Friday mystery object #300

Another milestone for the Friday mystery object – the 300th I’ve shared since it started in July 2009. That means I’ve posted either an object or answer every single Friday for almost 8 years.

The FMO has allowed me to share collections from three fantastic museums: the Horniman, the Grant and now, Dublin’s Dead Zoo – plus a few more random objects ranging from beach finds to pub chairs. It’s also helped bring together a community of people with a shared interest, which is the main reason I’ve kept the blog running for so long. In particular a blog post by Jake McGowan-Lowe about what he’s learned from Zygoma (written 100 objects ago now) makes me feel that the time I put into blogging is totally worthwhile.

This week’s object is an acquisition that’s been waiting for a while to be curated, since the Dead Zoo had been without a Zoology Curator for five years, before I started in December.

The specimen appeared on my desk wrapped up like a gift:

and of course, given my love of bones it was the best gift I could have hoped for – an unidentified skeleton:

mystery_gift_3 - Edited

I got out the Paraloid B-72 (an adhesive we use in museums) to secure in place the loose teeth and detached epiphyses (they’re the ends of the long bones that haven’t fused on to the main shaft of the bone because the animal was young) and I put the specimen in a more appropriate box, but not before taking some photos of the skull to help with the identification:


Do you have any thoughts on which species this skull might have come from? I have my suspicions, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

As usual you can put your observations, questions and suggestions in the comments below. I hope you have fun with this one!


25 thoughts on “Friday mystery object #300

  1. This is the first FMO for a while that I’ve felt sufficiently well informed to comment about. In Shropshire dialect a ‘man’ is a ‘monner’ or ‘mon’. I think that’s a good place to start. Add a large white farmyard bird; a tale of a plucky little mammal who fights bravely and whose given name is an extended version of my own, though never achieving the same fame as Below, for instance. Garnish the answer with a legend of a western European medieval Saint who also allegedly had a downer on reptiles.

    • Wow.

      I had got to the stage of ruling out marsupials and monotremes. And going for one of the carnivora.

      But utterly loved your Kipling references.

      Now to decide:

      If you’re right (which you probably are but aren’t we supposed to be scientific and test it ourselves?);

      To try to figure out which particular species this is; and

      Work out why I seem so disturbed by that femur.


  2. poor chap’s missing at least half a fore limb and half a pelvis… is that an evolutionary and celebratory nod to the lack of snakes of irish ancestry?

    also what is the relatively larger single bone in the top left of the collection? not serpentine to be his prey, but must be another skeleton in the closet.

    congrats on 300 and eight years, job very well done!

    • Thanks Joe!

      The larger bone definitely doesn’t belong to the same animal – not sure how straightforward that will be to identify since both ends are missing, very tricky from a photo.

  3. After looking at the teeth, I’m throwing in a wild guess here and I think it may be another name for a yummy dish: In culinary terms, it’s a French dish made of small game, cooked with wine. It’s a large family, but I’d say this particular one has the name of a flower – (again, in French) – that make great brooms!

  4. I second Henstridgesj’congratulations!
    As for what it is… I’m nowhere near as definite as Ric Morris or Jennifer Macaire. I’m pretty sure it’s a Carnivoran (we’ve had previous lessons on how to spot marsupials!). And, going by the configuration of the carnassial and post-carnassial teeth, a fairly carnivorous one. It doesn’t LOOK to me like either a felid or a canid, so we’re getting into civet/mustelid territory. I wish I knew how to distinguish Feliform and Caniform auditory bullae: RM and JM have gone catty, and I’d love to be able to confirm or refute their judgment on this! … There seems to be sort of a groove running diagonally across the surface of the right bulla: is this a clue?
    (Sorry , don’t think of any puns to put in!)

    • The split auditory bulla is a clue! It’s something I associate with viverridae; not positive if it occurs in other feliforms…
      Either way looks like something I would call a weasel cat

    • I kind of see it… But I’m pretty sure this isn’t a fisher or mustelid of any kind. Like you said the auditory bullae are the wrong shape, the back of the skull should be more round to triangular than square, and the number of post-canines on a fisher is 5, not 6, the last one being a distinct rectangular shape. Also neat identifying thing on fishers is that part of the tooth root is exposed on the carnassial.

  5. Congratulations Paolo!! We’ve enjoyed all our time on your blog and the look our students give us when we barge into each other’s rooms with some new idea as to the identity of the ‘bone of the week’. In fact, they just got through making a phylogeny using only skulls! You and your work have inspired us time and again! Thank you for the work you put into it all!

    As for the specimen…are we to assume that the skull goes with the other bones? My what long legs you have….

    Further research is required.

    • That’s awesome! It’s great to hear that the blog is getting used – it makes it all feel worthwhile when you hear that people get some sort of benefit. I’d love to see the outcome of the skull-based phylogeny!

      As for the specimen, the skull belongs, but there is one stray bone in there that most certainly does not belong to the specimen (except perhaps in an acquisitive way).

  6. Thanks, Rebecca, for the comment on dental formula! It takes a bit of looking (on my low-resolution computer monitor), but there IS a second molar (on the right side — both left molars are missing). It’s tiny (vestigial?), but it is there.
    So we are looking at an animal with an (upper jaw) dental formula of 3-1-4-2. This is apparently standard for Viverrids (and Procyonids, but I don’t think this is a ‘coon), but I think 3-1-4-1 is standard for Mustelids (well, you say it is for Fishers, and that’s what the American Badger skull on my wife’s desk has).

    (And thank you, Herpderpatologist, for the comment on bulla configuration!)

  7. So the canines are missing? This is my last attempt to contribute something here, before Paolo’s big reveal tomorrow morning.

    If not, those carnassials are way too large for an insectivore.

    I wish I understood Jennifer Macaire’s clue but my knowledge of French and French cuisine is obviously inadequate on this occasion.

    Ah well, suppose it will turn out to be one of those vivverid species that causes me to smack myself in frustration shrieking: “Why didn’t I think about that?!?!”

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