Skull of maneating tiger, Horniman Museum NH.74.11.19

Tool use, technology and cooperation have allowed humans to claw their way to the top of the predatory heap. As a species we can and do kill anything and everything. Sometimes we kill for food, sometimes for profit and sometimes for fun. Very occasionally we also kill for self protection.

Humans have been largely off the menu for quite some time – and although people are still killed and eaten by large predators with some regularity (perhaps a hundred or so a year), humans are not the first prey of choice for any species of carnivore – it’s just that some individuals within a species will develop a taste for human. When there are attacks on people it will usually be because there has been a blurring of borders between a human habitat and the habitat of the predator. The most obvious example of this is when humans are occasionally taken by sharks whilst in the sea or by crocodiles in lakes and rivers.

Staying on land, the blurring of borders between predators and people is linked with habitat loss  and the encroachment of human development, agriculture and habitation, with the associated issues of deforestation and re-purposing of land. The development of infrastructure brings humans into wilderness, such as with the Tsavo bridge project in Kenya, where a pair of lions terrorised construction workers for ten months in 1898, eating about 35 and possibly killing around 135.

As habitat is lost, predators are faced with fewer natural prey and they are thrust into close proximity with domesticated animals – with obvious consequences.  Where you have livestock being killed you also have people trying to protect their livelihood and this is where the conflict really heats up, taking its toll on both the people and the predators. There can be no winners. Continue reading

Friday mystery object #17

I can’t believe it’s Friday again – it’s all a bit hectic at the moment, so apologies for the late posting of this week’s mystery object.

 Here’s a rather odd object from the Horniman’s collections – any idea what it might be?


As usual, post your answers below and if you have any questions I’ll do my best to answer them!

Friday mystery object #14 answer

On Friday I gave you a bit of a change from museum specimens and presented you with this:

mystery14bEveryone managed to get the identification to at least within the Order level (it’s in the Orthoptera), which is good going when dealing with insects. The hard bit came down to whether it was a cricket or grasshopper. Now, the photo does not show the most important feature for distinguish between these two types of orthopteran: it’s the antennae length that gives it away (grasshoppers have short antennae, crickets have long antennae). Colour is not really important (sorry KateKatV).

That said, the vivid green colour, speckled appearance, lack of wings and characteristics shape of the ovipositor (curved bit at the back which means this is a female) are a give-away for those who are familiar with this particular beastie (and for those who use Google image to help with their identifications). It is in fact a Continue reading

Friday mystery object #14

Last week I let Harrison pick an object that proved a bit too difficult (although perhaps I could have been more generous with the clues I gave…). This week I am giving you something that is actually alive and commonly found in gardens in the UK – so it should be a doddle to identify:


Simple questions – what species is it (binomial name gets you kudos) and what gender is it?

Answers in the comments section below – but I’m afraid I won’t be able to respond to comments this week. Good luck!

Friday mystery object #13 answer

Crumbs, it appears that last Friday’s object stumped everyone! Harrison certainly chose a difficult one…

mystery13aSmallCasserole came closest, asking:

Is it antler or horn?

but my response:

Antler or horn that thick?

was perhaps too ambiguous – because there is a horn out there that is this thick, that of a Continue reading

Friday mystery object #13

Today’s mystery object has been selected by a very helpful work experience volunteer who was assisting me in the collections yesterday, so my thanks to Harrison! He is rather more cruel than me, so there’s no multiple choice on this – we just want you to see if you can work out what it is. I will attempt to answer any questions (time permitting) since our broadband seems to have been sorted out at home.

So here it is:


Continue reading

Friday mystery object #12 answer

Still no internet, so this is drafted on my phone. Well done to those of you who worked out that Friday’s object was indeed a rattle-snake’s tail.

I will expand on this answer, once I can use a computer to type comfortably!

Right, internet is finally working again, so here’s a (slightly) fuller answer to what this is:


As was mentioned before, this is indeed a rattlesnake’s tail. Rattlesnakes have a bad reputation for being aggressive and dangerous, but it should be remembered that they have a rattle in their tail to warn off predators and large unwary animals that might trample them – so at least they give fair warning.

There are quite a few species of snakes that make use of a rattle on their tail and this one comes (apparently) from Crotalus durissus, a South American pitviper that is quite dangerous due to their powerful neurotoxic venom (unlike the cytotoxic venom of the North American diamondback rattlesnake).

The rattle is formed when the snake sheds its skin – a section of the old skin Continue reading