Friday mystery object #258 answer

Last Friday I gave you this object to identify:

mystery258

It already had an identification of sorts on a label, but I didn’t believe it for a moment:

mystery258_label

I’m pleased to say that neither did any of you and Jake got the ball rolling by identifying it as a sternum rather than a tail.

This didn’t necessarily make the identification much easier, since different sterna shapes are not really all that familiar for many of us and there is relatively little comparative material available.

Despite this, there were some good attempts, ranging from Polar Bear to Horse (via the mysterious clue “Losing voice we hear?” by Flick Baker, which for some reason I struggled to figure out… to my shame I have never been any good at cryptic crosswords).

I had a bit of an advantage in identifying this object, because I had some insider curatorial information. The metal rods sticking out of the specimen make it clear that it has been mounted in a somewhat unusual way, characteristic of some laid-out skeletons that we acquired from King’s College in 1986 and the Lab number (added by our Conservation team when they treated it) was in the same range as other King’s College specimens.

One such specimen included this Tapir, which as you may notice, is lacking its sternum:

Tapir_apendicular_skeleton Tapir_axial_skeleton

This inspired me to take a look at some Tapir sterna, and I was pleased to find that they matched this mystery object very well indeed – so it looks like Flick was pretty close with her perissodactyltastic suggestion.

Malayan Tapir at the San Diego Zoo, by Sepht, 2006.

Malayan Tapir at the San Diego Zoo, by Sepht, 2006.

I have talked about Tapirs before, so I won’t bore you with more about them right now, except to issue a warning: Tapirs may look comedic and a bit harmless, but they are perfectly capable of biting a human arm clean off. So it’s probably safest to avoid messing with Tapirs, unless they’re in a museum.

Friday mystery object #257 answer

Last week I gave you this slender bone to try your hand at identifying:

mystery257

You didn’t have much to go on, but most of you recognised that it’s a fibula (well spotted Ric Morris, Kevin, Mieke Roth and Flick Baker) and I was impressed by the variety of clever clues used to communicate that knowledge. However, Michelle went a step further and identified this as being from a large felid, in the size range of a Mountain Lion, earning loads of bonegeek points.

It took me a little while to work out what this was myself, since it was in a box with Ostrich bones and my first thought was that it might be from another bird. It has articulations at either end and a long midshaft, so it was obviously one of the long bones, but it’s very slender and wouldn’t be able to carry much weight on its own, so it was either a radius or fibula.

I started by looking at the radii of a some large birds, like Albatross and Flamingo. However, on comparison with a few specimens it became obvious that I was looking in the wrong area, since the articulations didn’t fit with those on a bird radius at all. They also didn’t fit the shape of any mammal radius I could think of, so I started considering fibulae.

I knew it couldn’t be a bird fibula, since they are fused with the tibiotarsus and would lack an articulation at the distal end, so I started looking at mammals. It was a bit slender for a dog, but pretty similar to a cat, if on the big side.

Then I remembered that I had a box of postcrania from the same collection as the Ostrich that this bone shared a box with. So I checked the mystery object against that and was pleased to find that there was only one fibula in that box, it was from the other leg and it was a mirror image. So it looks like this bone has not only been identified, but reunited with the Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus (Schreber, 1775) skeleton it came from!

Cheetah in Kruger National Park (South Africa). Image by Mukul2u, 2008

Cheetah in Kruger National Park (South Africa). Image by Mukul2u, 2008

Friday mystery object #256 answer

Last week I gave you an object to identify that I found hiding in a box of Ostrich bones:

mystery256

I’m pleased to say that Laura McCoy, Michelle, Joey Williams and Lena worked out that it’s the right femur of a Perissodactyl, but there was a lack of agreement about which kind of Perissodactyl it might be.

Rhino’s weren’t considered, since their femurs are distinctively massive, but both Tapirs and Equids were suggested (which could include Horse, Donkey, Zebra, maybe even Quagga).

My first thought was Horse, mainly because it looks very much like a Horse femur and they are quite common in collections – but that’s not really good enough for the purposes of real identification.

On inspection of images of a Tapir femur in a veterinary manual (link opens pdf) I had to have a rethink and now I am really not sure about the identification, particularly since I know that there is a big box of Tapir postcrania that came into the Horniman from the same collection as the Ostrich. Other specimens from that acquisition have also been mixed up, for example a box of Lion postcrania I was working in today had Manatee atlas and axis vertebrae and a Pig femur in the same box, while the box of Pig postcrania held the Lion atlas and axis.

Lion postcrania, with some unexpected additions

Lion postcrania, with some unexpected additions

Now I need to get back into the collections to see if this bone does belong to the Tapir, or if it is indeed Horse. So I’m sorry to say that the answer is not really an answer, but stay tuned and it will be resolved…

Friday mystery object #256

I was working my way through a box of large ratite bone the other day and stumbled across this out-of-place object: mystery256 Any ideas on what it might have come from and why it might have been in a box of Ostrich bits? As usual, you can put your questions, thoughts and suggestions below – if you think it’s easy then maybe try using a clue to give other people a chance of working it out for themselves. Have fun!

Friday mystery object #255 answer

Last Friday I gave you this rather interesting looking object to identify, preferably using a rhyme:

wpid-img_20150626_095757-1_20150626095918070.jpg

Believe it or not the photographs show either side of the same object – on one side it just looks like a rugose lump and on the other it shows a rather nice natural spiral.

Aside from some great humorous comments by 4utu and Henrik Nielsen, there were some of you who worked out that this is the operculum from a marine snail and even managed to explain that in rhyme – so very well done to Barbara, Chris and especially Lee Post who upped the ante by writing a full verse:

oh purr Q lum from foreign shores
possibly from a near ites door
side door -back door does not exist
main door -strong door , built to resist

Flick Baker went a step further (taxonomically) by identifying that this operculum is from a snail in the genus Turbo with the rhyme: “Gives your engine serious puff, even when she’s running rough“.

Green Turban Shell (Turbo marmoratus) showing aperture closed by the operculum

Green Turban Shell (Turbo marmoratus) showing aperture closed by the operculum

More specifically, this operculum is from the South African Turban Shell Turbo sarmaticus Linnaeus, 1758.

The operculum is a part of many snails that is often forgotten about – it forms a protective trapdoor that the snail closes behind itself when it retreats inside its shell (‘operculum’ means ‘cover’ or ‘lid’ in Latin). This trapdoor helps prevent desiccation in land snails and helps protect against predators in marine snails.

When the animal dies the operculum will often fall off as the body of the animal decays or is eaten, so often it won’t find its way into a museum collection with the rest of the shell. However, opercula can be quite distinctive and are sometimes more useful for identifying a species than the rest of the shell – a handy point to remember.

Friday mystery object #253 answer

Last Friday I gave you this lovely specimen from the King’s College Museum of Life Sciences to try your hand at identifying:

mystery253

It wasn’t easy, since there were limited views, so the dentition wasn’t entirely visible and the bones of the palate are not shown. Also, there was no scale bar – something that Ric Morris gently reprimanded me for.

Despite these limitations, many of you correctly managed to work out that this is the skull of a Mongoose of some sort. So congratulations to bugblokenzFlick Bakerhenstridgesj, Michelle and Allen Hazen for recognising that this is a member of the Herpestidae.

Narrowing it down beyond that is more of a challenge and without better images it’s a bit unfair to expect a species level identification – but I’m going to have a go.

Scouring through Mongoose skulls in collections and various images online (especially using the fantastic Animal Diversity Web resource, the ever helpful Skulls Unlimited and the brilliant Mammals of Tanzania Skull Key), I came to realise that the teeth are visible enough to discount many Mongoose species. Also, the shape of the zygomatic region and facial profile was quite distinctive (most Mongooses have cheekbones that are flat under the eye sockets – but not this chap).

Excluding the options that didn’t quite fit, left me with a few that did – the Egyptian Mongoose Herpestes ichneumon, Slender Mongoose Herpestes sanguinea, and White-tailed Mongoose Ichneumia albicauda.

Not a clear-cut identification, but better than nothing, and it might be possible to refine it by looking at the specimen in the flesh… as it were.

#TwitteratiChallenge Museums Bolt-on = #MuseumTwitterati

I love social media. In particular I enjoy using Twitter because it provides me with a wonderful opportunity to engage in dialogue with interesting and knowledgeable people who have helped me develop in my profession, and I hope that I have been able to enrich other people’s experience in turn.

It was therefore a real pleasure to have been nominated by Katie Hobbs for the #TwitteratiChallenge, which was originally started by @TeacherToolkit to “recognise your most supportive colleagues in a simple blogpost shout-out. Whatever your reason, these 5 educators [museologists] should be your 5 go-to people in times of challenge and critique, or for verification and support“.

Note that I have slightly tweaked the focus of the challenge from the original – it’s such a nice idea that I think it’s worth borrowing (stealing?) for the museum sector. To help prevent the original intent of the challenge (i.e. finding helpful educators) from being diluted, I’m going to suggest that a new/additional hashtag be applied – so witness the birth of #MuseumTwitterati!

This is quite timely, as I recently attended the NatSCA conference, which was called Museums Unleashed and it focussed, in large part, on the role of social media in the museum profession.

NatSCA2015

As new tools are introduced, we need to be willing to give them a go, to see if they can be used to improve how we work. But Twitter is no longer a new tool.  It has proved its worth as a way of communicating and I see it rapidly becoming as important for museum professionals to use as email (although there are still a few people in the museum sector who haven’t quite got to grips with email yet).

For colleagues who are just starting out on Twitter, the #MuseumTwitterati hashtag may provide a helpful trail for identifying good people to follow.

Subversive as always, I’ve tweaked the original #TwitteratiChallenge rules, and simplified the ‘What to do’ section:

Rules:

  1. You cannot knowingly include someone you work with in real life (ex-colleagues are fine, it’s a small sector and we’d run out of people in no time otherwise).
  2. You cannot list somebody that has already been named if you are already aware of them being listed on #TwitteratiChallenge or #MuseumTwitterati (sorry Jan Freedman)
  3. Copy and paste the ‘Rules’ and ‘What to do’ information into your own blog post and be sure to cite @TeacherToolkit since they came up with the idea.

What to do:

  1. Within 7 days of being nominated you must write your own blogpost identifying the top-5 museologists that you regularly go to for ideas, support and challenge. Share this on Twitter using the hashtag #MuseumTwitterati and tag them in – they are thus nominated.
  2. If you do not have your own blog, write your list by hand or on a computer, take a photo/screenshot and upload it to Twitter, tagging the people mentioned (yes, you can do that) and using the hashtag #MuseumTwitterati – they are thus nominated.

So here is my selection, which sadly omits a lot of fantastic people who I engage with regularly about my specialist interests, but who are not really museum professionals per se (people like Jake, Ric and Ben). There are also a lot of notable absences because I work with some excellent Twitterers (Tweeters? Tweeps? Whatever – check out this #TwitteratiChallenge post by Rupert Shepherd who is one of them, and he lists most of the others):

My #MuseumTwitterati

Mar Dixon (@MarDixon) – Doyenne of digital media for the museum sector. Trendsetter and maverick empowerer of the people, who has probably done more to unstarch the undies of the stiffest museum staff through the innovative Culture Themes than anyone could have imagined possible.

Erica McAlister (@

Mark Carnall (@mark_carnall) – Incisive and provocative natural science curator, with a playful sense of humour and a passion for Lego.

Tincture Of Museum (@TinctureOfMuse) – Another Lego lover, museum volunteer and a passionate advocate for access in museums, with a special insight into autism.

Nicholas Poole (@NickPoole1) – Trend tracker, strategist and big picture thinker. Tweets to share nuggets of museum management gold.

Apologies to many of the other fantastic people I engage with on Twitter who didn’t make the list – nothing personal, since I used commun.it to help me decide; it’s a very useful tool for managing your online community!

Friday mystery object #253

This week I have a lovely specimen from the hidden gem that is the King’s College Museum of Life Sciences for you to try your hand at identifying:

mystery253

Any idea what this specimen might be? As usual you can put your questions, observations and suggestions below – let’s see if we can work out what this is!

Friday mystery object #252

This week I have an object for you that one of my colleagues in Anthropology asked me to check the identification of:

mystery252

Any ideas what bone this is made from and, more of a challenge, what the function of this worked object might have been in its culture of origin?

As usual you can leave your questions, observations and suggestions in the comments box below. Have fun!

Friday mystery object #251 answer

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

mystery251

I thought it looked a bit like an Ewok’s weapon, but fairly obviously it’s a bit of some critter’s leg. The question is, which critter?

In comments by David M WatsonDavid Honetaihaku and palfreyman1414  it was quickly recognised as being from a ratite (the group of flightless birds that include Emus, Cassowaries, Kiwis, Rheas and Ostriches – plus some extinct examples like Moas and Elephant Birds), but it was henstridgesj who narrowed it down to a tarsometatarsus (fused ankle and foot bones) of the correct ratite – the Ostrich Struthio camelus Linnaeus, 1758.

The size is a bit smaller than you’d expect for an adult Ostrich and the top of the bone (the bit on the left) is less well fused, so it appears to be from a subadult individual. The reason it can be distinguished from some of the other suggested ratites is all down to the number of trochlea (the rounded and grooved end bits that the toes attach to). Ostriches only have two toes, whereas the other ratites have three or four and this is reflected in those trochlea.

Ostrich foot by Tony Wills, 2007

Ostrich foot showing the two toes. Image by Tony Wills (2007)

So well done to everyone who took part, especially henstridgesj who was spot on!

Friday mystery object #251

This week I have a specimen for you to have a go at identifying, that has come from a box of “mixed bones” that I’ve been working through:

mystery251

It may look like some sort of Ewok weapon, but I’m pretty sure it’s also part of an animal. Any idea what critter this might be from?

As usual, you can leave your thoughts, comments and suggestions below. Have fun!

Friday mystery object #249 answer

Last Friday I gave you this exploded skull from the incredible Galerie d’anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie in Paris:

mystery249

As I suspected, it was a bit of an easy one for many of you, but that provided the chance for some cryptic clue fun.

So my thanks to Agata Stachowiak, Chris, Allen Hazen, henstridgesjClaire Miles and witcharachne who all hinted at an identification of Sloth, more specifically a Two-toed Sloth, I think of the species Choloepus hoffmanni Peters, 1858 as opposed to C. didactylus Linnaeus, 1758, which appears to have a smaller angular process on the mandible and a less broad zygomatic region.

A two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) at La Selva Biological Station, Sarapiqui, Costa Rica. By Geoff Gallice

A two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) at La Selva Biological Station, Sarapiqui, Costa Rica. By Geoff Gallice

The teeth of Sloths are fascinating, due to their fairly simple rooting and their impressively sharp premolars that look like canines.

These Sloths have an interesting feature of their hair, which has a groove to help support algae, which help keep the Sloth camouflaged. This is pretty handy given the Sloth’s notorious lack of speed with which to escape predators. This may help explain the need for those sharp premolars as well!

Friday mystery object #248

This week I have another perplexing mystery object for you, that I’ve found harder to identify than expected:

click to embiggen

I’ve compared it to several specimens in a similar size range and it hasn’t matched any of them well enough to make a confident attempt at identification. Whatever  it is, I don’t have a skeleton of anything comparable in the stores at the Horniman, and it’s a chunky critter with much more robust hind limbs than a Eurasian Badger Meles meles.

Any suggestions on what this might be from would be greatly appreciated!

Friday mystery object #246 answer

Last week I gave you this mystery skull from the stunning Galerie d’anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie in Paris:

mystery246

I was struck by the cat-like dentition and general shape, but as many of you worked out, that’s no cat.

It is in fact a specimen of a Fossa Cryptoprocta ferox Bennett, 1833, as correctly identified by Charne, Manabu Sakamoto, Nigel Monaghan, SMerjeevski – good skills!

Fossa by Ran Kirlian

Fossa by Ran Kirlian

This carnivore is endemic to Madagascar and is the foremost natural predator of lemurs. They are well adapted to climbing in order to catch their tree-dwelling main course, with rotating ankles a bit like a Margay.

Madagascar is an amazing place for biology. It separated from Africa around 20 million years ago and has had its own unique wildlife evolving there ever since. This means that the familiar cats that fill niches in (relatively) nearby Africa are missing, since they didn’t really exist when Madagascar started drifting off. The Fossa fills that catty niche.

There may be more mystery objects to come from the  Galerie d’anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie, since the whole place blew me away!

Wow

Friday mystery object #246

Last weekend I had a fantastic visit to Paris and my wonderful wife gave me the best Valentines Day gift in the world, by taking me to the spectacular Galerie d’anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie.

Paris_Comparative_Anatomy_G

As you might have guessed, I was in bone heaven and had to be dragged out by security at closing time – but not before taking hundreds of photos of the incredible collections.

So this week’s mystery object comes courtesy of Georges Pouchet, the comparative anatomist who established the Gallery:

mystery246

Any idea what this might be?

As usual you can put your suggestions, thoughts and questions in the comments box below. I hope you enjoy the challenge!

Friday mystery object #245 answer

Last Friday I gave you this guest mystery object from Dr Nick Crumpton at the NHM:
mystery245
Here’s what Nick had to say about it:
So when I first picked it up I thought – embarrassingly now – that perhaps it was something a bit pinniped-like but then the teeth didn’t match that idea at all so I reverted to thinking it was a bit more doggy.
Irritatingly, it was a juvenile so that scuppered size-based guesses, and ruled out taking too much information from the posterior, mandibular teeth. Also, the skull was darn cute, with a shorter snout than an adult would possess.
I had a couple of ideas from looking at the width of the zygomatic arches, but that lack of a parasagittal crest got me all twisted around. And time was tight for what we needed it for!
My esteemed colleague Mr Garrod was the first to push me in the direction of a wolverine, but I’ll leave it to Paolo to show how he managed to ID the little critter and save the day – although it looks like a bunch of people on here already managed that! Love the bone-banter. 😀
We’ve discussed in the past how the skulls of juvenile animals can be misleading and for this species a number of the features you would immediately recognise in the adult are absent in this juvenile. Therefore I’m not that surprised the suggestions in included Arctic Fox, Sea Otter, Common Seal and Spectacled Bear, in addition to the possibility of Wolverine.
Wolverine cranium

Wolverine cranium for comparison

Despite the juvenile dentition, the blade-like molar and 3rd premolar, and robust second molar were indicative of a carnivore with a specialisation for eating bone and the breadth across the zygomatic arches indicated something with a powerful bite force.
Wolverine dentition is remarkably robust, since they often scavenge bone and in the winter they need to feed on meat that has frozen solid. They have a wide skull (see above), but the relatively large upper molar is at right angles to the 4th premolar, which has a cleft that the 3rd premolar nestles into.
This is rather different to the much straighter dentition of the mystery animal, which is distinctly more cat-like, albeit with too many teeth. That narrows it down to one of the Hyenas. From there it becomes a bit more difficult and the fact it’s a juvenile throws a bit of a spanner in the works, but if pushed I’d probably opt for Spotted Hyaena Crocuta crocuta (Erxleben, 1777).
So well done to Chris, Lena, palfreyman1414, Allen Hazen and henstridgesj who all came to the same conclusion.
Finally, a big ‘thank you!’ to Nick for posing a decent challenge!

Friday mystery object #245

This week I have a guest mystery object for you from Dr Nick Crumpton at the NHM.

Hello Zygoma fans. Nick Crumpton here from across the way at the Natural History Museum in South Ken.

Well, this fellow completely stumped me for a few hours this week on finding it in our teaching collection:

mystery245

Until, that is, I called on the always helpful advice of Mr Viscardi (OK, and a certain Mr Garrod too…)

I’d love to see whether anyone can work out what it is, and how they figured it out!

You can leave your suggestions and thoughts in the comments section below – enjoy!

Friday mystery object #244

This week I thought I’d give you a beautiful bird skin from the Horniman collections to have a go at identifying:

mystery244

Any idea what this colourful critter might be?

You can leave your suggestions in the comments box below – but please try to be cryptic if you find it easy, so other people get a chance to work it out themselves. Enjoy!

Friday mystery object #243 answer

Last week I gave you this nightmarish looking mystery object to identify:

mystery243

There were lots of great suggestions about what it might be, with most of you in the right area of the animal kingdom with a legless critter in mind. In particular a fairly primitive type, with aglyphous or ‘groove-less’ teeth (as opposed to snakes characterised by having opsithoglyphous or ‘backward grooved’, proteroglyphous or ‘forward grooved’ and solenglyphous or ‘pipe grooved’ teeth).

There were several suggestions of Boa constrictor – specifically the right maxilla (upper jaw), but they have a straighter top to the maxilla and a differently shaped process that connects with the frontal and ectopterygoid bones (check out Udo Savalli’s snake skull anatomy page to see what those terms mean).

Anaconda was also suggested, but the anterior (front) part of  the maxilla is not squared off enough.

Nicola Newton, rachel and Alex Kleine all suggested Python, which is what I think it is. I’m not certain of the species, but it’s definitely a big one – I’m leaning towards the Reticulated Python Python reticulatus (Schneider, 1801).

Just to give you a better idea of which bone it is, here it is compared to the skull of another large Python skull from the Horniman’s collection:

mystery243b

and to give a better sense of scale, here it is with my (fairly large) hand for comparison:

mystery243a

My very rough estimate of the length of the animal, based on other skeletal material I’ve seen, is around 5m – that’s one snake I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of!