Friday mystery object #318 answer

Last week I gave you this bird skull from the Dead Zoo in Dublin to have a go at identifying:

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It’s a fairly distinctive looking specimen with that massive bill, immediately narrowing down the possible families to two likely contenders – the Toucans (Ramphastidae) or the Hornbills (Bucerotidae).

On closer examination it lacks the serrated bill margins and remarkably long medial (in this case that means ‘towards the midline of the skull’) process of the quadrate bone (a part of the jaw in birds that I’ve blogged about before) that you see in Toucans. So, it’s a Hornbill – as everyone correctly spotted in the comments – but then we have the question of the species.

There are around 60 Hornbill species, with most of them sporting quite distinctive casques which make them quite identifiable (I’ve blogged about several before):

Ceratogymna atrata skull

Black Hornbill Ceratogymna atrata

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Great Hornbill Buceros bicornis

Bucorvus abyssinicus (Boddaert, 1783) sectioned skull

Northern Ground-hornbill Bucorvus abyssinicus

However, this specimen seems to be lacking a casque. This could be due to a few reasons. There are some casqueless species, such as the Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, it could be a young female adult from a small casqued species with sexual dimorphism in casque development, or it could be a young juvenile from a species that has a small casque that grows as the animal matures.

Assuming it’s one of these, it’s easy to check the few casqueless species by looking at the overall bill shape, the position of the nares (nostrils) relative to the orbits (eye sockets) and checking the structure of the jugal and quadratojugal (the thin bones on the side of the skull under the orbit) – this last only if you can find a reliable skull image for comparison.

Using Skullsite and images on the internet it’s time-consuming, but straightforward to rule out a lot of possibilities, since most Hornbills have a fairly robust jugal/quadratojugal and nares located much further away from the orbit than you see in the mystery specimen. In fact the only Hornbills with a similar nares/orbit position and gracile (skinny) jugal/quadratojugal and in the right size range (that I was able to find) were in the genus Rhyticeros L. Reichenbach, 1849.

Unfortunately I’ve not found good skull images of juveniles for all of the species to make a final comparison and you can’t just compare the skull of a juvenile with an adult and expect to see the same configuration and development of features, as there’s still growth to happen (something else I’ve talked about before).

So based on the information it looks like jennifermacaire was the closest with her suggestion of Wreathed Hornbill, although I’m leaning slightly more towards the Papuan Hornbill Rhyticeros plicatus (J.R.Forster, 1781).

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Hope you enjoyed the challenge!

Friday mystery object #317

For this week’s mystery object I’ve decided to stick with my favourite subject of skulls. This time it’s a bird from the Dead Zoo’s collection, that was in a drawer labelled “Unidentified” – let’s fix that!

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Any idea what species this skull belonged to? I have my suspicions, but I’d love to hear what you think.

As always, you can leave your clues, questions and suggestions in the comments section below. Have fun!

Friday mystery object #312 answer

Last week I gave you this specimen to identify, which came in as an enquiry after being found in someone’s toilet:

There were a variety of great responses, with some fantastic cryptic clues, including an anagram by Claire Miles (great stuff!). Most opted for this being Stegobium paniceum, which is also known by the aliases Drugstore Beetle, Biscuit Beetle or Bread Beetle.

Stegobium paniceum by Sarefo, 2007

Stegobium paniceum by Sarefo, 2007

However, the mystery critter has a subtly different pronotum (that’s the plate over the thorax that extends over the head).

Another suggestion was woodworm or one of the false powderpost beetles, which covers a range of wood-boring beetles, with Liberty Hightower correctly giving the more taxonomically constrained suggestion, of something from the Tribe Anobiini (which includes Stegobium). However, my colleague Olivier sent me an email with a very definitive identification, informed by a past experience with this particular pest – the Furniture Beetle Anobium punctatum De Geer, 1774.

These beetles have a distinctive pronotum that supposedly looks like a monk’s cowl, with a more distinctive hump and slightly pinched looking back section than the more smoothly curving pronotum of the Stegobium. They fall into the broad category of woodworm because their larvae feed on wood, making tunnels hidden from view and only becoming visible when they emerge from small holes in the wood as adults, leaving a little pile of wood dust as they go.

The presence of these beetles in a toilet isn’t related to the water in the bowl or even wood of the seat – it turns out that there was a window above the toilet and the adult beetles, in an attempt to leave the building after emerging, were attracted to the light from the window and flew into the glass only to bounce off and land in the toilet.

This attraction towards light in the dispersing adult stage of the beetle is a handy behaviour if you want to keep track of these pests. If you’re concerned you may have active woodworm it’s worth checking your windowsills in the summer to see if you have any of these adult beetles lying around. Of course, there are other species that would also be worth checking for, since there are plenty of beetles whose larvae would be considered woodworm. Keep your eyes peeled!

Friday mystery object #311

This week I have a real mystery object for you, which came in as an enquiry from the bottom of a mine in Ireland that was flooded to the roof with freshwater. It’s earned itself the delightful name of the ‘Clonkeen snot’ thanks to its appearance and texture:

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If you click on the image, it will open a large version so you can have a really good look at the fascinating gunk that was fished from the subterranean dankness.

Any ideas what this might be?

As always you can leave your questions, thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below. Have fun!

Friday mystery object #310 answer

Last week I thought it was time for some more bones, so I gave you this specimen from the Dead Zoo to have a go at identifying:

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There was no scale, the photo is far from ideal and the specimen isn’t in the best condition, but the animal is pretty distinctive, so I thought it wouldn’t prove too much of a challenge – and it turns out that I was right.

Palfreyman1414 was the first to identify it to genus level, correctly recognising that it was one of the two Notoryctes species of Marsupial Mole from Australia.

The weird limbs are a pretty good indicator this being a digger, with large muscle attachments and robust forelimbs, but it has couple of large claws rather than the ridiculous giant hands of the Old World Moles and it has a shorter skull.

Double prep mole from the Horniman Museum

Double prep of an Old World Mole Talpa europaea from the Horniman Museum & Gardens

The skull is more similar to that of the golden moles of southern Africa, although their rostrum (nosey bits) tends to be more concave while the marsupial moles have a more convex rostrum (and in some cases, weirdly flaring zygomatic arches).

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Lateral view of the skull of a Giant Golden Mole Chrysospalax trevelyani from the Grant Museum of Zoology

Now distinguishing between the two species of Marsupial Mole is a bit more tricky, not least because they are quite poorly known animals and there aren’t many specimens available for comparison – this is particularly true of the Northern species, which was first described as recently as 1920.

This is actually quite useful to know, since the mystery specimen came into the collection in 1897 – from Southern Australia – so it’s safe to say it’s the Southern Marsupial Mole Notoryctes typhlops (Stirling, 1889), but that’s not very helpful from a morphological perspective.

So far I’ve not found any useful skeletal features that help differentiate the two species, but apparently their fur colour is a little different, with the Northern species having pinkish or cinnamon fur and the Southern species having yellowish-white to a deep gold. To see what they look like with their fur, here’s the taxidermy partner to the mystery skeleton:

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Taxidermy Southern Marsupial Mole Notoryctes typhlops in the National Museum of Ireland – Natural History

As with most moles these subterranean critters have adapted to spending much of their time underground by losing their eyes, investing in some serious digging equipment and tuning in to smells and low frequency sounds.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour around the main moles of the world! More mysteries next week.