Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a lovely festive period.
I gave you this distinctive specimen from the Grant Museum of Zoology to try your hand at identifying:
Despite being distinctive, it raised some discussion about the identification, because there are few resources available for comparison.
Phil Cox was the first to get the right Family (at least in the comments – @MelanieGbones got it on Twitter) – the Chrysochloridae or Golden Moles. Then the discussion got a bit more involved as species were discussed and the possibility of the convergent Marsupial Moles was considered.
There are 21 species of Golden Mole, all of which occur in southern Africa, which could have made this a very difficult identification to species, if it wasn’t for the large size of the skull and the very characteristic large and vertically-posteriorly flaring zygomatic arch that continues round to near the back of the skull. This narrows it down to one of two species in the genus Crysospalax.
The extent of this feature in this specimen, plus the shape of the palate, suggest to me that this particular specimen is from the Giant Golden Mole Chrysospalax trevelyani (Günther, 1875).
The Giant Golden Mole spends more time foraging above ground than the other Golden Moles. The reason for the weirdly enlarged zygomatic arch is not currently understood, but I wonder if it might play a role in improving transmission of sound, given the relationship with the bones around the ear.
This would make a degree of sense, since the Golden Moles have incredibly poor eyesight and lack external auditory pinna (earlobes), so the Giant Golden Mole may have utilised an osteological adaptation to improve their ability to listen out for predators and prey when foraging on the surface. Pure speculation, but perhaps worth looking in to?
Have a wonderful 2016 – may there be many more mystery objects to keep you occupied throughout the year!