Friday mystery object #231 answer

Last Friday I gave you this distinctive skull to identify:


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:


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:


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:


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!

Friday mystery object #224

For the last few weeks I’ve been using cat skulls as mystery objects, because they are really hard to tell apart and I was hoping that some useful distinguishing features might get spotted when you try to identify them.

I certainly feel like I’ve learned something, but I’m pleased to say that there aren’t too many more skulls to go, because it’s really difficult. This next one should hopefully be a bit easier than some of the recent cats:


Any idea what fine felid this skull comes from?

As usual I would really appreciate your thoughts in the comments section below – let’s see if we can crack this!

Friday mystery object #223 answer

Last Friday I gave you this fine feline to have a go at identifying:


I was a little suspicious of the identification attached to the specimen, but Al Klein suggested the same species – the Jaguarundi Puma yagouaroundi (É. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1803) [link opens pdf].

My reasons for suspicion were the nature of the post-orbital constriction (the narrowing of the braincase behind the eyes), the nature of the zygomaticotemporal suture between the temporal process of the zygomatic and the zygomatic process of the temporal bone (the bit where two bones meet to make the arch of the cheek) and the shape of the nasal bones where they meet the frontals (the V shaped bones above the nose area).

The observation by henstridgesj that the skull was similar to the previous mystery object (Leopardus tigrinus) was a good one, so I decided to research the genus Leopardus in a bit more detail, to see if there was a better match.

It turns out that the skull I found that matched this one most closely – especially with regard to the relative lack of a post-orbital constriction and the nasal-frontal junction – was the highly arboreal Margay Leopardus wiedii (Schinz, 1821) [link opens pdf].

Margay - Leopardus wiedii, Summit Municipal Parque, Panama. By Brian Gratwicke.

I’m always a bit reticent to re-identify specimens that have original labels from the supplier attached as this one does, but this comes from suppliers (Dr.s Schlüter & Mass) that I know have seriously misidentified or mislabelled specimens in the past (e.g. labelling a African Lappet-faced Vulture as an Andean Condor from Bolivia).

Of course, the real identification may be even more complicated, since the South American cats have a bit of a track record for hybridising to the point of masking distinct species, so any identification I make will be laden with disclaimers and caveats. The joy of real-world animals when contrasted against nice simple biological concepts…


Today is #MuseumSelfie day as part of #MuseumWeek, so here are few selfies of me trying to recreate the look of specimens from the Horniman’s natural history gallery.






Utterly ridiculous, but fun nonetheless. If you have some similar selfies why not link to them below in the comments section? After all, I don’t want to be the only one looking silly!


Oz carnivores

Here’s an handy guide to the skulls of the carnivores found in Oz, just in case you find yourself in the area and stumble across a large carnivore skull. Natch.


They are arranged in the order left to right, top to bottom and they follow the sequence of the wild animals of Oz song. If you don’t know the song, it’s here:

Enjoy that little earworm!