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:

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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!

Mermania!

I’ve already posted a teaser about my mermaid research, but now I’m pleased to say that the academic paper is available in the Journal of Museum Ethnography, no. 27 (2014), pp.98-116.

©Horniman Museum and Gardens & © Heini Schneebeli

We had hoped (and we asked) to make the paper open-access, as one of my co-authors is based at the Wellcome Library and the Wellcome takes open-access seriously and provide funds for making research freely available.

But alas our request seems to have been missed or ignored. I’m not hugely surprised as the Journal is published by the Museum Ethnographers Group, which is a Subject Specialist Network (SSN) run by volunteers and the systems are simply not in place for organisations like that to adopt new publishing models quickly and easily.

I should know, as I am involved in a couple of SSNs and I know how much time and effort goes into producing a Journal and I know how core the Journal is to the running of an SSN – it’s seen as a benefit of membership and therefore giving away the content freely is seen by some as devaluing membership.

At the SSN I am most involved in (the Natural Sciences Collections Association – NatSCA) we make all of our Journal articles freely available, but only a year after publication, so there is still a benefit to joining (among other benefits of course!).

I may not be able to legally share the final version of the paper with everyone, as I don’t hold the copyright, but I hold the copyright of the earlier drafts, so here is an earlier draft of the paper if you want to get the gist of the mermaid research.

I won’t go into detail here about the contents of the paper, since I’ve been busy writing for other blogs where I look at different aspects of mermaids:

how to make a mermaid is explained on Henry Nichol’s excellent Guardian science blog Animal Magic;

why Henry Wellcome may have collected mermaids is explore on the Wellcome Collection’s blog;

an accessible summary of the mermaid research on the Horniman merman is available on the Horniman website,

and there is a nice blog by Vicky Pearce on the Horniman blog.

Hopefully this mass of mermaid information will inspire discussion, where I really hope to find out about more mermaid specimens and stories.

If you have any information, thoughts or questions please either use the #mermania hashtag on twitter or leave a comment below. Enjoy!

 

Friday mystery object #223 answer

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

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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…

Friday mystery object #223

I hope you’re not all fed up with cats yet, because here’s another:

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I have concerns about the identification attached to this one, so let’s see if your thoughts agree with what I have written on the label.

As always, you can put your thoughts below and they will be very welcome!

The Mermaid

As you may already know, I’ve been doing a lot of work on a mermaid specimen in the collections of the Horniman Museum & Gardens over the last few years.

The upshot of all that activity is that I have a paper written in a journal that will be hitting the bookshelves any day now. As you may have heard me say before, the specimen is not made of a monkey attached to a fish – I know that after undertaking painstaking examination of the specimen using CT scanning equipment and DNA sampling and good old fashioned anatomical investigation.

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Instead it appears to be a real creature of uncertain taxonomic affiliation. The teeth suggest a link to the Wrasse family, the tail to the Carp and the torso to no known living group, so I have designated this specimen as the type for its species and have named it Pseudosiren paradoxoides. Full details can be found in the paper which is due out next week in the Journal of Museum Ethnography - I’m so excited!

#MuseumSelfie

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.

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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!

 

Friday mystery object #222 answer

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

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No one got quite the right species, but several people (Crispin, manwhohunts, Maxine and Alex Klein) managed to narrow it down to the correct genus.

The flat frontals give the forehead a slope rather than the usual curve we’ve seen in previous cats of this size, making the cranium appear very domed in contrast. The post orbital processes are quite short and gracile (slender). The jaw is quite short while maxilla bone above the canines appears pinched in and the nasals are steep and protruding somewhat.  These are features that appear in the genus Leopardus – the South and Central American small spotted cats.

How to distinguish between different species of Leopadus is more of a problem. Daniel Jones picked up on the incredibly robust bone margin of the foramen magnum (the hole the spinal chord goes into), which may be distinctive, but so far I’ve not seen the underside of other small Leopardus species skulls, so I can’t be sure.

All I know is that this is the skull of an Oncilla Leopardus tigrinus (Schreber, 1775), a small and mainly ground-hunting South American forest cat. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, cats are so difficult to identify!