Friday mystery object #114 answer

Apologies for the rather late answer to last Friday’s mystery object – it’s been a hectic few days!

I asked you to identify this skull

which you managed to do very quickly.

The first suggestion of a Vulture by Rosa Rubicondior was along completely the right lines, while KK and Steven D. Garber, PhD suggested a Turkey Vulture – which isn’t quite right, but it’s in the same genus - Cathartes.

From there, Julie Doyle and Jake managed to get the correct species identification of   Continue reading

Friday mystery object #106

Last week’s bird was so popular I thought I’d give you another to identify this week. It’s a bit harder than last week’s Kookaburra and I’ll be very impressed indeed if anyone gets it to species, but I’m sure many of you will manage to identify it to family level.

I will  be teaching young folk about skulls and mermaids at Camp Quest in Somerset this Friday, so I might not get a chance to respond to comments, although I’ll do my best.

Good luck!

Friday mystery object #105 answer

I was a bit taken aback by the response to the second anniversary mystery object last Friday. There were a huge number of comments and unfortunately I was tied up all day and was unable to respond – my sincere apologies!

To give you a change from the usual mammal skulls I gave you this bird to identify:

It’s quite a characteristic bird, so I decided to make it more of a challenge by leaving out the usual scale bar – if you’re interested the head of this specimen is about 10cm long.

Obviously the comparatively large head and massive bill were key features that were picked up on, giving the following answers:

I’m pleased to say that the vast majority of you managed to get the correct identification; it is indeed the skeleton of a Kookaburra, more specifically the Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae (Hermann, 1783).

Laughing Kookaburra perched in a eucalypt tree. Taken in December 2008 in Victoria, Australia by Fir0002

Laughing Kookaburra perched in a eucalypt tree. Taken in December 2008 in Victoria, Australia by Fir0002

These large antipodean kingfishers have a very distinctive call, which sounds to me like the laugh of a clown from a nightmare. In fact, I expect these birds are a bit of a nightmare for any small critters that live in their vicinity. That big robust bill is powerful and they use it to eat a wide range of animals including worms, snakes, rats and even some fairly decent sized birds.

They aren’t subtle about their hunting either. They simply grab their prey in their bill and smash it on the ground, on a branch or on a rock then swallow it whole. Often they keep smashing it for quite a while – after all, swallowing a live snake or rat probably isn’t a great idea.

If you look at the skull you might notice a deep groove around the back and a deep indentation on the lower jaw or mandible:

Kookaburra skull

These are muscle scars and it’s quite unusual to find such impressive areas for muscle attachment in bird skulls, but then most birds don’t rely quite as much on brute force to catch and subdue their prey. Kookaburras mean business.

Friday mystery object #99 answer

On Friday I gave you this rather cool skull to identify:

There was no doubt that this was a carnivore of some sort, given the sharp canines and the massive carnassial teeth. Most of you spotted that it was the skull of a juvenile or subadult, given the partially emerged teeth and the unfused sutures. Most of you also spotted that it was a canid of some sort, given the overall shape and the tooth arrangement.

The correct identification was arrived at in short order by David Craven and many of you concurred with his neatly veiled answer of

Could I paint you a picture of this animal?

This answer is a reference to the name of an African carnivore, the  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #97 answer

Apologies for the lack of response to questions last Friday, I was travelling and had limited access to the internet.

Excuses aside, I was impressed by the overall accuracy of the answers received about what this skull belonged to:

Everyone spotted that it was a carnivore and most of you identified this as being the skull of a mustelid, but no-one seems to have got this identification spot-on (perhaps my stinking clue was a bit too vague). Suggestions ranged a fair bit and uncertainty was rife, as shown in this word cloud of the comments:

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the clue, Skunks were suggested quite a lot as were Civets and Polecats/Ferrets (which are indistinguishable from each other on the basis of the skull, since Ferrets are just domesticated Polecats).

This suggestion of Polecat is pretty much there, although the specimen is not the standard European Polecat Mustela putorius rather it is an African mustelid known as the  Continue reading