Friday mystery object #114 answer


Apologies for the rather late answer to last Friday’s mystery object – it’s been a hectic few days!

I asked you to identify this skull

which you managed to do very quickly.

The first suggestion of a Vulture by Rosa Rubicondior was along completely the right lines, while KK and Steven D. Garber, PhD suggested a Turkey Vulture – which isn’t quite right, but it’s in the same genus – Cathartes.

From there, Julie Doyle and Jake managed to get the correct species identification of  Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture Cathartes burrovianus Cassin, 1845.

These close relatives of the Turkey Vulture and the Greater Yellow-headed Vulture are native to Central and South America, where they feed on fresh carrion.

Unlike most birds, the Cathartes Vultures have a very good sense of smell, which they use to detect the gasses produced during the early stages of decay.

Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture at Amsterdam Zoo, Nethelands by Arjan Haverkamp

Although they can find food, they don’t really have a powerful enough bills to open up larger carcasses, so they end up having to wait for bigger Vultures to come and get things started. So bigger Vulture species follow the Cathartes and get the first pick of the food, but at least they open up the buffet for the smaller birds. Now that’s team work.

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