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Blog Pick of the Month – March 2010

April First – the day when nothing online is to be trusted. A good day to hone one’s critical reading skills and then apply them to all the other days of the year. But this post is not a joke. It is the real announcement of the real winner of our monthly blogging contest. Yup, it is time for the March 2010 Pick Of The Month.

There were 31 blog posts covering PLoS ONE articles aggregated on in March. And they were excellent. It took me a lot of time to choose. But I had to pick only one, and I chose….drumroll….

This month’s winner is GrrrlScientist of Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted) blog, for her post UV, You See? Black Light Reveals Secrets in Fossils covering the article by David W. E. Hone, Helmut Tischlinger, Xing Xu and Fucheng Zhang The Extent of the Preserved Feathers on the Four-Winged Dinosaur Microraptor gui under Ultraviolet Light. GrrrlScientist wrote:

Even though the findings reported in this paper provide a nice opportunity to show you lots of detailed photographs of Microraptor gui, the take-home message is about what UV illumination means in regards to fossil preservation and preparation. There is a lot of hidden information waiting to be uncovered in many fossils, even long after they’ve come to light, and this information can be accessed by using a variety of techniques, such as UV light illumination.

Unfortunately, scientists miss all kinds of rare and valuable soft-tissue information by not using all of the techniques available to them, often because they are unaware of them. If paleontologists and fossil preparators are unaware of the variety of hidden information that a fossil might contain, they risk destroying it during preparation. Already, at least one museum now regularly prepares fossil material with UV light (as already has happened with one famous fossil, Juravenator, for example).

The article’s Abstract is:


The holotype of the theropod non-avian dinosaur Microraptor gui from the Early Cretaceous of China shows extensive preservation of feathers in a halo around the body and with flight feathers associated with both the fore and hindlimbs. It has been questioned as to whether or not the feathers did extend into the halo to reach the body, or had disassociated and moved before preservation. This taxon has important implications for the origin of flight in birds and the possibility of a four-winged gliding phase.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Examination of the specimen under ultraviolet light reveals that these feathers actually reach the body of the animal and were not disassociated from the bones. Instead they may have been chemically altered by the body tissues of the animal meaning that they did not carbonise close into the animal or more likely were covered by other decaying tissue, though evidence of their presence remains.


These UV images show that the feathers preserved on the slab are genuinely associated with the skeleton and that their arrangement and orientation is likely correct. The methods used here to reveal hidden features of the specimen may be applicable to other specimens from the fossil beds of Liaoning that produced Microraptor.

Congratulations both to GrrrlScientist and to the authors of the article. I have notified the winners and their prizes are on the way. I hope you read GrrrlScientist’s post and post a comment of your own, and then go to the article itself to read it and post comments, notes and ratings there as well.

The runners-up this month were Brian Mossop, Zen Faulkes and Brian Switek.

Previous winners:

March 2009: Ed Yong
April 2009: Eric Michael Johnson
May 2009: Christie Wilcox
June 2009: Iddo Friedberg
July 2009: Toaster Sunshine and Hermitage
August 2009: Bjoern Brembs
September 2009: Alun Salt
October 2009: Andrew Farke
November 2009: John Beetham
December 2009: SciCurious
January 2010: Anne-Marie Hodge
February 2010: Princess Ojiaku

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