Friday mystery object #296 answer

Last week I gave you this lovely little shell to try your hand at identifying:

mystery296

It’s a specimen that was given to the Dead Zoo recently by a regular contributor to the collections and it’s particularly interesting because it might be the first record of this species in Ireland (this is currently being researched for publication by the donor, so I won’t give away too much detail).

What I will say is that this is one of the reasons species identifications can be very important, since our understanding of how species move around has implications for various aspects of society and you don’t want to make decisions based on bad information. If you don’t know what I mean by that, I’ll give you some examples.

Zebra mussels arrived in Ireland in the 1990s from the Black and Caspian Seas and they’ve bred prolifically. They altered freshwater ecosystems by filtering out plankton that other species depend on for survival and they form hard-to-remove clusters that foul boat hulls and block drainage and cooling pipes. They’re in North America too, and in 15 years they are estimated to have cost hydroelectric and water treatment plants somewhere in the region of $267 million to remove or defend against. It’s cheaper to defend against them than to remove them and fix the problems they cause, so you need to know what you’re dealing with.

Retrieval of zebra mussel-encrusted Vector Averaging Current Meter near Michigan City, IN. Lake Michigan, June 1999. Photo by M. McCormick, NOAA, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

Retrieval of zebra mussel-encrusted Vector Averaging Current Meter near Michigan City, IN. Lake Michigan, June 1999. Photo by M. McCormick, NOAA, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

Signal crayfish are another freshwater invasive species, this time from America, that have caused havoc in Europe because they are linked to the dreaded Crayfish plague (I kid you not). The American crayfish are resistant to this fungal(ish) disease, but they act as hosts and carriers. Ireland is the last country in Europe to be free of the invasive crayfish, but are constantly alert to the dangers they can pose to the native species.

Signal crayfish by David Perez, 2009

Signal crayfish by David Perez, 2009

I should say that the many introduced species aren’t actually all that problematic. I’ve not heard that Little Owls (introduced by the Victorians for the cuteness) or Ring-necked Parakeets (escapees from aviaries) have had any significant impact in the UK. Still, it’s interesting to know when species turn up somewhere, especially if it reflects a change in the environment that may have other impacts.

Little Owl by Arturo Nikolai, 2008

Little Owl by Arturo Nikolai, 2008

Noble False Widow spiders were a harmless addition to the UK fauna back in 1879, that were quietly tucked down in Devon until the changing climate gave them the conditions to move further north. Now they’re up as far as Liverpool thanks to our warmer winters. Similar patterns are seen for a variety of Mediterranean species, demonstrating how we can track changes in our environment by keeping track of where and when certain species are found – but if you don’t get the species right, you don’t have good data. That’s part of why we have museums in the first place, to lodge ‘voucher’ specimens of recorded species so identifications can be double checked in the future.

Steatoda nobilis, Forest Hill, London, by Paolo Viscardi, 2014

Noble False Widow

Of course, I’m sure that you all appreciate the importance of getting identifications correct, since here you are reading my blog which tends to be all about identification! For those of you who recognised the mystery object as a scallop of some sort I tip my hat, but to Daniel Jones I offer congratulations – this is indeed a Calico Scallop Argopecten gibbus (Linnaeus, 1767) which is, as Joe Vans suggested, a juvenile. Normally these are found on the Atlantic coast of America. Well done! I’ll let you know more about the specimen when the paper is published.

More interesting dead stuff to come next Friday…

Friday mystery object #296

This week I’ve been in the USA couriering a loan back from the stunning Corning Museum of Glass (I’ll write about that sometime soon). However, that means I’ve had limited access to specimens for this week’s mystery object and I’m restricted to what I’ve got on my phone. Fortunately, I have this non-vertebrate mystery object for you to try your hand at identifying to species:

mystery296

It’s quite a cool specimen and I’ll tell you why next week! Have fun!

Friday mystery object #295 answer

Last week I gave you a bit of detail about a particular collection at the Dead Zoo in Dublin, which we don’t have much information about. In particular I was interested in your opinion on this specimen:

mystery295

The general consensus was that it’s a parrot, which I totally agree with and the there was discussion of Lorikeet and Parakeet based largely on the size. Palfreyman1414 noted that the skull was longer than you normally see in a parrot – which is true, but that length is mainly coming from the bill, and you have to keep in mind that parrots have a weird hinge on the upper part of their bill, which allows more mobility. This specimen has simply been prepared with the bill in a slightly elevated position, creating a misleading sense of a length in the skull.

The morphology of the  mandible is quite useful in distinguishing parrots, and to me this looks like it may belong to a Cobalt Winged Parakeet Brotogeris cyanoptera (Salvadori, 1891) although I’ve not seen a scale or  for any other speciemens, I’m just basing it on the  morphology of that distinctive mandible

So many thanks for all of the suggestions!

Friday mystery object #295

For many of you, last week’s mystery object answer was a little disappointing, since I was unable to pin down what the specimen was. Normally with birds it’s not so difficult, because of useful resources like skullsite.com, but the fact is that some bird groups are still quite poorly represented in collections and finding comparative material is difficult, especially online.

The most frustrating thing about last week’s object is that it did once have a label, but at some point in the past it was lost, so the only information with the specimen now is this:

mystery295_label

However, this label does offer a glimmer of hope, since it identifies the specimen as being from a particular collection and that can often mean there will be more information somewhere.

As it turns out, this specimen is one of several that were purchased in 1867 from an auction of the collections of Dutch anatomist Theodoor Gerard van Lidth de Jeude. This is helpful because auction catalogues can contain information like the species names of the specimens being sold. It is particularly helpful when you have the original catalogue with annotations about the specimens bought by your institution.

Fortunately, at the Dead Zoo we have the auction catalogues. Unfortunately we bought quite a lot of stuff, so working out which of the specimens our mystery object represents is still quite a lot of work.

However, if other specimens from the auction have their names and numbers, it should be easier to narrow down the ones that lost their labels. It also can also help to have an identification of the specimen to track back to the catalogue, which is why I was keen to get your thoughts last time and why this week’s mystery object is from the same collection.

So can you help me work out what species this skull belonged to?

mystery295

No need for cryptic clues, but if you want to show off your taxonomic prowess you could always offer the 1860’s scientific name or the name of what you think it is in Dutch.

I hope you have fun with this one!

Friday mystery object #294 answer(ish)

Last week I gave you this particularly tricky mystery object from the Dead Zoo to have a go at identifying over Christmas:

mystery294

It turned out to be far more difficult to identify than expected, with most people thinking of some kind of corvid, which it certainly looks like from the side. However, it’s too small for any but the smallest of the crows and from the top and bottom view, the bill isn’t the right shape for any of them – being too broad, with a long mandibular symphysis (which is where the two halves of the mandible fuse together).

I have spent a good deal of the Christmas week scanning through the images of skulls on Skullsite.com in an effort to narrow it down, but although I’ve seen a few families of birds that have some similarities, I’ve not found anything that matches all that well in terms of size and shape.

The closest species in terms of bill shape are probably in the Eurylaimidae, which are the Broadbills, but the specimens I’ve seen are still not quite right and all are smaller than this mystery specimen. I am wondering if a species like the Dusky Broadbill Corydon sumatranus (Raffles, 1822) might be a better match on size and shape, but it’s proving hard to find comparative specimens. I will keep searching…

Have a very happy New Year!

Friday mystery object #294

This week I have been delving into a drawer of unidentified bird bones in the stores of Dublin’s Dead Zoo to find a skull to use for this week’s mystery object:

mystery294.jpg

It doesn’t seem very festive, but until we work out what it is, how can we tell? It’s something I will muse over with a belly full of seasonal treats.

Any thoughts, suggestions, comments or suggestions are welcome. Have a lovely holiday!

Friday mystery object #293 answer

Last Friday I gave you this unidentified specimen from Dublin’s Dead Zoo and asked you to help me work out what it was:

mystery293

The response was incredibly helpful and it was great to see that most of you were drawn by the morphology to make a similar identification to me.

The fact that it’s from the family Anatidae (the ducks, geese and swans) was immediately noticed, and from there the likely genus was quickly narrowed down to Branta, based on the morphology. This is the genus containing the ‘burnt’ geese (that’s what ‘branta’, derived from the Old Norse, means), which includes: the Brant Goose; Barnacle Goose; Canada Goose; Cackling Goose; Red-breasted Goose, and Hawaiian Goose.

However, the nominate examples of all these species (that means the ones derived from the type on which the species name is based) are either the wrong shape or a bit too large to have this skull, which you can see by checking them on the excellent Skullsite by Wouter van Gestel.

The closest species in terms of morphology are the Cackling Goose (B. hutchinsii), Canada Goose (B. canadensis) and Barnacle Goose (B. leucopsis), but it turns out that there are various subspecies of each and one (that was previously recognised as a subspecies of Canada Goose, but which is now considered a subspecies of Cackling Goose) is rather small, as flagged by the subspecies name minima.

This smallest subspecies seems to fit both the morphology and the size very well, so I’m quite confident to identify the mystery specimen as the Small Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii minima (Ridgway, 1885).

640px-small_cackling_goose_brood

A family of Small Cackling Geese, by Tim Bowman, USFWS, 2003

So thanks to you all for helping me to narrow down where in the Anatidae to start looking! More mysteries from the Dead Zoo next week.