Friday mystery object #69 answer


On Friday I gave you an odd-looking skull to identify:

The fact it’s so odd-looking made it a pretty easy one to identify for most of you, with Cromercrox being the first to get the general identification, citing the very distinctive teeth as the characteristic that gave it away and Dave Godfrey getting the identification to species level.

It’s a Malayan Flying Lemur or Colugo Galeopterus variegatus Thomas, 1908. As Jack Ashby pointed out, it’s odd that it should be called a Flying Lemur when it can’t fly and it isn’t a Lemur, although I suppose we have to grant some leeway, given that it glides very well (regularly covering over 100m in a glide) and its relationship to the other mammals is not well agreed upon, although it’s seems to have affinities with the tree-shrews, bats and primates (including Lemurs).

Flying Lemur upper incisorsThe teeth are decidedly weird – this photo only shows the upper incisors clearly, but the lower incisors are just like combs. What this strange tooth shape is for is a bit of a mystery. Some researchers have suggested that they would be used in grooming, but others have observed the behaviour of these animals and have not seen the incisors being used in this way. If not for grooming, it seems likely that the teeth serve a role in feeding on leaves – which makes sense to me, since they have a functional shape similar to the  teeth of iguanas, which have a similar diet.

Colugos are generally a bit strange all over, with their graceless but effective climbing ability, their huge folds of skin stretching between fingers, toes and tail on either side of the body, their big bulging eyes and their marsupial-like reproduction (i.e. very poorly developed young that emerge early and are carried around by the mother as they develop). Despite being weird, they are also awesome.

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