Friday mystery object #344 answer

Last week I gave you this impressive insect to have a go at identifying:

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No scale for this, but it’s probably safe to say it’s bigger than you’d be comfortable with.

By not giving the scale I was being a bit mean by holding back a useful clue. This fly (as recognised by palfreyman1414, Richard Blackmore and joe vans) is around 45mm long, making it one of the biggest of its kind – its kind being one of the Asilidae or robber flies.

The species is from Australia and it’s called the Giant Yellow Robber Fly Blepharotes coriarius (Wiedemann, 1830). They’re active hunters that prey on other insects, grabbing them in flight and carrying them off to a perch where they suck out their victim’s internal organs. Nice.

Apologies for the short answer this week – I’m just in the process of installing an exhibition and this specimen is one that is going on display to represent the Diptera. Hopefully I’ll be able to share some images of what I’ve been working on next week.

Friday mystery object #343 answer

Last week I gave you this mystery skull from the Ulster Museum to have a go at identifying:

If you’re a regular follower of Zygoma then you may have seen some of my previous posts talking about the skulls of the various smallish carnivores like mongooses, mustelids and viverrids. Generally though, mongooses have a more domed region above the eyes, while mustelids have a shorter snout, so this is most likely one of the viverrids.

It’s a difficult one to get down to species, since it’s from a group of carnivores that have have a fairly uniform skull shape, so it takes some detailed investigation to work out exactly what we’re dealing with. However, as I have talked about before (and as palfreyman1414 remembered), there’s a very helpful identification guide developed by some French researchers which summarises some of the most useful characters to use in identification.

Most useful to my mind is the matrix of characters that allows you to narrow down the possibilities until you’re left with the most likely species (watch out, the security certificate has expired). Once you’re down to a few possibilities based on those specific characters it can help to check the specimen images on the Animal Diversity Web which lets you get a better idea of overall shape and things like tooth form.

As it turns out, my 270th mystery object also provided a useful image for comparison:

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The reduced upper second molar (or M2) and the shape of the M1 in this specimen from the Grant Museum of Zoology is remarkably similar to the Ulster Museum specimen and it turns out it’s also from a species that made it to my shortlist using the matrix. So I’m fairly sure that this is an Abyssinian Genet Genetta abyssinica (Rüppell, 1836).

To give you an idea of what they look like, here’s a Common Genet in Wrocław Zoo by Guérin Nicolas, 2008

Well done to everyone who worked out we were dealing with a genet, but particular props to palfreyman1414 who was spot on when he said:

I’m wondering if, … this is related to the Abyssinian thingy you spent hours checking on from a complicated table of characteristics across 27 species…

Well remembered palfreyman1414, well remembered…

Friday mystery object #343

Last week I had the good fortune to visit the collections of the Ulster Museum in Belfast with the National Museums Northern Ireland’s Curator of Vertebrates Angela Ross. It’s always a valuable experience seeing other museum stores and it was a real pleasure to meet Angela and talk about our shared experiences with collections. 

As you might expect, as with every museum in the world, there are one or two specimens that have lost labels or that have never been identified, so I was fortunate enough to be get some photos of one such example for today’s mystery object. Any idea what this skull was from?

It has similarities to specimens I’ve featured in the past, and in the answers to those I’ve provided links to identification resources. If you have a rough idea of what this is, it may be worth your while using the search box in the top right corner of the blog to look for more information to help you narrow it down.

Have fun hunting for an identification – I know I will!

Friday mystery object #342 answer

Last week I gave you this flouncy fish to try your hand at identifying:

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It proved a tricky one, because it seems that based on genetic data it may be a species that has undergone convergent evolution with another type of fish to produce something very similar morphologically, but not actually closely related.

The similar fish would be the Sea Robins in the family Triglidae, as several of you opted for, but Wouter van Gestel and Rémi were a little more accurate in their cryptic suggestions of Flying Gurnard Dactylopterus volitans (Linnaeus, 1758).

These fish don’t really fly and only a few sources suggest that they can get any kind of glide going. Mostly they stick near the ocean bottom in shallow waters, using those oddly leg-like front fins to manage their more pedestrian movement and using the wing-like large fins to ‘fly’ underwater.

This particular specimen has lost its colour, thanks to the process of being preserved in alcohol, but when they’re alive they’re very colourful, with electric-blue spots on the fins. Perhaps more interestingly, this specimen was collected by Sir Frances Leopold McClintock, who achieved renown for his polar exploration and who was stationed in the Royal Navy’s North America and West Indies station as Commander-in-chief between 1879 and 1884. Since this specimen is from Jamaica, it seems likely that it collected in that period.

More mysteries next week!

Friday mystery object #341 answer

Last week I gave you this striking specimen to try your hand at identifying:

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It’s the skeleton of a species that I’ve spoken about before and one for which I have a bit of a soft spot.

Several of you thought it was some kind of galliform (the group of birds including pheasants, quail, chickens, etc.), but although the size and general appearance of the bill is about right, it’s not one of them.

A few of you did however know what it was. Wouter van Gestel was first to recognise this as a Hoatzin Opisthocomus hoazin (Müller, 1776), with James Bryant and Cindilla Trent dropping some nice clues to show they were also in the know.

As it turns out, the original name for the Hoatzin was Phasianus hoazin because it looked so much like one of the Galliformes – and not just in the skeleton:

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As you can see, these birds are quite striking, with colours and a crest that wouldn’t be out of place on a pheasant, but a lot of genetic and morphological research suggests that the Hoatzin is in a unique group, which diverged from the rest of the modern birds 64 million years ago, just after the non-avian dinosaurs went extinct.

Personally I think they are fascinating, with their clawed young that scramble around in dense vegetation, their limited ability to fly as adults and their unusual (for a bird) folivorous diet (that’s leaves) with associated bacterial fermentation tank crop. In fact, if any animal was on the road to becoming fire-breathing I think the Hoatzin may be it, with its ready access to methane and hydrogen sulphide belches – in fact I wonder if some spontaneous Hoatzin combustion due to these gasses gave rise to the myth of the Phoenix?