Tetrapod Zoology

Functional anatomy ALIVE

i-9149f16a0286fc059c5770b8dc8c4107-he said there's something in the woodshed.jpg

Yesterday I attended the Centre for Evolution and Ecology workshop ‘Modern Approaches to Functional Anatomy’, held at the Natural History Museum (and organised by the Royal Veterinary College’s John Hutchinson). Whoah: what a meeting…

Bipedal chimps and orangutans, leaping lemurs, autralopithecines, ‘When Komodos destroy‘, pliosaurs and marsupial lions, hominid wrists, elbows and ankles, over-engineered dwarf elephants, how elephants use their sixth digits, the non-conservativeness of Sphenodon, self-righting turtles, bat canines… and McNeill Alexander! Shock horror, even the talks on insects had me picking my jaw up from the floor. Functional anatomy is very much alive, and we are in very exciting times. I’ll be writing up what happened, so stay tuned for the full story. While at the NHM I photographed the wonderful object above: you all know what it is, of course, but feel free to show the world how clever you are. Got home at 4am this morning, so am feeling a little fragile.


  1. #1 David Marjanovi?
    April 24, 2008

    how elephants use their sixth digits

    How elephants use their what???

    you all know what it is, of course

    Er… a Piltdown cave bear? ~:-|

  2. #2 Darren Naish
    April 24, 2008

    How elephants use their what???

    Ha ha – exactly. All will be revealed (although, it’s already in the literature actually: I knew of it from Clive Spinage’s Poyser book on elephants). And, ok, it’s not really a ‘digit’…

  3. #3 Graham King
    April 24, 2008

    THAT… is maximally weird.

    Inclined to guess at some proboscidean even stranger than gomphothere shovel-tuskers, but…
    has part of the face has been cut away? does that lower jaw belong?

    Do tell more! This sounds like my kind of conference.

    (PS the great thing about saying anything is maximally weird, is that something even weirder then always turns up…)

  4. #4 tai haku
    April 24, 2008

    Ermm a unicorn?

    Is the sixth digit a reference to new trunk research?

  5. #5 chris y
    April 24, 2008

    An art work using suggestively shaped slabs of rock and bits of agricultural implements?

  6. #6 Sven DiMilo
    April 24, 2008

    That’s no iguanian.
    Definitely has something of the proboscidean about it though.

  7. #7 Sven DiMilo
    April 24, 2008

    oops–left that italic tag open. Do I need to close it like this?

  8. #8 Dave Hughes
    April 24, 2008

    I saw and photographed this very skull at the NHM about three weeks ago, so I know what it is. But not to spoil everyone’s fun, I’ll just say that the group it represents has been featured in Tet Zoo before …. so good hunting!

  9. #9 Washington Jones
    April 24, 2008

    Seems like a extrange Astrapotherium, but I think that a portion of superior maxilar lacks. I donīt know….

  10. #10 Nick P.
    April 24, 2008


    I’m fairly confident that no known proboscidean has a full set of lower incisors and canines like that. Not a pig, not a tapir, not a rhino; not quite freakish enough to be a hippo, entelodont, or dinoceratan.

    Am I really seeing the upper part of the skull correctly? It looks like much of the snout is missing, but one loooong-rooted (left?) canine is still attached.

    Beats the heck out of me. Astrapothere, maybe? I’m having trouble finding a good skull image on-line.

  11. #11 Anthony Docimo
    April 24, 2008

    glad to know you had fun.

    ps: what were those super-nosed things called? Rhinogredians? that, or the weirdest Desmostylian ever!

  12. #12 Cameron
    April 24, 2008

    The lower jaw looks undoubtedly Astrapotherian – but the tusk development and reduction of the upper dentition looks a lot more extreme than Astrapotherium itself. Parastrapotherium had another premolar on top – and I can’t find enough information on the other genera to see how well they match. That is one outrageous looking skull.

  13. #13 Wilbert
    April 24, 2008

    Come on that’s nothing.
    Pull the other one.
    It looks like a particulary hideous orc.

    Or could it be Dee Blauwbilgordel (A mythical monster form the lowlands of Holland)

  14. #14 Stevo Darkly
    April 24, 2008

    Some kind of highly derived gorgonopsian …

  15. #15 John H
    April 24, 2008

    I agree, astrapothere, missing some maxilla etc?

    Great as always to see you Darren! Wow home at 0400 and already blogged at 0927! You are made of stronger stuff than I.

  16. #16 Matt Wedel
    April 24, 2008

    With apologies to Neil, I believe that it is one of the more derived hellatheres. Possibly an omygododont, or one of the fuglyopsians. They had quite a radiation after the K-WTF extinction.

  17. #17 Mo Hassan
    April 24, 2008

    Yeah that’s Astrapotherium alright… I think A. magnum, I took a look at that in the break as well!

    And it was a cool conference, well, what I saw of it anyway.

  18. #18 Neil (the other 1)
    April 24, 2008

    Huh, Ive been round the NHM and dont recall seeing this skull!? Its very odd. If there ever was a predatory horse, Imagine the lower jaw would resemble that – as for the top half ??????

    Oh well I look forward to find out what the hell it is and the report – You interested in insects!? did i read that right?

  19. #19 Mo Hassan
    April 24, 2008

    the skull is in the “from the beginning” gallery in the Earth Galleries right near the Flett theatre

  20. #20 jck
    April 24, 2008

    I think it was the last Hapsburg prince.

  21. #21 neil
    April 24, 2008

    Wait, I thought that I was the other one!

    At any rate Matt’s correct. That is most certainly Fuglyops protardiii. According to Ameghino (1885) Fuglyops was the terror of Patagonian hominids in the Miocene. Ameghino goes on to suggest that the evolution of hominid bipedalism was probably driven by the need to give marauding Fuglyops “the finger.” Presumably this was discussed at the meeting…

  22. #22 naturegirl
    April 24, 2008

    Man my grandson Is nuts about dinosaurs and you seem to be the expert Darren..(my sons name ) must pop by more often with the little guy! A fellow Nature Blog participant..sunkissed in Sedona NG

  23. #23 Max Paddington
    April 24, 2008

    I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say extremely primitive possibly ancestral proboscidean. If I’m wrong, I’ll eat my lucky bandanna. (wait, I take that back. No matter how sure I am I never risk the bandanna)

  24. #24 Colin Bartlett
    April 25, 2008

    If we consider the trunk to be the fifth digit, would the sixth digit be the male’s prehensile penis? I’ve seen them literally play with themselves at zoos, picking up small objects with the things and tossing them.
    Also, I’ve been reading your journal since the summer of last year, and you in a big way shaped the direction my academic career is taking. I kept meaning to post a response to something (you talked about Astrapotheres, which are only my favorite extinct critters I’ve yet come across, and I nearly exploded), but always chickened out. Now here I am, ten months later, with my first comment being about elephant wangs…

  25. #25 Boesse
    April 25, 2008

    I figured it was some sort of weird, South American notoungulate. Desmostylians look very similar to Moeritherium, and have anteriorly directed upper and lower canines, and ‘six-pack’ shaped molars.

    What a bizarre critter, to say the least…

  26. #26 Tengu
    April 26, 2008

    paeleoparadoxia or relative, about the only animal I can think of with forward tusks.

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