Friday mystery object #353 answer

Last week I gave you this mystery mandible from a cabinet in my office, that I discovered while clearing things out:

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I was a hotly debated mystery, with some very interesting discussions in the comments between salliereynolds, Allen Hazen and palfreyman1414. This narrowed the identification down from carnivore, to mustelid, to otter, to a final suggestion of European Otter Lutra lutra (Linnaeus, 1758) by Allen Hazen.

European Otter by Bernard Landgraf

European Otter by Bernard Landgraf

This was the same conclusion that I’d reached and it’s always nice to get a second independent opinion that agrees. I’ve seen quite a few otter jaws (in fact I’ve had two otter mandibles as previous mystery object – one was from an Asian Short-clawed Otter and the other from the same species as this one).

This now gives me what I need to go looking to see if there’s a European Otter cranium that’s missing a mandible, so I can see if this one fits. That still might be a bit of glass-slipper type situation, as we have quite a few European Otters in the collection. Ireland is a bit of an otter stronghold and I’ve even found one dead in the road right in Dublin, near one of the canals and less than a mile from the Museum.

Sadly I’ve not yet seen a live one in the wild, and even when they are around they tend to keep a low profile and are normally only known because of their distinctively fishy spraints left in visible locations.

On that slightly fishy note I will leave you until next week!

Friday mystery object #353

I’m currently in the process of moving office, which means sorting through the cupboards and drawers of my predecessors, to try to impose some kind of order on my workspace. If you want an idea of what my office looked like, there’s a lovely video that artist Vicky McGarry did that gives a pretty good idea. In it I also mention something interesting that I found in an office drawer in a different museum I used to work at…

Now I’m moving on up (literally, another couple of flights of stairs) into a more suitable space with an office area and a separate space for working with collections.

While emptying my current office I’ve found all sorts of wonderful things, ranging from a magical* pocket sundial, to a wide variety of specimens.

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Here’s one of the specimens that was in a cupboard, with no label or associated information, that could use an identification:

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Mystery mandible with a snazzy NatSCA scale bar

Any idea what this separated mandible belonged to?

All suggestions welcome – I have my theories, but I’d be delighted to hear yours. Have fun!

 

*Not actually magical

Friday mystery object #352 answer

Last week I gave you this bird to have a go at identifying:

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I thought that some of you would find it quite easy and I wasn’t wrong, although it’s not quite as straightforward as I thought.

Our regular ornithology expert Wouter van Gestel was straight in with an interesting answer that highlights some of the idiosyncrasies of museum specimens, where the colour of features like bills and legs can fade after death. This can make identifications tricky, since colour can play an important role in distinguishing between species in the same genus. In addition, the maturity of the animal can also complicate identifications, since juveniles can have different colours and markings to adults.

That makes this specimen doubly hard to identify and jennifermacaire pointed out an additional idiosyncrasy – the glass eye used by the taxidermist. The choice of eye is an important one, since eyes play an important role in making something look as it did when it was alive. In this case I think they used an eye that was too large with too much iris showing.

Both Wouter and Jennifer identified this as a Tropicbird, and both thought it was the White-tailed species. However, according to the Museum database the specimen is a young Red-billed Tropicbird Phaeton aethereus Linnaeus, 1758.

Red-billed tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus mesonauta) with chick, Little Tobago by Charles J Sharp, 2014

Red-billed tropicbird with chick – note the yellow bill on the chick. Image by Charles J Sharp, 2014

Now I’m going to check the identification again, since it isn’t unusual for specimens to be misidentified. This is a problem in museums, since specimens come from all sorts of sources and not all of them are necessarily expert.

I recently had to check the identification of a couple of Tern specimens from Jamaica for an enquiry. If the specimens had been the species they were originally recorded as, it would have been the only record of the species on Jamaica and it may have hinted at a lost population. In the end it was a simple misidentification of a common species.

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This is part of the reason why specimens in museums are so important – they provide a primary record that can be checked to ensure information about biodiversity is correct, so we can understand things like changes in population distribution with confidence.

Friday mystery object #351 answer

 

Last week I gave you this unusual object to have a go at identifying:

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There were a variety of clues and suggestions (some beyond my ken) but they tended towards identifying this as the nest of a Tailorbird. In fact salliereynolds even provided a video of the Common Tailorbird in action:

This was pretty darn close (excuse the pun), but the nest structure isn’t quite what I would expect from a true Tailorbird in the genus Orthotomus, plus I had a bit of extra information on a secondary label suggesting that this nest is from Sierra Leone (although the quality of the handwriting on the primary label made it indecipherable, so I’m not sure if it mentions the species or something else entirely):

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It’s worth noting that most of the true Tailorbirds are in Asia (mainly the Philippines), but in Africa there are some closely related birds that build similar nests that are a little more similar to the mystery object. A birds in the genus Cisticola is the most likely culprit in Sierra Leone, and I’ve seen Red-faced Cisticola Cisticola erythrops (Hartlaub, 1857) nests that match the structure, leaf selection and construction technique used here, so I think it will be something along those lines, but I simply can’t be sure.

This is a great example of why good, clear handwriting is really important in a museum setting. A bit of time spent with examples of Capt. H. W. Long’s writing might help decipher the original note, assuming such examples exist. Or, it may be that there’s a talented palaeographer who can read the original  note – if you have any thoughts your suggestions would be welcome!