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The tree of life

Discussion in 'Fantasy Zoos' started by Zygodactyl, 3 Jun 2016.

  1. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    In Deerfield, Massachusetts, near where I grew up, there was a roadside attraction called Dr. Spooky's Animal Museum. Unlike most of the roadside attractions on 5&10, some of which are inexplicably obdurate, this one lasted for under a decade, and I only visited it once during that period. The name and exterior made it look like a haunted house; I imagine most people driving past had no idea what was inside.

    It was the creation of an eccentric man who liked making dinosaur sculptures (his mother manned the ticket booth when I visited), who decided he was going to make a zoo (a very small, indoor zoo), which he claimed would be like no other in the world. You see, while other zoos organize themselves on the grounds of geography and habitat, he was going to organize his exhibit on the basis of taxonomy.

    His understanding of taxonomy was, to put it generously, outdated. As I recall, he believed that was that there are ten major groups of animals in the world: mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, arachinids, crustaceans, molluscs, and "worms". I recall distinctly that he divided the phylum Chordata among five groups (two of which were very polyphyletic) and grouped several phyla of worms into one group.

    He had indoor exhibits representing all of these animals, as well as his sculptures of dinosaurs (and I think dinosaur bones) and a special room where you could "see a primate" which contained a mirror. It certainly wasn't good, and it wasn't "so bad it's good," it was simply weird. My friends and I left with the impression that we were glad we had seen it but had no need to return for our own edification. Later, when I tried to take visitors from out of the area there and realized it was closed, I felt a pang of disappointment.

    However when I started trying to design my own fantasy zoo, I realized that Dr. Spooky's scientifically inaccurate roadside attraction may actually have influenced my thinking. The zoo I designed took the shape of the tree of life, with the entrance welcoming visitors to the phylum Chordata. Beside the entrance is a colorful "you are here sign" in which Chordata's location and minimal size among all life is highlighted. Inside the gate, paths representing each of the Orders in Chordata lead to an aquarium. Some are single exhibits on the outside wall. Another path leads to an small room with cartiligenous fish. Another path leads into the building itself, and bony fish.

    On the other side of the road sat the amphibian house. Then came the entrance to the turtle house, which would be shaped like a giant box turtle, with glass where the scutes were. A pond with sea turtles occupied the center (if sea turtles can't fit in the space a sandbox with giant tortoises takes its place), and other exhibits around the edges.

    The road then forks, with mammals leading off to one side and reptiles to the other. Lepidosaurians are housed in another reptile house. The path we follow plots the fate of the archosaurs, with two paths wandering through a garden of colored resin statues and stained glass to depict the rise of the crocodilians and the birds (including a small side nook for pterosaurs. The living crocodilians sit against the outside fence of the zoo. The bird path branches to a variety of exhbits, including walk-in aviaries for specific taxa, such as cockatoos and lorikeets, and possibly one giant aviary for songbirds.

    Meanwhile, on the mammal path, we follow colored statues featuring the development of synapsids into mammals. When we read the branching of the monotremes, we see bronze statues for the echidna and playtpus, though we might hope that someday hubsandry improvements will allow them to be kept outside of Australia, and new enclosures erected. (Bronze statues represent important clades of living species not present or animals that died in the Quaternary extinction events, resin statues represent animals extinct before the Quaternary extinction events and stained glass represent extinct animals from any period.)

    The marsupials branch off, then branch into Austrodelphia and Didelphia. We attempt to have at lease one representative of every order of marsupial present save marsupia moles, which spend too much time underground for visitors to see them. Back on the other path, we come to a three way fork representing the great placental clades of Xenarthra, Afrotheria, and Boreoeutheria. And so the branching goes, down to the species level.

    The idea of the zoo is to be rather maze-like, full of dead ends to explore, with the main path clearly marked in colorful cobblestone arrows. Paths with stepping stones on dirt provide shortcuts between branches, but are unmarked. But even with those shortcuts, I could imagine my fantasy taxonomic zoo would be frustrating.

    Moreover, whenever I would try to diagram this zoo I would get frustrated with the layout. I don't know if Dr. Spooky is correct that no zoo has been laid out on a taxonomic basis, but if he is, trying to fit representative species neatly and without wasting space is a challenge. The fact that a geographic organization highlights ecological relationships while a taxonomic one obscures them would be another reason not to lay a zoo out in this way.

    Still, I have a mental image of this glorious taxonomically-based zoo in my head. Does anyone know if similar zoos exist? Presumably without the gardens of statues and stained glass, of course. (That's likely at least partially another influence from Dr. Spooky, though his statues were all foam resin, I believe, a material unsuitable for the outdoors.) But are there any zoos which organize their exhibits by taxonomy? I would expect not, which is why I put this in Fantasy Zoos, but I figured I would ask.
     
  2. Dassie rat

    Dassie rat Well-Known Member

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    I like this idea, Zygodactyl and I can see it being arranged as a labyrinth, with lots of cul-de-sacs for species representing evolutionary dead-ends. The nearest I've seen were the entrance to Drusilla's, which had examples of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. The BUGS building at London Zoo has a big display listing different animal phyla. There are several phyla that I've never seen in a zoo and it would make a nice change to see some representatives.
     
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  3. TheMightyOrca

    TheMightyOrca Well-Known Member

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    That's a pretty cool idea!
     
  4. Giant Panda

    Giant Panda Well-Known Member

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    I'm not sure what degree of pedantry is acceptable on this site, but only three of these are taxonomic groups. That's my main problem with these exhibits: their supporters seem unconcerned by the message a pachyderm, monkey or reptile house gives out.

    Fun idea for a zoo, though.
     
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  5. Dassie rat

    Dassie rat Well-Known Member

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    Hello Giant Panda

    Animal classification is very complicated and some animals can be classified in more than one group. It would be difficult to create a zoo based purely on classification, due to different ideas, unless it were prefabricated, so it could be adjusted to account for change.

    I agree with you about the classification at Drusillas, but there are not many books that restrict themselves to monophyletic classifications (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraphyly). For example, 'fishes' cover several groups, including hagfish, which are not vertebrates. Reptiles and amphibians are often classified together, even though reptiles are amniotes, as are mammals and birds. Also, birds are a group of reptiles, but are usually classified separately and I doubt if a new classification-based zoo would place birds in the Reptile House.
     
  6. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member

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    I saw similar thing in a museum in Warsaw, Poland, years ago.

    The museum had a hall themed "evolution in seas". So the corridor started with symbolic start of life, and then along the wall pipes and lines branched off, with names, how different groups of living things separated. Some lines cut short, as the group was extinct, some got broader, some thinner, some merged together, like algae and fungi formed lichens. Some went up the roof, when a group went into land life. Along the way there were dioramas and specimens ammonites etc. And some pipes went into halls, where there were displays of different groups: algae, molluscs, arthropods, fish etc.
     
  7. Giant Panda

    Giant Panda Well-Known Member

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    Hi Dassie Rat, and thanks for the response. Apologies in advance for the poor writing in this post, but ZooChat isn't especially phone-friendly.

    Of course there are many ways to classify organisms, but phylogenetic relationships are the only consistent, non-arbitrary method. They are also universally recognised.

    Presenting paraphyletic groupings to the public (or polyphyletic in the pachyderm case) is inherently misleading. It reinforces the notion that reptiles, for instance, should be regarded as monophyletic, rather than non-avian, non-mammalian amniotes. In my eyes, that makes a reptile house (or herptile house, or reptile/amphibian/invertebrate/any other nasties house) as equally contrary to the educational mission of zoos as San Diego's famous caracal in the tundra.

    There are obviously problems with such a fundamentalist viewpoint. From a husbandry perspective, it makes sense to group reptiles together, and the current explosion in genetic/genomic data puts classification in a state of flux. However, most of the taxa I mentioned haven't been considered clades for decades. I don't understand why this doesn't earn the same ire as incorrect biogeographic groupings, which are also typically for the sake of convenience. Blinkered nostalgia, perhaps?

    In fact, had the recently constructed reptile houses at Fort Worth, Los Angeles and Atlanta instead been sauropsid houses (possibly with a jazzier name), they would have been genuinely innovative, informative and interesting. Plus, they could've included dinosaurs, and who doesn't love them?
     
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  8. SealPup

    SealPup Well-Known Member

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    In practice both taxonomic and geographical zoo layouts end up flexible. Correct husbandry is best and on those grounds things like Reptile and Pachyderm houses make sense.