Friday mystery object #314 answer(ish)

Last week I gave you this guest mystery object, courtesy of Joseph van Sambeek:

Mystery object. Image by Joseph van Sambeek, January 2000

The bony struts reinforcing thin plates of bone show it’s from something that lives in water all the time and which lacks lungs – you can tell this because this structure is what you get when you’re dealing with forces moving in a variety of directions, rather than mainly dealing with the constant force of gravity or compensating for buoyancy that is unavoidable when you live in water, but have lungs.

This means that many of you recognised it as being the neurocranium (that’s the bit of the skull that surrounds the brain) from a fish – more specifically from Sarah Gibson:

The first image is the skull roof, showing the elongated frontals and parietals (front of snout is left in first three images). Second image is a left lateral view, showing the internal parasphenoid that would pass between the two eye sockets. Third image is a ventral view, showing the bottom of the parasphenoid. And obviously last image is posterior view, showing the foramen magnum where the spinal cord would pass through, over the occipital condyle. It just may not look like a skull to some because it’s missing the eye sclera bones, jaws, cheek bones, pretty much anything that is not the skull roof or braincase.

However, as we all know, there are a LOT of different sorts of fish – around 33,600 described species and counting. This can make fish a nightmare to identify. However, there are some great resources out there, like Osteobase which has a very useful identification guide for various elements of a range of fish.

Alas, Osteobase didn’t have anything that fits this mystery specimen, so narrowing down to a species is rather difficult. I had the advantage of knowing that the specimen was collected in Baja California, although that was of little help in trying to get in an approximate area of the fishy family tree based on morphology, and there are still a ridiculous number of fish species is the area.

Sarah Gibson suggested that it may be a Barracuda, and it certainly fits in many aspects, but the shape of the frontals and parietals and details of the point of connection between the parasphenoid (that’s the bottom bar bit you see in the side view) don’t quite fit.

I had almost given up hope, when it occurred to me to concentrate on understanding the unusually large occipital condyle that Allen Hazen noticed, which suggested that it might be a taxon with an extremely extended rostrum (like the paddlefish or swordfish that Jennifer Macaire suggested) but with a weedier body and defined neck region since there would be no need for such a large articulation in a fusiform fish (they’re the muscular type that taper at both ends and have no neck, so don’t move their heads).

With this bizarre sounding fish in mind I was able to fairly rapidly narrow down the possibilities to one of the three species of cornetfish that live in the Pacific. I was delighted to find some great images of the skull of a Red Cornetfish, which matches the morphology very well.

Red Cornetfish Fistularia petimba from the Gulf of Mexico. Image by SEFSC Pascagoula Laboratory; Collection of Brandi Noble, NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC

Red Cornetfish Fistularia petimba from the Gulf of Mexico. Image by SEFSC Pascagoula Laboratory; Collection of Brandi Noble, NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC

However, the Red Cornetfish doesn’t really occur in the eastern Pacific, so it’s very unlikely to be that species. The Reef Cornetfish does occur in the eastern Pacific, but has only been reported in Californian coastal waters since November 2015 and this mystery specimen was collected back in January 2000 (which doesn’t make it impossible to be a Reef Cornetfish, just very unlikely). Which leaves us with the most likely identification (although by no means confirmed) of Deepwater Cornetfish Fistularia corneta Gilbert & Starks, 1904.

These long, thin fish can reach up to 2m, but they have tiny mouths that limit them to eating crustaceans, marine worms and smaller fish that they pick up from near the surface of reefs and the sea bed – presumably being harder to spot as a predator thanks to their very small frontal projected area.

I’ve asked Joe to check his specimen against the images of the cornetfish, since there’s nothing better than having a specimen in your hand when attempting an identification.

I hope you enjoyed the challenge!

Friday mystery object #306 answer

Last week I gave you this interesting skull to identify:

Specimen LDUCZ-Z1058 from the Grant Museum of Zoology

Specimen LDUCZ-Z1058 from the Grant Museum of Zoology

I didn’t mention that top of the cranium had been removed, probably as part of a postmortem, which is quite common for zoo specimens. Of course, this made the identification a bit more tricky.

That absent skullcap led to several suggestions of Tasmanian Devil, since they do have a very similar looking facial region to this specimen, with a short and blunt muzzle, robust zygomatic arch and even the same toothcount in the upper jaw. However, the Devils have an angular process of the mandible that projects medially (towards the midline) rather than backwards in a hook, so you wouldn’t see it in a side view.

mystery166

The correct answer was first tenuously suggested by palfreyman1414 in a pleasingly cryptic manner:

I’d have sworn this was a commie go-between for Cressida and Troilus

Which hints at “Red” and “Pandarus” giving us the Red Panda Ailurus fulgens F. Cuvier, 1825.

Red Panda image by Mathias Appel, 2016

Red Panda image by Mathias Appel, 2016

These charismatic critters are another example of an arboreal carnivore that is adapted to feed on a highly vegetarian diet, but unlike the previous mystery object (a Kinkajou) these cuddlesome floofballs eat mainly bamboo rather than fruit – rather like their very distant relative the Giant Panda (despite the similarity in diet and common name, the Red Panda is actually more closely related to the Kinkajou than it is the Giant Panda).

Red Pandas are a bit less highly specialised for feeding on bamboo than the Giant Pandas, probably because they have a more varied diet that also includes fruit, eggs, birds and small mammals. The poor nutritional quality of bamboo does mean that they spend a lot of time sleeping and they tend to move fairly slowly in order to conserve energy, although they can be very playful, especially in captivity where they can access higher quality foods.

Sadly, this playfulness and supreme floofyness is a bit of a problem for the wild Red Panda population. There is demand for wild caught Red Pandas in the pet trade and they are hunted for their thick fur right across their range through the foothills of the Himalayas, despite being protected by legislation in every country.

Friday mystery object #305 answer

Last week I gave you this specimen to identify, with a clue about the tail being distinctive:

mystery305bmystery305d

There were lots of correct answers – the first coming from palfreyman1414 who nailed it with this great cryptic clue relating to its scientific name:

Trump assortment pack

It is indeed Potus flavus (Schreber, 1774) or as Allen Hazen and jennifermacaire hinted at with kinky clues, a Kinkajou. They’re also known as Sun Bears, Lirón (which is also the Spanish name for the Dormouse) or Micoleón (lion monkeys).

A Kinkajou at the Paradise Animal Rehabilitation Center, Volcancito, Panama. Image by Dick Culbert, 2008

A Kinkajou at the Paradise Animal Rehabilitation Center, Volcancito, Panama. Image by Dick Culbert, 2008

As the name Micoleón suggests, these South American floofsters are what happens when a carnivore tries to be a monkey. They have dexterous digits for climbing and handling the fruit that makes up the bulk of their diet and they are one of only two carnivores with a prehensile tail (the other is the Binturong) – hence that tail clue.

This tail acts like a fifth limb that helps the Kinkajou climb and in particular it allows the animal to hang down in order to reach fruit at the ends of slender branches:

Kinkajou hanging using its prehensile tail. Image by Damian Manda, 2009

Kinkajou hanging using its prehensile tail. Image by Damian Manda, 2009

Unlike monkeys, the Kinkajou is nocturnal, relying on its sense of smell and touch more than its eyesight to work out which fruit is ripe. It uses its very long tongue to scoop out fruit pulp and sometimes to feed on nectar from flowers.

All in all it’s a very curious little carnivore that looks more like a lemur than it does its closest cousin, the Coatimundis.

Friday mystery object #305

This Friday I’m giving you a game of heads or tails from the Collections Resource Centre of the Dead Zoo:

mystery305amystery305bmystery305cmystery305d

I don’t normally add a photo of the tail, but in this case it should make the identification a doddle – literally a 50:50 shot at getting the right species. If you know what I’m talking about, then please be cryptic in your suggestions – don’t spoil it for everyone else!

If you don’t know why this tail is so significant then you should know that the skull is 10cm long and all will be revealed next Friday!

Good luck!

 

Friday mystery object #300 answer

Last Friday I gave you this new acquisition to have a go at identifying:

mystery300

When it arrived on my desk in an decorative box, with bundles of bone wrapped in blue tissue and tied with gold ribbon, it had a small label saying:

Skeleton of Mongoose, Africa.

Now, I know that having the continent would have been of help for the identification, but I didn’t want my 300th challenge to be too easy.

So how was that initial identification of Mongoose? It was certainly up there in the first of the comments, with Ric Morris (expert on British mammal bones, whose book I am eagerly awaiting) providing a beautifully crafted suggestion. Unfortunately it isn’t right, as the mongooses mongeese Herpestidae* tend to have a better developed post-orbital process (that’s the pointy bit on top of the skull, behind where the eye would be) and a corresponding process on the zygomatic (that’s the cheekbone), with the two sometimes meeting to form a post-orbital bar. They also tend to have more robust teeth.

Another (very) cryptic clue came from jennifermacaire who suggested that it was a civet (which can either be a type of viverrid carnivore or a French game stew). This suggestion was supported by henstridgesj and it’s closer than the mongoose suggestion, as the specimen is indeed from a species in the Viverridae. This was noticed by herpderpatologist who provided a handy tip for spotting the difference between mustelids and viverrids:

The split auditory bulla is a clue! It’s something I associate with viverridae;…

If we know that this is a viverrid, it narrows it down to one of  just 38 species…  which is still quite a lot. But by trawling through the images of viverrid specimens on the University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web it becomes easier to start narrowing down the likely group within the Family.

In this case it led me to the genets.

There are quite a few genets, with the Subfamily Genettinae containing in the region of 16 species. Distinguishing between them isn’t entirely simple, as they all look pretty much alike, but there is an excellent French resource that has detailed anatomical characters and images of specimens to help distinguish between genet species.

Working through this I found that the two best options were the Common Genet and the Cape Genet and distinguishing between them is not simple. I’m leaning toward the Cape Genet (or Large-spotted Genet) Genetta tigrina (Schreber, 1776), based on the spacing between the tympanic bullae (the bulbous bones under the skull that house the ear bones), the reduced lingual cusp on the P3 (that’s the tiny bit that sticks out towards where the tongue would be on the upper third premolar) the form of the upper first premolar (P1) and the shape of the maxillary-palatine suture (that’s the junction between the bone of the palate and the part of the upper jaw that supports all the teeth except the incisors).

That’s quite a lot to take in, but by getting your eye in and scanning through images it’s surprising how quickly you can narrow down options by rejecting images where you can see clear differences in the tympanic bulla configuration or cusp pattern on the P3 to leave a couple that need more careful consideration.

And just for the sheer squee of it, here’s what a Genet looks like when it’s alive:

Common Genet, by Peter 2011

Common Genet, by Peter 2011

I hope you enjoyed the challenge of the 300th mystery object!

 

*N.B. the plural of mongoose is “mongooses”.

Friday mystery object #295

For many of you, last week’s mystery object answer was a little disappointing, since I was unable to pin down what the specimen was. Normally with birds it’s not so difficult, because of useful resources like skullsite.com, but the fact is that some bird groups are still quite poorly represented in collections and finding comparative material is difficult, especially online.

The most frustrating thing about last week’s object is that it did once have a label, but at some point in the past it was lost, so the only information with the specimen now is this:

mystery295_label

However, this label does offer a glimmer of hope, since it identifies the specimen as being from a particular collection and that can often mean there will be more information somewhere.

As it turns out, this specimen is one of several that were purchased in 1867 from an auction of the collections of Dutch anatomist Theodoor Gerard van Lidth de Jeude. This is helpful because auction catalogues can contain information like the species names of the specimens being sold. It is particularly helpful when you have the original catalogue with annotations about the specimens bought by your institution.

Fortunately, at the Dead Zoo we have the auction catalogues. Unfortunately we bought quite a lot of stuff, so working out which of the specimens our mystery object represents is still quite a lot of work.

However, if other specimens from the auction have their names and numbers, it should be easier to narrow down the ones that lost their labels. It also can also help to have an identification of the specimen to track back to the catalogue, which is why I was keen to get your thoughts last time and why this week’s mystery object is from the same collection.

So can you help me work out what species this skull belonged to?

mystery295

No need for cryptic clues, but if you want to show off your taxonomic prowess you could always offer the 1860’s scientific name or the name of what you think it is in Dutch.

I hope you have fun with this one!