As of February 2016, after 416 posts, and over six and a half years of blogging, I'm taking a break.
I've explained why here. There's plenty of past posts to read, though - hope you enjoy them !
Looking for a brilliant present for a young naturalist ? Buy my book ! Available from Amazon UK,
Amazon US and worldwide but buy from a local bookshop if you can.

Mysteries from my inbox


Of the 1,214 emails I received last year, many of them are from people trying to identify bones. This can be tricky - especially as they can be from animals from other countries that I've rarely seen before !

Here are some of the recent ones I've had - many of which have me stumped ! Can you help me out or give me some clues ?

The battered skull

I found this skull yesterday while cleaning out my seasonal creek in Ben Lomond California. Can you help me figure out who it belonged to? - Julianne

Well, it is definitely a skull, which isn't easy to spot at first. In this angle it's upside down, with the nose pointing towards the camera, and it's broken across the nasal bones at the front - I've often seen this in sheep.

It's a difficult angle, but there are similarities with the nearest sheep skull I could find while I wrote this, especially towards the furthest away part, but I still can't make it match - but there are so many varietties of sheep I could be wrong. The flared parts at the jaw bone hinge on either side (the bit where the finger accidentally points to on the right hand side) suggests an animal with a strong bite, which made me think of bear, but the rest of it doesn't seem to match as well. I even thought of crocodile,  because the neck seems to join from behind the skull instead of under it., but I don't think so.

It's a tricky one - but any ideas ?

The sea shell

My husband I were on vacation in Galveston, Texas...and I found the outer shell/bone (or whatever it is) washed up on the beach. I cleaned them up and have been trying to identify them, but have had no luck. They are each approximately 4 inches in length. I am attaching pictures. Thank you in advance for all your help! - Elizabeth

I've done a bit of a search for this, with no luck. Shells aren't really my thing - does anyone else recognise it ?

UPDATE: Lots of clues in the comments and on my Facebook page suggest this is a upper carapace from a spider crab. Thanks !

The fireplace bones

I bought a house from 1926 and in the ash pit under the fireplace, I found some old bones. I can't seem to positively identify them, they seem to be vertebrae and a couple tops of femurs, but I'm not completely sure. I've attached pictures, they're fairly small -- maybe a cat or small dog's size. - Morgan

The bone that is closest to the ruler looks like the top of a femur, but it actually is the head from one of the first ribs. The bone to the right looks like it is from a juvenile vertebrae. This could have been cut by a butcher, because the cut is clean, and it could have been thrown in to the fire after the meat was eaten. The size is about right for lamb - which would be a typical cut of meat. There's a lot of guesswork in this, but it seems a pretty good guess for just a few fragments of bone.

The creek bones

Hey Jake, I found this bone or what I believe to be a bone along with a few others. They look really old but could be from it being in a creek bed. What do you think? - Casey

The top picture is definitely a right scapula, and the shape matches a deer. The size suggests it's an animal bigger than a red deer, of which there are quite a few in the US.

I considered it might be from a horse, but the bottom pic shows a toe bone from a large deer, which seems like the best guess.

The real mystery

No details were sent with these pictures, and there was no reply to my email asking where this one was from !

I'd love to know more about this one, because I'm baffled. I'm guessing it's something marine, but without any more clues I'm not sure where to start !

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who has pointed out this is a rib from a turtle, possibly marine or softshell !

Horse or cow ?

I came across your posting and wanted to see if you can help. Was walking my dog by the Salt Creek in Schaumburg IL and came across what looks like a large animal hip bone. No scale but the top with of the item is at least as long as my hand 6" no more than 8"...first thoughts was a horse or cow bone. - Michael

I think that this is a tibia, the knee joint being closest to the camera (as seen from the back of the knee), and from the size it is most likely to be cow or horse.

Skull or spine ?

My son Mishek has been travelling in Australia for the last 2,5 years. He found this little bone in Queensland: on the beach, but at the mouth of a river. We have no idea what it can be! Some of us think it is a pelvic bone, some that it is a fish skull. It is very flat and light. One side has been broken off. - Veronica

At first I thought it was a fish skull, but the bone is too thick to be from any fish. Then I thought it could be reptile, but I can't find any skull that looks similar to this one. I'm as certain as I can be that it's a skull - but of what, I don't know ! When I asked on Twitter, one possibility mentioned was it was a fragment of crocodile skull - and there are some similarities with mine, but it doesn't look broken. The final possibility is that it's from the spine, around the sacrum, but I'm not convinced of that either ! Any ideas ?

The cut bone

I found this bone while "treasure hunting" in the woods with my daughter.I thought it was strange how it was cut perfectly down the center..I have pictures attached. Any info would be appreciated! -Heather

It is weird for the bone to be split right down the middle. I thought that the honeycomb texture would go all the way down the bone, but this shows otherwise. It could have been cut by a butcher, but I'm still baffled what it could be. Does the solid part show it was from antler, not a long bone ? If so, why was it cut ? The shape doesn't seem to match any part of the long bones - or am I missing something ?

The bear bone ?

We live in Southern California and found a bone in the wilderness. It looks really old and is really thick. Any thoughts on what it could be, maybe a bear? - McTasney

This bone looks like a femur, and I think it is a juvenile as the hip joint on the right hand side is not fused. From the size is is most likely to be a bear, but I'n not sure which kind it is. It could be either a grizzly or a black bear, which are the bears you get in California - but I don't know enough to be certain.

I'd love to help these people out - leave a comment below if you can help !

Enjoy this post ? Share it !


Free counters!