Friday mystery object #141 answer


On Friday I was in rather a rush as I was involved in co-organising this year’s Natural Science Collections Association (or NatSCA) conference. It was a very enjoyable (if hectic) few days of natural history nerdery, but left me limited time to select an object from the FMO. I took my opportunity at the drinks reception at the Grant Museum of Zoology where I tried out the camera on my new phone to get an image of this specimen:

Now it was a fairly easy one to identify as the skull of these animals is very distinctive. Nonetheless, if you haven’t seen the skull of one of these animals before it is a bit of an oddity, with that spike in the face and the apparently strongly protruding maxilla and mandible (which is actually due to unusually elevated frontals).

As JakeJamie Revell, Lena, Carlos Grau spotted, this is the skull of a Tapir, more specifically a Malayan Tapir Tapirus indicus (Desmarest, 1819).

A Malayan Tapir in London Zoo. Photographed by Bluemoose in May 2005.

These animals are relatives of horses and rhinos, in the Order Perissodactyla. They live in the rainforests of Malaysia and Sumatra, feeding on vegetation and generally staying near water. They have a prehensile trunk, which is why they have such an unusual configuration of the frontal, maxillary and nasal bones.

These animals are now classed as endangered, as their habitat has been seriously compromised by deforestation and the animals themselves are killed by hunters. Perhaps the Tapir massacre scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey alluded to by Carlos contains more truth about our species than we might like…

4 thoughts on “Friday mystery object #141 answer

  1. A tapir! I know I’ve heard of these in the past but I’m not familiar enough with them that they would come to mind. Thanks Paulo. Also thank you Jamie Revell for trying to help me with your further clues; I still guessed wrong, but not for any fault of yours! I found it heartwarming that you helped. All of the FMO folks are smart, kind people. See you all this Friday. Meantime, all of you have a great week.

  2. Ironically, I didn’t even notice that spike on the forehead until afterwards, instead going “it sort of looks like a pig, but isn’t one, so what animal is almost like a pig?”.

  3. Pingback: Friday mystery object #258 answer | Zygoma

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