As of February 2016, after 416 posts, and over six and a half years of blogging, I'm taking a break.
I've explained why here. There's plenty of past posts to read, though - hope you enjoy them !
Looking for a brilliant present for a young naturalist ? Buy my book ! Available from Amazon UK,
Amazon US and worldwide but buy from a local bookshop if you can.

Seven things that Zygoma taught me about blogging


Today is the 200th "Friday Mystery Object" on the Zygoma blog, written by Paolo Viscardi. Paolo works as a natural history curator at the Horniman museum in London,and he began blogging about the same time as I did (he began in April 2009 and I began in July 2009) and every week since then he has been mainly posting about objects from his museum (mostly bones and skulls) and asking people to identify them. He's been posting every week, but after this week he's going to slow down and post less often.

Paolo first helped me when I posted about finding an unusually shaped red deer antler in August 2009, and since then I've been following his blog every week. I think doing 200 Friday Mystery Objects is a big achievement, and because I can't do a surprise party, I'm going to do this post instead about what I've learned from his blog.

1. Science isn't about knowing all the answers

Paolo sometimes puts up Mystery Objects that he hasn't been able to solve yet, or sometimes he changes his mind about identification. A big worry for me when I started blogging about bones when I was seven was that then I knew very little about bones, and I thought everyone else who visited would know more. It took me a while to understand that science isn't just about what one person thinks or knows, and the best scientists explain why they have come to believe something. That made it easier to me to put up posts about puzzles I haven't yet got the answer to. It also made it easier for me to change my mind if I was wrong about something or admit I got something wrong.

2. Science is about sharing what you know

Because of Zygoma, I have learned a lot about skulls that I would never have seen except in museums, but with a lot of information about each individual skull. Paolo puts a lot of effort into every post, not just finding 200 different objects, but also doing pictures, sometimes video, researching each one, and answering questions on the blog. That's a lot to do when you have a full time job to do as well, but it means that he shares a lot of information with other people who are interested.

3. Science needs to be understandable

Paolo knows all the scientific terms but doesn't really use them much. If his blog had used a lot of complicated terms, I would have found it difficult to follow and I wouldn't have kept going back, and although I am just a kid I think there are a lot of adults who are interested in bones who can't understand complex scientific papers.

Here's how Paolo described capercaillie:

These large members of the Pheasant and Grouse family (Phasianidae) are particularly impressive animals – or at least the males are, with their striking plumage and bright red eyebrows. They compete for females using a behaviour called leking where they set themselves in an arena within which they perform a strutting song and dance, usually alongside other males. Unfortunately, these birds suffered a rapid decline during the 20th Century, largely due to changing land-use practices resulting in habitat loss and shortage of important winter foods. At present the RSPB estimate that fewer than 2,000 birds remain. Hopefully conservation efforts will be enough to keep these magnificent birds from going extinct.

He even stuck in a video as well.

But here's a scientific paper about capercaillie:

Ecological features and conservation requirements of populations at the latitudinal limits of a species’ geographical range frequently differ from those in other parts of the range. Identifying such differences is key to implementing effective conservation strategies for threatened range-edge populations especially, in the context of rapid global warming, at the lower-latitude range edge. We studied habitat selection and diet of the endangered Cantabrian Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus cantabricus in a recently discovered population at the southernmost edge of the sub-species’ range. This is the only Western Capercaillie population in the Mediterranean biogeographical region.

Which is easier to read ? Which is easier to understand ? When I first started looking for information about bones on the internet most of the information is scientific papers.  Scientists can't complain that there aren't enough kids studying science at school if they don't help get kids interested in the first place.

4. It's fun.

I am interested in bones because it's more fun than school work, even though I probably spend more time researching bones and writing on my website than I do homework. Turning identifying a bone or skull or object into a competition - but a competition where all the people are helping each other, makes it fun. It's a great feeling when I got one right.

5. Every skull or bone tells two stories

Zygoma has taught me there are two stories about every skull. The first is about that specific animal. How did it live ? Did it live a long life ? Did it have a violent life or a peaceful life ? 

The second story is less obvious. Why is this species of animal the way it is ? How did it adapt ? What is it good at ? If red deer and Chinese water deer are from the same family, eating the same food, why is one massive and the other one tiny ? Why does one have antlers but no canines, and the other has no antlers but massive canines ?

Some answers are more obvious. A deer has more in common with a sheep than a horse. So why can deer jump fences and run fast but sheep can't ? It's because sheep that can jump walls or fences is no use to humans who keep them in fields safe. Humans don't want sheep that can jump walls, and they probably all got eaten by wolves and predators. A deer that couldn't jump a fence or wall would easily get trapped and hunted by humans, but the ones that could jump and run fast would survive better.

6. The rules of skulls are universal.

My collection of skulls is mostly from UK mammals. The skulls used for the Friday Mystery Object are from all round the world. But if you understand a little bit about skulls you can use that knowledge to understand other skulls. If you had never seen a camel skull before, but knew a bit about deer, cows and horses then you could tell it probably ate vegetation, not meat (because it had flat teeth, and a big space between the front (incisorform) teeth and the back teeth, like deer), that it was probably cow sized (because the skull is about the same size), and that it has more in common with deer and cows than a horse (because it had bottom incisors but no top incisors). If you only know a little you can sometimes guess the rest.

7. He inspired me

Even though I didn't know about his blog when I started mine, it has been nice knowing that there is someone else blogging there as well every week sharing his knowledge. Sometimes blogging is lonely, especially at the start. It's nice that someone else has built a group of interested visitors about the same subject, even though we blog about different things and I know less than he does.

Next month I'm travelling to London, and one of the two museums I hope to go to is the Horniman Museum, and hopefully I will meet Paolo then (we've never met). Paolo is also the contributing editor (fact checker) on my book as well. When my editor asked me to recommend someone there were a few people I could have recommended but I thought he would be best for it, and I was glad he said yes. Thank you Paolo !

Enjoy this post ? Share it !


Paolo Viscardi said...

Hi Jake - thank you so much for writing this - it's such a rewarding feeling knowing that my blog has helped you do the amazing stuff that you do! This is the best surprise party ever!

I just hope that the new format mystery object will still be fun and helpful! Thank you again!

Stephen J Henstridge said...

Well said, Jake!

Kate Viscardi said...

Hi Jake, what a nice surprise for Paolo.

I am struck by the continuity here. When Paolo was young his favourite day out was to the Natural History Museum and one day he asked a young man, who was obviously a researcher, what he needed to do to become a paleontologist. It would have been easy for the young man to brush him off, but he didn't, he spend some time talking to Paolo. And now in turn he is encouraging you. Keep it going!

Jake said...

Us bloggers don't get many presents but you deserve this one !

Jake said...

Thanks !

Jake said...

Thanks ! I'm hoping to go to NHM when I'm down in London.

Lena (ossamenta) said...

So young and so wise already! :-)

I agree with everything you say here (admittedly not #7, as I didn't discover Paolo's blog until way later). Regarding #3, it's a shame that zoology and osteology online is dominated by scientific posts, just for the accessibility issues. I try to keep to "normal" language, but sometimes the specific terms slink in.

And as I check back, I also started my blog in 2009. It is sadly less frequently updated than yours, and it will probably continue to be so. My life seems to get in the way of blogging.

And consider it a standing invitation to visit, if you have time for a detour to Oxford when you're in London, and want to see what archaeologists do with old bones.

Jake said...

Thanks ! 2009 was a vintage year for blogs ! I might not make Oxford this time but maybe in the future.

ronansmith@hotmail.com said...

Fair play lads, great stuff!

Sylvía Oddný said...

''Scientists can't complain that there aren't enough kids studying science at school if they don't help kids get interested in the first place."
Thank you! Actually, this seems to be a thing in all classes at grade school level (sometimes higher.) Teachers and parents get miffed that kids have a hard time learning or find it boring or get bad grades, seemingly not realizing that it's a hell of a lot harder to learn something that has been presented so dryly that you get thirsty just by having to learn it. The main reason we remember things at all is because they have some impact on our minds, and if they're interesting that just makes it easier!
Now we just need the education system to open its eyes and we might have a generation of geniuses at our hands... Really, what is a genius but a person that is really, really interested in something?
Love this post :) Guess I'll have to check out Zygoma now.

Rachel Monger said...

You know a lot about bones! I am 9 and we have just been learning about bones. I don't have very many (mostly just from around our house here in Tanzania, but I really like the jawbone of a cow whose teeth actually come out! I put a photo on my blog http://mongergirls.blogspot.com Also we saw some really cool bones in the Ruaha gamepark - a giraffe skeleton and buffalo bones. I'm not sure where my photos of those are (we couldn't keep those ones!) From Amisadai Monger

Jake said...

Agree with everything you said !

Jake said...

Thanks ! Great blog, just left a comment !

Free counters!