Friday mystery object #353

I’m currently in the process of moving office, which means sorting through the cupboards and drawers of my predecessors, to try to impose some kind of order on my workspace. If you want an idea of what my office looked like, there’s a lovely video that artist Vicky McGarry did that gives a pretty good idea. In it I also mention something interesting that I found in an office drawer in a different museum I used to work at…

Now I’m moving on up (literally, another couple of flights of stairs) into a more suitable space with an office area and a separate space for working with collections.

While emptying my current office I’ve found all sorts of wonderful things, ranging from a magical* pocket sundial, to a wide variety of specimens.


Here’s one of the specimens that was in a cupboard, with no label or associated information, that could use an identification:


Mystery mandible with a snazzy NatSCA scale bar

Any idea what this separated mandible belonged to?

All suggestions welcome – I have my theories, but I’d be delighted to hear yours. Have fun!


*Not actually magical

27 thoughts on “Friday mystery object #353

  1. What a fabulous place your museum is! I love how you’ve displayed the delicate sea creatures in particular. I can’t wait to visit. Hope I get to in this lifetime.

  2. Carnivoran, definitely. And not canid: canids at least tend to have three lower molars, and this critter looks as if it had only one nubbin behind the carnassial. So I’m with Sallie on this one.
    The teeth seem fairly stout, as if the animal was into a bit of bone-crunching. Hyenas and wolverines suggest themselves to me.

  3. Hmmm… Size, you ask? It looks as if it’s about 8 centimetres from chin to jaw-joint. So definitely too smallto be a hyaena! I compared it to the jawbone of an American badger (Taxidea): the badger’s was abut a centimetre longer. So probably too small to be a wolverine.

    The badger’s second molar also looked as if it was a bit bigger, proportionally, than the nub this critter had. But the profile of the first molar, with the long talon, looks similar. So, right now, and reserving the right to change my mind later, I’m going to guess its from a medium size mustelid: maybe a marten (Martes).

    (Hyaenas haven’t been extensively bred as house pets, have they? Somehow the thought of a “Toy Hyaena,” about the size of, say, a miniature poodle, laughing instead of yapping, intrigues me.)

  4. Is that a canine at the front? If so, while I too feel it is from the Carnivora, I am wondering if the blunt canine is indicative of an aquatic, or even marine, lifestyle: eating crabs and clams? I think most pinnipeds are probably too large, but might sea otters qualify?

    Final thought: better people than I can tell this as I can’t, but is there any chance it is a carnivorous marsupial?

      • Agreed. I am working on the probably spurious speculation that it is a worn specimen without all its teeth.

        • I also am working on the assumption that not all the teeth are there: my guess is that it is from an old animal that lost an anterior premolar a long time before it died.
          As for it being a carnivorous marsupial… I don’t think so. The infamous “inflected angle of the dentary” (the flange at the bottom rear of the jawbone that turns in sharply toward the centreline of the body) ought to be visible in the upper photo, and (though I’m not sure what the groove above the angle is) I don’t think I see it.
          There are a lot of carnivorous marsupials, and I can’t rule them all out, but at least it’s not a Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus): molar teeth are wrong:

          I’m still going for some sort of mustelid. The “amphibious” suggestion is possible: some sort of otter? (Since the jaw is a bit shorter than that of an American badger, I suspect it is too small to be a Sea Otter… but I guess otters have smaller heads in proportion to their body length than badgers, so maybe…)

            • Afterthought about marsupials.
              Paolo’s critter had two premolars (maybe three when it was younger) and two molars (the second vestigial) on each side of its lower jaw. I think most carnivorous marsupials (both New World Didelphids and and Australian Dasyurids) have longer post-canine tooth rows: often the full basal marsupial complement of three premolars and four molars.
              Somebody who knows more than I do: have any carnivorous marsupials evolved something like the Carnivoran carnassial? or are their first lower molars usually “unspecialized,” similar in form to the posterior molars?

            • If we assume old (worn canine and missing premolar) it seems a perfect size, shape and dentition match for Tarka.

            • “have any carnivorous marsupials evolved something like the Carnivoran carnassial?”
              Not the living ones, but Thylacoleo developed the most incredible shearing molars known, so very much so!

  5. Okay, a couple of missing teeth behind the broken canine? That could work. Mighty full jaw, though, if they were all there.

  6. Very definitely NOT a sea otter. Serious abalone-crunching calls for big, flat, molars, not at all like those on Paolo’s beast:

    On the other hand, a RIVER otter… Googling “Otter skull” I found a couple of You-tube videos (the one entitled “otter skull from beetle bin” is especially helpful, because the narrator opens the jaws allowing a good view of the lower dentition) and… a definite MAYBE. There is an anterior premolar (smaller than the rearward two) — I guess technically a 2nd, the two remaining in Paolo’s beast’s jaws being 3rd and 4th — but no indication that there was ever a first premolar in front of it. So a full jaw (no diastema after the canine) but not TOO crowded — answering Sallie’s “Mighty full jaw, though” worry. …. The videos were of North American otters (Lontra canadensis): I don’t know how different the different species of otter are, but since the museums Paolo has worked at are in the British Isles, I suspect his might be a European otter.

      • Thanks, Paolo! I hadn’t remembered Thylacoleo when I asked about carnassials (carnassialiforms?) in Metatheria, and you’re right: those slicers are amazing. (Which teeth are they? They seem to be placed very far forward in the jaw.). So amazing, though, that they don’t look much like the carnassials of typical Carnivorans, so I’ll rephrase my question: have any Marsupials evolved teeth that look … as suchlike Carnivoran carnassials as the one in the jaw you show?

  7. (My reply of a few minutes ago, saying the teeth are wrong for a sea otter but that a river otter is a strong possibility, isn’t showing right now. I hope it is awaiting moderator approval and will appear.)

    Sallie Reynolds worried that the jaw would be crowded if there were originally two more premolars in front of the two in the specimen shown. River otter skulls that I found depicted on the WWWeb have three premolars (technically, I guess, p2,p3,p4), with the front one smaller than the others: so, a full jaw, but not an overcrowded one. The sea otter shows really REALLY tiny vestigial p1: there might even have been room for something like it here.

    • I can see your earlier post. As per standard operating procedure any post with links in it has to be approved. And yes, the mandibles of river otters I looked at all seemed to have just one more premolar where our specimen (whom I have dubbed Tarka) has the apparent diastema. Assuming a missing tooth, this could well be the actual Tarka the Otter.

  8. Thanks for all your good work, Allen. I’ve never handled either otter skull, and have seen the beasts at a distance. I’m at sea!

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