Friday mystery object #323 answer

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


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:


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:


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).


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.


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

Friday mystery object #305 answer

Last week I gave you this specimen to identify, with a clue about the tail being distinctive:


There were lots of correct answers – the first coming from palfreyman1414 who nailed it with this great cryptic clue relating to its scientific name:

Trump assortment pack

It is indeed Potus flavus (Schreber, 1774) or as Allen Hazen and jennifermacaire hinted at with kinky clues, a Kinkajou. They’re also known as Sun Bears, Lirón (which is also the Spanish name for the Dormouse) or Micoleón (lion monkeys).

A Kinkajou at the Paradise Animal Rehabilitation Center, Volcancito, Panama. Image by Dick Culbert, 2008

A Kinkajou at the Paradise Animal Rehabilitation Center, Volcancito, Panama. Image by Dick Culbert, 2008

As the name Micoleón suggests, these South American floofsters are what happens when a carnivore tries to be a monkey. They have dexterous digits for climbing and handling the fruit that makes up the bulk of their diet and they are one of only two carnivores with a prehensile tail (the other is the Binturong) – hence that tail clue.

This tail acts like a fifth limb that helps the Kinkajou climb and in particular it allows the animal to hang down in order to reach fruit at the ends of slender branches:

Kinkajou hanging using its prehensile tail. Image by Damian Manda, 2009

Kinkajou hanging using its prehensile tail. Image by Damian Manda, 2009

Unlike monkeys, the Kinkajou is nocturnal, relying on its sense of smell and touch more than its eyesight to work out which fruit is ripe. It uses its very long tongue to scoop out fruit pulp and sometimes to feed on nectar from flowers.

All in all it’s a very curious little carnivore that looks more like a lemur than it does its closest cousin, the Coatimundis.

Friday mystery object #305

This Friday I’m giving you a game of heads or tails from the Collections Resource Centre of the Dead Zoo:


I don’t normally add a photo of the tail, but in this case it should make the identification a doddle – literally a 50:50 shot at getting the right species. If you know what I’m talking about, then please be cryptic in your suggestions – don’t spoil it for everyone else!

If you don’t know why this tail is so significant then you should know that the skull is 10cm long and all will be revealed next Friday!

Good luck!