Friday mystery object #306 answer

Last week I gave you this interesting skull to identify:

Specimen LDUCZ-Z1058 from the Grant Museum of Zoology

Specimen LDUCZ-Z1058 from the Grant Museum of Zoology

I didn’t mention that top of the cranium had been removed, probably as part of a postmortem, which is quite common for zoo specimens. Of course, this made the identification a bit more tricky.

That absent skullcap led to several suggestions of Tasmanian Devil, since they do have a very similar looking facial region to this specimen, with a short and blunt muzzle, robust zygomatic arch and even the same toothcount in the upper jaw. However, the Devils have an angular process of the mandible that projects medially (towards the midline) rather than backwards in a hook, so you wouldn’t see it in a side view.


The correct answer was first tenuously suggested by palfreyman1414 in a pleasingly cryptic manner:

I’d have sworn this was a commie go-between for Cressida and Troilus

Which hints at “Red” and “Pandarus” giving us the Red Panda Ailurus fulgens F. Cuvier, 1825.

Red Panda image by Mathias Appel, 2016

Red Panda image by Mathias Appel, 2016

These charismatic critters are another example of an arboreal carnivore that is adapted to feed on a highly vegetarian diet, but unlike the previous mystery object (a Kinkajou) these cuddlesome floofballs eat mainly bamboo rather than fruit – rather like their very distant relative the Giant Panda (despite the similarity in diet and common name, the Red Panda is actually more closely related to the Kinkajou than it is the Giant Panda).

Red Pandas are a bit less highly specialised for feeding on bamboo than the Giant Pandas, probably because they have a more varied diet that also includes fruit, eggs, birds and small mammals. The poor nutritional quality of bamboo does mean that they spend a lot of time sleeping and they tend to move fairly slowly in order to conserve energy, although they can be very playful, especially in captivity where they can access higher quality foods.

Sadly, this playfulness and supreme floofyness is a bit of a problem for the wild Red Panda population. There is demand for wild caught Red Pandas in the pet trade and they are hunted for their thick fur right across their range through the foothills of the Himalayas, despite being protected by legislation in every country.

6 thoughts on “Friday mystery object #306 answer

  1., I apologize for being so off-topic, but I would love to read your thoughts on this detail of a painting called “Colbert Presenting the Members of the Royal Academy of Sciences to Louis XIV in 1667”.
    I am wondering about the determination of the biggest skeleton, bearing in mind that the mounting might be wrong and that the painting might not be a perfect representation of the actual mount.
    (As for the other skeletons, I peg them as ostrich, spoonbill and some kind of antelope. Insights appreciated, of course)
    Whole painting for context :,Henri-_Colbert_Presenting_the_Members_of_the_Royal_Academy_of_Sciences_to_Louis_XIV_in_1667.jpg

    • Thank you very much! I had managed to get to the “big cat” step, but no further. I’ll be sure to credit you if I blog about it.

  2. The T.D. may have, compared to other carnivorous marsupials, a “short and blunt” muzzle (much more so than I had realized), but the pre-orbital part of the skull still looks proportionally longer than that of the R.P. And the canines seem proportionally larger.

    Given shadows (and the fact that the skull may be from an older individual with worn teeth) it’s hard to say anything about the T.D.’s postcanines, but the R.P.’s molars seem very different (larger, for example) than even the last premolar. So it would at least look as if the R.P. has (at least in the lower jaw) 4 premolars on each side: a placental rather than marsupial count.

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