Friday mystery object #267 answer

Last Friday I gave you this specimen to identify:

mystery267

It was a pretty distinctive one, but a great specimen – and a nice robust example of this particular species.

The partially ossified palate and nasolacrimal (or tear) duct on the external border of the orbit shows that this is a marsupial, and the pointy, robust teeth suggest that it’s highly carnivorous with a penchant for carion, which narrows down the options pretty effectively.

As many of you recognised, this is a Tasmanian Devil Sarcophilus harrisii (Boitard, 1841) – so well done to Tone Hitchcock, Chris, Cindy Nelson-Viljoen, Ric Morris, henstridgesj, palfreyman1414, Lauren McCafferty, joe vans, Daniel Jones and Daniel Calleri, Allen Hazen and Michelle for getting this one right. The key was definitely in those marsupial characters, which immediately ruled out any of the highly diverse placental carnivores.

Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, Taranna, Tasmania, Australia by JJ Harrison 2010.

As several of you alluded to, the Tasmanian Devil is undergoing a major decline in population at the moment, mainly due to a particulary nasty transmissible disease that causes tumours to develop on the face, preventing feeding. The tumours are spread between individuals when they bite each other, especially when feeding, which is pretty common Devilish behaviour.

In fact, Devils are pretty rough and tumble creatures in many of their behaviours. When breeding they have a large litter of up to 30 young, which have to compete for just 4 nipples in the pouch. Unsurprisingly, few of the litter survive and presumably those that do are pretty pushy.

Hopefully the Devils will survive their current population crash. There are some individuals who show some resistance to the facial tumour disease, which reflects the importance of genetic diversity within populations. It would be a great shame if the Devils went the same way as the other large marsupial carnivore, the Thylacine.

Friday mystery object #266 answer

Last week I gave you this distinctively weird looking skull to identify:

mystery266

As I suspected, many of you worked out what it was straight away, but I wonder if it would have been as easy if the side view hadn’t included the mandible?

The upper dentition, especially the pair of incisors, is somewhat similar to that of a rodent, but that mandible is ludicrously massive and could only really belong to the weirdest primate in the world: the Aye-aye Daubentonia madagascariensis É. Geoffroy, 1795

So very well done to Tone Hitchcockhenstridgesj, Chris, Cindy Nelson-Viljoen, Daniel Jones, steve tornaAgata Stachowiak, palfreyman1414, boneman2014Lee Post, joe vans, Allen Hazen, Dave Taylor, Michelle, witcharachne, and Daniel Calleri.

The Aye-aye’s incisors are an adaptation for gnawing holes in wood to get at grubs inside. It finds these tasty morsels using a tapping finger and crazy bat-like ears to detect the tunnels the larvae create when feeding, with a system a bit like seismic ground response analysis.

Aye-aye by Frank Vassen 2008

Aye-aye by Frank Vassen 2008

 

Once the squishy prey has been detected and an entry point has been gnawed, the Aye-aye fishes it out using a specially adapted long, thin finger with a hooked claw.

Aye-aye fingers by Dr. Mirko Junge 2009

Aye-aye fingers by Dr. Mirko Junge 2009

Basically, the Aye-aye feeds rather like a woodpecker, but with the benefit of fingers and teeth. Perhaps it’s weird, but it’s most definitely wonderful!Aye_aye

Friday mystery object #265 answer

Last week I gave you this lovely primate skull from the Grant Museum of Zoology to identify:

mystery265

When I first saw it I assumed it was a Macaque of some kind. It’s obviously in the Cercopithecidae (or an Old World Monkey) based on the number of premolars – 4 in the upper jaw instead of the 6 you’d get in a Platyrrhini (or New World Monkey). Macaques are common in collections and they have a similar overall appearance to this specimen.

However, I then noticed the particularly deep hollows under the eyesockets and the flaring of the maxilla where it meets the nasals, which is not a characteristic of Macaques.

Monkey_skull

It actually reminded me a bit of a toned down version of a Mandrill skull, so I started by looking at the phylogeny of primates to get an idea of which species were more closely related to the genus Mandrillus.

gr2

Primate phylogeny from Goodman et al. 2005. Trends in Genetics. 21(9):511–517

As you can see the Mandrills share a sister relationship with the genus Cercocebus, which are the White-eyelid Mangabeys, so that’s where I started looking. It turns out that these infraorbital depressions are a Mangabey feature, so I then looked at the various types of Mangabey (not just those in the genus Cercocebus).

It wasn’t easy finding specimens for comparison, but I did find a very useful (if a bit old) paper on Mangabeys by Groves (1978), which gave good descriptions of the various species, allowing me to rule out the Sooty Mangabey and narrow the likely species down to the Golden-bellied Mangabey or, my personal preference, the Agile Mangabey Cercocebus agilis (Milne-Edwards, 1886).

These monkeys have a shorter, relatively broader face than the more familiar Sooty Mangabey, with deeper and broader hollows under the orbits.

So well done to everyone who recognised that this skull belonged to an Old World Monkey, with particular congratulations to Cindy Nelson-Viljoen and palfreyman1414, who all came close in terms of taxonomy and a big round of applause for inkydigit who narrowed it down to the right genus!

More mysteries to come next week…

Friday mystery object #265

This week I have a specimen that I’ve been looking at recently that you might like to have a go at identifying:

Mystery monkey

Mystery monkey

This was being used in handling sessions and needed a tooth to be reattached (huzzah for Paraloid B72), but I noticed that it lacked an identification beyond ‘monkey’ and I thought that could be improved upon.

Here it is laid out more usefully for identification purposes:

mystery265I know what I’ve narrowed it down to, but I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

Friday mystery object #264 answer

Last week I gave you a tricky mystery object in the form of a dusty bag:

Bag o-bones

Of course, I’m not truly that mean, so I also provided a characteristic part of the specimen:

mystery264

Despite being a bit broken, it’s fairly clearly the mandible of a felid, given the shape of that one molar and the limited sockets for the missing premolars, suggesting something with a very reduced tooth count – something that most of you spotted straight away.

The size is a bit small for a Tiger or Lion, it’s a bit big for a Puma or Cheetah and it’s not quite as robust as I’d expect from a Jaguar, leaving us with the likely identification of Leopard Panthera pardus (Linnaeus, 1758). So well done to joe vans and palreyman1414 for ‘spotting’ what it was (terribly pun, I know).

Here’s a nice Leopard skull from the Grant Museum of Zoology collections to give a sense of scale.

leopard

More mystery objects to come from the Grant next week, but if you’d like to see another specimen from the collection, my latest specimen of the week, that looks at the darker side of the Walrus might be of interest.