Friday mystery object #214 answer

Apologies for the lateness of the FMO this week, my excuse is a rather apt bout of illness, where some of the alveolar bone of my mandible has been lost due to an infection, leaving me feverish and thoroughly miserable.

But enough about my me, this is the mandible I’m supposed to be talking about:


There was a fascinating discussion about the possible identification in the comments last week, so a big ‘thanks!’ to all of the contributors who provided their informative observations (too many to mention everyone by name!). A mustelid of some sort was quickly agreed upon and the general consensus moved towards an otter of some kind, before starting to drift away again.

Two comments in particular were particularly pertinent. The first was from Daniel Jones:

Alright . . . instantly the foramina on the mandible anterior to the premolars scream Otter! However, the incisors don’t. The incisors just lateral to the canines should be larger and longer than any of the other incisors among the otters (even the Asian Short-clawed Otter).

Now my identification for this specimen was indeed Asian Short-clawed Otter Aonyx cinerea (Illiger, 1815), so this comment made me a bit concerned. However, on checking some images online I realised that the long lateral incisors are present in the premaxilla, but not the mandible – an easy detail to miss.

The second comment was by Allen Hazen:

Anyway… The talonid on the first molar of the one in the picture is BIG.

The reason I found this comment useful was that the long and broad talonid (that’s the flatter grinding section on the molar) is what confirmed the Asian Short-clawed otter identification for me (although the small size was a good first clue).  This became quite clear from an image on the Otter Specialist Group webpage.

The Asian Short-clawed Otter presumably has this large talonid because it has a diet mainly composed of crustaceans rather than fish, and it needs the extra crushing area on the molar to crack open tough exoskeletons.

Who would think you’d get teeth as formidable as these on such an adorable little critter?

Friday mystery object #214

This week I have a stray mandible for you to have a go at identifying:


I think I know what it’s from, but I’d appreciate your thoughts. As usual you can put your thoughts, comment and questions below. I can’t wait to hear which critter you think it might be from!


Friday mystery object #212

This Friday I have an odd looking object from the Horniman’s collection that had been misidentified . Do you have any idea what it might be?


I know that Jake will work out  what it is straight away, as he’s blogged about this type of bone before, nut you can put your suggestions in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to reply. Good luck!

Friday mystery object #210

This week I have a mystery bone for you to have a go at identifying. Nothing is known about it (although I have some ideas), so all suggestions welcome. Any idea what this is and what it might be from? (Apologies for the poor image quality)


As usual you can put your answers below and I’ll try my best to respond. Enjoy!

Friday mystery object #209 answer(ish)

It seems like an age ago that I gave you this mystery object:


There were fantastic comments from everyone, but I’ve been bad about responding and writing an answer because I’ve been pretty swamped recently. Also, there are several things that confuse me about the specimen and I’ve not had the chance to take a really good look at comparative material.

The function of the object was correctly identified by Daniela, Paleotool and Jeanie – it is a bone whistle, in this case a fairly modern Navajo example. Our Keeper of Musical Instruments was keen to know if this was from an eagle and whether it might be covered by CITES.

At first I thought it might be the femur of one of the large American eagles, but it is far too long. If it was from any bird of prey it would be a Californian Condor based on the size but the tapering shape is wrong. I then considered the humerus – which is a better match for size, but the position of the groove for a tendon path on the underside is wrong. So it doesn’t seem to be from an eagle.

The slight curve and taper rule out a hollowed deer metapodial, which are very straight and uniform in width.

My best guess is that this may made from a section of the humerus of a species of swan – a guess partly informed by the opinion of the anatomical knowledge of Wouter van Gestel and the archaeological knowledge of Paleotool. The shape and few remaining anatomical features are about right, but there are other large birds that haven’t been ruled out.

Perhaps an unsatisfactory answer, but sometimes a good solid “I don’t know, but it’s reasonable to think it might be this” is the best answer you can get. Thanks for everyone’s input!

N.B. Here’s a side view: 20130912_125851

Friday mystery object #205 answer

Last Friday I gave you these tiny bones to identify:


Several suggestions were put forward with soph coming close with the suggestion of a broken furcula and Lena and henstridgesj correctly suggesting the clavicles (or collarbones) of a Cat Felis catus Linnaeus, 1758.

Cat clavicles, like the clavicles of a variety of other animals, are much reduced and are no longer connected to the scapulae (shoulder blades). This allows the scapulae to move much more freely during running, which can increase stride length and in the case of Cats it allows the animal to fit through holes big enough to get their heads through (assuming the Cat isn’t a bit too portly).

These sorts of vestigial structures are interesting from an evolutionary perspective, since they serve little or no direct function, but they still develop as a result of inheritance from ancestral forms that did use them.

In the case of Cats that form would have been around quite some time ago (probably 61.5 – 71.2 million years ago) since the closest related group to the Carnivora with a well-developed clavicle (that I can think of) would be the Chiroptera (bats), where it plays an important role in flight.

Since that divergence of the Chiroptera and the lineage giving rise to the Pangolins, Carnivora and Ungulata the clavicle has been pretty much completely lost, so it’s interesting that even a vestigial form occurs in Cats.

It’s funny to think how such small bones can raise questions that lead us through millions of years of evolution in search of answers, but that’s the nature of studying nature!

Friday mystery object #204 answer

Last Friday I gave you this unusual tooth to identify:


It had me a bit stumped, as I couldn’t think of many things big enough for a tooth this size and I could think of even fewer with a tooth this shape.

My first thought was one of the smaller toothed whales, since this would be in the right size range and the open root is similar to what you see in a Sperm Whale:

Tooth of a Sperm Whale in a Hand by Lord Mountbatten

But the low and wide shape was all wrong for most of the whale teeth I can think of, except perhaps for the rather odd tusks found in the mandibles of some species of beaked whale.

In fact, I was thinking that it might be the tusk of a juvenile or female Gray’s Beaked Whale, given the shape of the male’s tusks.

However, Laura McCoy made a very useful observation (initially via ermineofthenorth) about the upper incisors (or premaxillary incisors) of the  Continue reading