Last week I gave you this mystery object to identify:
It’s the kind of thing you find in museum collections quite often, but it will commonly be misidentified – especially in anthropology collections where (in my experience) it will commonly be referred to as a claw or big cat tooth.
However, nobody who commented went down that route, recognising that the hollow base and well defined crown indicates that it’s an open rooted tooth of some sort. In mammals an open root at this size that would suggest a pig tusk or perhaps a whale tooth, but this isn’t mammalian.
In fact, this tooth is from something even less cuddly than a whale, something crocodilian. This was recognised first by Carlos Grau, but others who came to the same conclusion included Jonathan Larwood, Daniel Jones, palfreyman1414, Wouter van Gestel and Charne. More specifically, this tooth is from a Gharial, Gavialis gangeticus (Gmelin, 1789). This Gharial from the Grant Museum of Zoology in fact:
Gharial teeth are a bit less conical than the teeth of most crocodiles and alligators. Presumably the curve helps prevent their main diet of fish from getting free when caught.
Gharials are sexually dimorphic, with the adult males bearing a big rounded bony knob on the end of their rostrum, this is where the name Gharial comes from, as this feature resembles a local earthenware pot called a “ghara”. Sadly, these distinctive crocodilians are critically endangered, with just a few hundred left alive in the wild. They are affected by habitat loss, egg theft and use in traditional medicines.
More mysteries next week and if you fancy hearing me talking about animals you might be interested in coming to Animal Showoff at the Grant Museum of Zoology next Thursday evening!