This week’s mystery object is one I’ve been sitting on for about seven years and I’ve held off posting it because I think it might not be much of a challenge for some of you. However, it’s an incredibly cool object and I think it’s time to share it:
If you know what this is, please keep your answers nice and cryptic so the people who don’t recognise it can enjoy the challenge. Have fun!
Last week we hit the 400th mystery object, which was this specimen from the Dead Zoo:
Horned beasties can be tricky since there are over 140 species in the Bovidae. There is quite a lot of diversity in size and in horn shape, but there are some general patterns, with spirals, twists, curves and recurves. A good place to trawl through for comparisons is the Animal Diversity Web, which has plenty of images.
However, this is one of the better known species, with nicely lyrate horns, so quite a few people recognised it without having to go searching. This is a Springbok Antidorcas marsupialis (Zimmermann, 1780), a South African antelope that has given its name to the nation’s rugby team. Well done to everyone who figured it out, particularly Goatlips, who got there first!
This specimen is one of 333 game heads that we’re in the process of decanting from the Museum, as part of a project that includes moving thousands of invertebrates and birds, as well as a couple of whales. If you’re interested in how we’re dealing with the game heads we recently reported on it at the NatSCA Conservation Twitter conference, which I’ve shared below:
Last year I gave you this mystery skeleton for you to have a go at identifying:
That erect stance and those super-short and chonky wing bones are a dead giveaway that this is one of those charismatic flightless waiter birds (and before you ask, yes the “i” is intentional).
There are around 20(ish) species of penguins or pengwings if you’re Benedict Cumberbatch.
Although the various species look superficially similar, with their black and white base colour scheme and tubby yet streamlined shape, they do have some distinguishing characteristics. Unfortunately, the most obvious relate to plumage and that’s missing here.
Size can help with narrowing it down – and this particular specimen is small. Admitedly it’s hard to tell that without a scale bar, but the large species have relatively small skulls in proportion to their body size, so they can be ruled out.
Bill length and shape can also provide some good indications even from non-skeletal birds and you can of course check out my favourite online resource (SkullSite.com) to see skulls of most of the main penguin genera, if not all the species (yet!). In the comments, James Bryant and Wouter van Gestel (creator of the aforementioned SkullSite) recognised that this is a Little, Blue or Fairy Penguin Eudyptula minor (J.R.Forster, 1781).
This is the smallest species of penguin, it has breeding colonies in Australia and New Zealand and the population on Phillip Island has become a bit of a tourist attraction. They feed on small fish, like anchovies and pilchards or small invertebrates including squid and jellyfish.
There will be more mystery objects to come for 2021 – let’s hope this year works out better for everyone than 2020…
I’m going to start this week’s blog mystery object with an apology – it’s going to be a short one, as I’m in the final throes of taking down our Fin whale, which means I’m exhausted after several long weeks of hard graft. Check out the #DeadZooDiary hashtag on Twitter if you want to get an idea of what’s involved.
Last week I gave you this somewhat smaller skeleton from the Dead Zoo to have a go at identifying:
It wasn’t too difficult to narrow it down to one of a few species, thanks to the very distinctive knee region.
There are only a small number of birds that have adopted this extreme elongation of the cnemial crest on their tibiotarsus and patela. These are all specialist foot-propelled swimmers that need that long lever to help power their diving strokes. This is a feature limited to just the grebes and the loons/divers.
Most people figured out that this is the skeleton of one of the loons. The skull provides some clues, but unfortunately the angle of the photo doesn’t make it easy to figure out which of the five species it is.
The scale does rule out the larger of the species (Gavia immer or G. pacifica), but there are three other possibilities. For me the postorbital region suggests that this is the Arctic Loon Gavia arctica (Linnaeus, 1758), which fortunately matches the label.
I hope you enjoyed this weird kneed bird – congratulations to Goatlips and everyone else who figured it out!
Last week I gave you this bumpy little critter to identify:
I think everyone recognised the mystery object as some kind of Nudibranchia or sea slug. The general type of sea slug is identifiable by that ring of gill filaments known as a branchial plume that you can see at the top of the specimen. This is characteristic of the suborder Euctenidiacea, also known as the dorids.
I called it bumpy, but if you look closely you’ll see that the bumps are pinched at the base and actually look rather warty. There’s a clue in that – and several of you spotted it.
There were a number of wart-related nudibranch suggestions that were close, but jennifermacaire was spot on with her comment: Doris has warts?
This is indeed a Warty Dorid or Doris verrucosa Linnaeus, 1758.
This specimen isn’t quite as faded as everyone expected – they’re usually a fairly muted orange, yellow or a greenish colour, not too different to the mystery object. This probably serves as camouflage against the background of the Warty Dorid’s favourite food, the Crumb-of-bread Sponge, which also varies in colour from bright yellow to darker shades depending on the depth of the water in which they live.
Last week I gave you this specimen from the Dead Zoo to have a go at identifying:
It was a bit mean of me to not include a scale, but several of you managed to work it out regardless.
The overall group is fairly easy to spot, since it has 10 legs, the front pair bearing claws (or chela if you want to get technical) and the main body area is rounded. So it’s a crab.
In addition, the long legs and small body give it an overall shape reminiscent of a spider, so it’s a good bet that it’s some kind of spider crab.
Now, there are quite a lot of types of spider crab out there, but that sub-triangular body shape and those long legs help narrow down the possibilities further. In fact, it does share some similarities to the gigantic Japanese Spider Crab.
Unlike the Japanese Spider Crab (which was suggested), this doesn’t have extremely elongated chela. So not one of them. It’s also way too small, although my lack of a scale bar doesn’t make that obvious – sorry! However, the mystery object is in the same family (the Inachidae).
Once you start looking at the genera in the Inachidae there’s only one that matches the mystery object’s proportions, and that’s the Macropodia. Once you get that far, it becomes a case of discounting possibilities based on much more detailed features.
The Marine Species Identification Portal is a fantastic resource for checking this finer level identification. Going through the various species descriptions in there helps spot the key features for distinction between species.
In this case, the mystery object is particularly similar to M. tenuirostris and M. rostrata and it’s mainly the shape of the carapace around the ‘shoulders’ where the chela attach to the body that help confirm this to be the Long-legged Spider Crab Macropodia rostrata (Linnaeus, 1761).
So it was a good effort for everyone who managed to get this to family level, I congratulate those who worked this out to the genus and I doff my hat to anyone who managed to identify it to species. So jennifermacaire, my hat is doffed!
Last week I have this mystery object from the Dead Zoo:
I made it a bit harder than necessary by not including a scale, but then that’s part of the fun – and I think a scale might have made it all a bit too easy.
There were a lot of suggestions about what it might be, mostly referencing some kind of seat / saddle or a patella. It’s probably just about big enough to sit on, although I’m not sure it would be comfortable.
But quite a few of you did figure out what bone it is and more or less what kind of animal. It’s the manubrium (part of the sternum) of a young Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae Borowski, 1781.
Here’s the specimen with our Conservator Silvia for scale next to the manubrium (it’s a little hidden by the bar supporting the mandible here). Silvia’s been busy cleaning the whale, ready for it to be dismantled in the next few weeks.
All the activity around this whale work has been keeping me busy, so I apologise for tardy replies to questions and slightly sparse answers. If you want to see what we’ve been up to, check out the #DeadZooDiary!
Last week I gave you a bit of a mean mystery object to have a go at identifying:
I’m not surprised that very few people worked out what it is, since there’s not much to go by, and what there is, may be a little misleading.
This scrubby-looking piece of hairy skin is not from a battle-scarred Tasmanian Devil, nor is it from a rough patch on a Badger or member of the pig family and it most certainly is not from an ape of any description.
This is, in fact, from a Walrus Odobenus rosmarus (Linnaeus, 1758). This Walrus from the Dead Zoo in fact:
People don’t think of walruses as being particularly hairy – and this one is quite definitely bald on top (I’m familiar with that feeling…). However, last week we moved this specimen and when we flipped it on its side to squeeze between some cases, we discovered a rather hairy belly (again, I know the feeling…)
Walrus hair tends to get less dense as the animals age (insert gag here). After a century or so on open display, with members of the public who most definitely have not read the “DO NOT TOUCH” signs, and with technicians with buckets of creosote, that natural balding had a helping hand – up top.
Underneath, the hair was left untouched and in places it’s quite dense. I’m not sure if this is entirely due to people not being able to touch the specimen, or if Walrus belly hair is more dense and plentiful than on the rest of the body, to help insulate them when sitting on ice floes.
Either way, it was fascinating to be able to see a hidden part of this specimen – a nice reward for all the effort of moving it. If you want to see more of this kind of thing, check out the #DeadZooDiary!