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Strange bones #7 - the strangest bone yet ?


I've had this bone for ages but it's only been this week when I've worked out exactly what it is. It's the strangest bone I think I have because me and dad couldn't find any other pictures of it at all.

Years ago, me Mum and Dad were in the Pheasant woods, and I think it was the first time we were ever in Duck Skull Valley. Duck Skull Valley is a valley between three sets of woods which is great for watching roe deer in the winter. It has a small lake in the middle, and I was exploring the lake when I found a duck skeleton right next to it with all the bones in a pile.

I didn't take the whole skeleton at the time, only the skull (which Dad put in a case and you can see a picture of it at the end of this post here), together with this bone because it looked cool.

It's not very big (the coin is a ten pence piece which is about 2.5cm across), and the bone feels different to most bones because it is smoother and thinner. I've never seen a bone like this before, so when we got back from the walk Dad and I tried to look it up on the internet, but we looked at loads of duck skeletons and we never saw anything like it.

So after a while, I started to think it was a different animal bone that got mixed up with the duck bones. The only bone I could think it was like was some kind of ear bone, and it was so big it must have come off something like a cow or a horse. But that was odd because there are no cows or horses near that valley.

When I was invited up for a VIP tour of Perth Museum, I took up some of my bones, including this one. Catherine Smith who is an archeozoologist spotted what it was straight away, but even she had to check exactly what it was, and then I checked with Paolo at the Horniman Museum as well. When you know what it is it's quite a cool bone.

It's a duck syrinx. It comes from the duck's windpipe, which is the tube from the duck throat to the duck's lungs. The cool bit is that this is the bit that makes the duck's quacking noise !

This is what Catherine wrote:

"In birds the windpipe is ossified and is strengthened by lots of little bony (tracheal) rings. The bone in the picture lies at the bottom of the trachea, where it divides into two parts, one for each lung."

When I read her email it reminded me of something I had seen in a goose skeleton that I wrote about last year where you could see lots of little boney rings inside the chest. I couldn't see a syrinx, though.

This was a very difficult bone to work out, because I couldn't find it in any books or websites. There's a drawing in a book here (thanks Catherine !) but it doesn't really look much like my bone. Thank you to Catherine because she spotted what it was and sent me tons of information about it, and thanks to Paolo too who told me it was what made the duck quack !

The duck it came from was a mallard duck, just like these two:

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Brian Caserto said...

Hi Jake, your blog is very well done, keep up the good work!. I came across this post when trying to find more info on the development of the syrinx in ducks. The dilated portion is called the syringeal bulla, which is an asymmetrical growth that occurs in males (only males) during development.

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