Know your mammal skulls? Take the Carnivore Skull Challenge!

December 9, 2013

Carnivore skull challenge

In this image I have assembled photos of skulls (or casts of skulls) of six extant carnivores. I exclusively used photos from the Skulls Unlimited website because they had all the taxa I wanted, lit about the same and photographed from similar angles. The omission of scale indicators is deliberate.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to match these skulls with the animals they came from. Here are their currently-understood hierarchical relationships, scientific names, and common names (aside: I know this is ugly, is there a way to make nested tables in WordPress?).


– – Herpestoidea

– – – – Eupleridae

– – – – – – Fossa, Cryptoprocta ferox

– – – – Hyaenidae

– – – – – – Brown hyena, Hyaena brunnea

– – Arctoidea

– – – – Ursoidea

– – – – – – American black bear, Ursus americanus

– – – – Musteloidea

– – – – – – European badger, Meles meles

– – – – – – Wolverine, Gulo gulo

– – – – Pinnipedia

– – – – – – Mediterranean monk seal,  Monachus monachus

If you accept the challenge, leave your guesses as comments below, but only if you’ve played fair–no checking websites, references, or your own skull collection! Don’t worry about being wrong, I freely admit that I would have flunked this bigtime if anyone else had inflicted it on me. I decided to set up this challenge after I noticed the striking similarity between two of these critters in particular; I’ll tell you which two when I post the reveal in a day or two.

27 Responses to “Know your mammal skulls? Take the Carnivore Skull Challenge!”

  1. Dean Says:

    Hehe, lets see… I’m a bit of a bone nut sooo I hope I can pull this off… A. looks like the Fossa, B. would be the Badger, C. must be the Monk seal, D. is the bear, E. is the Hyena, which makes F. the Wolverine!

  2. you can use the preformatted tag, it retains indents, double spaces, tabs.

    will have to think about the skulls; angle prevents a good view of some important characters. I’d say, so far, that A is the hyena, because of the big P4/M1 (carnassial complex)

  3. oh, in A what I thought was a monster M1 is in fact background, Darn Skulls Unlimited logo is making it hard for my to see. So A is anything BUT the hyena.

  4. Andrew Thomas Says:

    I’ll agree on A, I’m thinking hyena. B looks sealish. D is the bear. C and F are the wolverine and the badger, but I know not which is which. Leaves E to be the fossa, whatever that is ;)

  5. Matt Wedel Says:

    Good stuff! So far no-one has been 100% right, but no-one has been 100% wrong, either. Keep those IDs coming!

  6. Dean Says:

    Then I suppose I have the seal and fossa reversed.

  7. Matt Wedel Says:

    Maybe so, maybe not–I can say no more for now!

  8. Duane Nash Says:

    A. Badger B. Monk Seal C. Black Bear D. Hyena E. Wolverine F. Fossa

  9. Markus Says:

    A: Mediterranean Monk Seal
    B: European Badger
    C: Fossa
    D: American Black Bear
    E: Brown Hyena
    F: Wolverine

  10. Total guesses without reading other comments first:

    B – Cryptoprocta ferox
    F – Hyaena brunnea
    D – Ursus americanus
    C – Meles meles
    E – Gulo gulo
    A – Monachus monachus

  11. Markus Says:

    Ok, just forgot the explanation. I have to admit I was not able to determine all the skulls to species level (only to genus level) before I saw there were already names to dedicate.
    The first one is a seal. The orbitae are quite big, the molars and premolars small and especially the post-zygomatic part of the skull quite long, with well-developed attachment areas for the temporalis muscles. Some seal skulls look quite grotesque, especially those of male Steller´s sea lions, because they are incredibly gnarly, but this one isn´t that extreme.
    Badger skulls have a quite typical profile with deep-set and small orbitae, and a large and plain area of the frontal and nasal area, furthermore the molars and premolars quite quite small.
    The fossa would have been tricky without the given names. I thought a cat at first, but it looked to big for most smaller cats, but with orbitae too big for a big cat. But as there weren´t any other cat-like skulls, it was easy. The bear skull… ok, their quite robust, with large thick canines but small premolars and molars without real carnassials. The shape of the skull also gives already an idea about its size.
    The brown hyena has a skull with a somewhat triangular shape with huge zygomatic arches and very large attachment areas for the temporalis muscles. The premolars and molars are all quite massive and the carnassials very well developed.
    The wolverine skull is also interesting, as it doesn´t really fit within the categories of better known skulls. It doesn´t really look like a cat, bear or hyena, or even like a typical mustelid, but like a strange mix of all of them. The giant carnassial teeth are very typical for them, and the boxy shape of the skull is also somewhat revealing.

  12. Tom Nutter Says:

    Okay, my taxonomy’s not what it should be, but here goes: A) is the monk seal (at least the eyes make me think so); B) is the badger (smaller jaw muscles than F?); C) is the fossa (looks most cat-like); D) is the bear; E) is the hyena; and, F) is the wolverine (just looks a lot meaner than B).

  13. Alessio Says:

    E is a bear, B is (maybe) a seal, F a hyena… Ah, i guess i’ll give up!

  14. Mike Taylor Says:

    Here are my totally uneducated guesses (made before reading any of the comments).

    C. Brown hyena: massive zygomatic arch => jaw muscles.
    A. European badger. Slight midline crest, big orbits.
    F. Mediterranean monk seal. Durophagous teeth?
    E. Wolverine. Looks nasty.
    D. American black bear, because it looks big.
    B. Fossa, because it’s all that’s left.

    By the way, you can make nice indented lists on WordPress by setting the whole thing as a single bullet-list, then indenting the subsections that you want to move deeper. That’s how I made the table of contents for my Doctor Who book.

  15. Darren Naish Says:

    A: Monk seal. Because seals look like that.
    B: Badger. Because you can tell that it would deflect bullets (plus: smallish orbit, big infraorbital foramen).
    C: Fossa. Big orbits and doesn’t look as bitey as wolverine.
    D: Bear. Because forehead.
    E: Hyaena. Because teeth and looks doggish.
    F: Wolverine. Because it’s most similar to the badger and hence most likely to be another mustelid.

    Yikes, wonder how I did.

  16. jamesboy2013 Says:

    A. Fossa
    B. Monk Seal
    C. Brown Hyena
    D. European Badger
    E. American Black Bear
    F. Wolverine

  17. Cat F. Says:

    A. Seal, it’s looks weird.
    B. Wolverine (or it’s F)
    C. Fossa, it also looks weird
    D. Bear
    E. Hyena, that skull looks ready to crush
    F. Badger (or it’s B)

    Thanks for the test…it’s a good way to find out if spending most of my free time reading blogs makes me smarter. :-)

  18. Neil Says:

    A: big open orbits and narrow interorbital region are totally sealy
    B: long concave nasal region = European Badger (I think the prominent sagittal crest is sexually dimorphic, so this would be a male)
    C: big orbits, wide skull, almost catty = fossa.
    D&E: look remarkably similar at first glance so I wonder if that’s your pair? I think D is the bear and E is the hyaena mostly based on the dentition
    F: looks like a mustelid (compare to B) and those massive teeth suggest wolverine.

  19. Eric M Says:

    Fun idea. Here is my shot: A-seal, B- fossa, C- european badger, D – wolverine, E – brown hyena, F – Black bear. Unfortunately I don’t remember my carnivoran cranial anatomy well enough to provide characters.

  20. Derek Larson Says:

    A-Monachus monachus
    D-Ursus americanus
    E-Hyaena brunnea

    Here’s where it gets tricky. I’m going to go with
    B-Cryptoprocta ferox
    C-Meles meles
    F-Gulo gulo

    We’ll see how that goes.

  21. Michael Richmond Says:

    A = seal (eyes)
    B = hyena (biggest attachments for the jaw-closing muscle)
    C = bear

    And now with less confidence

    D = fossa
    E = wolverine
    F = badger

  22. AnJaCo Says:

    Without reading others comments [really!], and hoping to make my old Mammology TA proud:
    A Mediterranean monk seal, Monachus monachus
    B American black bear, Ursus americanus
    C European badger, Meles meles
    D Fossa, Cryptoprocta ferox
    E Wolverine, Gulo gulo
    F Brown hyena, Hyaena brunnea

  23. Stevo Darkly Says:

    I’m a complete amateur with no formal training at all in zoology (I was an English major) but a lifelong interest in animals. Here are my guesses:

    A. Wolverine
    B. Monk seal
    C. Badger
    D. Black bear
    E. Brown hyena
    F. Fossa

    I’m most sure about the bear; they have pretty distinctive skulls to me. Pretty sure of the fossa too — that skull looks so catlike (although I know it’s not a true cat). Skull B looks very heavy and weird and seallike. I’m fairly certain of the hyena — that skull looks kind of doglike, but not too doglike, and the molars look very stout indeed, for bone-cracking. The wolverine and badger I’m not sure of at all, and I was tempted to switch those choices around, but decided to go with my first impulses there.

  24. […] at the bottom of this post, so if you’ve just arrived here and want to take the challenge, go here before you scroll […]

  25. Allen Hazen Says:

    Despite the names, the American (Taxidea) and European (Meles) badgers aren’t closely related: this makes that seem plausible, since the Meles skull is VERY different from the Taxidea skull.

  26. Chris Mrozinski Says:

    A = fossa
    B = hyena
    C = monk seal
    D = BLK bear
    E = wolverine
    F = badger

  27. Matt Wedel Says:

    Chris, you can check your answers here.

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