Friday mystery object #327 answer

Last week I gave you this mystery bone to identify:

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As I suspected, it was simultaneously easy and difficult: easy because it’s clearly an os penis or baculum; difficult because it can be hard to narrow down the species to which a baculum belongs without having specimens for comparison. For some reason people can be funny about penis bones and, despite the fact that male animals tend to be over-represented in museums, the baculum will often have been removed or not included in skeletal mounts.

That said, Steph came closest, getting the right family with the clue:

Bac to the bear-minimum I would guess?

If you remember one of my past posts I showed an image of the baculum mounted on the skeleton of a Giant Panda in Berlin (more about this below):

Panda_penis_bone

You can see that, although it differs slightly with a bit of a dip towards the tip, it’s rather similar in structure to the mystery object.

Oddly however, it appears that this baculum on the Berlin Panda specimen has been switched for that of a different bear species. Pandas have a very distinctive reduced baculum with wings (see below), that looks nothing like this, which is more similar to the os penis of a Spectacled Bear (or possibly a Polar Bear at a push).

The mystery object is actually the baculum of a Sloth Bear Melursus ursinus (Shaw, 1791).

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N.B. note that the writer of this label couldn’t quite bring themselves to write the full word “penis”

In future, should you ever find yourself with an unidentified bear penis on your hands, I suggest taking a look at this handy figure by Abella et al. 2013¹:

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Baculum in laterial view of: A Helarctos malayanus; B Ursus thibetanus; C Tremarctos ornatus; D Ursus americanus; E Melursus ursinus; F Ursus arctos; G Ursus maritimus; H Indarctos arctoides; I Ventral view of the Baculum of Ailuropoda melanoleuca; J Dorsal view of the baculum of Ailuropoda melanoleuca.

So in answering one mystery object we’ve uncovered a far bigger mystery – how did the Berlin Panda end up with the wrong penis?

 

¹Abella J, Valenciano A, Pérez-Ramos A, Montoya P, Morales J (2013) On the Socio-Sexual Behaviour of the Extinct Ursid Indarctos arctoides: An Approach Based on Its Baculum Size and Morphology. PLoS ONE 8(9): e73711. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0073711

Friday mystery object #326 answer

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

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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:

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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:

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Dorsal view

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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 #323 answer

Last week I gave you this incredibly cute mystery floofball to identify:

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It took approximately 10 minutes for palfreyman1414 to work out what it was and come up with an excellent cryptic clue as to the identity of the genus:

Right, best guess is that this is a genus of tiny anno domini public transportation.

Tiny (=micro) anno domini (=AD aka Christian/Common Era, abbreviated to CE) public transportation (=bus) which gives us Microcebus.

Microcebus É. Geoffroy, 1834 are commonly known as the Mouse Lemurs, a genus containing 24 currently recognised species of tiny Malagasy primates.

Lesser Mouse Lemur by Arjan Haverkamp, 2007

Lesser Mouse Lemur by Arjan Haverkamp, 2007

Normally I’d be looking for a species level identification, but that would be a real challenge, since the members of this diminutive genus are remarkably similar in appearance – especially if you only have a very faded 100+ year old specimen to work from.

In fact, before genetic analysis was available, only two species of Mouse Lemur were formally recognised, with another couple proposed but disputed. In the last 20 years there have been a further 20 new species recognised, meaning that despite the label on the Dead Zoo specimen saying it’s Microcebus murinus (Miller, 1777), it could well be something else – perhaps even a new species yet to be described.

I say that because even though researchers have been busy finding new species, they are mostly working in the field and several of the species being discovered are incredibly rare due to habitat loss in Madagsacar. When our specimen was collected it could easily have been from an area that was logged before researchers had a chance to do genetic work on the Mouse Lemurs present, so there may have been species there that were never discovered before they were lost.

This idea of species being lost before they’re discovered is a depressing, but very real one. Most taxonomists agree that there are around ten times as many species on Earth as have been described by science so far. More are being discovered all the time, but they tend to be from areas with fewer scientists (unsurprisingly), but not necessarily areas with less human impact.

Rainforests are a good example, where species diversity is incredibly high, but dams, logging and slash-and-burn agriculture to support soy, palm oil and cattle farming are gobbling up huge swathes of habitat before biologists have ever seen it.

To put that into some kind of perspective, England and Wales are much less diverse than a rainforest environment, but new species are still being found despite having a couple of centuries of extensive and systematic recording and collecting. The perspective comes from the fact that an area of rainforest the same size as England and Wales is destroyed every year, before it’s ever had a chance to be studied.

I talked about some of the issues of extinction on the Mooney Goes Wild radio programme recently, which you can listen to here if you’re interested.

More mysteries next week!

Friday mystery object #321 answer

Last week I gave you this fuzzy object from the stores of the Dead Zoo:

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It’s a slightly generic looking creature and I’m not surprised a few ideas for identification were mooted, because it lacks any single distinctive feature in this image (partly because the characteristic grizzled facial hair is a bit indistinguishable due to historic soot). That didn’t stop Wouter van Gestel, Mike Shanahan, RobinBirrrd, James Bryant, and jor from recognising it though.

This is the wonderfully weird Bearcat or Binturong Arctictis binturong Temminck, 1824 which is a South and Southeast Asian carnivore in the viverid family (those are the civets) that is one of only two carnivores with a prehensile tail (I’ve talked about the other one, the Kinkajou, in a previous blogpost).

Like the Kinkajou, the Binturong isn’t a very carnivorous carnivore. It eats more figs than meat and it lacks the restless dynamism of the average predator, plodding flat-footedly on the ground and climbing well, albeit in a much slower and more measured way than other arboreal carnivores that take killing a bit more seriously.

Binturong by Greg Hume, 2017

Binturong displaying characteristic levels of activity. Image by Greg Hume, 2017

Apart from the unusual prehensile tail, the living Binturong has one other unusual characteristic (as pointed out by RobinBirrrd) – it smells like popcorn. This is due to the emissions of its musk gland, situated conveniently near the genitals and anus. Sadly our specimen smells more like a half-washed dog that’s been rolling in mothballs.

More mysteries next week!

Friday mystery object #321

This week I thought I’d give you a break from the bones and offer up a fuzzball for some Friday fun:mystery321

Any idea what this (slightly dusty looking) critter from the collections might be?

It’s probably a bit too easy for some of you, so cryptic clues and subtly veiled hints would be appreciated in the comments section please. Have fun!

Friday mystery object #313 answer

Last week I gave you this cheeky chap to have a go at identifying:

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There was some lovely wordplay in the answers, with Chris getting in early with this great one:

I thought I had a shrewed idea until I saw the Bilby in the background which could show this isn’t the elephant in the room. Coot is legs be too Bandi?

This rules out elephant shrews and correctly identifies it as some kind of bandicoot, thanks to its marsupial case companion. Then palfreyman1414 dropped an anagram into the mix with:

Mere ale plus Satan?

which is so nice I wish it was correct, but alas this isn’t a Long-nosed bandicoot Perameles nasuta, although it is in the same genus.

Allen Hazen wondered “How badly does fur fade in preserved specimens?” and that turned out to be the key question, since everyone shied away from the correct identification, because one of the characteristics of this species’ pelage (that’s mammal-fan speak for ‘fur’) is that it’s supposed to have two stripes on its hindquarters or, more accurately, bars. As it turns out, fur fades quite badly in preserved specimens.

This is in fact a Marl or Western barred bandicoot Perameles bougainville Quoy & Gaimard, 1824 (NMINH:1906.301.1).

Marl

These diminutive Australian marsupial insectivores are vulnerable to introduced predators like cats and foxes, so their wild population only remains on some islands after once being widespread across Western Australia.

Even on the islands where they have some protection from placental predators, they face issues with disease, since their population has shrunk by so much it has impacted on their genetic diversity – reducing resistance to disease at the population level. In particular, a virus that causes tumour growth is affecting the animals on some islands, leaving the species increasingly under pressure.

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One island does remain free of the virus, so hopefully with proper management the Marls will be able to hang on in there.