Freak Week: Bonanza of Bones
Posted On: 10/24/2016 - 2:38pm, Posted By: Emily Imhoff, Collections Manager - Zoology
Welcome to the Zoology Collection Freak Week! Halloween will soon be upon us – a perfect time to have a look at some of the weirder and more unsettling specimens in the Zoology Collection. We’ll start off with a Bonanza of Bones.
When museums receive donations of birds or mammals, not all of the parts make it to the Collection. In modern times we normally keep the skeleton, skin, and a sample of the animal’s DNA. The soft tissues are difficult to preserve and would take up a great deal of space, so the muscles, organs, and other soft tissues are usually disposed of or fed to our flesh-eating beetles (see more about them in another blog post!). Sometimes, especially in years past, fewer parts are kept. Our Collection includes many specimens that are just skulls! We have a variety of horned mammal skulls from around the world, including the examples shown here: an African genenuk antelope (Litocranius walleri), a Central Asian mountain sheep (Ovis ammon), and a domestic goat (Capra aegagrus).
Here, we have an intensely interesting and downright disturbing skeletal specimen. This is the skull of a calf with a developmental disorder known as cyclopia. Cyclopia refers to the fact that a single eye develops instead of two. If you look closely you can see the single eye socket near the center of the image. This disorder is best known from sheep, but can be found in other mammals. It can occur when the mother consumes corn lily plant during the early development of the fetus - corn lily contains a toxin called cyclopamine which can cause the deformity. In addition to the single eye, the nose of the animal will typically be absent. You can see in this specimen that the upper jaw is absent and the lower jaw is curved upwards.
Let’s finish up with a mystery specimen. Can you guess what bone is shown below? Go ahead and have a guess!
What do you think it might be? Any ideas?
Can you believe it - this is a whale ear bone! Properly called a tympanic bulla, these bones were often kept as souvenirs by whalers. Sometimes human faces were painted on them – from the right angle they do kind of look like a face in profile. Whale ears are different from ours because they live underwater where sounds travel differently. Their ear bones are separated from the skull to reduce vibrations and help the whale locate where sounds are coming from. Also, they don’t have an external ear (a pinna) and an open ear canal like humans and other land mammals. Instead they have special fatty structures in their jawbones that direct sounds to the ear itself.
That’s it for our bone-nanza. Join us next time as Freak Week continues!