Friday mystery object #282 answer

Last week I gave you this mystery object supplied by Dr David Hone:mystery282

This is the premaxilla of a fish, but that doesn’t narrow things down much, since there are 28,000 species of bony fish, leaving a huge range of possibilities.

There were several suggestions of Wolf Fish, which is what I originally thought it was myself, but that’s not what it is. Then the suggestions of various Wrasse species started cropping up – which is a lot more likely.

My first look at Wrasse teeth came when I tried to identify the fish used in the Horniman’s Merman:

SONY DSC

There are a lot of Wrasse, over 600 species in fact, so it can be hard to narrow down the species, especially when few comparative specimens are available.

One very helpful osteology resource for identifying fish from their bony bits is Osteobase which lets you pick a bone and start making comparisons. It’s worth keeping in mind that you need to really explore the taxonomic tree on the left of the page to get a real appreciation of how useful it is – so for example, after selecting the premaxilla, if you look at the Perciformes (the Order containing the Wrasse) you see a huge range of premaxilla specimens that help narrow down the bone you’re trying to identify.

This clearly shows that the Labridae is definitely the right family for the mystery object and the Mexican Hogfish Bodianus diplotaenia (Gill, 1862) is a very close match.

So congratulations to Richard Lawrence who I think has it right, especially since the specimen was found within the range of this species. I hope you all enjoyed the challenge!

Friday mystery object #282

This week I have a mystery specimen from Dr David Hone who showed me it when he came and spoke about Tyrannosaurus at PubSci the other night (if you want to see the talk take a look at the Periscope feed from the evening). Here it is:

mystery282

Do you have any ideas of what bone it is and from which family of animals? If you can work out the species I will be both surprised and very impressed.

As usual if you think it’s too easy, please be sure to leave a cryptic clue in the comments section below. I hope you have fun with this!

Friday mystery object #271

This week I have a mystery object for you from the Grant Museum of Zoology that’s either a bit too easy, or a bit mean:

mystery271a

If you’re not a fully paid-up bonegeek, you might like to have a bit of an additional clue; if so, click here.

Please keep your answers in the comments section cryptic, so everyone gets a chance to have a go at working it out without spoilers. Have fun!

Friday mystery object #265

This week I have a specimen that I’ve been looking at recently that you might like to have a go at identifying:

Mystery monkey

Mystery monkey

This was being used in handling sessions and needed a tooth to be reattached (huzzah for Paraloid B72), but I noticed that it lacked an identification beyond ‘monkey’ and I thought that could be improved upon.

Here it is laid out more usefully for identification purposes:

mystery265I know what I’ve narrowed it down to, but I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

Friday mystery object #264 answer

Last week I gave you a tricky mystery object in the form of a dusty bag:

Bag o-bones

Of course, I’m not truly that mean, so I also provided a characteristic part of the specimen:

mystery264

Despite being a bit broken, it’s fairly clearly the mandible of a felid, given the shape of that one molar and the limited sockets for the missing premolars, suggesting something with a very reduced tooth count – something that most of you spotted straight away.

The size is a bit small for a Tiger or Lion, it’s a bit big for a Puma or Cheetah and it’s not quite as robust as I’d expect from a Jaguar, leaving us with the likely identification of Leopard Panthera pardus (Linnaeus, 1758). So well done to joe vans and palreyman1414 for ‘spotting’ what it was (terribly pun, I know).

Here’s a nice Leopard skull from the Grant Museum of Zoology collections to give a sense of scale.

leopard

More mystery objects to come from the Grant next week, but if you’d like to see another specimen from the collection, my latest specimen of the week, that looks at the darker side of the Walrus might be of interest.

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!