Friday mystery object #163 answer

On Friday I gave you this object from the collections of the Horniman Museum to identify:

The specimen had lost its label at some point in the past, so I had to identify it myself and was hoping to get your opinion on what it might be.

When I first saw it I noticed an odd scar running diagonally across the top of the cranium, which made me wonder if it was some kind of marine bird with an odd salt glad. Then I realised that the scar indicated something else entirely, which gave me the clue I needed to make the identification.

It seems that most of you also noticed the scar and came to similar conclusions, so  23thorns, cackhandedkate, Ric Morris, Jake and Steven D. Garber all recognised it as a woodpecker of some sort and given the length of the skull rachel and henstridgesj arrived at the same conclusion about species as I did, which is the  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #162 answer

On Friday I gave you this interesting cranium to identify:

Everyone recognised it as belonging to a fish, but the species was a bit more difficult to identify. Nonetheless jackashby, hestridgesj, Ric Morris and Cody all correctly converged on it being from an  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #161 answer

On Friday I gave you this bird skull to identify:

Most of you managed to identify it pretty easily – Robin suggested something in the right family, while Ric Morris, henstridgesj, Matthew King and Jake all managed to work it out to species. This is the skull of a  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #161

Another bird skull for you to identify this week:

As usual I will do my best to respond to questions, comments and suggestions – please try to be cryptic if you think you know what it is, so other people can enjoy the challenge. Good luck!

Friday mystery object #160 answer

On Friday I gave you this distinctive looking bird skull to identify:

On Twitter and Facebook there were incorrect suggestions of Toucan and Flamingo, but in the comments here Ric Morris dropped a heavy hint at the correct species identification within 6 minutes of the mystery object being posted, with hestridgesj and 23thorns also getting the right species a little later.

This skull was listed in the Horniman’s 1934 Natural History register as Corvultur abyssinicus, a species name that to the best of my knowledge has never been scientifically recognised. But the name suggests a vulture-like corvid from Abyssinia – or what is now called Egypt. This information plus the distinctive size and shape of the skull and bill led me to surmise that the specimen is from a  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #159 answer

On Friday morning I gave you this skull to identify:

Then at lunchtime I added this image of the underside of the skull to make the task a bit more manageable:

Before the second image was added most people were thinking that the specimen was some sort of large rodent due to the pair of incisors in the mandible and the skull shape reminiscent of a Beaver. However, the second image shows the teeth in the upper jaw, clearly showing way too many incisors for the specimen to be a rodent, not to mention the fact it has canines and caniform premolars.

At this point it became clear that the skull was from a Marsupial and the identifications started getting a lot closer to the correct species. Several people suggested that this skull belonged to a Brush Tailed Possum and it’s easy to see why – they have very similar skulls. As you might expect this species and the Brush Tailed Possum are in the same family (Phalangeridae). The main visible differences are that the Brush Tailed Possum has a narrower skull with a less well developed zygomatic region (cheek bone). They also tend to have a less well-developed caniform first premolar.

As we’ve seen before these small differences in skull shape and size can be due to differences within a species – perhaps due to age or sex of the animal. This means that there may be a chance the the specimen is a Brush Tailed Possum, but the similarity between the dental configuration of this specimen taken in consideration with the slight differences in skull shape suggest to me that this is a  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #157

Over the last week or so I’ve been going through some of the bird skulls in the Horniman’s collection. Here’s a nice one that you might enjoy identifying:

As usual you can put your suggestions, comments and questions below and I’ll do my best to answer. Good luck!

Friday mystery object #156 answer

On Friday I gave you this mystery object to identify:

It proved a bit more tricky that I had expected, but given its fragmentary nature I suppose I should’ve expected it to pose a challenge.

As it turns out henstridgesj managed to identify it on the basis of it looking like roadkill – an unusual diagnostic feature, but in this case it was spot on. Robin, biologycurator and Jamie Revell also agreed with the identification of  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #155 answer

On Friday I gave you this mystery skull to identify:

It’s not particularly complete, but the bill is very distinctive so most of you got the correct identification. Well done to Ric Morris, Barbara Powell, Jake, biologycurator, henstridgesj and Robin for spotting that this is the skull of a  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #154 answer

On Friday I gave you this very distinctive object to identify:

As I suspected, everyone correctly worked out it was a half mandible from a Sirenian – probably a Manatee. So well done to Barbara Powell, henstridgesj, Robin, Ric Morris, Rhea, rachel, Jake, Andrea and Jamie Revell for getting the main identification.

Of course, it got a bit more difficult when it came to making a species level identification, as is often the case. There are three well recognised species of Manatee – the West African, West Indian and Amazonian. There is also the Dwarf Manatee, which is a potential species in its own right or perhaps subspecies of the Amazonian Manatee.

Several people plumped for the Amazonian species or the Dwarf Manatee based on the fact that the jaw doesn’t look robust enough for the other species. However, this mandible is from a juvenile, so that was a bit misleading. Based on the hook of the coronoid process (the highest bit of the lower jaw where the temporalis muscle attaches) and the angle of the mandibular symphyseal region (the bit where the two halves of the lower jaw would have joined together) I think this is most likely to be what Barbara Powell first suggested, the  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #153 answer

On Friday I gave you this fragment of an object to identify:

Many of the key features we look for when making an identification of a skull are in the facial region. The teeth are the most useful feature, but the relative proportions of the rostrum (muzzle) in the context of the whole skull and the particulars of the various elements that interconnect to make a skull all contain useful information.

It’s rather similar to recognising a person in fact – it’s much easier when you can see their face than it is when all you can see is the back of their head.

So how did everyone do? Well, there were various suggestions as to what it might be, but it was basically a guessing game, relying mainly on scale, gross morphology and the shape of the auditory bullae (aka the bulbous bit containing the ear bones). Most guesses focussed on the carnivores although there were some large rodents suggested.

I thought henstridgesj might have worked it out when he asked ‘Are the bullae double-chambered? Possibly, I can’t really tell, but if they are then it’s in the suborder Feliformia‘ and I answered in the affirmative, but the most obvious answer was somehow missed.

This object is almost certainly the rear part of the skull of a  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #151 answer

On Friday I gave you this object to identify:

There were fewer comments than usual, but those comments were impressively observant.

Lena got stuck in, identifying the element as a long, thin ungulate humerus and narrowing it down to a camelidMikolaj Lisowski noticed the low proximal epiphysis (the end of the bone that is connected to the shoulder) and suggested that it might belong to a  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #150 answer

Normally Monday mornings are the time that the answer to the mystery object is posted on my blog, but this weekend I’ve been involved in the Enlightenment Cafe, which has meant I’ve been too busy  to write the usual full answer. Here are a couple of images of me doing my bit in the show (photo on stage courtesy of @sillypunk):

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But excuses for tardiness aside, here is the mystery object I would have been writing a proper answer for if I wasn’t on a stage talking to a room full of people:

You all spotted that it was a type of canid (dog) straight away, but the species was a little bit more tricky. Many went for a fox of some kind, as it is quite a small specimen, but Barbara Powell, Jamie Revell and Ethan plumped for the correct answer of  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #149 answer

On Friday I gave you a bit of a spot-the-difference with these two skulls, wanting to know if they were two individuals from the same species or if they were from two different species:

I must say that it was a bit of a tricky identification without the added complexity of a between specimen comparison, yet you all did remarkably well.

As usual Jake was the first to comment, correctly identifying that the specimens are both rodents and squirrels at that. He also recognised that both were adult animals, although one was probably older than the other when it died, based on the degree of wear on the teeth (assuming the diet was similar). The squirrel identification was also supported by Will, henstridgesj, Dave Godfrey, Jamie Revell and Barbara Powell.

Barbara also picked up on the feature that made me consider that these specimens may have been from different species – the sutures between the premaxilla, maxilla, nasals and frontal bones that make up the rostrum (the nosey bit). This is something that Lena and Jamie Revell also commented upon.

The position of the sutures (or junctions) between the various bones that make up the rostrum can certainly be useful in diagnosing differences between species – it’s a handy one for distinguishing between Lions and Tigers for example:

Lion vs Tiger sutures

However, in this case I don’t think that the differences between the sutures are all that diagnostic, I think the differences may simply be down to either sexual dimorphism (that’s where males and females of the same species develop differently) or differences between the ages of the individuals. In fact, given that the specimen with the more heavily worn teeth is smaller and less robust than the other specimen I wouldn’t be surprised if it was an older female and younger male of the same species that are being compared.

One of the reasons I don’t think the sutures are diagnostic comes down to timing of their fusion. According to Wilson & Sánchez-Villagra, 2009 the pattern of closure of the cranial sutures in rodents follows a fairly standard pattern, with the rostral elements being amongst the last to fuse. This suggests that those sutures are more likely to vary between animals of different ages and between animals with different life histories. That said, there are geographical variations in this species, so these specimens may represent individuals of different subspecies from different parts of the range – something I can’t check because there is no locality information with them (at least not that I’ve found yet).

With the spot-the-difference dealt with, I will leave you with the correct species identification as made by henstridgesj, these are the skulls of  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #147 answer

On Friday I gave you this object to identify:

I chose this object because it gave me a chance to take a photo using my new phone camera and a hand lens (inspired by an article by Nigel Larkin in the latest NatSCA News). I thought it might be a bit of a challenge, but I was proven wrong once again, as Jake tentatively identified the part of the skeleton this bone is from straight away – it is indeed a baculum or os penis (that’s the Latin for penis bone).

The species was a bit more difficult, but Barbara Powell was quick to identify that it came from a Mustelid and then there was a bit of disagreement between Barbara, Ric Morris and Dawn about whether it was from a  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #146

This week I haven’t had a chance to photograph a new mystery object, so here’s an old image I took of a specimen from a while back:

Any idea what this skull might belong to? I’ve deliberately omitted the scale bar to make it a bit harder, but if you want to see the scale just click on the image.

As usual you can leave your questions, comments and suggestions below and I’ll do my best to respond. Good luck!