Friday mystery object #350 answer

Last week I gave you this mystery bird as my 350th specimen for identification:

20170213_113309-01.jpeg

It wasn’t particularly easy, although that oddly preserved crest did help narrow it down.

As Wouter van Gestel pointed out, the general shape of the bird, particularly the legs and sternum, suggest that it’s a passerine. There are quite a lot of crested passerines, from Crested Tits to Crested Jays, but the bill shape on this specimen only matches a few.

Bob Church worked it out and left a nice cryptic clue:

Well, I could be wrong and might bomb this one, but perhaps if I wax poetic, I could wing it a bit.

Taking bomb, wax and wing clearly relates to the waxwings in the genus Bombycilla.

For the full species definition there was a response on Twitter from the Scarborough Museums Trust Collections Team:

“Chattering silk-tail” is a direct translation of the scientific name Bombycilla garrulus – which is spot on!

They get their common name from the waxy red tips on their secondary feathers and their ‘Bohemian’ lifestyle – in the 19th Century sense of them being wanderers. They migrate thousands of miles and have a huge distribution across the Northern Hemisphere.

768px-bombycilla_garrulusii

Bombycilla garrulus by Andreas Trepte, 2012

I find their silky plumage and rich but quite blended colouring particularly beautiful – something that is a bit lacking in the mystery specimen.

Friday mystery object #292

This week I have my last mystery object from the Grant Museum of Zoology, since I am starting my new job as Assistant Keeper of Natural History at the National Museum of Ireland next week. However, there is one specimen that’s been getting on my nerves the whole time I’ve worked at the Grant, as it says on its label that it’s from an Albatross, but I simply don’t believe it. Can you help me work out what this rather dusty specimen actually comes from?:

dsc06030No need for cryptic clues I think, since it’s probably going to be a little bit of a challenge and some discussion seems likely – which will be easier if we all know we’re talking about the same thing.

Have fun with this one!

Friday mystery object #288 answer

Last week I gave you this mystery object from the Grant Museum of Zoology to try your hand at identifying:

mystery288

Not the best photos, but they do show some of the key features I used to work out what it is.

There were a lot of comments with a variety of different groups of animal being mentioned, although everyone recognised this as a mammal immediately. The large broad tail was recognised by Allen Hazen as an adaptation to swimming, but its unusual proportions threw some people into thinking this was something quite basal, like a marsupial or member of the Pilosa. The presence of a clavicle supported that to some extent as many of the more recent mammal orders, like the Carnivora, have a reduced or absent clavicle.

The hind feet were also recognised as an adaptation to swimming by palfreyman1414, but he was sceptical that this specimen represented just one species, suggesting it might be a chimera. However, I wouldn’t do that to you (unless it was an April Fool prank) so the real animal remained to be identified.

Hiroto Nakatsubo raised the possibility of it being a rodent, but commented that it was on the big side. This could have pointed at Beaver, as many people suggested, except the specimen lacks the distinctive tail morphology. All of this followed my own though path for working out what it is – a medium large aquatic rodent that isn’t a Beaver.

That narrowed it down to Capybara, Muskrat, Coypu or monster Water Vole. Of these, only one has the size difference between fore and hind limbs, plus the distinctively weird acromion process on the shoulder – the Coypu Myocastor coypus Kerr, 1792. So Isaac Krone was the first to get the correct identification, which he hinted at with reference to the Coypu’s alternative common name Nutria and the genus name which means “mouse-beaver” in Greek. Well done to Isaac!

Coypu showing off its weird discrepancy in limb lengths. Image by José Reynaldo da Fonseca, 2006

Coypu showing off its weird discrepancy in limb lengths. Image by José Reynaldo da Fonseca, 2006

 

 

Friday mystery object #288

This week I have a mystery skeleton that emerged from the collections of the Grant Museum of Zoology recently and required identification:

mystery288

Apologies for the slightly rubbish photographs, but I’ve taken pics of the bits I found most useful in making my identification.

Any thoughts on what species this specimen represents? You can put your questions, thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below. Have fun with it!

Friday mystery object #262 answer

Last Friday I gave you this pretty characteristic mystery object from the Berlin Museum für Naturkunde to try your hand at identifying:

mystery262

There were lots of great comments – I must apologise for not responding to many (and for posting the answer to this mystery object so late), my excuse is that I’ve had an insanely busy week finishing up my old job at the Horniman Museum and Gardens and then getting started in my new job at the fantastic Grant Museum of Zoology at University College London (more to come about my big move). I also got started on a really interesting project looking at Gorilla osteology and I’m feverishly trying to prepare a training workshop on identifying natural materials for next week.

Back to the object. Several of you noticed the presence of a baculum (or penis bone) which shows us quite definitively that this was a male animal.

Panda penis bone (baculum) from the Berlin Museum für Naturkunde

It also suggests that the specimen was prepared and mounted without the prudishness that many historical mounts were affected by (see Jack Ashby’s comments about this in his post on the Grant Muesum’s Ringtail).

Many of you also correctly recognised that the plantigrade (or flat-footed) posture, short tail and robust build suggested a bear of some sort.

Panda hind limb bones showing plantigrade foot

The distinctive sagittal crest was the final feature needed for identification for some of you to work out that this is the skeleton of a Giant Panda Ailuropoda melanoleuca (David, 1869).

Panda skull side view

Panda_skull_top

I tend to think of Panda skulls as looking like a cross between those of a Hyaena and a Gorilla, which makes sense when you consider the adaptations of the jaw musculature required for the Panda to process the large volumes of tough bamboo needed to provide enough energy for survival. The bone of the skull has to be able to manage the large forces produced by all this chewing, resulting in a big and robust sagittal crest, a thick and deep mandible and really deep muscle scars on the coronoid process.

These are all features you also see in big chewers like the Gorilla and Hyaena, but not in rodents and ungulates – I think this reflects the difference between groups that rely on temporalis muscle (which runs along the side of the braincase) in chewing compared to the masseter muscle (which attaches to the zygomatic arch or cheekbone).

The final clue to confirm that this is a Giant Panda is the ‘thumb’ on the front limbs:

Panda_thumb_1

Panda_thumb_2

This handy (excuse the pun) extra ‘digit’ is actually the radial sesamoid bone of the Panda’s wrist, that has been commandeered by evolution for use as a bamboo holder. There are a few other species that have done weird things with wrist bones to gain a digit, but this is clearly not a Mole or Elephant and Red Pandas have a much longer tail.

I hope you enjoyed some of the interesting bony features of this specimen – it’s great to have a chance to see under the surface of such an iconic animal!

Friday mystery object #262

Last week I had an enjoyable trip to Berlin where (probably unsurprisingly) I visited the Museum für Naturkunde. The collections were fantastic, with specimens like this absolutely spectacular Archaeopteryx:

Archaeopteryx

but that’s a pretty obvious object, much too familiar to use for the Friday mystery object. So here’s something that might be a little less familiar to test your skills:

mystery262

It’s a pretty distinctive specimen, but hopefully it won’t be quite as familiar as the iconic Archaeopteryx.

If you recognise it straight away, please use your imagination and leave a cryptic answer so others get a chance to test their identification skills. Have fun!

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 #213 answer

Last week I gave you this interestingly shaped piece of bone to identify:

mystery213

Jake, Elisa, henstridgesj, Hew Morrison, Robin Birrrdegg, Daniel Jones and Daniel Calleri all made a correct identification of this being part of a sternum, a sternebrae or more specifically a manubrium from a fairly large (yet possibly juvenile) ungulate. This was all correct and the final piece of the puzzle is the species, which is actually a smaller Deer than most people were expecting. It’s from an immature male Fallow Deer Dama dama (Linnaeus, 1758) collected from Knowle Park in Kent.

Here’s what it looks like with the rest of the sternebrae (which are the individual elements of bone that make up the sternum, like vertebrae make up the spine) that I could find for the specimen:

Sternum of immature male Fallow Deer Dama dama

Sternum of immature male Fallow Deer Dama dama

So it was indeed the manubrium – the top sternebra which in humans articulates with the top ribs and clavicles, but which here would only articulate with the top ribs, because ungulates don’t have clavicles (as I’ve discussed before). Here’s a human sternum for comparison:

Human sternum

Human sternum

So well done to everyone – I hope you enjoyed the challenge!

 

#bonegeeks

There are some great resources online for finding images of comparative material for skulls, but the postcranial skeleton tends to be quite badly represented online even for common species. I’d love to change that, but it’s a big challenge for one person.

Paramastoid process of Pig (Sus scrofa)

Paramastoid process of Pig (Sus scrofa)

That’s why I’d like to set up #bonegeeks on Twitter (and maybe on other social media as well). The way I see it, people who have access to skeletal material could easily take snaps of bits of postcrania from known species (preferably with something for scale) using their phone and share the image to Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook with the name of the species and the bone (and perhaps where the specimen is held).

With the #bonegeeks tag it should be easy to collate images and hopefully start building up a comparative collection of images to make identifications easier.

It could start with a bone of the week to get the seldom depicted bones better represented and I’m sure #bonegeeks would be willing to respond to requests if there were particular bones that someone wanted to see.

I wonder if this could work… shall we give it a go and find out? Please add your thoughts on this idea in the comments section below or on Twitter using the #bonegeeks hashtag.

Oh and here’s how the idea got started: [View the story “#bonegeeks” on Storify]

Friday mystery object #203 answer

Last Friday I gave you this rather large scapula that I discovered in a crate in the Horniman’s stores to identify:

mystery203

It wasn’t an easy one, since there are relatively few distinctive features on a scapula compared to something like a skull.

Jake has talked about scapulae on his blog before and that provides a good place to see that this specimen is most likely from an ungulate – but an ungulate much bigger than a Red Deer. This led to suggestions for Cow, Horse, Aurochs and one of the larger species of deer. 

Outside the comments section on Zygoma there were also suggestions of Giraffe and Giant Irish Deer and I wondered about Camel.

All in all, there were a lot of suggestions, but none of these looked quite right when I searched for comparative material – although finding good images of scapulae online wasn’t easy. I did, however, find a useful video explaining the differences between Horse, Cow (or Ox) and Camel scapulae:

This was enough for me to rule out each of those animals, although the closest was the Cow – in particular the relative sizes of the two faces (called fossae) on either side of the raised ridge called the spine. However, the shape of the acromion (the hooked bit of the raised spine that points towards the shoulder joint) didn’t seem blunt enough for a Cow.

The size differences in the fossae turn out to be about the same in Sheep and deer as in Cow, which led me back in the direction of Jake’s deer scapulae, which seemed to most closely match the shape, if not the absolute size.

Taking the size into account I realised that this animal must stand almost twice the height of a Red Deer, which narrows it down to just one modern species – the Moose or Eurasian Elk Alces alces (Linnaeus, 1758), which can stand at over 2m at the shoulder compared to the Scottish Red Deer’s (still imposing) 1.22m.

Bull Chukotka Moose by Beloki

I still need to double-check my identification against a confirmed Moose scapula, but from looking at some images of Moose skeletons online it seems that the shape of both the fossae and the acromion fit well.

So a big thanks to everyone for their help in identifying this and special props to newcomer Jeanie who seems to have been spot-on about this being from a cervid. Thanks!

Happy Year of the Snake!

Today marks the start of the Chinese Year of the Snake and tomorrow we start the Herpetology phase of our collections review at the Horniman. How very apt!

Here’s a specimen labelled ‘Boa Constrictor’  that came to light while we were preparing for the review that I thought you might like:

snakeskeleton

Have a very prosperous and healthy Year of the Snake!

Friday mystery object #185

This week I have an interesting mystery object for you. It’s quite characteristic, but not necessarily very familiar, so it may prove a bit of a challenge:

mystery185

Any idea what this piece of bone is and what it came from? You can put your thoughts below and I’ll do my best to get back to you. Good luck!

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:

mystery183a

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:

mystery183g

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:

mystery183f

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:

mystery183d

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:

mystery183e

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:

mystery183c

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 #182

This week I have a bit of break from the norm. Rather than giving you a specimen from the Horniman to identify, I have a couple of guest mystery objects from Cyler Conrad for you to attempt.

These two bones were uncovered in an archaeological site in San Francisco, California, USA and they are proving hard to identify. Any idea what they might be from?

mystery182a

mystery182b

As always, you can put your comments and suggestions below, but please also feel free to engage in discussion about these objects – let’s see what emerges!

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:

mystery178

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 #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 #174 answer

On Friday I gave you a bit of a tricky mystery object to identify:

I thought it might prove a tricky one and judging by many of the responses I wasn’t wrong. However, I was impressed by the speed with which the archaeologists managed to work it out – in particular Lena, Pocki and Robin.

This piece of bone is the  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #152 answer

Apologies for the late posting  today – I’m on holiday and haven’t had a chance to post until now.

On Friday I gave you this object to identify:

It was immediately recognised as a primate by everyone, which is unsurprising, given the very characteristic enclosed bony orbits and set of four incisors in the premaxilla and mandible. The teeth were also commented upon by henstridgesj, who recognised that this is an Old World Monkey (Cercopithecidae), with two premolars on each side in both the maxilla and mandible.

Some people might argue with the classification of this specimen as a member of the Cercopithecidae, since the lack of a tail suggests that it’s an Ape of some sort, but the Hominoidea form a smaller clade within the wider Cercopithecidae clade, which means that this is both an Ape and an Old World Monkey.

The kind of Ape is a more tricky question, although the shape of the teeth and the size of the braincase in relation to the facial region rules out any adult Great Apes (Hominidae) – it could be a juvenile, but the degree of fusion of the bones says not. That leaves the ‘Lesser Apes’ (Hylobatidae) or Continue reading