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

Friday mystery object #246

Last weekend I had a fantastic visit to Paris and my wonderful wife gave me the best Valentines Day gift in the world, by taking me to the spectacular Galerie d’anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie.

Paris_Comparative_Anatomy_G

As you might have guessed, I was in bone heaven and had to be dragged out by security at closing time – but not before taking hundreds of photos of the incredible collections.

So this week’s mystery object comes courtesy of Georges Pouchet, the comparative anatomist who established the Gallery:

mystery246

Any idea what this might be?

As usual you can put your suggestions, thoughts and questions in the comments box below. I hope you enjoy the challenge!

Friday mystery object #245 answer

Last Friday I gave you this guest mystery object from Dr Nick Crumpton at the NHM:
mystery245
Here’s what Nick had to say about it:
So when I first picked it up I thought – embarrassingly now – that perhaps it was something a bit pinniped-like but then the teeth didn’t match that idea at all so I reverted to thinking it was a bit more doggy.
Irritatingly, it was a juvenile so that scuppered size-based guesses, and ruled out taking too much information from the posterior, mandibular teeth. Also, the skull was darn cute, with a shorter snout than an adult would possess.
I had a couple of ideas from looking at the width of the zygomatic arches, but that lack of a parasagittal crest got me all twisted around. And time was tight for what we needed it for!
My esteemed colleague Mr Garrod was the first to push me in the direction of a wolverine, but I’ll leave it to Paolo to show how he managed to ID the little critter and save the day – although it looks like a bunch of people on here already managed that! Love the bone-banter. 😀
We’ve discussed in the past how the skulls of juvenile animals can be misleading and for this species a number of the features you would immediately recognise in the adult are absent in this juvenile. Therefore I’m not that surprised the suggestions in included Arctic Fox, Sea Otter, Common Seal and Spectacled Bear, in addition to the possibility of Wolverine.
Wolverine cranium

Wolverine cranium for comparison

Despite the juvenile dentition, the blade-like molar and 3rd premolar, and robust second molar were indicative of a carnivore with a specialisation for eating bone and the breadth across the zygomatic arches indicated something with a powerful bite force.
Wolverine dentition is remarkably robust, since they often scavenge bone and in the winter they need to feed on meat that has frozen solid. They have a wide skull (see above), but the relatively large upper molar is at right angles to the 4th premolar, which has a cleft that the 3rd premolar nestles into.
This is rather different to the much straighter dentition of the mystery animal, which is distinctly more cat-like, albeit with too many teeth. That narrows it down to one of the Hyenas. From there it becomes a bit more difficult and the fact it’s a juvenile throws a bit of a spanner in the works, but if pushed I’d probably opt for Spotted Hyaena Crocuta crocuta (Erxleben, 1777).
So well done to Chris, Lena, palfreyman1414, Allen Hazen and henstridgesj who all came to the same conclusion.
Finally, a big ‘thank you!’ to Nick for posing a decent challenge!

Friday mystery object #245

This week I have a guest mystery object for you from Dr Nick Crumpton at the NHM.

Hello Zygoma fans. Nick Crumpton here from across the way at the Natural History Museum in South Ken.

Well, this fellow completely stumped me for a few hours this week on finding it in our teaching collection:

mystery245

Until, that is, I called on the always helpful advice of Mr Viscardi (OK, and a certain Mr Garrod too…)

I’d love to see whether anyone can work out what it is, and how they figured it out!

You can leave your suggestions and thoughts in the comments section below – enjoy!

Friday mystery object #243 answer

Last week I gave you this nightmarish looking mystery object to identify:

mystery243

There were lots of great suggestions about what it might be, with most of you in the right area of the animal kingdom with a legless critter in mind. In particular a fairly primitive type, with aglyphous or ‘groove-less’ teeth (as opposed to snakes characterised by having opsithoglyphous or ‘backward grooved’, proteroglyphous or ‘forward grooved’ and solenglyphous or ‘pipe grooved’ teeth).

There were several suggestions of Boa constrictor – specifically the right maxilla (upper jaw), but they have a straighter top to the maxilla and a differently shaped process that connects with the frontal and ectopterygoid bones (check out Udo Savalli’s snake skull anatomy page to see what those terms mean).

Anaconda was also suggested, but the anterior (front) part of  the maxilla is not squared off enough.

Nicola Newton, rachel and Alex Kleine all suggested Python, which is what I think it is. I’m not certain of the species, but it’s definitely a big one – I’m leaning towards the Reticulated Python Python reticulatus (Schneider, 1801).

Just to give you a better idea of which bone it is, here it is compared to the skull of another large Python skull from the Horniman’s collection:

mystery243b

and to give a better sense of scale, here it is with my (fairly large) hand for comparison:

mystery243a

My very rough estimate of the length of the animal, based on other skeletal material I’ve seen, is around 5m – that’s one snake I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of!

Friday mystery object #241

Recently I’ve been working through boxes of mixed archaeological bone and bone fragments. So here’s one of the objects I had to identify as part of that process:

mystery241

Any idea what it might be?

As usual you can put your observations, suggestions and questions in the comments box below. If you find it easy, please try to use a cryptic clue so other people get a chance to get involved. Have fun!

Friday mystery object #240 answer

Last Friday I gave you this characteristic skull to identify:

mystery240

Many of you recognised that this is the skull of a Hornbill, and Martin Edvardsson, ClareP, Jamie Revell, paleomanuel, witcharachne, marcuschua all managed to identify it as a Great Hornbill Buceros bicornis Linnaeus, 1758.

You may be surprised to know that this specimen was originally misidentified as a Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill Bycanistes subcylindricus (Sclater, 1870) by the taxidermists who prepared it – quite a basic error for a natural history professional!

The Great Hornbill is a large Asian bird that feeds on fruit and any small critters that end up at the wrong end of that impressive bill – from insects to owls. Their distinctive black and white plumage is used by a lot of native people in Southeast Asia in costume, leading to pressure on the bird’s population due to hunting.

Great Hornbills have a somewhat odd system for breeding, with the female walling herself up inside a hole in a tree using faeces, and the male delivering food to her and the chicks through a narrow hole. It works for Great Hornbills…

Friday mystery object #238 answer

Last Friday I gave you this creepy clown doll made of bone to identify:

mystery238

There were some great cryptic responses from yogicbear, Claire Miles, Jake, henstridgesj, Daniel Calleri, Robin Birrrdegg and Anne Åslaug Holder identifying that it’s been made from a wishbone, with the unfortunate donor being a Chicken Gallus gallus domesticus (Linnaeus, 1758).

The wishbone is somewhat larger and better formed than the usual one you’ll find in a modern chicken, since modern birds tend to be eaten when they’re much younger than this bird would have been. It came to the Horniman in 1923, donated by English folklorist Edward Lovett.

The second part of last week’s mystery was this sound provided by Cheryl Tipp, curator of the British Library Wildlife Sound Archive:

Again, there were some brilliant cryptic answers to the sound, with an anagram from Claire Miles and two lovely pieces of verse relating to the animal provided by Harry. It is of course the characteristic creaking call of the Corncrake Crex crex (Linnaeus, 1758).

Corncrake by Rachel Davies, 2009

Corncrake by Rachel Davies, 2009

So a big congratulations to everyone who took part – that’ll be the last of the sounds for the time being, next week I’ll have to think about some more specimens to pose a challenge!

Friday mystery object #238

Since it’s Halloween I thought it might be appropriate to have something a bit creepy to identify – and what’s more creepy than clowns? Apart from maybe dolls. So here’s a clown doll:

mystery238

Any idea what this creepy little object is made from?

While you’re pondering on that you may want to also have a think about what this eerie noise from the British Library Wildlife Sound Archive is made by:

…and it’s not the sound of a tiny wild clown chasing sheep in the dead of night.

Probably.

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 #234 answer

Last Friday I gave you this mystery skull to identify, which I discovered in a box of unidentified bits and bobs:

mystery234

It was pretty obvious that it was the skull of a big cat of some kind, with most of you suggesting a Jaguar or Cheetah (either of which would make me very happy as we have the skull of neither in the Horniman collection). Unfortunately it appears to belong to neither.

As I’ve mentioned  before, cats are quite difficult to differentiate from each other as they haven’t been diverging for all that long and their widespread distributions can mean that populations within a particular species can be quite variable in morphology. Leopards are a good example of this, with a (once continuous) range from Korea to South Africa.

Global distribution of the leopard (Panthera pardus) by Tommyknocker

Global distribution of the leopard (Panthera pardus) by Tommyknocker

As it turns out, this specimen is most likely from a Leopard Panthera pardus (Linnaeus, 1758), since it’s from an adult animal (as is clear from the well formed sagittal crest) but is on the small side for a Lion or Tiger and too big for a Cougar or Cheetah. It also lacks the broad post orbital region seen in the Cheetah and Snow Leopard, and it lacks the concave profile of both the Snow Leopard and Jaguar. All of these identification pointers can be found in this handy pdf by Margaret “Cookie” Sims.

Just to show you what I mean about the variability within a species, here’s a second skull from the same box, that also matches the Leopard identification.

Leopards

I expect the big difference in size is largely down to sexual dimorphism, but as you can see the overall proportions are quite different as well. This may be a difference between widely separated populations, or it could just be individual variation – either way it goes to show that cats are hard to identify.

Friday mystery object #233 answer

Last Friday I gave you a variety of mandibles to have a go at identifying. They lacked a scale bar and represented a range of different species that have similarities in mandible shape.

There were some great cryptic suggestions of identities, but it must be said that Jake came through with a really clear and pretty much spot-on list of suggestions. So here are the answers in a handy form that might be useful for reference:

mystery233b

The Sheep and Cow have a distinctive upward inflexion at the end of the mandible, with the Cow’s being so strong that the incisors start above the level of the top of the molar tooth row – unlike the Sheep’s.

This inflexion is much less marked in the Red Deer, which has a narrower body of the mandible, presumably relating to the less intensive chewing of a browser compared to grazers (grass is tough stuff). The Deer also has a notch along the bottom of the jaw, which Jake pointed out as a useful feature.

The Pig mandible tapers less overall, but is thicker at the end with the articulation – presumably because the omnivorous Pig is chewing differently, using the temporal muscles more than the masseter muscles and therefore needing a different area of the jaw for muscle attachment. The teeth are also pretty distinctive. Like the Pig, the Donkey mandible lacks the long and hooked coronoid process, but is also very triangular in shape with quite squared teeth – features typical of an equid.

So hopefully that gives you some pointers for telling some common herbivore mandibles apart when you don’t have a scale bar – a more common problem for some of us than you might think…

Friday mystery object #233

This Friday I have a challenge for you. Can you work out which five different species these mandibles come from?

mystery233

They are all different sizes and the lack of scale bars is deliberate – this is about trying to find useful features from the shape rather than the size, It’s not easy!

You can put your answers in the comments section below. Good luck!

Friday mystery object #232 answer

Last Friday I gave you this nice robust skull to identify:

mystery232

There was a healthy discussion about possible identifications, with the importance of scale mentioned more than once (by Jake, palaeosam, Lena and Robin Birrrdegg). Not only is this a robust skull, it’s also quite large, ruling out the British carnivores – and it clearly is a carnivore judging by the canines and the well-defined sagittal crest.

The lack of cutting and puncturing premolars and molars means that cats, dogs, hyaenas and other very carnivorous large carnivores can be ruled out, narrowing down the likely options in the right size range to the bears, as recognised by palaeosam, Ric Morris, Robin Birrrdegg, Will Viscardi, cromercrox, cackhandedkate, Lena, Daniel Calleri, henstridgesj and Carlos.

The species is a bit more difficult to work out, but the big sagittal crest and fused sutures suggests that this is not an juvenile bear, meaning it’s too small for a bear of the Brown  or Polar variety. That still leaves quite a range of other possible bears, but the pronounced forehead and long square muzzle rules out the Giant Panda, Sun Bear, Spectacled Bear and Asiatic Black Bear, while the big robust incisors rule out the Sloth Bear. That leaves the American Black Bear Ursus americanus Pallas, 1780.

Ursus americanus by Mike Bender/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2008

Ursus americanus by Mike Bender/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2008

So well done to cromercrox, Carlos and Robin Birdeggg who all got the species correct!