Friday mystery object #348 answer

Last week I gave you this mystery object to try your hand at identifying:


It was both a bit tricky and a bit easy. It was tricky because it’s the skull of a cat, and as I’ve discussed before, cats are a morphologically conservative group that are quite difficult to differentiate between, due to their relatively recent divergence as a group. It was easy because of the context provided by the previous mystery object, as commented on by Wouter van Gestel who immediately worked out what this skull came from.

This is the skull of a large male Clouded Leopard Neofelis nebulosa (Griffith, 1821). These beautiful, elusive and rare big cats from Asia have the longest canines in relation to body size of all the modern cats – making them an occasional comparison for the sabre-toothed cats of prehistory.

Clouded Leopard in Cincinnati Zoo, Charles Barilleaux, 2012.

Clouded Leopard in Cincinnati Zoo, Charles Barilleaux, 2012.

Although they may look adorable, they use those long canines to take down a variety of vertebrate prey, including monkeys, deer and even armoured snack-beasts like Asiatic porcupines and the overly-put-upon pangolins. They are one of the few truly arboreal cats, able to climb head-first down trees and even scoot along the underside of branches, giving them an advantage as an ambush hunter in forest environments.

So well done to everyone who figured that the mystery skull belonged to this fantastic feline!

Friday mystery object #222 answer

Last Friday I gave you this fabulous feline skull to have a go at identifying:


No one got quite the right species, but several people (Crispin, manwhohunts, Maxine and Alex Klein) managed to narrow it down to the correct genus.

The flat frontals give the forehead a slope rather than the usual curve we’ve seen in previous cats of this size, making the cranium appear very domed in contrast. The post orbital processes are quite short and gracile (slender). The jaw is quite short while maxilla bone above the canines appears pinched in and the nasals are steep and protruding somewhat.  These are features that appear in the genus Leopardus – the South and Central American small spotted cats.

How to distinguish between different species of Leopadus is more of a problem. Daniel Jones picked up on the incredibly robust bone margin of the foramen magnum (the hole the spinal chord goes into), which may be distinctive, but so far I’ve not seen the underside of other small Leopardus species skulls, so I can’t be sure.

All I know is that this is the skull of an Oncilla Leopardus tigrinus (Schreber, 1775), a small and mainly ground-hunting South American forest cat. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, cats are so difficult to identify!