Friday mystery object #190 answer

On Friday I gave you this skull to identify:


The animal it comes from is quite distinctive, with loads of character, so it’s no big surprise that so many of you managed to identify it.

So well done to Jake, Dave Godfrey, henstridgesjMieke Roth, Wouter van Gestel, Steven D. Garber and Crispin – this is indeed a  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #187 answer

On Friday I gave you this somewhat odd object to identify:


My first thought when seeing it was Bowser from the Mario games:

Bowser. New Super Mario Bros. 2: © 2012 Nintendo

This probably isn’t the worst place to start the identification, since the animal with this feature was clearly big, scaly and toothy. This was obviously in the minds of Barbara Powell and Wouter van Gestel, who reached the correct conclusion that this is the structure from the tip of the snout of an adult male  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #185 answer

On Friday I gave you this object to identify:


I thought it might have posed a bit of a challenge, since it’s part of a species of bird that you don’t find in Europe or North America. Of course, I was forgetting the skills of the Zygoma community. Everyone recognised it as the sternum of a bird with weak flight muscles and Wouter van Gestel spotted the species and was supported in his identification by Barbara Powell and Robin.

This is the sternum of a Continue reading

Friday mystery object #184

This week I have yet another mystery object that I’ve not managed to identify myself. Do you have any idea what this is and what animal it came from?


As usual you can put your comments below and will be eagerly checking them out in the hope that someone recognises this bony structure. Enjoy!

Friday mystery object #183 answer

On Friday I asked for help with identifying an object that I came across while working on the Horniman’s bird collections for our forthcoming Bioblitz review:


I must say that I was surprised at how many people came and checked out this post and offered suggestions – largely following a retweet from the excellent QI Elves. Many thanks to everyone who offered their suggestions. In this post I’ll look at some of the suggestions and let you know what I’ve narrowed it down to.

Here’s an annotated version of the image to help make my terminology clear:


There were quite a few suggestions of Moa, Ostrich, Emu, Cassowary or Rhea (which are all Palaeognaths), but this leg is way too small and although the hallux is reduced it is definitely there, whereas in the Palaeognaths the hallux is absent. Here’s the specimen alongside an Ostrich foot:


A Secretarybird was another common suggestion and it was the first possibility that I thought of myself. Secretarybirds use their long legs to walk the plains of Africa in hunt of prey, which they stamp and kick to death. However, when compared to a Secretarybird in the Horniman’s collection it proved to be different in the relative proportions of the tibiotarsus and tarsometatarsus and the total length to the toes:


Seriemas were also suggested – these birds fill the same niche as the Secretarybirds, but in South America. They have one short digit with a sickle-like hunting claw, almost like a Velociraptor, however the mystery object has fairly equal length digits.

Owls were suggested, but this leg is far too long to have come from any species of Owl. Here’s the specimen compared to the biggest (or second biggest) species, the Eurasian Eagle Owl:


The suggestion of Owl probably arose because of the curved claw, which also looks a bit like it might belong to an Eagle or Vulture. However, the bones don’t seem to be robust enough for any of these kinds of birds. The claw confused me quite a bit, since most of the remaining possibilities are wading birds that don’t have big curved claws. This led me to reassess the claw by straightening out the digit of the mystery object in Photoshop to see if the apparent curve and size of the claw is actually a result of the postmortem clenching of the foot:


When viewed like this, the claw seems proportionally smaller and less likely to be from a predatory bird, especially considering that with flesh and skin on the bone the claw would seem even smaller.

This realisation made me reconsider the long-legged birds that I’d discounted at first – in particular the Herons, Storks and Cranes. I did consider Flamingo, but they have webbed feet and an even more reduced hallux than seen in the mystery object. Conversely, Herons could be excluded because they don’t have such a reduced hallux:

Heron Foot Detail by TexasEagle

Some Storks have limbs with the right sort of proportions – as helpfully summarised by henstridgesj:

The ‘FMO’: 1:0.73
Various Cranes: 1:0.7 – 1:0.8
Marabou Stork: 1:0.74
Maguari Stork: 1:0.75
Lappet-Faced Vulture: 1:0.63
Secretary Bird: 1:1
Flamingo: 1:0.84
Seriema: 1:0.87

But their claws seem too small and straight. That leaves the Cranes – as suggested by The Shonko Kid, André Rodenburghenstridgesj and Skullsite’s Wouter van Gestel. This would fit the proportions of the elements of the leg, the length of the hallux and the size and shape of the claws. It would also agree with the highly ossified tendons – a trait common to Cranes.

So, I don’t have a specific answer for you this week (that’s two weeks in a row!), but I think this leg probably belonged to one of the Cranes. Thanks for your help in getting that far!

Friday mystery object #181 answer

On Friday I gave you this bird skull to identify:


I thought it might prove a bit of a challenge, since it belongs to a bird that isn’t found in Europe or North America. However, the skull shape and size is quite unique and I was forgetting the impressive skills of the Zygoma readers, so it didn’t take too long for Barbara Powell, Wouter van Gestel (who I believe may be involved in – one of my favourite web resources) and henstridgesj to narrow it down to the correct species.

This skull belongs to a member of the Cuculiformes, family Musophagidae (‘banana-eaters’) and to be specific it’s from a   Continue reading

Friday mystery object #180 answer

On Friday I gave you this skull to identify:


It was pretty clear that it’s from a modern animal with a duck-like bill, so either a Platypus or a member of the Anatidae (the family containing ducks, geese and swans).

There are about 140 species within the Anatidae, so narrowing it down to species was the challenge. For me the main features that help identify this duck from all the other species were the concave profile and the width to length relationship of the bill, the shape of the lacrimal bones (the bits in front of the eyes) – with the supraorbital processes bordering the salt glands, and the shape of the palate – with its mid-point deflection and flare.

It seems that some of you spotted some of these features too, since henstridgesj, miekeroth and Barbara Powell came to very similar conclusions. This skull looks like it belonged to a Common Scoter Melanitta nigra (Linnaeus, 1758) and a female Common Scoter at that, since the males have a much more inflated bill than this specimen.

Female Common Scoter photographed by Hilary Chambers

Female Common Scoter photographed by Hilary Chambers

Common Scoters are sea ducks that dive for small crustaceans, molluscs and sometimes fish. They are migratory birds and although there only a few hundred breeding the UK, there are larger flocks of visiting birds over the winter, although they’re hard to spot since they are usually a fair distance out to sea for much of the time.

Friday mystery object #179 answer

On Friday I gave you this really tricky mystery object to identify:


Despite it being one of the hardest so far, Barbara Powell managed to not only work out what piece of morphology this specimen represents, but the species it came from. Remarkable skills Barbara!

These plates of bone fit together to make a ring like this:


You probably have a better chance of identifying the structure when it’s assembled like this and the tubular shape is characteristic of a particular order of birds. This is the sclerotic ring of an  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #178 answer

On Friday I gave you this piece of a skeleton to identify, to help me track down the specimen it came from:


It looks like a wing, but it’s quite oddly shaped. The humerus is strongly curved and the humeral head is small with a very limited area for muscle attachment. This suggests that it wasn’t much use for flying – it also wouldn’t have been much use for swimming underwater or any other kind of locomotion for that matter. This narrows down the possibilities quite a bit.

With these clues RH, henstridgesj and Lena all came to the same conclusion as I did – this wing is from a  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #176 answer

On Friday I gave you this specimen to have a go at identifying:


It’s a specimen that I came across when sorting out the bird osteology collections in the Horniman stores.

Several of you came to the same conclusion as me about the type of bird, with Jake, palaeosam and henstridgesj all suggesting one of the  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #175 answer

On Friday I gave you this anthropological mystery object to identify:

I asked you what the teeth might have belonged to and where in the world might this necklace be from.

It’s always a bit tricky to identify worked material as it will often be different from what you’d see or expect in the wild state and you lose the context of the rest of the specimen. Nonetheless, these teeth are quite distinctive to a particular group of animals.

Barbara Powell, 23thorns and Robin got the right general area with suggestions of Islands in the South Pacific, in particular New Guinea. 23thorns also nailed the animal group with his suggestion of  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #172 answer

Apologies for the late posting of the mystery object answer, I’m at  a conference in Edinburgh and I didn’t get a chance to write until now.

On Friday I gave you this bird skull to identify:

I thought it might be an easy one, but I was hoping to catch a few people out, which use exactly what happened.

This skull is a nice example of morphological convergence – looking a lot like a Pigeon skull, but it is actually the skull of a  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #171 answer

On Friday I gave you this fragment of bill to identify:

It’s quite distinctive in shape, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when so many of you came to the same conclusion as I did about what it was from. As it is, everyone recognised this as being part of the bill from a member of the Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorant family). Well done everybody!

There are around 40 species of Cormorant, so getting this to species is a bit more tricky and a few possibilities were mooted. However, the two which best fit the shape and size of this bill are the Little Black Cormorant Phalacrocorax sulcirostris and the European Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis. A quick comparison of the two on the excellent (P. sulcirostris and P. aristotelis) show that the bill proportions and shape of the bony palate in the mystery specimen are closest to the  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #170 answer

On Friday I gave you this pair of bones to identify:

It didn’t take long for the type of bone to be identified, with Anthony Wilkes immediately spotting that these are the quadrates of a bird. Then things got more tricky as the type of bird became the focus of the identification.

Robin was the first to recognise the family and likely type of bird, with henstridgesj concurring, with the agreement being on these quadrates being from a  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #168 answer

On Friday I gave you this specimen to identify:

As I suspected, the distinctive shape of the skull makes this specimen easily recognisable as an owl (family Strigiformes). However, there are a couple of hundred species of owl, so there were plenty of possibilities to make a more specific identification.

This specimen has quite a distinctive slope to the forehead in profile view and a very clear groove down the midline of the cranium, which combined with the length of around 58mm narrowed down the likely suspects considerably.

Jake was the first to suggest the species I think it’s most likely to be, with palaeosam suggesting the other possible option and RH cautiously suggesting both. This skull belongs to an owl in the genus  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #166 answer

On Friday I gave you this great skull from the Grant Museum of Zoology to identify:

A big list of you (Mieke RothJakemcarnall, Anthony wilkes, 23thorns, Cam Weir, henstridgesj, Rhea, leigh and Robin) managed to work out what this specimen was from and there were some really interesting explanations about how you came to your conclusions in response to Steven D. Garber’s comment:

Now, I’d like it even more if people explained why this skull looks the way it does.

This is a really interesting thing to consider, as it underlies the process of recognition and identification. As a biologist I might start by saying that the lacrimal foramina is on the edge of the orbit (as henstridgesj pointed out) which is indicative of a marsupial and that the dentition is indicative of a carnivorous mammal that isn’t a member of the placental Carnivora as it lacks carnassials, plus the dental formula appears to be ‘primitive’ from the photo ?.1.3.4/?.1.2.4 which narrows down the possibilities to just a few marsupial carnivores, and given the scale of the skull there is just one that fits the bill.

However, if I’m honest I’d say that the overall shape and robust structure of this specimen is very similar to specimens I’ve seen before belonging to the  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #166

I’ve not been working in the collections much over the summer, which means I’ve been relying on a stockpile of photos for the mystery object. I’ve finally run out of specimens from the Horniman this week, so I have a mystery object that I photographed at the fantastic Grant Museum of Zoology for you to have a go at identifying (apologies for the indifferent quality of the photo):

You can put your suggestions, questions and observations below (preferably in a cryptic format) and I’ll do my best to respond.

I’ll be back in the collections from next week, so there will be some fresh Horniman specimens coming to light!

Friday mystery object #165

This week I have an object for you to identify that I recently re-identified from the Horniman’s collections. Any idea what this is:

I’m at a conference today, so I may not be able to respond to questions and comments, but please feel free to ask them anyway and I’ll do my best to reply. Good luck!

Friday mystery object #164 answer

On Friday I gave you this object to identify:

It was a bit of a tricky one, since a few vertebrae aren’t a huge amount to go on. However, the large size helps narrow it down, as do the distinctively long neural spines.

As Ric Morris and henstridgesj spotted, the vertebrae are very compressed, not providing much scope for movement, suggesting an animal that relies on a rigid backbone for support and transferring large forces. This is not something you see in whales (at least not after the cervical and first few thoracic vertebrae), since water supports their weight and they maintain some flexibility in their spine for changing their orientation in the water when swimming. That leaves us with very few terrestrial mammals big enough to have vertebrae of this size – particularly considering that these vertebrae are from a juvenile animal.

The neural spines are long, but not laterally flattened. This suggests that they are not from a large Buffalo, Hippopotamus or Rhinoceros, since all of these animals have their neural spines orientated as a dorsal blade. The only animal of the right size that has dorso-ventrally flattened neural spines in the mid-thoracic region (that I’m aware of) is the  Continue reading