Since I’ve largely been working on the birds recently, I thought I’d give you a specimen that I had to identify earlier this week:
Any thoughts on what this skull might be from? I’d appreciate your input!
On Friday I was in rather a rush as I was involved in co-organising this year’s Natural Science Collections Association (or NatSCA) conference. It was a very enjoyable (if hectic) few days of natural history nerdery, but left me limited time to select an object from the FMO. I took my opportunity at the drinks reception at the Grant Museum of Zoology where I tried out the camera on my new phone to get an image of this specimen:
Now it was a fairly easy one to identify as the skull of these animals is very distinctive. Nonetheless, if you haven’t seen the skull of one of these animals before it is a bit of an oddity, with that spike in the face and the apparently strongly protruding maxilla and mandible (which is actually due to unusually elevated frontals). Continue reading
On Friday I gave you these objects to identify:
I expected you to work out what these came from pretty easily – and you proved me right. In fact, I think this was probably the easiest mystery object so far, given that everyone managed to get a correct identification of Continue reading
On Friday I gave you a bit of a tricky mystery object in the shape of this partial skull:
I wasn’t expecting anyone to get it without some clues, but I underestimated my talented audience!
Jake spotted that it was a mammal based on the ear morphology and then worked out what kind of animal based on clues from henstridgesj who suggested seal and Julie Doyle, who managed to not only identify the species, but drop this lovely cryptic clue to convey that information:
Not a lot to phocus on, but……. I’m harboring an idea about who it might be. Continue reading
On Friday I gave you a genuine mystery object from the Horniman’s collections:
It had been highlighted as potentially being human in origin, but it’s very short, despite being fully fused (therefore from an adult) and the condyles (the bumps that make the top of the knee) are too similar in size – humans have a bigger condyle on the inside of the knee.
However, the general shape is quite similar to a human femur – the depth and orientation of the condyles and the groove between them is all wrong for a quadrupedal animal and the femoral head and neck (the articulation at the top that goes into the hip) are at an angle and shape similar to that seem in humans.
There were some great observations and suggestions and I was pleased that henstridgesj managed to get the same identification as I finally decided on, with Matt King making a very similar suggestion. I think it’s the femur of a Continue reading
Apologies for the rather late answer to last Friday’s mystery object – it’s been a hectic few days!
I asked you to identify this skull
which you managed to do very quickly.
The first suggestion of a Vulture by Rosa Rubicondior was along completely the right lines, while KK and Steven D. Garber, PhD suggested a Turkey Vulture – which isn’t quite right, but it’s in the same genus – Cathartes.
Last week’s bird was so popular I thought I’d give you another to identify this week. It’s a bit harder than last week’s Kookaburra and I’ll be very impressed indeed if anyone gets it to species, but I’m sure many of you will manage to identify it to family level.
I will be teaching young folk about skulls and mermaids at Camp Quest in Somerset this Friday, so I might not get a chance to respond to comments, although I’ll do my best.
I was a bit taken aback by the response to the second anniversary mystery object last Friday. There were a huge number of comments and unfortunately I was tied up all day and was unable to respond – my sincere apologies!
To give you a change from the usual mammal skulls I gave you this bird to identify:
It’s quite a characteristic bird, so I decided to make it more of a challenge by leaving out the usual scale bar – if you’re interested the head of this specimen is about 10cm long.
Obviously the comparatively large head and massive bill were key features that were picked up on, giving the following answers:
I’m pleased to say that the vast majority of you managed to get the correct identification; it is indeed the skeleton of a Kookaburra, more specifically the Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae (Hermann, 1783).
These large antipodean kingfishers have a very distinctive call, which sounds to me like the laugh of a clown from a nightmare. In fact, I expect these birds are a bit of a nightmare for any small critters that live in their vicinity. That big robust bill is powerful and they use it to eat a wide range of animals including worms, snakes, rats and even some fairly decent sized birds.
They aren’t subtle about their hunting either. They simply grab their prey in their bill and smash it on the ground, on a branch or on a rock then swallow it whole. Often they keep smashing it for quite a while – after all, swallowing a live snake or rat probably isn’t a great idea.
If you look at the skull you might notice a deep groove around the back and a deep indentation on the lower jaw or mandible:
These are muscle scars and it’s quite unusual to find such impressive areas for muscle attachment in bird skulls, but then most birds don’t rely quite as much on brute force to catch and subdue their prey. Kookaburras mean business.
On Friday I gave you this rather cool skull to identify:
There was no doubt that this was a carnivore of some sort, given the sharp canines and the massive carnassial teeth. Most of you spotted that it was the skull of a juvenile or subadult, given the partially emerged teeth and the unfused sutures. Most of you also spotted that it was a canid of some sort, given the overall shape and the tooth arrangement.
The correct identification was arrived at in short order by David Craven and many of you concurred with his neatly veiled answer of
Could I paint you a picture of this animal?
This answer is a reference to the name of an African carnivore, the Continue reading
Apologies for the lack of response to questions last Friday, I was travelling and had limited access to the internet.
Excuses aside, I was impressed by the overall accuracy of the answers received about what this skull belonged to:
Everyone spotted that it was a carnivore and most of you identified this as being the skull of a mustelid, but no-one seems to have got this identification spot-on (perhaps my stinking clue was a bit too vague). Suggestions ranged a fair bit and uncertainty was rife, as shown in this word cloud of the comments:
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the clue, Skunks were suggested quite a lot as were Civets and Polecats/Ferrets (which are indistinguishable from each other on the basis of the skull, since Ferrets are just domesticated Polecats).
This suggestion of Polecat is pretty much there, although the specimen is not the standard European Polecat Mustela putorius rather it is an African mustelid known as the Continue reading
On Friday I gave you this specimen to identify:
It’s from one of two boxes labelled NH.83.1, which between them contained twenty unidentified skulls from a variety of different animals, ranging from fish to birds and mammals – several of which have been used as mystery objects in the past.
These boxes have been in the Horniman collections since the 1930′s and there is very little information available about the specimens, so it falls to me to make identifications. The comments I receive when using these specimens as mystery objects is always useful – it makes me double check my identification in light of the suggestions that you make – a form of review that I find very valuable. So thanks to everyone who attempted an identification, your thoughts have proved really useful!
From the outset the suggestions made were along the same lines as I’d been thinking – Prancing Papio FCD suggested a Maxwell’s Duiker, which is of similar size but has a narrower skull, smaller braincase and horns set far back on the skull, rather than originating just above the orbit like this one. This difference in the horn position and the relative size of the braincase rules out all of the Duikers in fact.
Jake suggested Dik-dik using a cryptic clue that I totally misunderstood – but this skull is a fair bit bigger than that of a Dik-dik’s and it has much longer nasal bones (Dik-diks have a bizarrely truncated nasal region).
Stephen J Henstridge suggested Steenbok, which is what I had originally thought it might be, since it’s almost identical, but a few little details of the palate, the horn orientation and the post-orbital process make me think that Stephen’s follow up suggestion of Continue reading
On Friday I gave you this piece of skull to identify:
It was in the Horniman collections with no identification beyond a pencil note saying ‘Monkey?’, but that seemed to be a bit of an odd suggestion, since primates have very rounded braincases – even the longer skulled ones like baboons. I think the person who made the tentative identification had got the section the wrong way round – thinking that the nuchal crest was a part of a brow-ridge or something – a mistake that Jake certainly didn’t make. They also missed what several of you spotted – the rugose (sort of wrinkly) structure that supported the olfactory epithelium (the inner back part of the nose where the receptors for smell are located).
What most of you did miss however, was the lack of fusion of the cranial sutures, which indicates that this was from a juvenile animal. As a result it is smaller and has far less well-developed muscle scars than an adult animal would have. A faint muscle scar can be seen converging on what looks like the beginnings of a sagittal crest (as pointed out by Manabu Sakamoto), so it seems reasonable to guess that the adult animal would have a reasonably well developed crest on the top of the braincase.