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How not to identify bones


About three weeks ago Kristina Kilgrove wrote on her blog about a human skeleton that had ben laid out wrong with the legs swapped over and back to front. It was a fun post to try and spot all the mistakes.

On Friday Dad showed me a load of photographs he has spotted on a stock library called Shutterstock. When you sell photographs it is important to always say what the photographs are of, but this photographer called "Wallenrock" seems to know nothing about bones and had made some huge mistakes. In the picture above they said it was a "Composition with butterfly at hook, skull and umbrella", but the bone they showed wasn't even a skull: it was a vertebra (neck bone) from an animal like a sheep or a deer.

When I looked further I found lots of other mistakes as well.

There is an easy way of telling the difference between the skulls of horses, and other animals like cows, deer and sheep. Horses have top and bottom incisors (front teeth), and cows, deer and sheep only have bottom incisors. But even without that it looks completely wrong for a horse which has a much longer snout and a thicker jaw. It is most likely a sheep or goat.

When Wallenrock wrote this caption, they said it was a rodent, and added the names of beaver, mouse muskrat and rat as well, but it nothing like any of them (especially beaver !) It is some kind of cat, probably a domestic cat. They easy way to check for a cat skull is the number of cheek teeth; cats have three, but a mouse or rat skull would be smaller, and a beaver skull would be bigger (and have two massive incisors !).

The only animal mentioned in this picture was a dog ! But dog skulls have longer snouts and are completely different, and this skull is obviously some kind of monkey because it has a flatter face with the eyes above the incisors, and enclosed eye sockets. It is  maybe a vervet or Capuchin but I don't know enough about monkeys to be sure.

This should have been the easiest one to identify; it looks like a sheep.

I know it's a primate, just not sure which one. But there is no such thing as a "faced monkey". There is a white-faced capuchin, but the skull is flatter at the front. This might be a monkey, but to me it looks more chimpanzee-y than monkey.

In this one, they have looked at the front teeth which are a little bit like a squirrel or beaver, and decided it was a rodent. But Wallenrock forgot to spot that the teeth are white, not orange, and that there are two    extra teeth behind the front teeth (called peg teeth). This is a rabbit, which is a lagomorph, not a rodent.

They have another picture which shows the full skeleton. They have labelled it as being both a cat and a dog !

 This is the best one, and my favourite. I would love to see the pelican that this came off ! Bird skulls are thin and fragile, to make them light. This skull would have been abut 40cm long, thick and heavy, and probably came off a dolphin or porpoise.

Some skulls can be difficult to tell apart, and I have sometimes made mistakes, but these ones were obviously wrong !

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J. O'Brien said...

Fun post! It drives me crazy when folks identify bones and skulls completely wrong (especially when there is a wealth of information out there, to aid in correct identification). One of the biggest offenders that I see is when people call deer pelvises "skulls." Ridiculous! And I see it all the time, online.

Anonymous said...

wow jake! did u tell them!? cause you really should help them
your the expert here. cause u got alot of exsplaning to do :O

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