Things to Make and Do, part 6b: Veronica the ostrich head starts to come to pieces

June 24, 2010

Yesterday, I followed up Veronica‘s second simmering by taking more flesh off the bones, and in doing this I stared to take apart the bones that constitute the skull.  I assume you’re all keen to see pictures, so here she is upside down and in right posteroventrolateral view:

The interesting thing here is that I have removed all the cartilaginous hyoid apparatus, as I suspected last time that I’d end up doing, only to find that part of that apparatus was bony after all: the pair of slender anteromedially oriented bones that you see at the top of the photo.  Here they seem to be directly somewhat ventrally from back to front (i.e. upwards in the photo, since the head is upside down), but comparing with the earlier lateral-view photos of the intact and skinned head, I think that this is post-mortem displacement caused by cooking, and that in life they were more or less in the horizontal plane.

When I removed these bones, I found that their proximal ends were not articulated with other bones, but that they were extended by cartilage rods that continued posteriorly and seem to have been anchored only in soft tissue.  Is that weird?  Or should I have expected it?  It frightens me sometimes how little I know about heads.

You’ll also notice from this photo that I’ve now removed the anterior part of the neck that was attached to the head: as a result, I have a nice bonus set of atlas/axis complex, C3 and the front half of C4 (all pictured below).

Anyway, it was easy to tease away the soft tissue enclosing the mandibular joint and then to remove the bony mandible completely.  This they now do.  The mandible itself is amazingly lighlty built — see the photo at the end of this post, and more to the point the ones in the next post which I’ve not written yet.  Here’s the cranium in ventral view once the mandible was gone and I’d removed some of the skin from the roof of the mouth:

I’m not even going to expose myself to ridicule by attempting to identify any of the bones of the palate — that’s an area that I don’t know at all beyond the fact that there are things called “vomers”, which would make a good name for a race of bad guys in Buffy.  Clearly I need to get hold of a general bird-skull osteology.  Can anyone recommend anything?  Better still, can anyone offer a PDF?

Instead, let’s flip Veronica over and take a look at her top.  After the second simmering, the bones of her skull were very easy to disarticulate, so that’s what I’ve started to do here:

Those two main bones forming the crown of the skull are the frontals.  I assume those are elongate nasals in front of them, reaching down to the lateral edges of the snout (with the maxillae not visible in this view), but I don’t know what that tongue of bone on the midline is, between them: surely it’s too far back to be fused premaxillae?  Someone help me out here.

Anyway, the frontals lifted away cleanly and easily (the right frontal bringing its ?nasal with it, being still slightly attached).  This reveals how huge the eyeballs are (the big, black globes) and how relatively feeble the brain is (the pale brownish yellow lump between them):

It was easy enough to remove and discard the eyeballs and brain, and some surrounding gloop.  The parietal bones that form the back of the skull also came away easily.  At this stage I could have continued to tear the skull down but there are some very delicate bones along the midline and I thought it wiser to simmer again before tackling those.  So here is Veronica, as she was just before going into the pot for the third time, in right dorsolateral view:

It’s easy to make out the three cavities where the eyeballs and brain were.  There’s still a big mass of soft tissue in the middle of the skull, ahead of the eyes and behind the beak, but there’s no safe way to get at it until I’ve removed more of the bones — and those of the snout are very, very delicate.

Finally, here are the bones that I’ve removed from the main cranium (i.e. to get it into the state seen in the previous picture):

Top left (and facing left) is the mandible in dorsal view, and inside it the pair of hyoid bones, oriented as in life.  To the right of those are the ?nasals, then the frontals, then the parietals; outside the frontals are the ?lacrimals that I noted in the first post were coming away from their position in front of the orbit.

The bottom row is of course the vertebrae: atlas in posterior view, and axis, C3 and partial C4 in dorsal view, all facing to the left.

That’s all for now.  More to come.

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13 Responses to “Things to Make and Do, part 6b: Veronica the ostrich head starts to come to pieces”

  1. Nathan Myers Says:

    I wonder if there’s any way to ossify the cartilage. It seems as if the cartilage is structurally important enough that it would be impossible to articulate the pieces when it’s gone.

  2. Zach Miller Says:

    Sheesh–not a lot of bone in there.

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    If you think the bone is looking tenuous now, just you want for part 6c — as Matt said of Sauroposeidon, There’s almost nothing but nothing there. That goes double for Veronica.

  4. Matt Wedel Says:

    as Matt said of Sauroposeidon, There’s almost nothing but nothing there.

    Thanks, but actually the credit for that wonderful line goes to Mike from Ottawa, as indicated in the first “Almost nothing but nothing there” post. It was my bad, really, for not tipping the hat to him again in the second post, which you cited. I’ll go back and fix that right now.

  5. Bruce J. Mohn Says:

    The cartilage can be preserved if you use beetles to prep the head.

    The level of disarticulation in this specimen suggests it wasn’t fully mature.

    The emu I macerated disarticulated, but not to this degree and he was supposed to be a fully adult male who died of natural causes.

  6. Nick Gardner Says:

    “I assume those are elongate nasals in front of them, reaching down to the lateral edges of the snout (with the maxillae not visible in this view), but I don’t know what that tongue of bone on the midline is, between them: surely it’s too far back to be fused premaxillae?”

    Why couldn’t it be the premaxillae? The premaxilla dominates much of the antorbital skull in birds.

    May I recommend Romer’s The Osteology of the Reptiles. Required reading for anyone interested in the anatomy of the skull in amniotes…

  7. Nick Gardner Says:

    Surely you couldn’t go wrong with Erin Maxwell’s recent paper: “Comparative ossification and development of the skull in palaeognathous birds (Aves: Palaeognathae)”…

  8. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks, Nick. My failure to recognise the role of the premax in bird skulls is a prime example of what I’m on about. Many thanks for the Maxwell reference (and PDF) — I am gratified to see from there that my tentative assignments seem to have been correct. More luck than judgement I’m sure.


  9. […] who's not yet read parts one and two of this ostrich-head series should probably do so before going on to this one — apart from […]


  10. […] the right cervical rib from cervical vertebra 3 of my ostrich, Veronica [see earlier Part A, Part B and Part C for context].  I thought you might like to see the result, so here it is: Third right […]


  11. […] bleaching is complete!  Here are all the bones of Veronica’s skull [see earlier part one, part two and part three], laid out as they were in life (though of course much more widely separated), all […]


  12. […] 19, 2010 Work continues apace with Veronica, my tame ostrich.  (See previous parts one, two, three and four).  I’ve been photographing the individual bones of the skull — a skill […]


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