Friday mystery object #371

This week I have a couple of guest mystery objects for you to have a go at identifying. Here’s the first:


And this is the second mystery object:


These photos are from Katharine Edmonson and they’re real mysteries, so no need for cryptic clues or hints – let’s see if we can work out what these are using our collective knowledge. Should be fun!

Friday mystery object #370 answer

Last week I gave you this really nice skull from the Dead Zoo to have a go at identifying:


It proved a little more tricky than I thought it would, but I shouldn’t have been surprised given the poor quality of the photo and the fact that the cranium isn’t properly seated on the mandible (as pointed out by Allen Hazen).

Of course, that didn’t keep you all confused for too long. The large sinuses and relatively undifferentiated and widely-spaced teeth – except for those large canines – suggest that this is the skull of a some kind of seal.

Jeanie and salliereynolds noted the large, depressed opening over the nasal region, which is definitely one of the most distinctive features of this species. However, it also misled in the first place, with discussion of the possibility of it being from an Elephant Seal taking over for a while.

However, salliereynolds got back on the right track, while on Twitter Ray Chatterji was on the right track from the start with his suggestion:

The Hooded Seal Cystophora cristata (Erxleben, 1777) is really weird – well, the male is. He has an inflatable bladder on its head and one nostril contains a membrane that he can inflate to show off to other Hooded Seals.

I find it hard to think of this as anything other than nature’s attempt at making slightly disgusting balloon animals.

Well done to everyone who worked it out – I have a couple of fun guest mystery objects for you next week!


Friday mystery object #370

This week I have a pretty cool skull from the Dead Zoo for you to have a go at identifying:

It’s one of those that should be easy for anyone who has seen one before, due to its weird morphology, but if you’ve not seen it before then it could be a real challenge.

So, if you know what this is please leave a cryptic clue, and if not feel free to pop your questions, thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below.

Have fun!

Friday mystery object #369 answer

Last week I gave you this weird, but rather nice object to have a go at identifying:


Most people seemed to recognise it as the tympanic region (that’s the bony ear-related region) of a whale. But of course, I’m demanding when it comes to getting an identification and there are plenty of species of whale to rule out.

The size immediately narrowed down the possibilities – this is pretty small for a whale. But what really gives it away for the small number of people intimate with the cranial anatomy of whales (which goes beyond even my bone-nerdery), is the spongy bone attached to the tympanic bulla (that’s the bulb-shaped bit of bone that houses the inner ear).

This feature is proposed as a possible pressure receptor that’s found in the Pygmy Sperm Whale Kogia breviceps Blainville, 1838. Amazingly, Conor Ryan identified this on Twitter – his handle of @whale_nerd explains everything you need to know.

Kogia breviceps by George Brown Goode, 1887

Kogia breviceps by George Brown Goode, 1887

These toothed whales only grow to around 3.5m, which is pretty small for a whale. They share some features with their much larger Sperm Whale cousins, particularly in relation to adaptations for echolocation.

I was fortunate enough to meet Conor Ryan at the weekend at the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group conference. There were plenty of whale enthusiasts around and it was fantastic to get a chance to learn more about this incredible group of animals from a lovely bunch of passionate people.

While I was there, I also picked up some useful tips on differentiating between species of dolphin, so I may have to share those with you soon…

Friday mystery object #368 answer

Last week I was a bit mean and gave you a really difficult mystery object to identify:


I say it’s difficult, but that’s only if you wanted to get the species, which is probably impossible to do with certainty from just this photograph. But, if you don’t mind sticking to the broad taxonomic group, then it’s fairly straightforward.

That funny-looking tucked-in tail-like appendage with the bifurcation at the tip shows that this is very clearly a springtail or Collembola. These tiny, six-legged, insect-like, arthropods are hard to spot, but they’re all over the place.

This particular specimen was found on a coconut that had been washed up on a beach on the West Coast of Ireland and which was offered as a gift to the Dead Zoo. As the name implies, the Dead Zoo is Zoological (although we do have Geology collections too), so the coconut went to the National Botanic Gardens. We froze the coconut before sending it on, just to make sure no pests accompanied it, and we kept any of the hitchhikers we found – which included this springtail.


The closest I managed to come with an identification relied on the general body shape plus the fact that the 3rd segment of the antennae is longer than the other segments. From online resources I figured this to be Tomocerus sp. possibly Tomocerus minor (Lubbock, 1862) at a push. A proper analysis using the FSC Key to the Collembola would probably help.

It turns out that in the comments Zoobooks and Tony Irwin were of a similar opinion – and I’m fairly sure that Tony knows his springtails quite well, so I’m hoping I interpreted his curly-horn clue correctly!

Maybe I’ll find something a bit less challenging to share next week…

Friday mystery object #368

This week I have a really tricky mystery object for you to have a go at identifying:

It should be easy enough getting the Order, but beyond that it gets harder, especially with a photo like this.

If it makes things any easier, this was found on beach on the West of Ireland and it’s less than 4mm long.

Let me hear your thoughts!