Friday mystery object #299 answer

Last week I gave you this cute critter to try your hand at identifying:

mystery299

I thought the presence of fur would make it easier than usual, but of course, hair hides a lot of rather useful diagnostic features that you can find more easily in the bare bones.

However, you managed to pick up on a couple of the key features that gave this specimen its name: it looks like a lagomorph (one of the hares, rabbits or pikas) or maybe a larger rodent and it looks like a macropod (one of the kangaroos, wallaroos or wallabies). Several people wondered about it being a Kangaroo-rat, but that distinctive back foot, with its big central toe and then the skinny little side toes (you have to look carefully), tells us that it’s the other way round and this is a marsupial that looks like one of the placental glires (that’s the group containing the rodents and the lagomorphs).

The marsupial identification was initially spotted by palfreyman1414 and tenaciously defended by Rebecca, who was on the right track when she veered toward it being something in the Potoroidae (the rat-kangaroos, potoroos and bettongs), a suggestion that was put forward in a more cryptic way by jennifermacaire.

This is in fact a Rufous Hare-wallaby or Mala Lagorchestes hirsutus Gould, 1844, which marsupial wrangler Jack Ashby spotted with ease:

I should say that it is indeed VERY faded, after spending over 100 years in a glass ceilinged gallery.

These small macropods live on a few islands in Western Australia, but their original wider range has been dramatically reduced by changing land use patterns resulting from the breakdown of the relationship between the Aboriginal people and the land, caused by encroachment and systematic persecution by European settlers. It’s not onlyhumans who suffer when people treat each other badly.

Friday mystery object #269 answer

Last week I gave you this mystery object from the Grant Museum of Zoology to have a go at identifying:

mystery269

If you’ve been checking the mystery object recently you’ll notice that this specimen has a feature of the palate that I made reference to in the answer to mystery object #267 – the Tasmanian Devil. It’s incompletely ossified, which is a characteristic of marsupials.

The large curved canines and pointed premolars suggest some predatory activity, while the flattened molars suggest some grinding of vegetation, making this one of the marsupial omnivores, in the Order Peramelemorphia.

The large size of the skull and the long curved canines make this specimen rather distinctive – as first spotted by Richard Lawrence, this is indeed a Continue reading

Friday mystery object #267 answer

Last Friday I gave you this specimen to identify:

mystery267

It was a pretty distinctive one, but a great specimen – and a nice robust example of this particular species.

The partially ossified palate and nasolacrimal (or tear) duct on the external border of the orbit shows that this is a marsupial, and the pointy, robust teeth suggest that it’s highly carnivorous with a penchant for carion, which narrows down the options pretty effectively.

As many of you recognised, this is a Tasmanian Devil Sarcophilus harrisii (Boitard, 1841) – so well done to Tone Hitchcock, Chris, Cindy Nelson-Viljoen, Ric Morris, henstridgesj, palfreyman1414, Lauren McCafferty, joe vans, Daniel Jones and Daniel Calleri, Allen Hazen and Michelle for getting this one right. The key was definitely in those marsupial characters, which immediately ruled out any of the highly diverse placental carnivores.

Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, Taranna, Tasmania, Australia by JJ Harrison 2010.

As several of you alluded to, the Tasmanian Devil is undergoing a major decline in population at the moment, mainly due to a particulary nasty transmissible disease that causes tumours to develop on the face, preventing feeding. The tumours are spread between individuals when they bite each other, especially when feeding, which is pretty common Devilish behaviour.

In fact, Devils are pretty rough and tumble creatures in many of their behaviours. When breeding they have a large litter of up to 30 young, which have to compete for just 4 nipples in the pouch. Unsurprisingly, few of the litter survive and presumably those that do are pretty pushy.

Hopefully the Devils will survive their current population crash. There are some individuals who show some resistance to the facial tumour disease, which reflects the importance of genetic diversity within populations. It would be a great shame if the Devils went the same way as the other large marsupial carnivore, the Thylacine.

Friday mystery object #116 answer

On Friday I gave you this skull to identify:

Jake spotted that this was a marsupial’s skull straight away and many of you suggested Kangaroo using a variety of crafty clues. There was also a well reasoned suggestion of Koala that fell just a little short.

Obenedo missed the correct answer by a hair(y nose) but got the right type of animal, as did jonpaulkaiser, Matt King, Jake and Cromercrox.

Neil managed to go that little bit further and get the right species –  Continue reading