Friday mystery object #279 answer

Last week I gave you this mystery object to identify:

mystery279

It’s the kind of thing you find in museum collections quite often, but it will commonly be misidentified – especially in anthropology collections where (in my experience) it will commonly be referred to as a claw or big cat tooth.

However, nobody who commented went down that route, recognising that the hollow base and well defined crown indicates that it’s an open rooted tooth of some sort. In mammals an open root at this size that would suggest a pig tusk or perhaps a whale tooth, but this isn’t mammalian.

In fact, this tooth is from something even less cuddly than a whale, something crocodilian. This was recognised first by Carlos Grau, but others who came to the same conclusion included Jonathan Larwood, Daniel Jones, palfreyman1414, Wouter van Gestel and Charne. More specifically, this tooth is from a Gharial, Gavialis gangeticus (Gmelin, 1789). This Gharial from the Grant Museum of Zoology in fact:

mystery279_Gharial

Grant Museum of Zoology Specimen LDUCZ-Y215

Gharial teeth are a bit less conical than the teeth of most crocodiles and alligators. Presumably the curve helps prevent their main diet of fish from getting free when caught.

Gharials are sexually dimorphic, with the adult males bearing a big rounded bony  knob on the end of their rostrum, this is where the name Gharial comes from, as this feature resembles a local earthenware pot called a “ghara”. Sadly, these distinctive crocodilians are critically endangered, with just a few hundred left alive in the wild. They are affected by habitat loss, egg theft and use in traditional medicines.

More mysteries next week and if you fancy hearing me talking about animals you might be interested in coming to Animal Showoff at the Grant Museum of Zoology next Thursday evening!

Friday mystery object #279

This week I have the kind of mystery object that you find a lot of in museum collections. Sometimes they reside in the bottom of a box. Sometimes they sit in a cupboard. Sometimes they might even have a label, although that label than will often be vague and sometimes misleading.

Any idea what this is?

mystery279

As usual, you can leave your suggestions below and please try to keep them cryptic if you’re confident that you know what it is. Have fun!

Friday mystery object #278 answer

Last week I gave you this mystery object from the Grant Museum of Zoology to get your thoughts on:

mystery278

Most people spotted that this was a canid of some sort – but there was a lot of discussion about exactly what sort.

Allen Hazen made an interesting observation about the reduced second molar (missing in the specimen, but the socket shows that it was there and smaller than you’d expect from most dogs), plus the remarkably convex facial profile. Useful observations that have a bearing on the identification.

The short and broad muzzle, combined with the convex skull and distinctive molar morphology led Latinka Hristova to suggest Dhole, an identification agreed with by Lupen, palfreyman1414, Richard Lawrence, joe vans, Henry McGhie – and myself as it turns out.

Dhole (Cuon alpinus) by Kalyanvarma

Dhole (Cuon alpinus) by Kalyanvarma

The Dhole Cuon alpinus (Pallas, 1811) is an endangered Asiatic Wild Dog, that hunts in clans and feeds on a variety of medium to large mammals that are usually killed after an extended chase.

I’d not seen the skull of one of these before, but I was aware that they have a convex profile, so it was my immediate suspicion when I saw the mystery object and the species was confirmed by the unusually simple structure of the first molar and very reduced second molar, which are almost cat-like in their adaptation for shearing meat.

All in all, an exciting skull to find – and there are other unidentified canids in the same box that I’m itching to take a look at, so keep your eyes peeled for more mystery mutts.

Friday mystery object #277 answer

Last week I gave you this pretty cool skull from the Grant Museum of Zoology to identify:

mystery277

On Twitter the prevailing hypothesis was that this is the skull of an Alien Xenomorph, which was also proposed by Daniel Calleri, but most the comments here on Zygoma were a bit more down to Earth.

The identification started being narrowed down by Sisyphus47 and palfreyman1414 who recognised it as a reptile, which was narrowed down further by joe vans to a fossorial (or burrowing) lizard.

Allen Hazen, John D’Angelo and Daniel Calleri took it another step further and identified this as an amphisbaenian or worm lizard, but Rebecca Watling went even better and identified it as the skull of a Red Worm Lizard Amphisbaena alba Linnaeus, 1758. The morphology is very close and the size is right, so that’s the identification I’d also reached.

Amphisbaena alba by Diogo B. Provete

Amphisbaena alba by Diogo B. Provete

I’ve talked about Amphisbaenia before, but this one is a good bit bigger than most other species and the skull is oddly similar to that of a Weasel. I’m not really sure why, because the diet of these strange reptiles is very poorly known. It seems likely that they’ll eat invertebrates and small vertebrates, presumably in burrows, which does actually sound similar to a Weasel.

Weird, but pretty awesome!

Friday mystery object #276 answer

Last week I gave you this specimen of “Pygostylia” to try your hand at identifying:

Click for large image

It was a bit of a tricky one, since the alizarin preparation technique has left an adult bird looking like a newly hatched chick. However, even long-billed birds like snipe and curlews start out with a relatively short bill that grows as they mature. The confusion caused by the bill led to suggestions of Cormorant, Little Bittern, Ibis, Scolopacidae and Whimbrel.

There were a few key pointers to help identify the family that this bird belongs to, not least the tiny legs, although one of them has fallen off as noted by John D’Angelo in a neat cryptic clue.

There are a few other pointers – the back and top of the skull shows an interesting feature where the hyoid loops around, which is much clearer here:

hyoid

This is something I normally associate with woodpeckers, but you also see it in some other birds with very long tongues.

There is also a very short humerus, which is what clinched it for me:

wing

The long bill and tongue and short legs and humerus make this a hummingbird (as spotted by Henry McGhie on Twitter).

Unfortunately I don’t think there’s enough information visible on the specimen to confidently identify it to species or even genus, but I think it’s probably a member of the Trochilinae, possibly one of the Mangos in the genus Anthracothorax F. Boie, 1831.

I’d like to write more, but it’s NatSCA conference time and I’m having too much fun catching up with wonderful people!