Partial audit of mammal skulls

February 8, 2022

These are out as I consider how to reorganise my office.

Back row, left to right: artiodactyls: pig, sheep, deer. Front row, left to right: carnivorans: otter, cat, fox, main badger, emergency backup badger. Not pictured: wallaby, rabbit, squirrel.

The pig skull came from a hog-roast, and was very crumbly by the time I had prepped it out. It’s subsequently had an accident when it fell off a loudspeaker in my youngest son’s room, so it’s not the pig it once was. (I have a plate of pig-skull shards that I know full well I will never reassemble, but can’t quite bring myself to toss out). The sheep is of course a ram, the horns being the giveaway: shame the right horn is broken off at mid-length. The deer awaits reassembly.

I think all the carnivorans have featured here previously, with the possible exception of the emergency backup badger which I opportunistically harvested from a rotting roadkill about a year ago.

We’ve seen the wallaby and squirrel here, too. I think the rabbit has yet to put in an appearance, but we have more than enough rabbit stuff on this here sauropod blog so I’m not going to lose sleep over that.

Other mammals available to me: I have a rat, a hamster and a gerbil in various states of decay in plastic tubs in the woodshed. Come summer (since this is definitely an outdoor sport) I might see what can be done to get the skulls out of those. You will excuse me if I don’t go out of my way to extract a gerbil postcranium.

12 Responses to “Partial audit of mammal skulls”

  1. Matt Wedel Says:

    It is a source of continual wonder and, frankly, envy, that the one of us who disdains mammals more has the better skull collection. I should do an audit post on my own set. Will need two photos, since my collection is split between home and office. Still, I’m heading in to campus today, so I could get the photos…stay tuned.

    I laughed out loud at “emergency backup badger”. Everyone should have one. For safety!

    Totally self-serving follow-up thought: I wonder if there is a North American mammal that would be mundane to me but exotic to you, whose skull I could bring to your fair island to trade for your emergency backup badger. Give’r a think and let me know.

    Is the broken ram’s horn pneumatic? The frontal sinuses don’t always penetrate very far into such small horns. Please feel free to do a follow-up post with photos of the break and any visible internal structure. Or send me the photos and I’ll write about it–pneumatic mammal heads being the least indefensible mammal heads.

    we have more than enough rabbit stuff on this here sauropod blog

    I’m going to choose to feel seen, rather than attacked, by that comment.

    You will excuse me if I don’t go out of my way to extract a gerbil postcranium.

    I will, but Brian Kraatz might not. What do I mean by that? W4TP. It’s one I’ll definitely be covering here on the blog.

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    My guilty mammal-skull secret is that I think of them as being at least as much art as science. My diapsid skulls are of more scientific interest to me.

    “Emergency backup badger” is a tribute to Dave Barry, who in his columns would often mention “Our main dog, Ernest, and our emergency backup dog, Zippy”. I wish I could claim it was original.

    Exotic North American animals: armadillo is the one that springs instantly to mind. We have nothing remotely like them over here, yet I believe they are considered pretty much vermin is some parts of the States. Anyway, dude, my Emergency Backup Badger is yours — no trade necessary. After all, I never gave you anything in exchange for my juvenile alligator cervicodorsal transition. And that sucker is in a published paper now (Taylor 2022:figure 8 and table 1).

    The ram’s horn is solid, I’m afraid — just regular-ass cancellous-ass bone.

    “I’m going to choose to feel seen, rather than attacked, by that comment” is rather a lovely sentence. I will be plagiarising it ruthlessly.

    Nice that there’s a Kraatz paper coming up that’s going to get some coverage here on the blog. But you know what we really need around now? A new Wedel paper.

  3. Matt Wedel Says:

    Exotic North American animals: armadillo is the one that springs instantly to mind.

    That was my immediate thought as well. And they are pretty exotic when you think about it, being armored xenarthrans whose ancestors were marooned on the island of South America for most of the Cenozoic.

    After all, I never gave you anything in exchange for my juvenile alligator cervicodorsal transition. And that sucker is in a published paper now (Taylor 2022:figure 8 and table 1).

    1. Rad.
    2. Reminds me, I have a bag of alligator bones to blog about.

    you know what we really need around now? A new Wedel paper.

    In 48 hours your wish will come true.

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    Way to spoiler your own punchline!

  5. Matt Wedel Says:

    I’m confident that there is still a surplus of unspoiled surprise coming.

  6. Anne W. Says:

    There is no such thing as “enough rabbit stuff.” What are you thinking??!

  7. Mike Taylor Says:

    We prominently a feature a rabbit (well, a hare) in my most-cited paper. I think that’s plenty of coverage.

  8. Matt Wedel Says:

    Okay, not my most-cited paper, but still: rabbit skulls are weird.

  9. Allen Hazen Says:

    Speaking of rabbit skulls… What, in life, surrounds all that lattice-work? Is that a pneumatic region?

  10. Matt Wedel Says:

    Speaking of rabbit skulls… What, in life, surrounds all that lattice-work? Is that a pneumatic region?

    On the snout, yes. In most mammals, including us, the maxillary sinus is fully enclosed in bone, except for the little opening back to the nasal cavity that allowed it to form in the first place. In most rabbits, the surface bone over the maxillary sinus is resorbed, probably under the influence of the pneumatic epithelium in the sinus itself, meaning that air-filled epithelial bag that forms the sinus is covered only by connective tissue, fascia, and skin. Basically, rabbits have convergently evolved an antorbital fenestra like that of archosaurs.

    FWIW, I can provide no rational explanation for why I’m fine with big theropods walking around with antorbital fenestrae large enough to fly an RC plane through, but the unroofed maxillary sinuses of rabbits — which are convergently acquired but anatomically almost idental — kinda freak me out.


  11. […] little heart to see Mike Taylor, noted sauropodologist and disdainer-of-mammal-heads, return mammal skulls to the blog’s front page yesterday. Naturally I had to support my friend and colleague in this difficult time, when he may […]

  12. Nathan Myers Says:

    My current favorite North American extant-mammal skull is carried in what we insist on calling Pronghorn Antelope, or sometimes Speedgoat, and not Short-necked Non-reticulated Cursorial-adapted Giraffe.

    It was my son who pointed out how much its skull resembled a giraffe’s.

    We lost at least 32 genera of large mammals right at the onset of the Younger Dryas. We must count ourselves terribly lucky that speedgoats pulled through. That might seem like carelessness, but the Clovis culture who might have had stewardship also vanished in the same geological instant, so must have been extraordinarily preoccupied.

    Recent geneological studies seem to place humans in North America 50+ thousand years ago. Under the circumstances, the mastodon butchered in San Diego 130kya must have been especially surprised to have encountered upright apes.


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