Friday mystery object #47 answer

On Friday I gave you what I consider to be a rather interesting mystery object:

I must apologise for my tardy responses to the excellent questions asked, on Friday I was at a fascinating conference about using DNA from natural history collections for research, hosted by the NHM, and I didn’t get an opportunity to address the questions until quite late.

The questions were astute from the outset, with Bob O’H asking if it was a bird – no doubt inspired by the lightweight structure of the bone. SmallCasserole suggested that it was the sectioned skull of a Cassowary, based on the presence of the bony crest (or more accurately the casque) – an opinion that was widely supported. However, Dave Godfrey raised the possibility that this skull belonged to a hornbill, a suggestion that Neil developed to arrive at the correct genus with David Craven delivered the coup de grace with the correct species identification of Bucorvus abyssinicus (Boddaert, 1783) or the Northern Ground-hornbill.

Here is what the specimen looks like when the parts are put back together:

Bucorvus abyssinicus (Boddaert, 1783) sectioned skull - internalBucorvus abyssinicus (Boddaert, 1783) sectioned skull - external

These Ground-hornbills don’t really use their casque for butting in the same way that Cassowaries and some other species of hornbills do. Instead they use the airy cancellous bony structure of the casque as a resonating chamber to amplify booming duets performed by males and females. In species which do use the casques for butting the bone is more dense and layered. These guys are singers more than fighters.

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