Things to Make and Do, part 6: fun with ostrich heads
June 23, 2010
Please welcome my new best friend, Veronica the ostrich. Well, Veronica the ostrich head, if you want to be picky. She arrived yesterday morning, courtesy of the good folks at Ostrichfayre, very well packaged and still frozen and with a convenient little chunk of distal neck still attached. Here I am with Veronica, having made my way through the packaging:
And here is Veronica herself, in left lateral view, measuring a healthy 24 cm (including that stump of neck, of course, so the prepped skull will be rather shorter):
Yes, of course I only love Veronica for her skull. The soft-tissue is probably fascinating, too, but I don’t have the time (or the expertise really) to do a proper dissection, so it’s all about getting her naked as quickly as possible.
I started out, as usual, with a couple of hours of gentle simmering to soften all the gloop. I used the three standard pieces of equipment: a large pot, an easily cleaned ceramic hob, and a very tolerant wife. Here she is (Veronica, I mean), cooking up nicely:
Once she’d cooled down, it was gratifyingly easy to peel off the skin:
One thing I’d not appreciated about ostriches before I started playing with Veronica is how tiny their beaks are. Most of the snout is not covered by beak, and the lower jaw in particular has only a few centimeters of keratinous covering. You can see this more clearly in ventral view:
Here you can see the very slender mandibular bones running along the lateral edges of the lower jaw, with a thin sheet of muscle stretched between them, and that tiny beak only up on the tip of the jaw.
I also noticed that the trachea seems to be positioned asymmetrically, on the right side of the animal: I don’t know whether this was its permanent position in life, or whether it shifted around and simply happened to get cooked into this position.
For the next step, I carefully removed most of that muscular sheet and the trachea (and some of the neck musculature):
Now you can see the cartilaginous hyoid apparatus that anchors the tongue (that anchor-shaped thing). This is very fragile, and I am frankly not at all optimistic about its chances of making it through the cleaning process. I’m likely to end up with only the actual bones, so enjoy the hyoid while you can. (I similarly lost all the hyoid junk from my monitor lizard. Bummer. I must remember to show you more of Charlie’s cleaned bones some time.)
I leave you with Veronica’s peeled head in dorsal view:
You can see that there’s more beak on the upper jaw than on the lower.
This kind of photograph is invaluable when it comes to putting the bones together at the end of the cleaning process. You can see here that the small bones ahead of the orbits (lacrimals?) are pulling away from the main skull bones. At some stage they’re likely to come away completely, and it’s photos like this one that will show me where to reattach them.
There is a lot of cartilage on this skull, which is likely going to be painful to remove without damaging the bones. I gave Veronica another bath last night, and I’ll probably start trimming the softened cartilage away this evening.
- Veronica the ostrich head starts to come to pieces
- Fragments of ostrich skull
- Veronica the ostrich skull, laid bare
- Gloat your eyes, feast your soul, on my ostrich ethmoid ossification
- My dumb observation of the day is that in dorsal view, a partly-assembled ostrich skull looks kind of like a chasmosaurine