Friday mystery object #108 answer


On Friday I gave you this chunky object to identify:

It proved more of a challenge than I expected and I think that may be because I included a scale bar. Normally it’s the other way round – the scale bar helps rule out options based on size, but on this occasion it seems to have thrown a spanner in the works.

Clare P came close when she suggested a Pygmy Hippo and Jack Ashby, Matt King (sort of) and Styracosaurus Rider backed up that identification, but henstridgesj came closest with the suggestion of ‘Embryonic Hippo’.

This is actually the right front leg of a juvenile Hippo Hippopotamus amphibius Linnaeus, 1758. When I say juvenile, I mean it was a year and a half old when it died – hence the very small size.

The fact that the specimen comes from a juvenile was picked up on by several of you, since it clearly has unfused epiphyses – but it’s difficult to work out just how juvenile a specimen is from the fusion (or lack thereof) of just a few bones.

Hippos are impressive animals, weighing over a tonne when they’re teenagers and with males sometimes reaching 4.5 tonnes as mature adults (when they reach my age). Their large size, amphibious habits and territorial nature makes Hippos one of the most dangerous animals in Africa, but a Hippo of this size would be rather cuddly.

I think that the specimen I gave you came from a zoo-reared individual that died back in the early 1930s, although it will take a bit of research to verify that.

So well done to those of you who suspected Hippo and here’s a pointer for future identifications – if it’s small and the bones aren’t fused, don’t think about species size, unless the bones are too big to rule out a species. After all, everything with bones has grown from a juvenile that’s tiny.

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