Skull audit: Wedel responds

February 9, 2022

Left to right: alligator, beaver, black bear, armadillo, cat, ostrich. I know, the archosaurs aren’t mammals, and the alligator isn’t even a skull. But if you can’t have a lounge lizard crash your mammal skull party, what are you even doing with your life? Not pictured: about four rabbit skulls I forgot I had boxed up, plus a couple of turtles (yeah, yeah) sitting on a friend’s desk, in their locked office.

It warmed my crooked 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 be experiencing confusing feelings regarding nasal turbinates, multi-cusped teeth, and the dentary-squamosal jaw joint.

My skull collection is split across home and office, but I had to go in to campus this afternoon for a video recording thing, so I got most of the office set, shown above, on that jaunt.

After the workday ended, I had just enough time before the light faded to assemble and photograph the home collection:

Back row: peccary, pig, deer, sheep, dog. Middle row: opossum, rabbit. Front row: opossum, marten (both hemisected). Not pictured: emergency backup sheep, moar rabbits

I’ve blogged about the bear, the pig, and the hemisected skulls, but I think that’s it. I should do more skull blogging, most of these have a story:

  • I prepped the armadillo, cat, rabbit, and sheep skulls myself (besides the bear and pig). The first two I found in the woods, the mostly-decomposed rabbit was a gift from my father-in-law, and the sheep head I obtained from the market down the street ($10, and I ate the meat).
  • The alligator head and deer skull were gifts, from Vicki and from my brother Ryan, respectively.
  • The rest I purchased here and there over the years, usually when they were on deep discount. The peccary is a memento of a trip to Big Bend back in 2007 (I bought it at a taxidermy shop a long way outside the national park), and the dog came from the seconds bin at the Museum of Osteology — I plan to saw off the top of the braincase to see the cranial nerve exits, just as in the preparation by Peter Dodson shown in this post.

I have more heads awaiting skull-ization in various freezers, too. Couple more pig heads at work, and at the house a strategic reserve sheep head, plus skunk, squirrel, and rat. Plus a partially-mummified but mostly defleshed armadillo whose saga deserves a detailed recounting:

NB: the stray bits toward the bottom of the image are from a cat. Mr. Armadillo’s limb bones and vertebrae are still in the armadillo kit.

In the first comment on Mike’s post yesterday, I expressed envy that he had the better skull collection. After pulling together all my critters, I think I just have a worse memory. In my defense, it’s been almost two years since I was in the office regularly, and about half the skulls in the home collection are recent-ish acquistions (~last three years), so a lot of stuff had either fallen out of memory or not gotten properly established yet. But Mike has definitely prepped more — and more exotic — skeletons, and it was his enthusiastic collecting and blogging of dead animal bits that inspired me to start my recent-ish spate of skull preparations. More to come on that front as time and opportunity allow, probably starting with this:


5 Responses to “Skull audit: Wedel responds”

  1. Brad Lichtenstein Says:

    Ah, what do you do when you have a whole collection of skulls buried – somewhere…?

    Why, skullduggery!

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    That armadillo is so much weirder than I’d realised!

    Beavers are also pretty exotic round here, but I guess not super common in California either.

    Needless to say, the bear is the big trophy here. Amazing that you got hold of that. I am properly envious.

    “strategic reserve” is better than “emergency backup”.

    I guess you should TNF some of those skulls.

  3. Matt Wedel Says:

    That armadillo is so much weirder than I’d realised!

    I’ll do a whole follow-up post on it for you. And since I’ve got another one waiting with the mummified armadillo kit, there’s no reason you can’t have my frontline armadillo skull in exchange for your emergency backup badger.

    Beavers are also pretty exotic round here, but I guess not super common in California either.

    That definitely came from an osteology supply place.

    Needless to say, the bear is the big trophy here. Amazing that you got hold of that. I am properly envious.

    It’s definitely the pride of my collection.

    “strategic reserve” is better than “emergency backup”.

    Strategic reserve comes after emergency backup. Not sure what comes after that.

    I guess you should TNF some of those skulls.

    I should TNF all of them. When I get time. [Laughs, then cries.]

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    Armadillo-skull post will be good to see. Would also be a good opportunity for you to practice your TNFing skills. The good news is, provided the initial photos are taken against a good solid background, they’re easy enough to do. And the process is pleasantly relaxing. (I guess I should do a tutorial.)

  5. Allen Hazen Says:

    The hemisected opossum and marten contrast interestingly: the marten is much brainier. (Over all, the marten skull is only about 3/4 as long as the opossum skull, but the space for the brain is about 50% longer.) … Many years ago, I saw (at the Field Museum in Chicago) side-by-side skeletons of a marten (I think: it may have been some other mustelid) and some species of what used to be called Australian Native Cats (now quolls). These are both carnivorous animals in the same general size class, so the skeletons as a whole had similar proportions, but the skulls suggested that the marten was far more “encephalized”: these were not hemisected, but the external proportions were dramatically different. In both, the part of the skull aft of the jaw joint is basically brain case: in the quoll, the joint was maybe 3 quarters of the way back from tip of snout to rear of skull, but in the marten it was close to the half-way mark: I had the song impression that norther hemisphere placental had a lot more brain than its rough Australian ecological counterpart!

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