, can they really be considered amphibians, or are they something new? Are amphibians truly extinct in this scenario? Perhaps I'm only arguing semantics...

Christian C. said...

I think the idea behind is that pieces of sticky meat would get trapped and rot in feathers and having an absence of feathers (particularly around the head and neck) would eliminate this problem, though I imagine that Diatrymimus would at least have some down feathers around the core body for some insulation. As for amphibians, I agree that very few of them would survive into the future. However, I doubt that xenopus would be the only amphibians to survive. Just look at cane toads in Australia. They're thriving in spite of efforts to reduce their numbers and I can imagine them becoming more reptile-like and more independent of water even for their eggs.
Any who, I'm every excited for this new speculative evolution book. I've gained a lot of inspiration for my own project from works like After Man, Man After Man, and Future Evolution. I'm sure this book will be a big inspiration as well and I hope they make translated versions.

Christian C. said...

I,m guessing Marc is taking climate change into account, though I still think flightless birds would a least have some down feathers covering their bodies. A very thin layer if the environment is a warm and humid as Marc depicts it in the few pictures we've seen.

BTW, I noticed in last pic with those two new birds that on the ground there are some spider-like creatures that appear to have radial symmetry. what is the likely hood of any terrestrial Earth invertebrate evolving such a body structure?

Christian C. said...

I think its safe to try to list the creatures that may or may not be in the new book. The creatures list are from what I found on Marc Boulay's and Sylvia Lorrain's websites.
Neopygoscelis: the 4 m aquatic penguin.

Trichopteryx: the human-size gliding marsupial.

Helicopodus: the giant decendent of centipedes.

Propellonectes: the wingless, swimming sea bird that may be descended from auks or petrels.

Corticochaeris: the cow-sized rodent with shovel-like incisors.

Rhombosepia: descendents of cuttlefish that swim head first instead of backwards and varies in size.

Alanoropus: relatives of Rhombosepia whose tentacles have fused into a mouth-like structure and are similar to modern rays in shape and supposedly movement.

Benthogyrinus: 20 m sea dwelling amphibians that are decedents of the frog species xenopus and show sexual dimorphism (females being larger than males).

Arthrodon Bifurcatus: a deep sea shark that have a row of fins like an atavism and a 'moustache' that is used to stun prey with electricity.

Abberation abyssale: another deep sea fish that has a short body and a lure similar to that of modern angler-fish.

Tetracers africanus: An origonal idea of Dougal Dixon, it is a rhino-like decedent of antelopes with four forward facing horns.

Diatrymimus: the 2.5 m tall flightless predator descended from parrots.

Spatamagnalis ruber: another flightless bird similar to spoonbills is appearance.

The spider-like creature I mentioned in the last post.

From the 2010 demo reel: the ant at 0:05, the flightless burrowing bird at o:44,the wingless bat at 0:47, and two other species of Diatrymimus at 2:07.

from websites: a long winged bat-like creature and a small four legged creature with a proportionately long head and neck with several feather-like structures protruding from its head.

Christian C. said...

I just noticed another species that may be in the new book. It is another flightless bird that is similar to Spatamagnalis except for having a thicker body, a shorter beak, and a noticeable neck flap. It is seen along with the long-winged bat on Marc's website at the top left corner of the page about the new book. It is also in the Diatrymimus video at 1:13 where it appears to be its prey.

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Evan: I'm glad you like it. I too think that there is hope to get our work published, if not in English (or Dutch), why not in French?
As for the amphibians my sentiment would be that the term does not really describe a life style (in as well as out of water) but a lineage. If not, all 'Reptilia' should crawl. But the word and concept of 'Reptilia'is perhaps a relic in these cladistic days...

Cristian: You have an impressive knowledge of Marc & Sébastien's work!
I agree that it is unlikely that only one genus, Xenopus, would make it to the future, but that is what the authors said on their Benthogyrinus poster. Perhaps there is a radiation of various Benthogyrinus-like species, with various sizes and lifestyles. That would appeal to me...

Christian C. said...

Sigmund Natrazzurro

I first heard about Marc & Sébastien's work on your blog (which I started visiting regularly ever since I came across it). Shortly afterward I researched their works and came across their websites where I found those creatures I listed (my favorite so far is Alanoropus). I've always loved animals and when I first learned about speculative biology I fell completely in love with the topic. I mentioned in an earlier post that I am also working on a speculative evolution book so I may ask for some advice on it if that's okay with you.

BTW, It would be really cool if you did a post about Dougal Dixon's Man After Man though it's probably unlikely. My project involves a lot of stuff from that.

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...


I usually answers as time permits me, so go ahead. You may also use the gmail account (nastrazzurro AT but with the proper symbol and without the spaces).

There are two reasons why I never discussed 'After Man'. The first is that it is a bit beside my usual topic, but that is no strong constraint. The other reason is that it is such a well-known project that there may be little news in a post on that book. I must admit that I have seen disparaging remarks about Mr Dixon's work on the internet that I do not agree with. Some of his inventions are treated as clichés, but they were not when he first came up with them. I may yet write a post to that effect. One day.

Christian C. said...

Sigmund Natrazzurro

I don't have a gmail account so I probably stick with leaving posts on your blog If it is relevant to the topic.

I also agree with you about dougal's inventions not being cliches. In fact, After man have been the origin of most of the ideas used in speculative biology (Though I heard he plagiarized some the ideas in Man After Man from Wayne Douglas Barlowe). Though 30 years later some of his inventions seem less accurate or need some tweaking. For example, the gigantelopes and the previously mentioned Tetracers are a very interesting idea and plausible withing the time span of 50 million years. However, the majority of their ancestors,the antelopes, are either vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered which lowers the possibility of them surviving past the supposed extinction of humans. In my opinion, the role of large African herbivores would more likely be filled by the decedents of pigs and goats. Also the Rabbucks are a very plausible idea. Dougal even mentioned the fusion and elongation of the metacarpals and the phalanges, which is a common adaptation for running. the only thing is that the head should have been longer and house larger molars since that is what other medium-to-large grazers have.

El Squibbonator said...


Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

El squibbonator,

There's no need to shout ;-)

I suppose it depends on how eager publishers are to produce a book on speculative evolution. That must be a very small market.

On the plus side, Éditions Belin seem to have links with publishers in other languages, and Sébastien Steyer's book on 'Earth before the dinosaurs' will be published in three foreign languages. And one of them is English.

Christian C. said...

There a couple of things I don't understand about two the Marc's inventions: Rhombosepia and Alanoropus (though both are very neat). They seem to swim head first whereas modern day cephalopods, including cuttlefish, are designed to primarily swim backwards. They even have a siphon that faces away from the head for backward propulsion. I'm also not so sure about the tentacles fusing into a mouth because they seem more useful separate and the fused tentacles may get in the way of the reproductive organs (I don't remember where they are located on cephalopods). One more thing, in order for Rhombosepia and Alanoropusto fill the role Marc intended them to fill, most, if not all, fish would have to be absent and the cephalopods would have to survive whatever killed off the fish which is probably the same thing that threatens cephalopods today. Maybe we will get an explanation when the book comes out.

Anonymous said...

Even nowadays, cuttlefish can swim both forwards and backwards. (and they use a tentacle for reproduction)

And it wouldn't be the first time in Earth history that fish were so much a minority in the oceans, that something else could dominate the swimming niches.

Christian C. said...

"Even nowadays, cuttlefish can swim both forwards and backwards. (and they use a tentacle for reproduction)".

I know that cuttlefish can swim backwards and forwards, it just that swimming backwards seems more natural to them and other cephalopods. Also, if one of their tentacles are used for reproduction, then the tentacles fusing would hinder the cuttlefish's ability to reproduce.

BTW, I noticed when looking a more pictures of Rhombosepia that they still possess a siphon that faces the same direction as the head. Would it be a rudimentary structure or would it serve some purpose?

Anonymous said...

>it just that swimming backwards seems more natural to them and other cephalopods.
If you watch lungfish and coelocanths, then living in water seems far more natural than living on land - yet tetrapods have surmounted the problems.

> Also, if one of their tentacles are used for reproduction, then the tentacles fusing would hinder the cuttlefish's ability to reproduce.
only if every single one of the tentacles fused.

Christian C. said...

"'if one of their tentacles are used for reproduction, then the tentacles fusing would hinder the cuttlefish's ability to reproduce.'
only if every single one of the tentacles fused."

That appears to be the case with Rhombosepia and even more so with Alanoropus, though I may have figured out how they would get around this problem. From looking at their anatomy, the only way these two species would be able to reproduce is by given each other "French kisses" like the creatures from Nemo ramjet's Snaiad do. This method of reproduction could also be advantageous because when the eggs are fertilized, either on of the parents could carry the eggs in their "mouths" until the eggs hatch or the parents find a safe place to store them.

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Rodlox and Chriatian,

I have been following your discussion with attention, but did not have the time to jump in. Then again, why should I? You were raising very valid points.

As fort the direction of swimming, squid can indeed go both ways, which is by itself a very a rare trait. The one thing about the usual 'backwards' motion direction of squid is that is results in the eyes not being in the direction of movement. Now, most people who design animals feel that there is something to be said in favour of 'cephalisation', the evolutionary process leading towards major sense organs and the accompanying neural pathways evolving in the front of the animal. In common English: you might expect a brain, eyes and ears to be in the front.

I do not know why squid can afford to have eyes in the back; is it so dark where they live that it doesn't matter? Do they simply switch roles: perhaps they swim backwards when vision doesn't matter that much, but move forwards when catching prey is important, so their eye are then at what is then the front?
I guess the latter is true, but perhaps Sébastien or Marc would care to join in..

As for sex, there's always a way in biology...

Christian C. said...

Sigmund Natrazzurro
"As for sex, there's always a way in biology..."

No truer words have been spoken, I'm just curious if the method of sex I mentioned in the last post was a valid one. Then again, I've heard before that the natural world is not constrained by our lack of imagination, which reminds of another thread dealing with the article about the squid's ability to preform short-distance glides. I believe it was you that said that if squids didn't exist, the idea of a creature possessing two means of propulsion (which squids have) would be considered ridiculous. However, if cuttlefish do turnout as Marc and Sebastien depict them, they would most likely be a minority as crustaceans and mollusks are today because from what I've researched about current ocean ecology, most of the niches that were filled by fish are rapidly being replaced by jellyfish. It turns out that jellyfish are very efficient predators/filter feeders due to their low food requirements and energy expenditure. Also, they can thrive in areas that are polluted, warmer, and have low oxygen levels. Though there will probably be some fish and cephalopods, the oceans of the future will most likely be dominated by jellyfish until the ocean's temperature goes down. By then you'll probably have jellyfish the size of small whales and a whole horde of new species that fill most of the niches that fish once did.

El Squibbonator said...

Can you give me a link to the site that the pictures of the Benthogerinus came from? I'd like to see the other animals.

Christian C. said...

El Squibbonator

I believe all the links are given on the article itself. They are identified as "here" or either of the authors of the books' names.

Christian C. said...

Some of the creatures I listed on this thread are shown at the link below, including Alanoropus.

Christian C. said...

Weird, I thought I added the link to my last post. Anyway, see if it appears on this one (
It turns out that the person who put up this site, Sylvia Lorrian, is responsible for created the texture and colors of the creatures shown. you can see five other creatures on the news section of the site.

Unknown said...

Hi all,

Thank you all and especially Sigmund Nastrazzurro for your many very relevant and well documented comments.
Some of your questions will be answered late 2012 in the book: "Demain, Les Animaux du Futur" Editions Belin Paris.
We have been working since 1999 on four ecosystems: Marine, Coastal, Desert & Forestry.
In each ecosystem, we studied between 10 and 20 animals and a dozen plants.

Your comments help us progress. To thank you we will be giving you some exclusive news on Biology and Allied Matters Furahan.

Best regards,

El Squibbonator said...

From the 2010 demo reel: the ant at 0:05, the flightless burrowing bird at o:44,the wingless bat at 0:47, and two other species of Diatrymimus at 2:07.

Where can I see this demo reel. I've tried all the sites but none of them have it

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

El Squibbonator,

Perhaps I do not understand? The demo reel is one of the two videos in the post. If you mean better quality ones, links to those are given in the additional remarks at the end.