I was struck by the cat-like dentition and general shape, but as many of you worked out, that’s no cat.
It is in fact a specimen of a Fossa Cryptoprocta ferox Bennett, 1833, as correctly identified by Charne, Manabu Sakamoto, Nigel Monaghan, SMerjeevski – good skills!
Fossa by Ran Kirlian
This carnivore is endemic to Madagascar and is the foremost natural predator of lemurs. They are well adapted to climbing in order to catch their tree-dwelling main course, with rotating ankles a bit like a Margay.
Madagascar is an amazing place for biology. It separated from Africa around 20 million years ago and has had its own unique wildlife evolving there ever since. This means that the familiar cats that fill niches in (relatively) nearby Africa are missing, since they didn’t really exist when Madagascar started drifting off. The Fossa fills that catty niche.
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:
and to give a better sense of scale, here it is with my (fairly large) hand for comparison:
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!
Recently I’ve been working through boxes of mixed archaeological bone and bone fragments. So here’s one of the objects I had to identify as part of that process:
Any idea what it might be?
As usual you can put your observations, suggestions and questions in the comments box below. If you find it easy, please try to use a cryptic clue so other people get a chance to get involved. Have fun!
Last Friday I gave you a variety of mandibles to have a go at identifying. They lacked a scale bar and represented a range of different species that have similarities in mandible shape.
There were some great cryptic suggestions of identities, but it must be said that Jake came through with a really clear and pretty much spot-on list of suggestions. So here are the answers in a handy form that might be useful for reference:
The Sheep and Cow have a distinctive upward inflexion at the end of the mandible, with the Cow’s being so strong that the incisors start above the level of the top of the molar tooth row – unlike the Sheep’s.
This inflexion is much less marked in the Red Deer, which has a narrower body of the mandible, presumably relating to the less intensive chewing of a browser compared to grazers (grass is tough stuff). The Deer also has a notch along the bottom of the jaw, which Jake pointed out as a useful feature.
The Pig mandible tapers less overall, but is thicker at the end with the articulation – presumably because the omnivorous Pig is chewing differently, using the temporal muscles more than the masseter muscles and therefore needing a different area of the jaw for muscle attachment. The teeth are also pretty distinctive. Like the Pig, the Donkey mandible lacks the long and hooked coronoid process, but is also very triangular in shape with quite squared teeth – features typical of an equid.
So hopefully that gives you some pointers for telling some common herbivore mandibles apart when you don’t have a scale bar – a more common problem for some of us than you might think…