Tetrapod Zoology

Identify the oddity

i-1d5a50416c56521a6af04689e0dcd764-where are you taking this thing.jpg

What the hell is this? As usual, I’m sure that many people will get it, but oddities (clues?) to note include the paired shallow concavities on the dorsal surface, the rugose laterodorsal patches and the clusters of large foramina. Have fun…

PS – I’ll post the answer on Sunday night.


  1. #1 Hai~Ren
    May 17, 2008

    Sauropod vertebra!

  2. #2 Andreas Johansson
    May 17, 2008

    It’s a ropenid hellasaur!

  3. #3 Neil
    May 17, 2008

    Part of Richards Owlman costume?

  4. #4 Nemo Ramjet
    May 17, 2008

    Nah, I’ll play it safe and suggest that it is some sort of mammal. May it have the face somehow splayed into two?

  5. #5 Dave Godfrey
    May 17, 2008

    Which end is the front?

  6. #6 Emile
    May 17, 2008

    It’s a hitherto unknown species of rhinograde.

    Er… it’s a mammal, I know that for a FACT.

  7. #7 Barn Owl
    May 17, 2008

    The skull of some sort of elephant, especially if that’s the infraorbital foramen at the bottom left.

  8. #8 Pavel I. Volkov
    May 17, 2008

    Any sirenian?

  9. #9 Richard Carter, FCD
    May 17, 2008

    Trick question… It’s a photograph!

  10. #10 Darren Naish
    May 17, 2008

    Good, good.. very encouraging so far, please keep ’em coming…

  11. #11 R. A. W.
    May 17, 2008


  12. #12 Mo Hassan
    May 17, 2008

    Is it an Asian elephant?

  13. #13 Brian
    May 17, 2008

    My guess is that it is the skull of a walrus. That would also explain why you didn’t include the lower jaw…or the dentition.

  14. #14 Norris
    May 17, 2008

    I recently had a similar situation to this question in central Vermont. Local farmers had unearthed a skull that looked much like this, situated it in a similar orientation (viewed from behind) and took pictures. Beluga fossils have been unearthed in the western part of the state (Lake Champlain used to be essentially an inland sea) and they were convinced it was a marine mammal. I was initially leaning toward the idea of a walrus until I realized the correct orientation. Instantly it hit me that they had dug up the braincase (minus the rostrum) of an old draft horse.

    This, however, is not a horse. Yet I cannot figure out what it is. Hopefully my trip down memory lane will help others guessing.

  15. #15 TJ
    May 17, 2008

    A Glyptodont

  16. #16 Kacy Nielsen
    May 17, 2008

    Could it be an elephant seal? Are those ‘shallow cavities’ where that frumpy nose comes into play?

  17. #17 David Marjanovi?
    May 17, 2008

    A mammal skull roof plus zygomatic arches. Elephant sounds good because of the 3D shape of the frontals.

  18. #18 Barn Owl
    May 17, 2008

    I was thinking that the rugose patches were attachment sites for the elephant equivalents of levator labii superioris muscles. Something important (and large) attaches at those patches. And I suspect that “something” requires extensive sensory innervation from the maxillary division of CN V.

    Can’t wait to find out what it is!

  19. #19 Robin Beck
    May 17, 2008

    Hmm…the clusters of foramina at the back of the skull roof are very reminiscent of wombats, but they don’t have the very retracted narial opening or such rugose attachments for the levator muscles of the snout. I vote for the modern tapir Tapirus (which would also explain the monstrous infraorbital foramen) – not sure which species, though.

  20. #20 Norris
    May 17, 2008

    Ignore my statement above. Robin Beck is close in guessing wombat. It is a view from the anterior. The jugal is participating in the jaw articulation making it a marsupial. I’d guess Lasiorhinus.

  21. #21 Mike Hanson
    May 18, 2008

    I’m guessing a species of short-faced kangaroo (Procoptodon? Simosthenurus).

  22. #22 David Marjanovi?
    May 18, 2008

    Where do you see a jaw articulation? I can only see the coronoid processes. And the bone behind it ought to be the squamosal… no?

  23. #23 Barn Owl
    May 18, 2008

    I just see what look to be coronoid processes as well.

    If those dorsal foramina are located in the parietal bones (I’ve taught on Planet Human Anatomy too long to be sure), then I’d say that the animal had lots of emissary veins, perhaps to cool the brain in a hot climate.

  24. #24 Jorge Velez-Juarbe
    May 18, 2008

    Glyptodont, the foramina are for the plate on the skull roof.

  25. #25 Mark Lees
    May 18, 2008

    I think that Jorge Velez-Juarbe and TJ are right – it’s a glyptodont. Pictures I’ve seen of their skulls have botht the rugosities and the “paired concavities”. I think that the photo has been cropped at just the right point to disguise how short-faced the creature is.
    Have a look at http://www.skullsunlimited.com/fossil-glyptodont.html or http://gastondesign.com/07galleries/mammalskulls/
    for example to see what I mean. I dont know if the links will work, but if they dont copy & paste them in your browser.

  26. #26 Matt Wedel
    May 18, 2008

    Let’s see how much I don’t know…

    No elephant would have coronoid processes sticking up like that. Tapirs have more domed skull roofs. I like glyptodont, because of how short the face must be. It seems a good match for this one.

    Excellent mystery photo. Keep ’em coming!

  27. #27 Boesse
    May 18, 2008

    Well, I can easily rule out any type of marine mammal, modern or extinct (i.e. sirenian, desmostylian, walrus, sea lion, seal, etc., and probably the rest of the carnivora as a whole). Also, doesn’t really look much like an elephant either – elephants have a large portion of the braincase dorsal to the orbits.

    I agree with the glyptodont ID – its one of the only critters I’ve seen with the extremely narrow, deep terminations of the naris.

  28. #28 Hai~Ren
    May 18, 2008

    Yeah, it does look a lot like the Glyptodon skull on Skulls Unlimited.

    Now it’s a challenge to narrow down which glyptodont… Glyptodon? Doedicurus? Glyptotherium? Panochthus? Hoplophorus? Palaehoplophorus? Propalaehoplophorus?? Parapropalaehoplophorus???

  29. #29 Mike Hanson
    May 18, 2008

    Ah, it is clear now! Looks like a pretty good match to that skull of Glyptodon clavipes, so I’ll say that; Glyptodon clavipes.

  30. #30 John Scanlon, FCD
    May 18, 2008

    I also thought of wombats but the whole shape of the skull roof is wrong, and the rugosities and apparently downturned nasals don’t fit either. Presumably the cropping was to hide something that would have made it much easier to identify, but I think the maxillae are definitely fenestrated. So I guess it’s a large rodent, probably a porcupine of some sort.

  31. #31 Norris
    May 18, 2008

    Well I can’t deny the glyptodontid argument. Particularly since it looks like there’s some sort of projection beneath the infraorbital foramina. I’ve seen Vombatus skulls and this appeared to be similar, but with a broader snout. Live pictures of Lasiorhinus might appear to match that, but the glyptodontid idea is too perfect. Porcupines (particularly OW porcupines) have a snout that is almost domed. Both New and Old World porcupines would not have such a short face.

  32. #32 John Scanlon, FCD
    May 19, 2008

    I decided it was honourable to first have a try without benefit of Google; but yeah, it’s a glyptodont isn’t it?

  33. #33 David Marjanovi?
    May 19, 2008

    OK, I jump onto the glyptodont bandwagon.

    Hey, “Sunday night” — which Sunday?

  34. #34 J. S. Lopes
    May 19, 2008

    I think maybe it is not a skull… Maybe an upside-down pelvis?

  35. #35 Laelaps
    May 19, 2008

    Everybody and their mother already beat me to it, but my first thought was “glyptodont” when I saw the photo, too.

  36. #36 Zach Miller
    May 19, 2008

    My knowledge of glyptodonts is terrible, but wouldn’t a fossil animal’s skull look a little less…recent??

  37. #37 Boesse
    May 19, 2008

    I was wondering about that myself too. However, there are plenty of examples of extremely well preserved pleistocene skeletons in caves in south america. Additionally, if you look at the specimen in question, there are plenty of cracks, the sort of which you’d expect in a fossil buried in sediment.

  38. #38 Stevo Darkly
    May 19, 2008

    I know!!!! It’s a skull of some kind!

  39. #39 David Marjanovi?
    May 19, 2008

    The cave bear bones I’ve handled are all so young they still look dead. The official definition of “fossil” is “older than 10,000 years”; I wonder if that shouldn’t be changed to 100,000, so that fossils reliably look like fossils.

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