Friday mystery object #315

It’s been another week of working with the Dead Zoo insect collection for me, so I thought I’d give you one of them to have a go at identifying:

mystery315

A big bug  at around 135mm wingtip to wingtip

I don’t think it’ll be particularly difficult for some of you, so please try to offer cryptic suggestions if you know what is, to keep it challenging for others who aren’t as familiar with these impressive invertebrates.

Have fun!

Friday mystery object #314 answer(ish)

Last week I gave you this guest mystery object, courtesy of Joseph van Sambeek:

Mystery object. Image by Joseph van Sambeek, January 2000

The bony struts reinforcing thin plates of bone show it’s from something that lives in water all the time and which lacks lungs – you can tell this because this structure is what you get when you’re dealing with forces moving in a variety of directions, rather than mainly dealing with the constant force of gravity or compensating for buoyancy that is unavoidable when you live in water, but have lungs.

This means that many of you recognised it as being the neurocranium (that’s the bit of the skull that surrounds the brain) from a fish – more specifically from Sarah Gibson:

The first image is the skull roof, showing the elongated frontals and parietals (front of snout is left in first three images). Second image is a left lateral view, showing the internal parasphenoid that would pass between the two eye sockets. Third image is a ventral view, showing the bottom of the parasphenoid. And obviously last image is posterior view, showing the foramen magnum where the spinal cord would pass through, over the occipital condyle. It just may not look like a skull to some because it’s missing the eye sclera bones, jaws, cheek bones, pretty much anything that is not the skull roof or braincase.

However, as we all know, there are a LOT of different sorts of fish – around 33,600 described species and counting. This can make fish a nightmare to identify. However, there are some great resources out there, like Osteobase which has a very useful identification guide for various elements of a range of fish.

Alas, Osteobase didn’t have anything that fits this mystery specimen, so narrowing down to a species is rather difficult. I had the advantage of knowing that the specimen was collected in Baja California, although that was of little help in trying to get in an approximate area of the fishy family tree based on morphology, and there are still a ridiculous number of fish species is the area.

Sarah Gibson suggested that it may be a Barracuda, and it certainly fits in many aspects, but the shape of the frontals and parietals and details of the point of connection between the parasphenoid (that’s the bottom bar bit you see in the side view) don’t quite fit.

I had almost given up hope, when it occurred to me to concentrate on understanding the unusually large occipital condyle that Allen Hazen noticed, which suggested that it might be a taxon with an extremely extended rostrum (like the paddlefish or swordfish that Jennifer Macaire suggested) but with a weedier body and defined neck region since there would be no need for such a large articulation in a fusiform fish (they’re the muscular type that taper at both ends and have no neck, so don’t move their heads).

With this bizarre sounding fish in mind I was able to fairly rapidly narrow down the possibilities to one of the three species of cornetfish that live in the Pacific. I was delighted to find some great images of the skull of a Red Cornetfish, which matches the morphology very well.

Red Cornetfish Fistularia petimba from the Gulf of Mexico. Image by SEFSC Pascagoula Laboratory; Collection of Brandi Noble, NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC

Red Cornetfish Fistularia petimba from the Gulf of Mexico. Image by SEFSC Pascagoula Laboratory; Collection of Brandi Noble, NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC

However, the Red Cornetfish doesn’t really occur in the eastern Pacific, so it’s very unlikely to be that species. The Reef Cornetfish does occur in the eastern Pacific, but has only been reported in Californian coastal waters since November 2015 and this mystery specimen was collected back in January 2000 (which doesn’t make it impossible to be a Reef Cornetfish, just very unlikely). Which leaves us with the most likely identification (although by no means confirmed) of Deepwater Cornetfish Fistularia corneta Gilbert & Starks, 1904.

These long, thin fish can reach up to 2m, but they have tiny mouths that limit them to eating crustaceans, marine worms and smaller fish that they pick up from near the surface of reefs and the sea bed – presumably being harder to spot as a predator thanks to their very small frontal projected area.

I’ve asked Joe to check his specimen against the images of the cornetfish, since there’s nothing better than having a specimen in your hand when attempting an identification.

I hope you enjoyed the challenge!

Friday mystery object #313 answer

Last week I gave you this cheeky chap to have a go at identifying:

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There was some lovely wordplay in the answers, with Chris getting in early with this great one:

I thought I had a shrewed idea until I saw the Bilby in the background which could show this isn’t the elephant in the room. Coot is legs be too Bandi?

This rules out elephant shrews and correctly identifies it as some kind of bandicoot, thanks to its marsupial case companion. Then palfreyman1414 dropped an anagram into the mix with:

Mere ale plus Satan?

which is so nice I wish it was correct, but alas this isn’t a Long-nosed bandicoot Perameles nasuta, although it is in the same genus.

Allen Hazen wondered “How badly does fur fade in preserved specimens?” and that turned out to be the key question, since everyone shied away from the correct identification, because one of the characteristics of this species’ pelage (that’s mammal-fan speak for ‘fur’) is that it’s supposed to have two stripes on its hindquarters or, more accurately, bars. As it turns out, fur fades quite badly in preserved specimens.

This is in fact a Marl or Western barred bandicoot Perameles bougainville Quoy & Gaimard, 1824 (NMINH:1906.301.1).

Marl

These diminutive Australian marsupial insectivores are vulnerable to introduced predators like cats and foxes, so their wild population only remains on some islands after once being widespread across Western Australia.

Even on the islands where they have some protection from placental predators, they face issues with disease, since their population has shrunk by so much it has impacted on their genetic diversity – reducing resistance to disease at the population level. In particular, a virus that causes tumour growth is affecting the animals on some islands, leaving the species increasingly under pressure.

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One island does remain free of the virus, so hopefully with proper management the Marls will be able to hang on in there.

Friday mystery object #312 answer

Last week I gave you this specimen to identify, which came in as an enquiry after being found in someone’s toilet:

There were a variety of great responses, with some fantastic cryptic clues, including an anagram by Claire Miles (great stuff!). Most opted for this being Stegobium paniceum, which is also known by the aliases Drugstore Beetle, Biscuit Beetle or Bread Beetle.

Stegobium paniceum by Sarefo, 2007

Stegobium paniceum by Sarefo, 2007

However, the mystery critter has a subtly different pronotum (that’s the plate over the thorax that extends over the head).

Another suggestion was woodworm or one of the false powderpost beetles, which covers a range of wood-boring beetles, with Liberty Hightower correctly giving the more taxonomically constrained suggestion, of something from the Tribe Anobiini (which includes Stegobium). However, my colleague Olivier sent me an email with a very definitive identification, informed by a past experience with this particular pest – the Furniture Beetle Anobium punctatum De Geer, 1774.

These beetles have a distinctive pronotum that supposedly looks like a monk’s cowl, with a more distinctive hump and slightly pinched looking back section than the more smoothly curving pronotum of the Stegobium. They fall into the broad category of woodworm because their larvae feed on wood, making tunnels hidden from view and only becoming visible when they emerge from small holes in the wood as adults, leaving a little pile of wood dust as they go.

The presence of these beetles in a toilet isn’t related to the water in the bowl or even wood of the seat – it turns out that there was a window above the toilet and the adult beetles, in an attempt to leave the building after emerging, were attracted to the light from the window and flew into the glass only to bounce off and land in the toilet.

This attraction towards light in the dispersing adult stage of the beetle is a handy behaviour if you want to keep track of these pests. If you’re concerned you may have active woodworm it’s worth checking your windowsills in the summer to see if you have any of these adult beetles lying around. Of course, there are other species that would also be worth checking for, since there are plenty of beetles whose larvae would be considered woodworm. Keep your eyes peeled!