Madison Erin Mayfield

Blog

I'm a Published Scientific Illustrator?

Let me just start by saying that I never really expected to have one of my illustrations published in a scientific paper. I know that sounds silly, seeing as I do represent myself as a Scientific Illustrator, but part of me had lost hope for the academic realm of illustration and settled for more abstract wildlife art. That's why the surprise of finding out that one of my illustrations had been published in the Journal of Mammalogy to help describe the holotype of a new rodent species discovered on the Solomon Islands was the greatest moment of my career thus far.

 
 My Vangunu Rodent tail illustration as featured in the publication in the Journal of Mammalogy.

My Vangunu Rodent tail illustration as featured in the publication in the Journal of Mammalogy.

 

Back in January of this year, I reached out to Heather, the curator of the mammalogy collection at the Queensland Museum. She introduced me to Tyrone Lavery, who just happened to be at the museum that day before heading off to start his research at The Field Museum in Chicago. He told me about the work he was doing on a potentially new rodent species in the Solomon Islands. He showed me photos of a little critter they had just captured, looking terrified in a mesh bag. While the photos were incredible, they were also the perfect example of why Scientific Illustrators exist. Two of the defining features of the species were its foot pads and it's scaled tail, but of course these features were muddled up and a bit lost in the photos. Tyrone asked me to illustrate the hind-foot and the tail of the rodent so that he could use it to help describe the species. He did so without having ever seen any of my work before and of course I was so eager to be a part of a new discovery that I got to work immediately to create these two bad boys...

 A representation of the tail and unique scales of the Vangunu Rodent.

A representation of the tail and unique scales of the Vangunu Rodent.

 A representation of the hind-foot of the Vangunu Rodent. 

A representation of the hind-foot of the Vangunu Rodent. 

Unfortunately, my illustration of the rodent's hind-foot ultimately was not used in the publication (likely due to circumstantial situations and difficulty communicating internationally via email). I'm still very proud of it none the less and am comforted in the fact that it is still extremely similar to the illustration that was used in its place. I'm still so incredibly honored to have my tail illustration be a part of this holotype description! It's not every day that a new mammal species is described, in fact it's extremely rare. I still don't think that it will ever really sink in that the critter I helped to describe with my illustrations has so far been featured on major news outlets like the BBC, the New York Times, National Geographic and then some. It's a massive achievement for Tyrone, one that very few people get to experience. I can't even begin to thank him enough for using even one of my illustrations when he didn't have to use any at all. Plus, it's a massive discovery for the world! To capture the excitement of the public with a new mammal species and stress the critical nature of its survival and the importance of its conservation is something that we all desperately needed. Sometimes it's nice to see science take the place of daily Trump tweets, massive natural disasters or threats from North Korea. We often forget that while we go about our daily lives, there are thousands of other creatures out there trying to survive too. What we do on a daily basis impacts them and we have a responsibility to act as responsible stewards on this planet. Conservation should really be the main take away form this incredible news. While Tyrone has made a massive discovery, the Vangunu Rodent is already critically endangered. It may be gone before we even have the chance to really know it, and that would an incredible loss. 

Tyrone currently has a crowd funding project under way to aid in the conservation of the Giant Vangunu Rodent and its habitat. If you wish to contribute, simply visit his page The Rat, The Bat and the Turtle to make a donation!

If you're interested in reading the publication and description of the new species, Uromys vika, you can find it here. I've already read it several times! If you would like to contact me about scientific illustration inquiries for work, feel free to email me at mayfieldillustration@gmail.com or use my contact form on the Contact page of my website.

Madison MayfieldComment