Friday mystery object #311

This week I have a real mystery object for you, which came in as an enquiry from the bottom of a mine in Ireland that was flooded to the roof with freshwater. It’s earned itself the delightful name of the ‘Clonkeen snot’ thanks to its appearance and texture:

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If you click on the image, it will open a large version so you can have a really good look at the fascinating gunk that was fished from the subterranean dankness.

Any ideas what this might be?

As always you can leave your questions, thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below. Have fun!

Friday mystery object #310 answer

Last week I thought it was time for some more bones, so I gave you this specimen from the Dead Zoo to have a go at identifying:

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There was no scale, the photo is far from ideal and the specimen isn’t in the best condition, but the animal is pretty distinctive, so I thought it wouldn’t prove too much of a challenge – and it turns out that I was right.

Palfreyman1414 was the first to identify it to genus level, correctly recognising that it was one of the two Notoryctes species of Marsupial Mole from Australia.

The weird limbs are a pretty good indicator this being a digger, with large muscle attachments and robust forelimbs, but it has couple of large claws rather than the ridiculous giant hands of the Old World Moles and it has a shorter skull.

Double prep mole from the Horniman Museum

Double prep of an Old World Mole Talpa europaea from the Horniman Museum & Gardens

The skull is more similar to that of the golden moles of southern Africa, although their rostrum (nosey bits) tends to be more concave while the marsupial moles have a more convex rostrum (and in some cases, weirdly flaring zygomatic arches).

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Lateral view of the skull of a Giant Golden Mole Chrysospalax trevelyani from the Grant Museum of Zoology

Now distinguishing between the two species of Marsupial Mole is a bit more tricky, not least because they are quite poorly known animals and there aren’t many specimens available for comparison – this is particularly true of the Northern species, which was first described as recently as 1920.

This is actually quite useful to know, since the mystery specimen came into the collection in 1897 – from Southern Australia – so it’s safe to say it’s the Southern Marsupial Mole Notoryctes typhlops (Stirling, 1889), but that’s not very helpful from a morphological perspective.

So far I’ve not found any useful skeletal features that help differentiate the two species, but apparently their fur colour is a little different, with the Northern species having pinkish or cinnamon fur and the Southern species having yellowish-white to a deep gold. To see what they look like with their fur, here’s the taxidermy partner to the mystery skeleton:

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Taxidermy Southern Marsupial Mole Notoryctes typhlops in the National Museum of Ireland – Natural History

As with most moles these subterranean critters have adapted to spending much of their time underground by losing their eyes, investing in some serious digging equipment and tuning in to smells and low frequency sounds.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour around the main moles of the world! More mysteries next week.

Friday mystery object #308 answer

Last week I gave you this beautiful insect to try your hand at identifying:

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From the start it was pretty clear it’s a wasp (just look at that characteristic waistline) and palreyman1414 pointed out the key things to look for in making sure it isn’t a fly pretending to be a wasp:

I believe that there are some flies that are camouflaged to look like wasps, but a close look suggests that this thingy has a full complement of four wings, instead of the two plus two halteres (?) that characterises the flies

Now there are a LOT of wasps out there – somewhere in the region of 150,000 species (more than all of the vertebrates put together) so that doesn’t narrow it down much. However, that waist isn’t just pinched-in like your average wasp, it’s petiolate (that’s science-talk for “stalked”), which means it’s one of the Sphecidae.

The large size also helps – most wasps are tiny, so big ones like this are relatively scarce, especially bright metallic green-blue jobs. This distinctive appearance brings to mind for me the Steel-blue Cricket Hunter (see below), but it’s from the wrong part of the world (and it’s more green than blue).

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Chlorion aerarium from Maryland, USA, July 2012. Image by USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory

However, we know there are a lot of wasps, so it’s worth looking at close relatives in the Sphecidae, to see if there is anything from the right part of the world (that’s made reasonably easy by using an appropriate reference with a checklist).

It turns out that we don’t need to look too far, as the mystery specimen looks like it’s in the same genus of Cricket Hunters – Chlorion (as suggested by Ilyas) and checking out the species occurring in India has me leaning towards Chlorion lobatum (Fabricius, 1775), which is what abcdefg200 hinted at.

These active hunters don’t eat Crickets themselves, they actually get their energy from nectar, so they’re helpful pollinators. The Crickets face a more grisly fate than just being killed and eaten – they are paralysed, then buried alive with a wasp egg laid on them, which subsequently hatches and the larvae eat the still-living Cricket. Nightmare fodder.

There are a few subspecies of this particular species of wasp, but I’m not even going to try to work out which this might be, since even carrying out a proper identification to species would require time with a microscope and a lot more experience than I have with this diverse, fascinating and above all nightmarish group of insects.

Friday mystery object #308

As I’ve mentioned before, for the last few months I’ve been feverishly moving objects for a gallery lighting project. 

That’s pretty much done now (and looking great) so now I’m feverishly moving the Dead Zoo’s collection of over a million insects out to a new home in the National Museum of Ireland’s Collections Resource Centre.

So this week I have an insect for you to identity, which should provide a bit of a colourful change from the usual vertebrate bones:

For some of you this may be way too easy, for others, way too hard. It help to know that this was collected in India and it’s around 25-30mm long.

I hope you have fun identifying it!

Friday mystery object #307 answer

Last week I gave you this specimen from the Irish Room of the Dead Zoo to try your hand at identifying:

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Now it’s not a particularly difficult species to identify for a keen birder, so I asked for cryptic clues to the identity, and I was not disappointed. Some suggestions were so cryptic I still haven’t managed to work them out!

First in was Jennifer Mccaire who quoted a brief line of poetry:

“…Thou hast no sorrow in thy song, No winter in thy year.”

This is a section of a poem published in 1770 by John Logan – the title being “Ode to the Cuckoo“. Now, it seems likely that Scottish born Logan wrote this about the Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus Linnaeus, 1758 that breeds in Europe and which looks like this:

Common Cuckoo. Image by Chris Romeiks, 2011

Common Cuckoo. Image by Chris Romeiks, 2011

Clearly it’s a different bird (one which mimics the appearance of a female Sparrowhawk) and it’s not quite the same as the mystery object – although there are similarities. However, we must keep in mind that Jennifer is of the North American persuasion, so her thoughts on Cuckoos will probably veer towards the Black-billed Cuckoo or Yellow-billed Cuckoo (or maybe the Mangrove Cuckoo, but that’s not as widespread as the other two).

If you don’t know the difference between these two North American Cuckoos, here’s a handy illustration to help differentiate:

Black-billed Cuckoo (left), Yellow-billed Cuckoo (right). Watercolour by Louis Agassiz Fuertes between 1910 and 1914.

Black-billed Cuckoo (left), Yellow-billed Cuckoo (right). Watercolour by Louis Agassiz Fuertes between 1910 and 1914.

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