Friday mystery object #216 answer

Last Friday I gave you this mystery sternum to identify:

mystery216

I had a rough idea of the family, but I was less certain about the species. As it turns out I’m now less sure of the family than I was before, in light of some useful comments.

At first I thought this was the sternum of a member of the Strigidae or the ‘True Owls’ – something that Jake also thought with his suggestion of Tawny Owl Strix aluco, but henstridgesj and Daniel Jones raised the possibility of it being from a seabird and Daniel Calleri suggested it could also be from a member of the Halcyonidae or the ‘Tree Kingfisher’ family.

With the Christmas and New Year break I haven’t had a chance to get to our stores to check specimens, but there is a very useful website that deals with seabird osteology (helpfully called Seabird Osteology) which has some images of sterna. Several of the Procellariiformes (the order containing the Albatrosses, Petrels, Shearwaters, etc.) have a similarly short sternum with a double notched bottom margin, as do some of the Laridae or the Gull family.

I also checked an image of a Kookaburra from a previous mystery object, which doesn’t show the sternum well, but which does hint at a double notched bottom margin:

Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae skeleton

Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) skeleton

This has left me slightly less confident that last week’s mystery object is from an owl, but here are a couple of other owl sterna for comparison:

Barn Owl Tyto alba sternum and coracoid

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) sternum and coracoid

As you can see, the Barn Owl sternum above doesn’t quite have the double notch, although the size is about right. The Eurasian Eagle Owl sternum below (ignore the coracoids and other bits of the pectoral girdle) is a much closer fit, although substantially larger.

Bubo_bubo_sternum_coracoid

Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo) sternum, coracoid, furcula and scapula

I’ll see if I can find a Tawny Owl sternum to check against, because the shape does seem pretty good for one of the Strigidae and the size is about the same as a Barn Owl, which is in a different family, but has a size range that overlaps with the Tawny Owl. Of course, it could also be from one of the other medium sized owls, like the Long-eared or Short-eared Owls… more to come!

UPDATE 14:30 on 3rd January 2014

Here’s a Tawny Owl sternum!

Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) sternum

It’s pretty close, but the notches seem a bit deeper, so perhaps one of the Asioninae (Eared Owls) might be a better match for the mystery object?

Friday mystery object #216

I hope you all had an enjoyable Yuletide, I’ve certainly been glad of the excuse for a lie-in over the last few days.

The mystery object is a bit late today, but I hope you’ll forgive me in light of the general seasonal torpor.

Here’s a sternum that I’ve been puzzling over for a while – I can make a pretty good guess at the family it comes from, but I’m less sure of the species:

mystery216

I’d appreciate seeing what you think it might be – let’s see if we can work this out!

 

Friday mystery object #215 answer

Last Friday I gave you this perplexing specimen to identify:

mystery215

It was labelled as a Crab-eating Raccoon, but the facial region is much longer and narrower than other examples I’ve talked about, and it’s much less robust:

Crab-eating Raccoon skull

Now the gracile build could just be because it’s the skull of a juvenile (which is what it looks like), but juveniles have shorter and relatively broader facial regions than adults, so that doesn’t work. Even the less robust jaws of the Common Raccoon are too short and wide for the mystery specimen (which I think may discount Robin Birrrdegg’s suggestion).

Another crab-eating option was suggested by Daniel Jones who thought Crab-eating Fox. Now the overall proportions are a good match for this species, but there’s a problem. If the mystery object had teeth this would be much easier, but there are the holes in the maxilla to give us clues about the shape and size of the molars and as Allen Hazen pointed out:

Three triple-rooted teeth. Are these three molars, or is the last premolar triple-rooted? If it’s three molars… Canids (usually) only have two upper molars…

This is indeed the case and so this skull can’t be from a Crab-eating Fox.

On a different tack, henstridgesj suggested that it might be a civet of some sort, pointing us in the direction of mystery object #143 for comparison:

African Civet skull

But again this really doesn’t look right – in particular the civets have a narrow constriction behind the orbital process, which is lacking in the mystery specimen. This was noticed by henstridgesj and he suggested that the closest option he’d been able to find was a Coati:

Coati skull

Now the specimen of Coati above is a mature male that was mystery object 54 and it doesn’t look much like our most recent mystery object, but on checking the skulls of juvenile and female Coatis I realised that this is probably the best option so far.

I still want to check some more specimens, but I’m really grateful for everyone’s input on this specimen – it’s been a challenge and you have all helped immensely!

I’ll  be back with another mystery object next Friday, but until then I’d like to wish you all a thoroughly enjoyable festive season!

Friday mystery object #214 answer

Apologies for the lateness of the FMO this week, my excuse is a rather apt bout of illness, where some of the alveolar bone of my mandible has been lost due to an infection, leaving me feverish and thoroughly miserable.

But enough about my me, this is the mandible I’m supposed to be talking about:

mystery214

There was a fascinating discussion about the possible identification in the comments last week, so a big ‘thanks!’ to all of the contributors who provided their informative observations (too many to mention everyone by name!). A mustelid of some sort was quickly agreed upon and the general consensus moved towards an otter of some kind, before starting to drift away again.

Two comments in particular were particularly pertinent. The first was from Daniel Jones:

Alright . . . instantly the foramina on the mandible anterior to the premolars scream Otter! However, the incisors don’t. The incisors just lateral to the canines should be larger and longer than any of the other incisors among the otters (even the Asian Short-clawed Otter).

Now my identification for this specimen was indeed Asian Short-clawed Otter Aonyx cinerea (Illiger, 1815), so this comment made me a bit concerned. However, on checking some images online I realised that the long lateral incisors are present in the premaxilla, but not the mandible – an easy detail to miss.

The second comment was by Allen Hazen:

Anyway… The talonid on the first molar of the one in the picture is BIG.

The reason I found this comment useful was that the long and broad talonid (that’s the flatter grinding section on the molar) is what confirmed the Asian Short-clawed otter identification for me (although the small size was a good first clue).  This became quite clear from an image on the Otter Specialist Group webpage.

The Asian Short-clawed Otter presumably has this large talonid because it has a diet mainly composed of crustaceans rather than fish, and it needs the extra crushing area on the molar to crack open tough exoskeletons.

Who would think you’d get teeth as formidable as these on such an adorable little critter?

Friday mystery object #214

This week I have a stray mandible for you to have a go at identifying:

mystery214

I think I know what it’s from, but I’d appreciate your thoughts. As usual you can put your thoughts, comment and questions below. I can’t wait to hear which critter you think it might be from!

 

Geekwars?

After a weekend of discussion about the hashtag #bonegeeks for a crowd-sourced, social media based resource for images of bones, I have come to the conclusion that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

The nub of the discussion centres on the word ‘geek’, which is a term that some people dislike and don’t identify with. This is fair enough – how one identifies with and adopts labels for themselves is a personal thing, a point that Alice Roberts made earlier in the year.

Language evolves and so terms take on new meanings to reflect common usage. To my mind this means that the term ‘geek’ has taken on a new and (to my mind) positive meaning as “someone who is interested in a subject (usually intellectual or complex) for its own sake“, so I am happy with that description for myself – but I can understand that others feel differently.

In order to try to come up with a better hastag for a bony resource I made a poll that included a range of suggestions, the most popular of which can be seen below:

poll

Now obviously #bonegeeks comes out on top – presumably due to input from other people who self-identify as geeks, but there are enough people voting for alternatives to raise a warning flag that several people may feel actively excluded by use of term ‘geek’. In light of this I am unwilling to stick with #bonegeeks, but the general lack of consensus on alternative names leads me to reject the other options.

Where to go from here? The obvious answer is to go back to what we are trying to achieve and to think of a hashtag that is descriptive of the outcome rather than the contributors, so I suggest we use #bonepics so that both #bonegeeks and every other brand of osteology enthusiast who doesn’t consider themselves a geek can get on with making something rather awesome…

#bonegeeks

There are some great resources online for finding images of comparative material for skulls, but the postcranial skeleton tends to be quite badly represented online even for common species. I’d love to change that, but it’s a big challenge for one person.

Paramastoid process of Pig (Sus scrofa)

Paramastoid process of Pig (Sus scrofa)

That’s why I’d like to set up #bonegeeks on Twitter (and maybe on other social media as well). The way I see it, people who have access to skeletal material could easily take snaps of bits of postcrania from known species (preferably with something for scale) using their phone and share the image to Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook with the name of the species and the bone (and perhaps where the specimen is held).

With the #bonegeeks tag it should be easy to collate images and hopefully start building up a comparative collection of images to make identifications easier.

It could start with a bone of the week to get the seldom depicted bones better represented and I’m sure #bonegeeks would be willing to respond to requests if there were particular bones that someone wanted to see.

I wonder if this could work… shall we give it a go and find out? Please add your thoughts on this idea in the comments section below or on Twitter using the #bonegeeks hashtag.

Oh and here’s how the idea got started: [View the story "#bonegeeks" on Storify]

Friday mystery object #211 answer

Last week I gave you this very unusual object to identify:

mystery211a

Plenty of you recognised this as a vicar of some sort, painted on the cervical vertebra (or neck bone) of a large mammal. There were some great ideas from neanth, Lewis Thompson, henstridgesj, Ze-Jeff, Jake, ermineofthenorth, Carlos, Daniel Jones, andy J, Natasha and Daniela.

In particular, Daniel Jones made some very interesting observations about which vertebra from which animal, while Tony Morgan managed to identify the preaching subject.

It seems that this object is a cervical vertebrae from a Heavy Horse (by which I mean something like a Shire-horse, not just a greedy nag). Looking at the relative proportions and the angles of the processes I think it’s probably the 4th cervical vertebra.

Meanwhile, the subject of the piece appears to be John Wesley, co-founder of the Methodist movement in the 18th Century. Apparently this sort of British folk depiction of John Wesley (and his brother Charles) was quite common in the late 18th and early-mid 19th Centuries, and there are several examples online (1, 2, 3).

Finally there is a bit of a mystery attached in the form of  a label:

mystery211c

The date is written without the century, which is  a problem in collections that can be well over 100 years old. This could be from 1984 (unlikely), 1884 (the year Horniman started showing his collection, or 1784 (one of years in which John Wesley was active).

The handwriting looks familiar to me, so I’m going to go for 1884 and assume that this is a label that was added when the object was collected by Horniman, rather than it being a label added by the person who painted the vertebra – after all, who adds labels like this to their handiwork?

I hope this provides a good reason for why you should always write the year in full if you work in a museum.

Friday mystery object #210 answer

Last week I gave you this mystery object to have a go at identifying:

mystery210

Jake was in like a flash, correctly identifying that the bone was a humerus – not an easy thing to spot considering the very strong curve and the deep groove at the head end. Jake also noticed that the humerus was adapted for something unusual, hence the weird shape.

There was a suggestion of pig by henstridgesj, which would have fitted the curve of the bone, but it was too small and the deep groove is at the wrong end.

Newcomer to the mystery object, Rute Branco, suggested that the object was the humerus of a (young) tortoise – a suggestion that I agree with (as does Daniella).

Tortoises have weird legs that need to carry quite a lot of weight, thanks to their bony carapace. They also need to get their legs inside their shell, so they have to be shaped for efficient retraction.

One of the differences between a terrestrial tortoise and an aquatic turtle humerus is the shape of the groove in the head, with terrestrial tortoises having a very steep and deep groove while swimming turtles have a slightly shallower and wider groove to allow a wider range of movement.

I can’t find enough comparative material to work out a species, or even genus of tortoise for this specimen, but I will keep my eyes peeled! Thanks for everyone’s input.

Friday mystery object #206 answer

Apologies for having such a belated answer to the belated mystery object from last week.

Things are really busy at the moment – I’m researching mermaids for a paper due to be submitted at the end of this month, curating an exhibition that’s due to open in September, double-checking the scientific accuracy in Jake’s book, doing talks, running PubSci, involved in recruitment for NatSCA, working on elements of the Horniman’s Bioblitz project and trying to write a grant application, on top of my more usual day-to-day work. That means I haven’t been able to spend the time on my blog that I would like. Hopefully everything will start getting back to normal in the next couple of weeks!

On to the answer – I’m afraid it will be brief… I asked what this bone was:

mystery206

Carlos recognised this as a rib and there were a variety of suggestions about what it might be from, ranging from a cetacean to a mammoth. Some good ideas, but Lena came closest with speculation about dinosaurs.

This is in fact the rib of a Triceratops Marsh 1889.

There is a lot that could be said about Triceratops and other horned dinosaurs, but since I’m pushed for time I will just leave you with a link to an article by Darren Naish who knows more about such things than me and this brilliant stop-motion video from the 1925 film of The Lost World, which is simply iconic: