Last week I gave you this rather improbable-looking fuzzball to have a go at identifying:
Initial consensus on Twitter suggested that it was some kind of taxidermist’s mash up of a tenrec / shrew / weasel and fox. Particular favourites were:
Humboldt’s shrew-snouted marsupial fox.
— Duncan Waldron (@ozalba) May 17, 2019
That sir, is an unwell cat.
— Leon Bambrick (@secretGeek) May 17, 2019
A similar theme emerged in some comments on the blog, but a useful rule of thumb was shared by ch:
Anything that weird looking is either a taxidermists joke or comes from Madagascar- you’d need to look in every ‘nouc’ and cranny to identify this weasily overlooked carnivoran.
Madagascar is well known for weird animals, since the island became isolated from the Indian subcontinent over 85 million years ago, allowing a unique variety of species to evolve and fill the ecological niches present. The oddities present include the Aye-aye (a mammal trying to be a woodpecker), the Fossa (a mongoose trying to be a cat) and the Web-footed tenrec (a tenrec trying to be an otter).
Of course, ch left an additional clue hinting at the correct identification (‘nouc’) which was picked up on by several others. There were also plenty of people on Twitter who recognised this distinctive animal.
The mystery object is a Falanouc Eupleres sp. Doyère, 1835 – notice the sp. There are two species of Falanouc – Eastern (E. goudotii) and Western (E. major), but this species split was only recognised in 2010. Therefore, it’s very difficult to know which this one is, especially without details of where in Madagascar it was collected.
Assuming it was collected in Madagascar. I say that, because it was purchased from London based supplier Gerrard & Sons. This means it could have been acquired from London Zoo, since Gerard had a relationship with the Zoo and often got dead specimens from them.
It’s also tricky to identify the species from morphology, since the differences between the species are most noticeable in the skull. The fur colour can provide a clue as well, but 100+ years of being on display in a gallery illuminated with daylight means the colour is pretty much guaranteed to no longer be as it was in life.
So I think we may have to leave it there, unless I can find any additional information about the specimen in the Dead Zoo’s archives. Whatever the species, I think this mongoose-like insectivorous carnivore with a fox-like body and shrew-like face is as charming as it is improbable.