Friday mystery object #425 answer

Last week I decided to give you a taste of the kind of identification I often get asked to do. One bone with no scale and a photo from just one angle that doesn’t quite show what you’re looking at very clearly:

I must admit that I was suitably impressed with the responses though, since the very first response by Chris was cryptic yet absolutely spot-on.

As you probably figured out, this is the upper front section of jaw (or premaxilla if you’re feeling fancy) from a fish.

The more difficult bit is working out which fish, since there are plenty to choose from – over 28,000 species.

This is where knowing where the specimen came from can be helpful, since it can help narrow down the likely possible options. However, morphology is always the most important thing to consider and I find that locality is more useful for figuring out species than the higher taxonomic group – and higher taxonomy is really helpful for narrowing down options.

Of course, to do this you need good comparative morphological specimens to help steer you in the right direction. This can be difficult when working with fish, since there are so many species and they have skeletons that tend to be poorly fused, so there are many separate bony elements for each animal.

However, there are some great resources out there that are helping address this problem. The Florida Museum has a really helpful resource with images of bony elements of fish, listed by taxonomic group and Osteobase is a similar resource that is even more useful for identification as it’s more image-led.

The premaxilla isn’t always the easiest element to differentiate, but there are a few things to look for:

The teeth. You do need to be careful with these as a feature, since they can break off and look quite different between individuals. Check out the teeth in this specimen and notice there is a line partway down each tooth. This is a weak point that the teeth can break along quite easily and I’ve seen examples of premaxillae from this species that have mainly squarish, blunt looking teeth because the sharp cusps have come off.

General shape. Some Orders of fish have premaxillae that are almost solid triangles (like the Tetraodontiformes), others are long, thin and quite straight – looking almost like just a shard of bone (like some Beloniformes). It’s worth taking a good look at the shape and trying to spot processes and articulation points, since these provide clues to the taxonomy.

Processes on the rear of the premaxilla. These can be present or absent, well defined, poorly defined, high, low, long, short, simple, complex etc. The thing to remember about this mystery specimen is that the rear of the premaxilla curves downward with no processes on the upper surface – so its close relatives are also unlikely to have processes, or if they have them they are unlikely to be well-developed.

Processes in the middle of the premaxilla. Some groups have a process like a fin in the middle of the premaxilla (e.g. Esociformes and Osmeriformes). The mystery has no process here.

Processes on the front of the premaxilla. Many groups do have at least one process on the upper surface at the front of the premaxilla, but the number and shape are important for identification. The mystery specimen has two – the first is tall and shaped a bit like a bat-ear the second is not fully separate from the first and it is lower and quite squared off:

When you start to put all of these features together it becomes easier to narrow down possibilities. If you use Osteobase to scan through images of premaxilla you’ll find that the premaxillae that are closest (although none are identical) are from the Pleuronectiformes – or the Flatfish.

Knowing this one is from Irish waters (which I admitted in the comments) helps narrow down options to 22 species (things like Turbot and flounders) and with a bit of searching online and especially checking specimens in the Archaeological Fish Resource at the University of Nottingham you can narrow down the possible species to one good option.

This is the premaxilla of a Halibut Hippoglossus hippoglossus (Linnaeus, 1758). These large flatfish undergo a strange developmental distortion of the head that allows them to lie on their side on the seabed without having their left eye sitting in the sand.

Illustration of Atlantic Halibut Hippoglossus hippoglossus by Marcus Elieser Bloch (1723–1799), via rawpixel.com.

This asymmetry is far more obvious in the whole animal than it is when just looking at the skull.

As you can hopefully make out, the jaws are reasonably symmetrical and the distortion is mostly in the area of the frontals and ethmoid bones, which have shifted to allow the eye to move. Here’s a more complete view of the right side of the Halibut skull to finish up with:

I hope you enjoyed the challenge!

Friday mystery object #423 answer

Last week I gave you this fishy looking critter to identify:

It wasn’t an overly difficult one for most of you, since it is a very distinctive and somewhat unusual animal with some immediately recognisable features. Most obvious are the gills.

Bony fish only have one visible external opening on either side of their head where water exits after it’s flowed over the gills, and this is well hidden when the gill flap (or operculum) is closed. So this is clearly not a bony fish.

Most modern sharks have 5 external visible gill slits, but this one has six. That makes it a bit of an evolutionary anachronism. There are only seven species of shark with more than 5 gills and they are all in the Order Hexanchiformes, which narrows down the possibilities considerably. Of those, two have seven gills, leaving just five possible species.

Those five species sit in just two families – the Cow Sharks and the Frilled Sharks. These can be separated based on a variety of features, but the most obvious is that the Cow Sharks have fusiform (or spindle-like) body shapes with a very pointed nose to help them move efficiently through the water by minimising drag. The Frilled Sharks have more anguilliform (eel-like) bodies with a blunter head and mouth set further forward in relation to the eyes – a feature about the mystery object picked up on by Allen Hazen.

There are only two species of Frilled Shark to choose between and I’m not sure I could tell the difference between them based on the photo provided. However, one species is only found off the coast of South Africa, and in last week’s post I dropped a (hopefully) helpful clue – this specimen was caught off the coast of Ireland.

That means this can only be the Frilled Shark Chlamydoselachus anguineus Garman, 1884. Well done to Adam Yates for being the first to get it spot on. This specimen was caught off the coast of County Donegal at a depth of 390 fathoms (or 713 metres in standard units) just over 21 years ago. A special mention to Pete Liptrot on Twitter who managed to identify this mystery object to the actual specimen – not just the species!

Friday mystery object #422 answer

Last week I gave you this rather fishy looking mystery object to have a go at identifying:

With that prominent lure it was fairly obvious to everyone that this is an anglerfish of some sort, but there are somewhere in the region of 286 different species, so it needs some narrowing down.

That bulbous body shape is pretty distinctive though, so a lot of people both in the comments and on Twitter quickly identified this as one of the football fish in the genus Himantolophus.

Narrowing down to species is perhaps a bit tricky from just this photo. There are 22 species in the genus and thanks to the deep sea habitat these fish inhabit they aren’t commonly seen, so photos for comparison can be hard to find.

However, the double bony ridge on the head (that makes it look like it’s frowning) is very prominent in this specimen, which isn’t the case for all of the football fish species. However, it is particularly notable in the Pacific and Atlantic Football Fish species.

I have to admit that I’m just not good enough with fish identification to tell the difference based on specimens I’ve seen. However, since this specimen is in the Dead Zoo in Dublin, it seems unlikely (although not impossible) to be from the Pacific.

In the words of our youngest commenter:

It is indeed an Atlantic Football Fish Himantolophus groenlandicus J. C. H. Reinhardt, 1837, so very well done to E and everyone else who managed to work it out!

Friday mystery object #421 answer

Last week I gave you another genuine mystery object to have a go at identiftying, from an archaeological dig by Irish Archaeological Consultancy:

As I suspected, quite a few people recognised this specimen. It’s a humerus with the distal articulation (that’s the elbow bit) intact and the proximal articulation (where it meets the shoulder) broken off.

The size and overall shape is similar to a small, robust human humerus, so at first glance it might suggest a primate, like a Chimpanzee or maybe a small Orangutan. However, the olecranonon fossa (the groove at the back of the elbow joint that the olecranon process on the ulna bone of the lower arm/forelimb locks into when the arm/forelimb is straight) is far too deep for it be from an ape.

Baboons, Geladas and Mandrills have a deep fossa, but the overall shape of their articulations is more cuboid than this, so there aren’t really any other primates large enough.

The shape is all wrong for an ungulate and most carnivore humeri have a different articulation shape and some diagnostic features that are lacking here. But, there is one type of carnivore that has a humerus this shape. This was not lost on many of you, both in the comments here and on Twitter.

The general similarity in shape with a primate humerus is due to a functional similarity in the use of the fore limbs. Unlike most carnivores, the animal this came from can stand bipedally and use its arms. Obviously I’m referring to a bear of some kind.

The type of bear is a bit harder to pin down definitively. It’s unlikely to be a Brown Bear, since it’s not really big enough. That also rules out Polar Bear. I think it’s most likely to be from an American Black Bear Ursus americanus Pallas, 1780, since the other species of a similar size have somewhat better developed supracondylar crests (the ridges on the sides that the muscles of the forearm attached to) it could be from, like the Asiatic Black Bear or Sun Bear.

Thanks for all your observations on this – I hope there will be some more exciting archaeological mysteries to come!

Friday mystery object #420 answer

Last week I gave you this deep sea mystery to have a go at identifying:

It was picked up on the Porcupine Bank, which is a raised area of the Irish shelf around 200km off the west coast of Ireland, just before the drop off into the abyssal depths of the Atlantic.

Although it’s a little hard to tell from the photo, the object is around 1m long. It has a conical cavity at the base, but it’s fairly shallow, extending only about 20cm before fully closing up.

The fact this isn’t a tube allows us to rule out the possibility that this is from some unholy giant scaphopod:

Or indeed a particularly well-formed giant ship-worm, like one I’ve featured before:

You can’t tell from the photo, but it’s very dense and heavy. What you can see is that it has some quite well defined longitudinal ridges:

This isn’t something you normally find in horns, but you do find in tusks. So the question has to be, what kind of tusk is this?

I’ve talked about tusks before on this blog, and I’ve spent a lot of time identifying ivories over the years, after learning key diagnostic features from the wonderfully knowledgable Dr Sonia O’Connor, both in her training courses and working alongside her when I was at the Horniman Museum and she was visiting to do some research. This tusk reminds me of one of the more tricky ones we looked at.

The marine location suggests it could be from a Walrus. The overall shape isn’t bad, but Walrus tusks tend to be no more that about 75cm long at their longest. They also have a more squared-off section at the base and often a deeper groove on the sides partway along the length from the base, so it seems unlikely.

Really that just leaves something proboscidian – but here we hit the difficult bit. Mammoth tusks have been dredged from the sea many times, from fossils in sediments that became covered by sea level rises after the melting of glaciers around 11,500 years ago. However, Elephant tusks were transported in huge nubers to Europe by ship to supply the demands of the ivory trade between the late 18th and early 20th Century, so it is entirely possible that this is a relic of that trade (as suggested by Chris Jarvis).

In my experience, submerged Mammoth tusks are seldom in such good condition as this. While there is some degration and flaking towards the tip, there is much less of the deep staining or separation of dentine fibrils that I would normally expect from Mammoth tusk submerged for several thousand years.

However, if it was more deeply buried until recently it may have avoided the worst of that degradation, so that expectation isn’t good enough.

There is a method for distinguishing between Mammoth and Elephant ivory, that relies on an artefact of the tooth development process. This involves measuring the intersection angle of Schreger lines (an optical feature resulting from light interacting with dentine tubules) in a polished section of the tusk:

In Elephants the angle of intersection tends to be obtuse (>90o), whereas in Mammoths they are more acute (<90o). Of course, to see this would require cutting a section of tusk, so it may have to remain a mystery until the desalination treatment has been completed and I can see if there is an opportunity to check any broken surfaces or prepare a small sample.

The question in this case has to be, how important is it to know the identity, compared to the importance of keeping the specimen as intact as possible? That is a bigger conversation that will need to be had with my colleagues.

Thanks for your thoughts everyone!

Friday mystery object #420

This week I have another real mystery object for you to have a go at identifying. This was dredged off the sea floor, on the extreme western edge of the European continental shelf where it meets the Atlantic Ocean:

There are a few possibilities, so I’d be interested to hear what you think. You can leave your suggestions, observations and questions in the comments box below.

Have fun!

Friday mystery object #412 answer

Last week I gave you this rather nice skull to identify:

I was hoping that it would catch some of you out, since at first glance it looks like the skull of some kind of canid. I thought I had caught out Joe Vans, but then he noticed one of the features that sets this skull apart from dog skulls – the pinched-in section in the mid-muzzle area. Then everyone started piling in with their observations and my hopes of being tricksy were fully dashed.

This is of course the skull of that paragon of convergent evolution, the Thylacine (AKA the Tasmanian Wolf or Tiger) Thylacinus cynocephalus (Harris, 1808).

I’ve written fairly extensively about convergent evolution between Thylacines and canids before, when I worked at the Grant Museum of Zoology, so I won’t go into huge detail here, but I will give you an annotated image showing some of the features to look for that help distinguish these marsupial carnivores from their placental dopplegangers:

A= 8 incisors vs 6 in canids
B= Lacrimal duct on outside of orbit
C= Inwardly deflected angular process
D= “Pinched” midsection of rostrum
E= Palatal vacuities

These physical differences between the Thylacine and the Eutherian canids are features common to many marsupials and they act as reminders that evolution is limited by what it has to work with. At the most fundamental level that means DNA.

In recent years the methods for successfully extracting and sequencing DNA from museum specimens has moved on in leaps and bounds. In 2018 these advances allowed the Thylacine’s genome to be assembled, allowing comparison with their morphologically similar, but taxonomically distant counterparts.

The team that did this went looking for similarities between protein coding genes in the different lineages at first, to understand what was driving the morphological convergence – but it seems that they were looking in the wrong place.

When they looked more closely, it was actually in the cis-regulatory elements (the non-coding DNA that used to be considered “junk”, but which is now recognised as playing a vital role in regulating development) that genetic convergence was seen. It turns out that these elements were also driving convergence in brain development between Thylacines and canids.

It seems that protein coding genes are quite stable – if they mutate they usually stop working properly, so the mutation often doesn’t persist. But mutations in cis-regulatory elements can change gene expression with less risk of catastrophic consequences. Unsurprisingly that means they are increasingly being seen as the main drivers in evolutionary adaptation. If you’re interested in finding out more about this fascinating research, a pdf of the 2019 paper on Thylacine/canid genetic convergence by Feigin, Newton & Pask can be accessed here.

I hope you enjoyed this short trip down the road of convergent evolution, with a hat-tip to the genetic drivers involved.

Friday mystery object #412

After last week’s foray into insects, I have a nice chunky vertebrate skull to for you to have a go at identifying:

Any idea what this might be from? I have a feeling this may be way too easy for some of you, so let’s keep the answers cryptic or perhaps poetic, so everyone gets a chance to figure it out for themselves. Have fun!

Friday mystery object #411 answer

Last week I gave you this (somewhat dusty) mystery object to try your hand at identifying:

I know that insects aren’t a frequent occurence on the blog, so this was a bit of an unfamiliar one for many of the regular Zygoma commenters. Of course, that didn’t prevent some astute observations.

Chris Jarvis immediately spotted that this is a wood wasp or sawfly, while palfreyman1414 flagged that it looks more like a fly (barring the long ovipositor). That’s because wood wasps, despite being members of the Hymenoptera, lack that characteristic wasp-waist that makes the Apocrita (the hymenopteran Suborder containing wasps, bees and ants) so distinctive.

Not a fly, but not really a wasp either

The Symphyta is the Suborder containing the sawflies and there are thousands of different species. However, narrowing it down wasn’t really that hard, since sawflies specialise in using their ovipositor to lay eggs in the stem of quite specific host plants and the only sawflies in this size range are in the family Siricidae, which are the ones that pick on trees (which is pretty interesting, since they form a symbiotic relationship with wood-digesting fungi in order to feed on wood as larvae).

Quite a big bug*

Of course, being insects, there are still around 150 to choose from, but between ruling out taxa that have adopted Batesian mimicry and those that are a very different size or shape, it becomes easier to narrow down the possible contenders – especially when you consider that this one turned up in Dublin, Ireland (although as pests of wood they can emerge from pine timbers a long way away from their point of origin – this one probably got into the Dead Zoo in some of the timber being used for our big decant project). The best fit for this specimen lies in the Genus Sirex.

When tryingto to distinguish between members of Sirex it’s important to pay attention to colour details of the legs and antennae. In this case it has red legs and black-and-red antennae. If you spend a while checking through the very helpful Sawfly GenUS resource you’ll find that the best fit for the mystery specimen is a female Sirex juvencus (Linnaeus, 1758).

Of course, the entomologists out there managed to figure all this out without any problems, both on Twitter and in the comments.

So well done to Jaswinder and Russell Stebbings for getting a species level identification – I would say that you got it right, but since I’m not an entomologist I think I should just be pleased that your more informed opinions happen to support my best guess. Thanks!

Stay tuned for another mystery object next Friday. Have a great weekend everybody!

*not a Bug – the True Bugs are Hemiptera and have nothing to do with this.

Friday mystery object #380 answer

Last week I gave you this specimen from the “Unidentified” drawer in the collections of the Dead Zoo to try identifying:

mystery380

I don’t think anyone had much difficulty in identifying it, since it is quite a familiar and characteristic skull, but well done to everyone who worked out that this is a European Badger Meles meles (Linnaeus, 1758).

There are two other species in the same genus – the Asian Badger M. leucurus and Japanese Badger M. anakuma, so they also need consideration (skulls of all three species can be seen in this paper by Andrey Puzachenko). However, the Japanese Badger is a smaller and more delicately skulled animal and the Asian Badger can be distinguised by differences in the shape of the region around the bony bulbs that hold the ear bones (called the auditory bullae – in Asian Badgers they’re more obtuse and have a straighter lateral margin).

So apart from the distinction between two members of the same genus, this is a fairly straighforward specimen to identify, it makes me wonder why it wasn’t recognised in the collection? I think there are a couple of factors, which I’ll outline here.

The first is that the lower jaw (mandible) is missing. This is totally normal for almost any kind of animal skull you find, except these badgers, which have a well-developed bony process that locks the mandible into the long jaw articulation (known as the glenoid fossa).

Badger

Badger skull with mandible locked in place.

Glenoid

Detail of jaw articulation showing the main features. Red = mandibular articulation, Blue = inside of glenoid fossa, Green = glenoid process that helps lock the lower jaw in place.

This captive mandible is a dead give-away when you see it, but it does mean that when it’s missing it can be confusing.

A mature adult European Badger like this (as indicated by the well-developed sagittal crest) would also normally have extremely extensive wear on their molar teeth, due to the abrasive grit in the gut of their main diet of Earthworms.

Molars

Extensively worn upper molars of an adult European Badger

But the mystery specimen has remarkably little wear on those massive molars. This suggests that it probably had a different diet than is usual for a Badger from northern Europe – and no, not mashed potatoes. The same species in southern Europe has a different diet to their northern counterparts, dominated by insects and fruit, so I wonder if the specimen was collected during someone’s holiday to somewhere in the Mediterranean?

[UPDATE 28th April 2020. Several people have kindly shared images of their badger specimens and it seems that the level of wear in my specimen is not as common as I thought. In one discussion the issue of soil type was raised and I think that may play a big factor. This specimen came from Devon, in an area with sandy soil. Other specimens from areas with muddy or silty soils showed much less wear. This may be coincidence, but it would make sense that Earthworms with coarser soil in their gut would be more abrasive to eat and therefore cause more dental wear. That would be fairly straightforward to test using museum collections. If this hypothesis about wear is correct, then the mystery specimen could be from anywhere with soils that aren’t too sandy.]

I hope you found that useful, or at least a bit of a distraction from lockdown. Stay safe!

Friday mystery object #374

Recently I was looking at some skeletal specimens in the Dead Zoo stores, to help with a research enquiry. I came across a drawer of unidentified bones and as you might have guessed, I was delighted. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing some of these to get your thoughts on identifications.

To get started, here’s a good one:

Any ideas what bone this is and what animal it’s from? You can leave your ideas in the comments section below.

Have fun!

Friday mystery object #332

This week I’ve been looking at birds, so I thought I’d share the joy with you. Do you have any thoughts about what this might be?

I expect that quite a few of you will have a pretty good idea, so please keep your suggestions cryptic, to let people who are less familiar with avian identification have a chance of improving their skills.

Have fun!

Friday mystery object #326 answer

Last week I gave you this dissected mandible to have a go at identifying:

20180322_162222-01.jpeg

I thought it might be fun to get a poetic response and I wasn’t disappointed. There were some great efforts and I thoroughly enjoyed unpicking the clues from the verses people crafted in response. Of course, a poetic soul is only so much use in this game – you also need to work out what it is.

Bob Church was the first with a bardic response that was unambiguously on target for the identity of the mystery specimen:

Though the bone’s a disaster
There’s enough left to answer
What this rolly polly animal could be
It might sound a bit funny
But mix a turtle and bunny
And you’ll find the bowled over family

Of course, if you mix a turtle and a bunny you get something that looks like the artistic creation by John Tenniel in 1865 to illustrate Lewis Caroll’s Mock Turtle from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

alice_par_john_tenniel_34

Gryphon and Mock Turtle with Alice, by John Tenniel in 1865

The animal in question is actually remarkably similar in appearance:

9-banded Armadillo by Ereenegee, 2011

9-banded Armadillo by Ereenegee, 2011

It’s the Nine-banded Armadillo, Dasypus novemcinctus Linnaeus, 1758, a decidedly odd animal that lives in South, Central and southern parts of North America.

Most mammals have well differentiated teeth, so the homogeneity of these in shape (or homodont condition) suggested that you were dealing with something a bit unusual, with simple peg-like teeth, open roots and no enamel. That makes the mandible quite distinctive, even with some missing teeth.

The one slightly confusing thing about this half a jaw is that it appears to have tooth holes (or dental alveoli) for 10 teeth (as recognised by salliereynolds, who also got the identification right), but armadillos are only meant to have eight teeth in each side of their upper and lower jaws.

I thought this difference might throw you off the Armadillo scent a bit, but clearly I was wrong. The difference in this jaw will probably be because it comes from a young animal which still has milk teeth (or the alveoli for them) that aren’t all replaced by the adult teeth.

These insectivorous armoured animals are unusual in a variety of ways beyond their dental idiosyncrasies. They have imbricated bony nodules or plates embedded in their skin (or osteoderms) that forms a tough armour:

mysob3a

Dorsal view

mysob3b

Ventral view (width ~5cm)

They also consistently give birth to four offspring every time, originating from a single egg that splits into four. So every Nine-banded Armadillo has three identical siblings. I think this fact alone qualifies them as one of the weirder animals out there.

More mysteries next week!

 

*Juliette Kings may have got in with the first identification, with reference to the Armadillo’s habit of jumping straight up in the air when alarmed and occasionally screaming, but it sounded a bit more like she was suggesting Goat.

Friday mystery object #326

Yesterday I was doing some work in the gallery of the Dead Zoo and found a specimen that needs a little light repair work to stick teeth back into sockets. I thought it might make an interesting object for you to have a go at identifying:

20180322_162222-01.jpeg

Any idea what this piece of mandible might belong to? It’s probably a bit too easy for some of the mystery object veterans, so please keep your suggestions cryptic and, if you’re in the mood, poetic.

Have fun!

Friday mystery object #325 answer(ish)

Last week I gave you the challenge of identifying this bit of bone found in a rockpool in Kimmeridge by 7 year old Annie:

mystery325a

It’s not the easiest item to identify for a variety of reasons. First of all it’s broken, only showing one end and probably missing quite a lot of the element. Next, the images don’t show all of the angles you might want to see and because the object is small the images aren’t as clear as you might like.

However, there are a few angles visible (see below) and there is a scale, so the main requirements to get an approximate identification are in place. I say approximate, because with something like this I think you really need the object in your hand where you can compare it to other material in detail if you want to make a confident identification.

Excuses aside, let’s take a look and see what it might be…

The first thing to note is that the bone is hollow with thin walls. This rules out fish, reptiles, amphibians and mammals (including humans jennifermacaire) – leaving birds.

Weathered mammal bones may have a void in the bone where the marrow would have been, but the cortex (outside layer) will be thicker and near the articular surface it tends to be quite solid.

mystery325c

Hollow bone = bird (usually)

Next, the articular surface of the bone is concave, which palfreyman1414 picked up on:

As far as I recall (mentally running through images in my head) both ends of the proximal limb bones in tetrapods have convex ends?

This is accurate, but while the proximal (near end) of the limb bones are convex, the more distal (far end) limb bones tend to have concave ends, so that helps narrow down what this bony element might be.

mystery325b

Concave articulation

For me the give-away here is the fact that there’s no ridge within the concavity of the articular surface, which means that it will allow movement in several directions – something that the bones of bird feet don’t really need, which is why bird lower legs,  feet and toes have a raised ridge inside the articular surface that corresponds with a groove in the other surface, keeping the articulation of the joint tightly constrained.

20180315_143049-01.jpeg

Articulation of Shag phalanx showing raised ridge

However, bird wing need to make a wider range of motion (at least in some species), so the mystery object is most likely the distal end of a bird radius (the ulna tends to have a hook at the distal end). This is the conclusion that Wouter van Gestel and DrewM also came to (joe vans should’ve stuck to his guns).

20180315_143712-01.jpeg

Distal articulation if duck radius

Identifying the species of bird is a lot more complicated. The size suggests a pretty big bird, which narrows it down and the locality in which it was found makes some species more likely than others. I took a look at the radius of some species that are commonly found on the coast, like Guillemot, Herring Gull, Duck, Cormorant/Shag and Gannet, Skimmer, Pigeon and I also checked out Chicken, since their bones are probably the most commonly occurring on the planet.

20180315_142205-01.jpeg

Gannet radius with some distinctive structure around the articulation

Many of the species I checked had quite a distinctive structure around the distal radius articulation, but the gulls, ducks and chickens that I looked at had fairly unremarkable distal radius articulations, making it hard to definitively decide what the mystery object is based on the images.

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Herring Gull radius

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Chicken radius

 

So with that somewhat disappointing conclusion I admit partial defeat, but I can say that it’s not from a Cormorant, Shag, Gannet, Pigeon or Guillemot. Sorry I can’t be more specific Annie!

Unfortunately that’s just how the identification game works sometimes… we’ll try again with something new next week!

Friday mystery object #325

This week I have a genuine mystery object for you passed on from my NatSCA colleague Holly, that was found in a rockpool in Kimmeridge by 7 year old Annie when she was out fossil hunting on the beach:

mystery325amystery325bmystery325c

Any idea what this object could possibly be?

I don’t think there’s any need for cryptic clues this time, as it’s a proper challenge and I’d love to hear what you think it is and what it’s from. Have fun!

Friday mystery object #320 answer

Happy New Year everyone!

Last week I gave you this skull to identify from the collections of the Dead Zoo in Dublin :

King Vulture Sarcoramphus papa (Linnaeus, 1758)

I also included the label, since it offers an interesting taxonomic twist.20171228_163420.jpg

If there’s one principle that I hope I’ve managed to convey over the last eight and half years of doing the Friday mystery object, is that you should never fully trust the label.

For starters, the number NMINH:2006.12.1698 could be misleading, as it reflects the year the specimen was catalogued rather than the year it was acquired. To explain, the NMI uses a very sensible numbering system that starts with the collection (NMINH = National Museum of Ireland Natural History) the year of registration (usually the year of acquisition) which allows you to know which register to look in, followed by the lot number (a sequential number reflecting how many acquisitions have come in that year), followed by the individual object number (the sequential number of that individual item in a particular lot). This system can have additional numbers added if necessary, such as if a piece of an individual object is removed for sampling.

However, some older objects were not registered when they entered the collection and as such they get a number that reflects the year they were documented rather than the year they were acquired. In this case the specimen was registered in 2006, but purchased from an auction of the collections of van Lidth de Jeude who died in 1863, as Nigel (the Dead Zoo Keeper) helpfully pointed out in the comments.

If the specimen had been accessioned and numbered on entering the collection back in the 1860’s then issues with the name would be expected since taxonomy constantly changes and old names are often wrong, but because of the new label and the 2006 date, you’d generally expect the name to be more up-to-date. However, it appears that the information on an old label was directly transcribed without being updated.

This is relevant because the name Orogyps auricularis is what we call a junior synonym, which means it has been used to describe a species that already has an older valid name. When this happens the older name takes precedence. In this case, Orogyps auricularis is a name applied in 1867 by Degland and Gerbe to a species that had already been named Vultur tracheliotos  by J.R. Forster in 1796 and which is now placed in a different genus, giving the name Torgos tracheliotos (Forster, 1796) – where the parentheses around the author name indicate that the scientific name has changed from the original version that was published by Forster.

These taxonomic and documentation twists are however rendered redundant as soon as you realise that this specimen is from a totally different species. In fact it’s not really anything like Torgos tracheliotos the Lappet-faced Vulture:

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Lappet-faced vulture

In fact, the only real similarity lies in the tip of the beak, which is a functional feature for tearing meat and which is convergent between the Old World Vultures and the New World Vultures. The Lappet-faced Vulture is an African species, while the mystery object has the distinctive deflection of the bill in the nasal region that indicates it’s a species from the Americas. This discrepancy in region was noted by palfreyman1414 and Gerard van den Brink.

Once you focus on the New World Vultures it becomes quite easy to make an identification, since there are only seven species and at 121mm this specimen is the third largest species after the condors – something easy to check on Skullsite. So well done to everyone who recognised the skull as belonging to the King Vulture Sarcoramphus papa (Linnaeus, 1758), especially palfreyman1414 who got there first.

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King Vulture by Eric Kilby, 2008

As you can see, not only was the taxonomy very out of date for this specimen, it was also completely wrong, because it was misidentified 150 years ago. This is why you should never fully trust labels – they will often be wrong and if you base research on misidentified specimens, that will be wrong too.

Another mystery specimen next week!

Friday mystery object #320

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas break!

This week I have another specimen from the Dead Zoo to identify – this one has an identification already, but the taxonomy is rather archaic and I think that once you’ve investigated the modern version of the name, you’ll realise that it’s wrong.

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Skull length = 121mm

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So, any idea what this name should actually be and, more importantly, what the identification actually is?

As always, you can put your thoughts, questions and suggestions in the comments box below – have fun!