Friday mystery object #292

This week I have my last mystery object from the Grant Museum of Zoology, since I am starting my new job as Assistant Keeper of Natural History at the National Museum of Ireland next week. However, there is one specimen that’s been getting on my nerves the whole time I’ve worked at the Grant, as it says on its label that it’s from an Albatross, but I simply don’t believe it. Can you help me work out what this rather dusty specimen actually comes from?:

dsc06030No need for cryptic clues I think, since it’s probably going to be a little bit of a challenge and some discussion seems likely – which will be easier if we all know we’re talking about the same thing.

Have fun with this one!

Friday mystery object #291 answer

Last week I gave you this skull from the Grant Museum of Zoology to identify:

mystery291

I thought this would be a fairly easy one and so I wasn’t surprised when Chris was straight in with a correct identification, in a suitably cryptic manner of course.

The huge open sinuses inside the orbit and openings around the auditory bullae (as spotted by palfreyman1414) immediately suggest that this is an animal that dives deep underwater, as the large openings help prevent pressure from building up inside the skull. The shape of the teeth are another giveaway that this is a fish-catching mammal in the Order Carnivora. It is of course a seal.

But what kind of seal? There are 33 species of pinniped, so there are a few options, although the large and distinctive species like Walruses can be ruled out for obvious reasons. In this size range and with multicusped teeth like these we’re looking at one of the true seals (the Phocidae) at the medium to small end of the size range.

When you start looking at the skulls of seals in this range, you need to look  closely. It lacks the flat top of the head and steeply sloping profiles following the nares of a Grey Seal, plus the interorbital distance (the distance between the eyes) is much smaller.

It lacks the inflated nasal region of the cold water Bearded Seal, Ribbon Seal, Ringed Seal and Harp Seal, which need well developed nasal turbinates to help warm the air they breathe in. It also lacks the deflection of the zygomatic below the orbit that is seen in the smaller species like the Caspian and Baikal Seals.

Overall the morphology is most similar to either the Spotted Seal or Harbour Seal, but picking between the two is tricky, especially since the Harbour Seal has around five subspecies that vary somewhat in size and shape of things like the auditory bullae. There is a list of characters that can be used to distinguish between the skulls of the two species by John J. Burns in the Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. Using that as a guide I think this is a Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina Linnaeus, 1758.

Thanks to everyone who had a go at identifying this – I hope you had fun with it!

Friday mystery object #289

This week I’ve decided to go for another mini mystery object from the Grant Museum Micrarium. Any idea what this is and what it’s from?

mystery289

As always, your thoughts, questions and suggestions can go in the comments box below.

Also, if you have any images of tiny things you can share them on Twitter with the hashtag  to win a signed copy the excellent new book by Ed Yong – it’s well worth a read!

Have fun!

Friday mystery object #288 answer

Last week I gave you this mystery object from the Grant Museum of Zoology to try your hand at identifying:

mystery288

Not the best photos, but they do show some of the key features I used to work out what it is.

There were a lot of comments with a variety of different groups of animal being mentioned, although everyone recognised this as a mammal immediately. The large broad tail was recognised by Allen Hazen as an adaptation to swimming, but its unusual proportions threw some people into thinking this was something quite basal, like a marsupial or member of the Pilosa. The presence of a clavicle supported that to some extent as many of the more recent mammal orders, like the Carnivora, have a reduced or absent clavicle.

The hind feet were also recognised as an adaptation to swimming by palfreyman1414, but he was sceptical that this specimen represented just one species, suggesting it might be a chimera. However, I wouldn’t do that to you (unless it was an April Fool prank) so the real animal remained to be identified.

Hiroto Nakatsubo raised the possibility of it being a rodent, but commented that it was on the big side. This could have pointed at Beaver, as many people suggested, except the specimen lacks the distinctive tail morphology. All of this followed my own though path for working out what it is – a medium large aquatic rodent that isn’t a Beaver.

That narrowed it down to Capybara, Muskrat, Coypu or monster Water Vole. Of these, only one has the size difference between fore and hind limbs, plus the distinctively weird acromion process on the shoulder – the Coypu Myocastor coypus Kerr, 1792. So Isaac Krone was the first to get the correct identification, which he hinted at with reference to the Coypu’s alternative common name Nutria and the genus name which means “mouse-beaver” in Greek. Well done to Isaac!

Coypu showing off its weird discrepancy in limb lengths. Image by José Reynaldo da Fonseca, 2006

Coypu showing off its weird discrepancy in limb lengths. Image by José Reynaldo da Fonseca, 2006

 

 

Friday mystery object #288

This week I have a mystery skeleton that emerged from the collections of the Grant Museum of Zoology recently and required identification:

mystery288

Apologies for the slightly rubbish photographs, but I’ve taken pics of the bits I found most useful in making my identification.

Any thoughts on what species this specimen represents? You can put your questions, thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below. Have fun with it!

Friday mystery object #287 answer

Last week I gave you this specimen from the Grant Museum of Zoology Micrarium to try your hand at identifying:

20160915_121009-1.jpg

I enjoyed the variety of entertaining answers, ranging from a preschool drawing of a grandma with a beehive hairdo to a larval Alien, but I was also impressed by the range of cryptic clues about the identity of the specimen.

A favourite was a reference to “dealing with a pea covering” or variations on that theme, which gives us “Cope” and “pod”, which is what this is – a Copepod (which means “oar-foot” in Greek). For those of you unfamiliar with copepods are small crustaceans, many of which live as zooplankton and that as a group may make up the majority of the Earth’s animal biomass. They’re tiny, but there are countless billions of them.

This one isn’t as tiny as many of its relatives, because it has a rather different lifestyle to planktonic forms. This is a sea louse and it’s a parasite of fish. They feed on the mucus, skin and blood of fish and if they reach high levels of infestation they can be a real problem, potentially killing fish. This particular specimen has two trailing egg cases, which I think threw some of you. It was removed from a Brill and as Daniel Calleri recognised from a visit to the Grant Micrarium, it’s Lepeophtheirus hippoglossi (Krøyer, 1837).

If you’ve been to the Grant Museum and have photos from the Micrarium, or if you have any photos of tiny animals, you might fancy entering a Twitter and Instagram competition by sharing them with the hashtag #MicroMultitudes, Have fun with your photos!

Friday mystery object #274

Last week I talked about ungulates in collections being incorrectly identified as sheep. This week I have a specimen for you that is also not a sheep, although it does look a bit sheepish. Can you work out what it is?

mystery274

You can leave your thoughts in the comments section below – I’m not sure they need to be cryptic, but it certainly adds to the fun!

Friday mystery object #272

This week I have another specimen from the Grant Museum of Zoology for you to try your hand at identifying:

mystery272

I have a feeling that it may be easy to get this identification to Family level, but species may prove a little bit more tricky.

I’d love to hear what you think it might be, so leave your suggestions in the comments box below. Have fun!

Friday mystery object #271 answer

Last Friday I gave you this odd looking V-shaped bone to identify:

mystery271a

It led to a lot of speculation on Facebook and Twitter, with ideas including a bird wishbone, hyoid or mandible. However, the comments on the blog tended to be a little more focussed in the area of the mandible of an ant-eating mammal.

The two little prongs at the anterior of this lower jaw are a bit of a give-away about which type of ant-eating mammal it is, as they are only seen on one family. When you look at the additional image I provided it becomes even easier to work out which:

mystery271b

As most of you correctly worked out, this is a specimen of Pangolin, of which there are four species in the genus Manis (thanks Allen Hazen for the correction – there are more like eight species in the family). I found this nice illustration of the skulls of the various species, to help narrow it down even further:

Anatomical and zoological researches: comprising an account of the zoological results of the two expeditions to western Yunnan in 1868 and 1875; and a monograph of the two cetacean genera, Platanista and Orcella. John Anderson, 1878.

Anatomical and zoological researches: comprising an account of the zoological results of the two expeditions to western Yunnan in 1868 and 1875; and a monograph of the two cetacean genera, Platanista and Orcella. John Anderson, 1878.

So it appears from the morphology of the premaxilla, zygomatic region and nasals that this is a Sunda Pangolin, Manis javanica Desmarest, 1822.

Manis javanica by Piekfrosch, 2006

Manis javanica by Piekfrosch, 2006

These unusual scaly insectivores are critically endangered due to poaching for their meat, skin and scales for the Chinese market, with their population suspected to have declined by 80% in the last 20 years, despite having a protected status. Sad to say that their ability to roll into an armoured ball does nothing to protect them from people.

Friday mystery object #268 answer

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a lovely festive period.

I gave you this distinctive specimen from the Grant Museum of Zoology to try your hand at identifying:

mystery268

Despite being distinctive, it raised some discussion about the identification, because there are few resources available for comparison.

Phil Cox was the first to get the right Family (at least in the comments – @MelanieGbones got it on Twitter) – the Chrysochloridae or Golden Moles. Then the discussion got a bit more involved as species were discussed and the possibility of the convergent Marsupial Moles was considered.

There are 21 species of Golden Mole, all of which occur in southern Africa, which could have made this a very difficult identification to species, if it wasn’t for the large size of the skull and the very characteristic large and vertically-posteriorly flaring zygomatic arch that continues round to near the back of the skull. This narrows it down to one of two species in the genus Chrysospalax.

The extent of this feature in this specimen, plus the shape of the palate, suggest to me that this particular specimen is from the

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Friday mystery object #268

Merry Christmas mystery solvers!

This week I have an unusual object from the Grant Museum of Zoology for you to identify:

mystery268.jpg

It’s pretty distinctive, but I’ve not seen many of these, so hopefully it’ll make an interesting object to identify. As usual, if you think you know what it is, please leave a hint or cryptic clue rather than just writing down the answer – it makes it more fun for other people that way.

Have fun!

Friday mystery object #266 answer

Last week I gave you this distinctively weird looking skull to identify:

mystery266

As I suspected, many of you worked out what it was straight away, but I wonder if it would have been as easy if the side view hadn’t included the mandible?

The upper dentition, especially the pair of incisors, is somewhat similar to that of a rodent, but that mandible is ludicrously massive and could only really belong to the weirdest primate in the world: the Aye-aye Daubentonia madagascariensis É. Geoffroy, 1795

So very well done to Tone Hitchcockhenstridgesj, Chris, Cindy Nelson-Viljoen, Daniel Jones, steve tornaAgata Stachowiak, palfreyman1414, boneman2014Lee Post, joe vans, Allen Hazen, Dave Taylor, Michelle, witcharachne, and Daniel Calleri.

The Aye-aye’s incisors are an adaptation for gnawing holes in wood to get at grubs inside. It finds these tasty morsels using a tapping finger and crazy bat-like ears to detect the tunnels the larvae create when feeding, with a system a bit like seismic ground response analysis.

Aye-aye by Frank Vassen 2008

Aye-aye by Frank Vassen 2008

 

Once the squishy prey has been detected and an entry point has been gnawed, the Aye-aye fishes it out using a specially adapted long, thin finger with a hooked claw.

Aye-aye fingers by Dr. Mirko Junge 2009

Aye-aye fingers by Dr. Mirko Junge 2009

Basically, the Aye-aye feeds rather like a woodpecker, but with the benefit of fingers and teeth. Perhaps it’s weird, but it’s most definitely wonderful!Aye_aye

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 #264

As I’ve mentioned a few times, I have recently started a new job as Curator of the Grant Museum of Zoology at UCL. If you’ve never visited, you should pop by, and if you have visited then why not vote for us in the Time Out Love London Awards, preferably right now, since voting closes today. I’d love it if we could beat our heavyweight neighbour, the British Museum!

PV_micrarium_2

Moving on to the real subject of the blog, I have finally had a chance to start hunting for specimens in the Grant to see if there are any unidentified items tucked away that might make good mystery objects – and my new colleague Tannis knew just where to look:

Bag o-bones

This bag-o-bones came to us from the Royal Free Hospital and was completely sealed up, making it hard to see inside. For those of you who like a challenge I’ll leave you with just this image, but if you’d like a slightly less tricky image to work from, you can see the single most distinctive part of the specimen here.

Do you have any idea what it might be? It’s pretty easy if you check out the distinctive bit, so please keep your answers cryptic if you can!

Oh, and if you like skulls, you might be interested in my first Specimen of the Week on the Grant Museum blog.