Friday mystery object #230 answer

Last Friday I gave you this skull to identify:


It was obvious to everyone who had a go at answering that it was the skull of a marine turtle of some sort, but that’s where it got a bit more tricky. There are only seven species of marine turtle, but their skulls all look quite similar to the untrained eye – mine included.

However, when I found this specimen I decided to improve my skills and I searched for a decent identification guide for turtle skulls, which I was fortunate to find hosted by Florida Atlantic University.

Checking through the characters I discovered that the palate of turtles can be very helpful in identifications, so here’s a colour coded and labelled diagram prepared from the image above that should help illustrate a key diagnostic feature:


As some of you may have noticed, the maxilla (tinted red) on either side of the palate meet in the middle, which is a characteristic only seen the Loggerhead Caretta caretta Rafinesque, 1814. The other turtles have the maxilla separated by the vomer (tinted green). Well done to  mark b, cromercrox and donald who managed to get the right turtle species!

Loggerhead Turtle. Photo by ukanda, 2006

Loggerhead Turtle. Photo by ukanda, 2006

These large marine turtles will eat pretty much anything they can find, from jellyfish to crabs and sponges. Unfortunately that includes things like plastic, which causes all sort of problems for their digestive system. Just one problem that they face, on top of getting tangled up in fishing tackle and poor survival of their young due to predation from pretty much everything (from foxes to crabs and gulls to sharks). Sadly, it’s not much fun being a turtle.

Friday mystery object #229 answer

Last Friday I was at the SPHNHC, NatSCA and GCG joint conference in Cardiff, which provided a fantastic opportunity to catch up with natural science curators, conservators and collections managers from all over the world, but which gave me limited time to spend on the mystery object.

As a result you ended up with an object that made an appearance in a ‘feely box’ at a fun pub quiz organised by guys at the Oxford Museum of Natural History.

Feely boxes in action

Feely boxes in action

Lurking within...

Lurking within…

It’s not the prettiest object but it’s characteristic shape and structure makes it readily identifiable using touch.

Jake spotted that it was a horizontal section through a skull, including the palate and Maxine and Julie Howard recognised the tusk alveoli extending from the maxilla, and correctly suggested Pumbaa, or Warthog Phacochoerus africanus (Gmelin, 1788).

Touch is an often under-appreciated sense in science, but it can be used to identify some specimens and provide a new perspective on the evolution of forms in nature. This is something I came to realise when working at the National Museum of Ireland – Natural History in Dublin, where I was fortunate enough to meet evolutionary biologist Dr Geerat Vermeij, who has been blind since birth, yet is able to identify shells to species and read part of their life history from touch alone.

Geerat Vermeij, Evolutionary Biologist, Reading A Shell’s Story from Shape of Life on Vimeo.


Coming up in July and August

I don’t normally use my blog to publicise the event that I have coming up, because quite frankly I’m not usually that organised.

Doing a theatrical turn for the Enlightenment Cafe. Photo by Liz Lutgendorff 2012

Nonetheless, if you have the strange compunction to hear me speak, or to attend something I’ve helped organise, here are some gigs that are coming up soon (click the links for details):


  • 12th July 2014 (09:00 – 18:00): Tetrapod Zoology Conference (London Wetlands Centre) - I’ll be talking about my research on mermaids at 11ish during this exciting all-day conference.

Tetrapod Zoology

  • 16th July (18:30 for 19:30 start): Science in the Pub (Old King’s Head, London Bridge) - The monthly science talk I host every 3rd Wednesday of the month, with Dr Erica McAlister from the NHM talking about science and museums
  • 18th July 2014 (09:30 for 10:00 start): Taxidermy: Creativity, Curation, Context & Care (Chandler House, Bloomsbuy, London) – I’ll be chairing this one day conference, which should be brilliant as the line-up of speakers is looking great!

Image by Sean Dooley

  • 25th – 27th July 2014 (17:00 on 27th): Winchester Science Festival (Discovery Centre, Winchester) – I’ll be talking about the evolution and adaptations of the skull in vertebrates.


  • 20th August 2014 (18:30 for 19:30 start): Science in the Pub (Old King’s Head, London Bridge) -  TBC

That’ll do for now as details get more fuzzy as we look further into the future, but there are more talks coming up in in September, which I’ll add at a later date. Now I’d better think about getting some of these talks prepared!

Bonus mystery object

I usually offer up a mystery object on Friday, but here’ a bonus object that landed on my desk this morning.


Apparently it was found in a horsefield in Kent, I have narrowed down the likely species of the animal that ‘donated’ the bone to a couple of options, but thought you might like to have a go as well, before the specimen is handed over to our Anthropologists to inspect the engraved designs.

As usual can can leave your comments below. Have fun!

Friday mystery object #229

This week I’ve been busy at a natural science collections conference in Cardiff, so I’ve not had much time to photograph a mystery object. Nonetheless, here’s one for you to identify that was used in a pub quiz at the conference:


Any idea what it is?

Friday mystery object #228 answer

Last Friday I gave you these bits of mystery forelimb (scapula and humerus) to identify:


I thought it would be an easy one, since it’s from a very common species with a near global distribution – plus the humerus has quite a characteristic crest along the proximal end, from the shoulder articulation to the middle of the bone.

Most people who commented noticed this crest and Jake suggested that it had adaptive features (along with the scapula), maybe for a specialised way of life.

As it turns out, these bones come from an animal that is probably best described as a specialist generalist – a Brown Rat Rattus norvegicus (Berkenhout, 1769).

Rattus norvegicus, the Brown Rat. Image by National Park Service

These versatile and intelligent animals are very good climbers and brilliant swimmers, using their forelimbs to both get around and manipulate food.

This particular rat was a male pet rat purchased from Harrods in October 1960 – I get the impression it didn’t survive for that long, since the humerus head hasn’t fully fused. You can’t buy pets from Harrods any more, so this specimen not only shows us what a rat’s humerus and scapula look like, but it also represents a teeny-tiny piece of British history.