Friday mystery object #303 answer

Last week I gave you this mysterious bit of bone from the Thames to have a go at identifying:

mystery303b

A few ideas were put forward, but DrewM was spot on with the suggestion:

I think it’s the synsacrum of a bird, without the ilia fused – the foramina are for spinal nerves.

A synsacrum is a fused section of vertebrae including the sacrum (which is where the pelvis attaches to the spine). General opinion quickly agreed with that suggestion, but the taxonomic group that the synsacrum belongs to remained unguessed.

That is perhaps unsurprising, since it’s hard to find good comparative images of bird synsacra, especially with the hips and lateral (or side) bits knocked off and worn down.

chicken synsacrum

A Chicken synsacrum showing the section preserved in the mystery object

I had a go at looking through some of the comparative bird osteology collections at the Dead Zoo to get a feel for birds with a similar synsacral morphology.

The usual suspect for a bird bone found in the Thames (for me at least) is Chicken, since they’re so closely associated with humans and a lot of the bones washed up on the banks of the Thames are from butchery and food waste. The size was about right, but the vertebral centra (the middle bits) of the Chicken synsacrum become more narrow in the hip-line than in the mystery specimen.

Next I looked at ducks, whose centra taper more in the direction of the tail, then grebes whose whole synsacrum is more narrow overall:

grebe synsacrum

Synsacrum of a Great Crested Grebe

Eventually I made it to the gulls who seem to be a much better fit in terms of shape and the Herring Gull Larus argentatus Pontoppidan, 1763 was a good fit for size:

herring gull synsacrum

Herring Gull synsacrum

Now this doesn’t mean to say that the mystery object is certainly from a Herring Gull. I would want to have the object in my hand and comparative material available from several specimens to check the identification before being sure, but on the basis of the images that Keith Dunmall kindly provided, I think we’re in the right ball park.

More mysteries next week!

Friday mystery object #298 answer

Last week I gave you this bony mystery object to identify:

mystery298

There was a request for a side view from jennifermacaire, so here you go:

mystery298b

The suggestions were all suitably cryptic, with some nice puns thrown in for good measure, but the gist of all of them was clear that this is the sternum of a bird. After that point, the suggestions started getting a bit more varied, including reference to marine birds.

Responses on Twitter were a bit more varied, ranging from ‘part of a human face’ to an essentially correct answer (admittedly after a bit of Q&A).

If you’re a regular reader you may recall that I featured a sternum a few months ago from the Grant Museum of Zoology, that had a disappointing answer, but nonetheless an answer that provided a number of sternum images that may have helped with this object.

In particular this specimen may have helped:

wp-1480627910740.jpg

Chicken

The long lateral trabeculae (the mystery specimen is upside down, so they’re the side bits that point upward on either side) with a deep gap between them and the carina (the central keel area)  is very distinctive to the Galliformes, as you can see in this Chicken sternum.

Sadly, there is no comprehensive repository of sternum images available online (if I’m wrong please correct me!), so expecting a species identification on this one was a big ask. Instead I’ll just tell you that it’s from a Hazel Grouse Tetrastes bonansia (Linnaeus, 1758) and this one was collected in Russia and accessioned by the Dead Zoo in 1929.

Hazel Grouse, by kallerna, 2009.

Hazel Grouse, by kallerna, 2009.

These secretive birds occur across Eurasia, from Japan to as far west as eastern parts of France. They live in coniferous forests and feed on plants and insects, like most of their pleasantly pheasanty family.

 

Friday mystery object #237 answer

Last Friday I gave you this sound and skull combination to have a go at identifying:

mystery237

As many of you worked out, the skull and call belong to quite different species that share a love of the seaside.

The call belongs to the somewhat enigmatic Common Eider Somateria mollissima (Linnaeus, 1758) as identified by mark b, Chris, Melanie, Henry McGhieAnne Åslaug Holder and stuart petch.

A male Somateria mollissima (Common Eider) at the London Wetland Centre, Barnes, UK. By Diliff, 2013

A male Somateria mollissima (Common Eider) at the London Wetland Centre, Barnes, UK. By Diliff, 2013

These large marine ducks are at home on the water, where they feed on molluscs and crustaceans. They are probably best known for their super-soft downy breast feathers, that the females use to line their nests and humans use to fill their pillows.

The skull belongs to a Razorbill Alca torda Linnaeus, 1758, as identified by Ric Morris, mark b, Chris, MelanieHenry McGhieAnne Åslaug Holder and stuart petch.

Razorbill at bird cliff in Westfjords, Iceland. By Gsd97jks, 2005

Razorbill at bird cliff in Westfjords, Iceland. By Gsd97jks, 2005

These birds are great divers, using their wings to ‘fly’ underwater. They feed on small fish and other slippery critters, caught using that characteristic bill.

Congratulations to everyone who managed to work out what the two species were – there’ll be a final mystery sound from the British Library Wildlife Sound Archive to identify next week, courtesy of curator Cheryl Tipp!

Friday mystery object #145

Once again I have a genuine mystery object for you to identify this Friday. I have been going through some of the material from the old King’s College Collection in an effort to identify some material with no data that would be suitable for the Horniman’s handling collection.

I found this bird skull that I think would be ideal – I think I know what it is, but I need to make sure that I’m not mistaken and that it isn’t an important or rare species. I will check the identification myself and I will see if you all come to the same conclusions as me about what this is:

Please leave your comments and suggestions below and let’s see what we come up with!

Friday mystery object #74 answer

On Friday I gave you another bird skull to identify:

As expected, the regulars immediately waded in with correct identifications to the group, based on the scars from the salt glands on top of the head, bill shape (including the groove running from the nostril) and the size of the specimen no doubt. So congratulations go to Dave Hone, Jake, jonpaulkaiser, KateV, cromercrox, David Craven, Matt King and Curianth (everyone who commented in fact) – you were all correct in suggesting that this is the skull of an  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #74

I don’t give you birds very often (GrrlScientist has that area well covered) and I’m mostly working with mammals at the moment, but following up on last week’s Gentoo Penguin I thought I might give you another bird from the Horniman’s collections. This is one that I’ve had to identify from the infamous box 83.1 and it was picked by my trusty minion Cat and our work experience student Tilly (thanks guys!). Here it is:

As usual, you can put your questions, observations and suggestions below and I’ll do my best to answer. Good luck!