Friday mystery object #331

This week I have couple of specimens for you to have a go at identifying:

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I think these have been mislabelled and need their identifications checked to see if it’s a simple label swap or if it’s a deeper problem with the documentation. I won’t make it easier by providing the labels I’m suspect about – let’s see what you think working just from these images…

Have fun!

Friday mystery object #273 answer

Last week I gave you this mystery object to get your input on:

mystery273

It was labelled Ovis aries, which didn’t ring quite true for me, so I thought it would be good to see if you also had other ideas, since I’ve noticed that there is a tendency for ungulates of a certain size in museum collections to be assumed to be Sheep.

In other museums I’ve found female Red Deer, Gerenuk and on one occasion even a Badger skull that had been labelled “Sheep”.

mystery273-gerenuk

Labelled “Sheep” but actually a Gerenuk.

This is what a sheep looks like:

mystery273-sheep

You’ll probably notice the “Roman nose” that is quite distinctively sheepy, it also has no gaps between the premaxilla and maxilla and there is a small depression in front of the eye.

When you look underneath, one of the key things that jumps out is the difference in size of the auditory bullae (mystery on the left, sheep on the right):

mystery273-mystery_and_shee

So I’m pretty sure that the mystery object isn’t a sheep, but what is it?

There were lots of suggestions of exotic and interesting ungulates, but after looking at the skulls of a huge number of ungulates I can to the conclusion that Latinka Hristova and Jake were on the right track with the simple suggestion of Goat Capra hircus (Linnaeus, 1758).

Taking a look at Goat specimens on the incredibly useful Mammalian Crania Photographic Archive has convinced me that this is what the mystery object actually is. Not a million miles from Sheep I suppose, but they are different and it’s helpful finding some small differences that help distinguish between them.

Thanks for your input!

Friday mystery object #234 answer

Last Friday I gave you this mystery skull to identify, which I discovered in a box of unidentified bits and bobs:

mystery234

It was pretty obvious that it was the skull of a big cat of some kind, with most of you suggesting a Jaguar or Cheetah (either of which would make me very happy as we have the skull of neither in the Horniman collection). Unfortunately it appears to belong to neither.

As I’ve mentioned  before, cats are quite difficult to differentiate from each other as they haven’t been diverging for all that long and their widespread distributions can mean that populations within a particular species can be quite variable in morphology. Leopards are a good example of this, with a (once continuous) range from Korea to South Africa.

Global distribution of the leopard (Panthera pardus) by Tommyknocker

Global distribution of the leopard (Panthera pardus) by Tommyknocker

As it turns out, this specimen is most likely from a Leopard Panthera pardus (Linnaeus, 1758), since it’s from an adult animal (as is clear from the well formed sagittal crest) but is on the small side for a Lion or Tiger and too big for a Cougar or Cheetah. It also lacks the broad post orbital region seen in the Cheetah and Snow Leopard, and it lacks the concave profile of both the Snow Leopard and Jaguar. All of these identification pointers can be found in this handy pdf by Margaret “Cookie” Sims.

Just to show you what I mean about the variability within a species, here’s a second skull from the same box, that also matches the Leopard identification.

Leopards

I expect the big difference in size is largely down to sexual dimorphism, but as you can see the overall proportions are quite different as well. This may be a difference between widely separated populations, or it could just be individual variation – either way it goes to show that cats are hard to identify.

Friday mystery object #233

This Friday I have a challenge for you. Can you work out which five different species these mandibles come from?

mystery233

They are all different sizes and the lack of scale bars is deliberate – this is about trying to find useful features from the shape rather than the size, It’s not easy!

You can put your answers in the comments section below. Good luck!

Friday mystery object #231 answer

Last Friday I gave you this distinctive skull to identify:

mystery231

I knew it would be a bit of an easy one, given the highly unusual teeth, but it seemed too interesting a specimen to not use.

As cryptically suggested by many of you (Jamie Revell, Nigel Monaghan, henstridgesj, rachel, cromercrox, Robin Birrrdegg, Allen Hazen and Crispin), this is indeed the skull of a Crabeater Seal Lobodon carcinophaga (Hombron & Jacquinot, 1842).

Jerzy Strzelecki, 2000

These seals are specialised for catching krill, hence the strange shape and tightly fitting nature of their teeth, which act as a filter to strain the tiny crustaceans from ocean water.

Because these seals live in the waters all around the Antarctic, monitoring their population is particularly difficult, so estimates of their numbers vary considerably, from 2 million to 12 million (which is the more likely figure).

As with most abundant animals they have predators, in particular Leopard Seals. Apparently 78% of adult Crabeaters bear scars of Leopard Seal attacks, which can be seen clearly on the live individual in the image above. Most of the attacks happen before the Crabeaters reach a year old and get a bit too big to be easy prey, but in that first year there is apparently a huge mortality rate, with only 20% of seals making it to their first birthday. Good old Mother Nature is never one for sentiment.

Friday mystery object #227 answer

On Friday I asked you to spot the differences between these two cat skulls and I wondered whether anyone could identify them:

mystery227

Both henstridgesj and Allen Hazen made some good observations, the first being about the difference in size, then about morphological features that I’ve marked on this image:

comparing_cats

Now henstridgesj also correctly identified one of the skulls – the one on the right of the image is from a Domestic Cat Felis catus Linnaeus, 1758.

As it turns out, this was a bit of a trick mystery object, since BOTH of the skulls belong to Domestic Cats, so this gives us a useful idea of the kind of variation we might expect within a species.

I think that the main cause of variation between these two animals is probably sex, with the male on the left and the female on the right. There may also be differences based on age (although I don’t think that’s a major factor), breed and perhaps disease (the larger specimen looks like it had an infection that affected the surface of the bone).

After taking various measurements, the most useful difference I’ve found between the two skulls is shown with the yellow line. I think that the ratio of these two measurements may provide a way to tell the difference between a male and female cat (in the male it’s around 1 or less than 1, in the female it’s greater than 1) but I’ll need to make a LOT more measurements to test this.

Two other ideas that could be tested were suggested by henstridgesj and Allen Hazen. Allen said: “My impression is that the presence and development of sagital crests, among felidae, correlates pretty strictly with size” and henstridges said: “It seems that if the species of cats are arranged in increasing size order, then the anterior half of the skull (forward of the frontal-parietal suture) seems to increase in size more than the posterior half”.

I’d better take a look to see if this has been tested before…

Friday mystery object #227

This week I thought I should mop up the last of the smaller cats as a spot-the-difference:

mystery227

What do you think are the diagnostic features that separate these two skulls (bonus points for species identifications)?

I’m really keen to get your thoughts on this, so please put your observations in the comments section below. Thanks!