Friday mystery object #245 answer

Last Friday I gave you this guest mystery object from Dr Nick Crumpton at the NHM:
mystery245
Here’s what Nick had to say about it:
So when I first picked it up I thought – embarrassingly now – that perhaps it was something a bit pinniped-like but then the teeth didn’t match that idea at all so I reverted to thinking it was a bit more doggy.
Irritatingly, it was a juvenile so that scuppered size-based guesses, and ruled out taking too much information from the posterior, mandibular teeth. Also, the skull was darn cute, with a shorter snout than an adult would possess.
I had a couple of ideas from looking at the width of the zygomatic arches, but that lack of a parasagittal crest got me all twisted around. And time was tight for what we needed it for!
My esteemed colleague Mr Garrod was the first to push me in the direction of a wolverine, but I’ll leave it to Paolo to show how he managed to ID the little critter and save the day – although it looks like a bunch of people on here already managed that! Love the bone-banter. :D
We’ve discussed in the past how the skulls of juvenile animals can be misleading and for this species a number of the features you would immediately recognise in the adult are absent in this juvenile. Therefore I’m not that surprised the suggestions in included Arctic Fox, Sea Otter, Common Seal and Spectacled Bear, in addition to the possibility of Wolverine.
Wolverine cranium

Wolverine cranium for comparison

Despite the juvenile dentition, the blade-like molar and 3rd premolar, and robust second molar were indicative of a carnivore with a specialisation for eating bone and the breadth across the zygomatic arches indicated something with a powerful bite force.
Wolverine dentition is remarkably robust, since they often scavenge bone and in the winter they need to feed on meat that has frozen solid. They have a wide skull (see above), but the relatively large upper molar is at right angles to the 4th premolar, which has a cleft that the 3rd premolar nestles into.
This is rather different to the much straighter dentition of the mystery animal, which is distinctly more cat-like, albeit with too many teeth. That narrows it down to one of the Hyenas. From there it becomes a bit more difficult and the fact it’s a juvenile throws a bit of a spanner in the works, but if pushed I’d probably opt for Spotted Hyaena Crocuta crocuta (Erxleben, 1777).
So well done to Chris, Lena, palfreyman1414, Allen Hazen and henstridgesj who all came to the same conclusion.
Finally, a big ‘thank you!’ to Nick for posing a decent challenge!

Friday mystery object #245

This week I have a guest mystery object for you from Dr Nick Crumpton at the NHM.

Hello Zygoma fans. Nick Crumpton here from across the way at the Natural History Museum in South Ken.

Well, this fellow completely stumped me for a few hours this week on finding it in our teaching collection:

mystery245

Until, that is, I called on the always helpful advice of Mr Viscardi (OK, and a certain Mr Garrod too…)

I’d love to see whether anyone can work out what it is, and how they figured it out!

You can leave your suggestions and thoughts in the comments section below – enjoy!

Friday mystery object #244 answer

Last week i gave you this colourful specimen to identify:

mystery244

As I suspected, some of the keen birders out there were straight on the case and GrrlScientist (unsurprisingly to me) immediately knew the species and an awful lot about its taxonomy, offering helpful hints and clues to other commentators.

After some discussion it became clear that this is a Finch and one of the Neotropical varieties at that. The bright yellow belly, emerald green head, throat, chest and wing, brilliant blue nape, back and eye ring all suggest that this is a male Blue-naped Chlorophonia Chlorophonia cyanea longipennis (Du Bus, 1855) from Peru.

There are other subspecies of Blue-naped Chlorophonia, but they have some slight differences in appearance, such as a yellow forehead, yellow tinged crown or green feathers in the mantle.

Here’s one of the little chaps in action:

So a big well done to everyone who managed to work it out!

Friday mystery object #244

This week I thought I’d give you a beautiful bird skin from the Horniman collections to have a go at identifying:

mystery244

Any idea what this colourful critter might be?

You can leave your suggestions in the comments box below – but please try to be cryptic if you find it easy, so other people get a chance to work it out themselves. Enjoy!

Friday mystery object #243 answer

Last week I gave you this nightmarish looking mystery object to identify:

mystery243

There were lots of great suggestions about what it might be, with most of you in the right area of the animal kingdom with a legless critter in mind. In particular a fairly primitive type, with aglyphous or ‘groove-less’ teeth (as opposed to snakes characterised by having opsithoglyphous or ‘backward grooved’, proteroglyphous or ‘forward grooved’ and solenglyphous or ‘pipe grooved’ teeth).

There were several suggestions of Boa constrictor – specifically the right maxilla (upper jaw), but they have a straighter top to the maxilla and a differently shaped process that connects with the frontal and ectopterygoid bones (check out Udo Savalli’s snake skull anatomy page to see what those terms mean).

Anaconda was also suggested, but the anterior (front) part of  the maxilla is not squared off enough.

Nicola Newton, rachel and Alex Kleine all suggested Python, which is what I think it is. I’m not certain of the species, but it’s definitely a big one – I’m leaning towards the Reticulated Python Python reticulatus (Schneider, 1801).

Just to give you a better idea of which bone it is, here it is compared to the skull of another large Python skull from the Horniman’s collection:

mystery243b

and to give a better sense of scale, here it is with my (fairly large) hand for comparison:

mystery243a

My very rough estimate of the length of the animal, based on other skeletal material I’ve seen, is around 5m – that’s one snake I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of!

Friday mystery object #242 answer

A very Happy New Year to everyone!

Last week (and indeed last year) I gave you this box of bones and one non-bony object, dug up on the Isle of Sheppey to identify:

mystery242a

Everyone correctly spotted that the bones were canid (and by everyone I mean Ric Morris, witcharachne, Jake, Paleotool, Allen Hazen and Sam Misan), either Dog or possibly Fox, as suggested by Sam Misan.

The length of the bones would fit both Dog and Fox, but they’re a bit too robust for Fox – here’s a comparison of a radius from the box and a Fox:

mystery242d

So we have a Dog in the box, but the non-bony object has posed more of a challenge:

mystery242b

mystery242bb

The initial thought was that it might be a musket ball, but it’s rather on the big side for that – more like a small cannon ball or piece of grapeshot.

The material its made of may provide a clue as to what it is. It’s not magnetic and there’s no red coloured oxidisation on the surface, so it’s not iron. It doesn’t have any casting marks, it’s too hard to be lead and although it’s dense, it doesn’t seem to be metal.

To my mind it seems likely to be a naturally formed mineral concretion. It could be a phosphatic nodule, pyrite or marcasite (they contain iron, but they’re not magnetic) or maybe a quartz mineral, like flint (which is what I’m leaning towards).

This may be naturally occurring in the area, but if the materials were collected together it seems likely that the ball had been used by someone for something. The possibility I’m inclined to go for is as ammunition for a sling.

All a bit speculative I’m afraid, but that’s how the game sometimes works out. Thanks to everyone for your input!