Friday mystery object #262 answer

Last Friday I gave you this pretty characteristic mystery object from the Berlin Museum für Naturkunde to try your hand at identifying:

mystery262

There were lots of great comments – I must apologise for not responding to many (and for posting the answer to this mystery object so late), my excuse is that I’ve had an insanely busy week finishing up my old job at the Horniman Museum and Gardens and then getting started in my new job at the fantastic Grant Museum of Zoology at University College London (more to come about my big move). I also got started on a really interesting project looking at Gorilla osteology and I’m feverishly trying to prepare a training workshop on identifying natural materials for next week.

Back to the object. Several of you noticed the presence of a baculum (or penis bone) which shows us quite definitively that this was a male animal.

Panda penis bone (baculum) from the Berlin Museum für Naturkunde

It also suggests that the specimen was prepared and mounted without the prudishness that many historical mounts were affected by (see Jack Ashby’s comments about this in his post on the Grant Muesum’s Ringtail).

Many of you also correctly recognised that the plantigrade (or flat-footed) posture, short tail and robust build suggested a bear of some sort.

Panda hind limb bones showing plantigrade foot

The distinctive sagittal crest was the final feature needed for identification for some of you to work out that this is the skeleton of a Giant Panda Ailuropoda melanoleuca (David, 1869).

Panda skull side view

Panda_skull_top

I tend to think of Panda skulls as looking like a cross between those of a Hyaena and a Gorilla, which makes sense when you consider the adaptations of the jaw musculature required for the Panda to process the large volumes of tough bamboo needed to provide enough energy for survival. The bone of the skull has to be able to manage the large forces produced by all this chewing, resulting in a big and robust sagittal crest, a thick and deep mandible and really deep muscle scars on the coronoid process.

These are all features you also see in big chewers like the Gorilla and Hyaena, but not in rodents and ungulates – I think this reflects the difference between groups that rely on temporalis muscle (which runs along the side of the braincase) in chewing compared to the masseter muscle (which attaches to the zygomatic arch or cheekbone).

The final clue to confirm that this is a Giant Panda is the ‘thumb’ on the front limbs:

Panda_thumb_1

Panda_thumb_2

This handy (excuse the pun) extra ‘digit’ is actually the radial sesamoid bone of the Panda’s wrist, that has been commandeered by evolution for use as a bamboo holder. There are a few other species that have done weird things with wrist bones to gain a digit, but this is clearly not a Mole or Elephant and Red Pandas have a much longer tail.

I hope you enjoyed some of the interesting bony features of this specimen – it’s great to have a chance to see under the surface of such an iconic animal!

Friday mystery object #261 answer

Last Friday I gave you this object from the Horniman Museum and Gardens to identify:

mystery261

It’s an odd looking bone, but that makes it distinctive, so I wasn’t too surprised that everyone recognised it as being from something aquatic. In particular, Ric Morris and joe va both recognised it as the radius of a pinniped.

The broad end that articulates with the wrist is lacking its epiphysis, indicating that this is from a younger animal. This also makes it a little harder to make a definitive species identification.

I think that Ric Morris’s cleverly disguised suggestion of Grey Seal is pretty good, although I’m leaning slightly more towards Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina Linnaeus, 1758.

The odd shape is of course one adaptation of the forelimb that reflects a change in biomechanical requirements away from the load-bearing limb of a terrestrial ancestor and towards the hydrofoil shape and drag-force-resistant flipper of an active aquatic pursuit predator.

Seal underwater by Chillum, 2007

I will never ceases to be impressed by the power of evolution as a mechanism to reshape bone to better suit new purposes!

Friday mystery object #261

This week I have a mystery object for you, that I stumbled across when preparing a talk for the Natural Sciences Collections Association’s Bone Day last week:

mystery261

It’s a bit of an odd one, so I’d love to hear what you think it might be. As usual, if you recognise what it is please give everyone else a chance by sharing your knowledge below in the guise of a rhyme or cryptic clue.

Have fun!

Friday mystery object #259

This week I have an object that I found hiding in an unnumbered box during a reshuffle of the Horniman bone room (more about that later):

mystery259

I managed to work out what it was and reunite it with other parts of the same specimen, which was very satisfying, but it took me four attempts where I checked against other specimens to get the correct identification. Do you think you can do better?

As always you can leave your questions, thoughts and suggestions in the comments box below. Good luck!

Friday mystery object #258 answer

Last Friday I gave you this object to identify:

mystery258

It already had an identification of sorts on a label, but I didn’t believe it for a moment:

mystery258_label

I’m pleased to say that neither did any of you and Jake got the ball rolling by identifying it as a sternum rather than a tail.

This didn’t necessarily make the identification much easier, since different sterna shapes are not really all that familiar for many of us and there is relatively little comparative material available.

Despite this, there were some good attempts, ranging from Polar Bear to Horse (via the mysterious clue “Losing voice we hear?” by Flick Baker, which for some reason I struggled to figure out… to my shame I have never been any good at cryptic crosswords).

I had a bit of an advantage in identifying this object, because I had some insider curatorial information. The metal rods sticking out of the specimen make it clear that it has been mounted in a somewhat unusual way, characteristic of some laid-out skeletons that we acquired from King’s College in 1986 and the Lab number (added by our Conservation team when they treated it) was in the same range as other King’s College specimens.

One such specimen included this Tapir, which as you may notice, is lacking its sternum:

Tapir_apendicular_skeleton Tapir_axial_skeleton

This inspired me to take a look at some Tapir sterna, and I was pleased to find that they matched this mystery object very well indeed – so it looks like Flick was pretty close with her perissodactyltastic suggestion.

Malayan Tapir at the San Diego Zoo, by Sepht, 2006.

Malayan Tapir at the San Diego Zoo, by Sepht, 2006.

I have talked about Tapirs before, so I won’t bore you with more about them right now, except to issue a warning: Tapirs may look comedic and a bit harmless, but they are perfectly capable of biting a human arm clean off. So it’s probably safest to avoid messing with Tapirs, unless they’re in a museum.

Friday mystery object #258

This week I have a mystery object that had been sitting a box for about 30 years with the tenuous description:

Tail section from marine mammal

Here it is:

mystery258

I don’t believe it – do you have any thoughts on what it might be?

As usual, you can put your thoughts, questions and suggestions in the comments section below. Hope you have fun with this one!

Friday mystery object #256

I was working my way through a box of large ratite bone the other day and stumbled across this out-of-place object: mystery256 Any ideas on what it might have come from and why it might have been in a box of Ostrich bits? As usual, you can put your questions, thoughts and suggestions below – if you think it’s easy then maybe try using a clue to give other people a chance of working it out for themselves. Have fun!

Friday mystery object #254 answer

Last Friday I gave you this odd bit of bone (or should I say bones) from a box of mixed objects to identify:

mystery254

As Ellen Going immediately recognised, it’s a scapula and clavicle – which in itself tells us that it can’t be from a Carnivore or Ungulate, since they lack a well-developed clavicle.

The open articulation with large acromial and coracoid processes and the symmetrical, blade-like scapula body suggest that this is an animal with a lot of movement in the shoulder, and reciprocal movement at that (hence the symmetry). This suggests a flapping animal, but without the extreme clavicle adaptation (i.e. the wishbone) seen in birds.

So as Flick Baker, Ric Morris and Joey Williams all realised, this is the shoulder and clavicle of a large fruit bat, in the family Pteropodidae. Good work!

fruitbat-processed

Friday mystery object #252 answer

Last Friday I gave you this object from the Horniman’s Anthropology collection and asked you to identify what it’s made from and what function it may have served:

mystery252

The identification turned out to be the easiest question to answer, despite the modification of the bone. The shape of the end of the bone is a result of the epiphyses (the ends of the bone) detaching from the diaphysis (the midshaft of the bone), which tells us that the animal was a juvenile at time of death and that the bone is actually formed from two bones that have fused together down their length – which is why a similar pattern is repeated on the left and right side of the bone.

This sort of fusion is normally seen in the hand and foot bones of artiodactyls, which narrows down the possible species. Judging by the size and general proportions it would be from something the size of a Roe Deer, although a bit more chunky. The closest species I could find for comparison was the the Goat Capra aegagrus hircus (Linnaeus, 1758), although it may be from a close relative, the Serow:

A Serow (Capricornis sumatraensis) by Melanochromis, 2007

 

As for the function, there were some great suggestions (from weaving comb to needle-case), but apparently this is the key to a set of handcuffs!

The variety of anthropological uses of bone is huge, and it’s always exciting to find something outside of our expectations – which this object most definitely is for me!

Friday mystery object #252

This week I have an object for you that one of my colleagues in Anthropology asked me to check the identification of:

mystery252

Any ideas what bone this is made from and, more of a challenge, what the function of this worked object might have been in its culture of origin?

As usual you can leave your questions, observations and suggestions in the comments box below. Have fun!

Friday mystery object #251 answer

Last week I gave you this object to have a go at identifying:

mystery251

I thought it looked a bit like an Ewok’s weapon, but fairly obviously it’s a bit of some critter’s leg. The question is, which critter?

In comments by David M WatsonDavid Honetaihaku and palfreyman1414  it was quickly recognised as being from a ratite (the group of flightless birds that include Emus, Cassowaries, Kiwis, Rheas and Ostriches – plus some extinct examples like Moas and Elephant Birds), but it was henstridgesj who narrowed it down to a tarsometatarsus (fused ankle and foot bones) of the correct ratite – the Ostrich Struthio camelus Linnaeus, 1758.

The size is a bit smaller than you’d expect for an adult Ostrich and the top of the bone (the bit on the left) is less well fused, so it appears to be from a subadult individual. The reason it can be distinguished from some of the other suggested ratites is all down to the number of trochlea (the rounded and grooved end bits that the toes attach to). Ostriches only have two toes, whereas the other ratites have three or four and this is reflected in those trochlea.

Ostrich foot by Tony Wills, 2007

Ostrich foot showing the two toes. Image by Tony Wills (2007)

So well done to everyone who took part, especially henstridgesj who was spot on!

Friday mystery object #251

This week I have a specimen for you to have a go at identifying, that has come from a box of “mixed bones” that I’ve been working through:

mystery251

It may look like some sort of Ewok weapon, but I’m pretty sure it’s also part of an animal. Any idea what critter this might be from?

As usual, you can leave your thoughts, comments and suggestions below. Have fun!

Friday mystery object #250 answer

For my 250th mystery object I gave you this object from the collections of the Horniman Museum & Gardens to identify:

mystery250

It gave me a bit of a challenge, but eventually I managed to work it out – and it looks like something similar happened in the comments!

We went from ribs, to hind limbs to jaws, which is where it started getting close to the mark. The suggestion of “Part of the zygomatic arch of something large?” by henstridgesj was on the money.

Allen Hazen broke down the observation a bit further, with an astute observation about the components of the zygomatic arch that are present “The jugal and squamosal components of the zygomatic arch (I’d say its the squamosal that has been cut open here)“. Allen also speculated that it may be from a Dugong – which was my preferred identification for a while.

However, Crispin and henstridgesj worked out that it was from an Asian Elephant Elephas maximus Linnaeus, 1758 – the same species that I had also concluded that it belonged to.

By narrowing down the identification to species I was able to search through the museum’s collections management database to find out whether this sliced-off piece of bone might be part of another object. As it turns out, it was!

NH.27.66 Elephas maximus on display at the Horniman

NH.27.66 Elephas maximus on display at the Horniman

So by being able to identify this piece of bone it could be reassociated with the specimen that it originally came from and now there is a record for it in our database, so that if the skull ever comes off display it can be reunited with its cheekbone.

It also made an apt object for my 250th mystery object for Zygoma!

Friday mystery object #248 answer

Last Friday I gave you this mysterious leg to identify:

mystery248

It had me stumped for some time and I was hoping that your suggestions might lead me to an identification.

As it turns out, I did indeed get inspiration from your ideas and I think that I may have worked out which species this leg came from.

The first suggestion came from Barbara, who suggested that it might be from a Wombat. This was a great suggestion, since I hadn’t properly considered any marsupials and the robust nature of the leg suggests a heavyset digger. However, the calcaneus (or heel bone) in Wombats is shorter than we see in this specimen and the ungals (the bits at the very end of the toes, where the claws would attach) are longer and more spade-like in the Wombat – an adaptation for digging.

Carlos and Lee Post made some useful observations about the patella (kneecap) and general proportions of the hind limb elements and how they relate to those of other animals – ruling out anything from North America.

Finally, henstridgesj made the interesting suggestion of Capybara, although it appears that the fibula on the mystery object is far too robust to belong to a Capybara. However, I hadn’t thought too much of rodents, so that got me thinking of another possibility:

20140227_143245

The Crested Porcupin Hystrix cristata Linnaeus, 1758 is the third largest rodent after the Capybara and Beaver, and it appears to have similar general proportions of the hind limbs. I’ll need to check against a specimen, but it seems I have a useful direction for investigation – so many thanks to everyone for your suggestions!

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Update March 27, 2015 9:41am

I have now checked the mystery specimen against a Crested Porcupine and they are indeed a match!

wpid-20150327_092925-1.jpg

Friday mystery object #248

This week I have another perplexing mystery object for you, that I’ve found harder to identify than expected:

click to embiggen

I’ve compared it to several specimens in a similar size range and it hasn’t matched any of them well enough to make a confident attempt at identification. Whatever  it is, I don’t have a skeleton of anything comparable in the stores at the Horniman, and it’s a chunky critter with much more robust hind limbs than a Eurasian Badger Meles meles.

Any suggestions on what this might be from would be greatly appreciated!

Friday mystery object #247 answer

Last Friday I gave you this unidentified object to get your opinions on:

mystery247

This specimen has puzzled me quite a bit. The internal structure is a dense honeycomb, that seems too tightly compacted to belong to a bird – plus it’s so big that the only birds it could possibly belong to would be a Moa, Elephant Bird or maybe Ostrich at a push, and I compared this against two of these three possibilities:

mystery247b

So, it’s mammalian and large. It’s also clearly a metatarsal or metacarpal, based on the shape of the articular surfaces.

It’s not shaped quite right for a one or two toed animal so the it seems that the variety of suggestions along those lines of Hippopotamus, Rhinoceros and Elephant are most likely to be in the right area.

I did compare this to Hippo feet and an Elephant hindfoot and drew a blank, so that leaves an Elephant forefoot or a Rhinoceros foot. My best guess would be the 4th metacarpal of a Rhino, although Elephant is still a contender – I will try to find some comparative material to confirm.

A massive ‘thank you’ to everyone who contributed ideas – it’s great to have some fresh perspectives and new directions to explore when you’re stumped!

Friday mystery object #247

This week I have a complete mystery for you to identify. I’ve checked this specimen against all sorts of species and have drawn a blank. So, I’m opening it up to you, to see if you have some inspiration to help me solve what this is:

mystery247

As usual, you can put your thoughts, questions and suggestions in the comments box below. I look forward to hearing your ideas!

Friday mystery object #246 answer

Last week I gave you this mystery skull from the stunning Galerie d’anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie in Paris:

mystery246

I was struck by the cat-like dentition and general shape, but as many of you worked out, that’s no cat.

It is in fact a specimen of a Fossa Cryptoprocta ferox Bennett, 1833, as correctly identified by Charne, Manabu Sakamoto, Nigel Monaghan, SMerjeevski – good skills!

Fossa by Ran Kirlian

Fossa by Ran Kirlian

This carnivore is endemic to Madagascar and is the foremost natural predator of lemurs. They are well adapted to climbing in order to catch their tree-dwelling main course, with rotating ankles a bit like a Margay.

Madagascar is an amazing place for biology. It separated from Africa around 20 million years ago and has had its own unique wildlife evolving there ever since. This means that the familiar cats that fill niches in (relatively) nearby Africa are missing, since they didn’t really exist when Madagascar started drifting off. The Fossa fills that catty niche.

There may be more mystery objects to come from the  Galerie d’anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie, since the whole place blew me away!

Wow