Tetrapod Zoology


Let’s have some fun. Try and identify this tetrapod: and you have to get it down to genus. Good luck.


  1. #1 barndad
    February 6, 2009


  2. #2 Christopher Taylor
    February 6, 2009


    NB. I laughed out loud when I passed my mouse over the photo and the file name popped up. Very good.

  3. #3 Adam
    February 6, 2009


  4. #4 Dave Godfrey
    February 6, 2009


  5. #5 Dartian
    February 6, 2009

    Phoenicopterus (flamingo)?

  6. #6 Ville Sinkkonen
    February 6, 2009


  7. #7 tai haku
    February 6, 2009

    erm grus? Boa? haven’t a clue.

  8. #8 David Marjanović
    February 6, 2009


  9. #9 Alefrisk
    February 6, 2009


  10. #10 Andreas Johansson
    February 6, 2009

    Ropen osseum

  11. #11 Darren Naish
    February 6, 2009

    Yay, ropens! One of my colleagues leaves this Sunday for a trip to New Guinea on which he will be looking for ropens. I’m not kidding. It’ll be on TV later this year, but if he finds one you’ll hear it here first.

  12. #12 Carlos
    February 6, 2009

    I’m sure it isn’t a mammal, for it has more than seven vertebrae. It is also not a pterosaur due to the fact the vertebrae seem small and numerous enough to make that a flexible neck; the same applies to sauropods and Tanystropheus. So it is a bird for sure.

    On the ropen matter, is your friend a creationist Darren?

  13. #13 Darren Naish
    February 6, 2009

    On the ropen matter, is your friend a creationist Darren?

    Nope, just someone prepared to take advantage of an all-expenses-paid trip offered by a TV company!

  14. #14 Laelaps
    February 6, 2009

    It’s a minhocao.

  15. #15 Mike Keesey
    February 6, 2009


  16. #16 Lilian Nattel
    February 6, 2009

    rofl! i checked out the file name too.

  17. #17 Michael P. Taylor
    February 6, 2009

    Is your friend a creationist Darren?

    Oh, how I laughed!

    (And in case anyone jumps to the wrong conclusion: no, it’s not me!)

  18. #18 Alan Kellogg
    February 6, 2009


    Specifically Forasta caustica, or the green dragon. Distinguished from the black dragon Forasta crocodyla by the length and curve of the neck.

  19. #19 Richard Hing
    February 6, 2009

    I have a vague memory of seeing it before, and something’s telling me it’s a moa. I have absolutely no justification for this, though, only a feeling.

  20. #20 JuliaM
    February 7, 2009

    O/T, but I know you have an interest in ‘British Big Cats’ and I wondered if you’d seen this (Yeah, ‘Daily Mail’, I know…):


    They seem awfully long to me, not like ‘cat’ or ‘dog’ tracks at all. Badgers have been suggested, but they have short tracks too. An artifact of thawing, perhaps?

  21. #21 Jaime A. Headden
    February 7, 2009

    I suspect a moa, but for the sake of revealing my poor knowledge of the distinguishing characteristics, I could not pin a genus to this. The high spines, short and numerous centra, and robust ribs imply a highly flexible and robust neck, and all I can think of in this case is a moa.

  22. #22 Dartian
    February 7, 2009

    JuliaM: Those prints are definitely not made by any kind of feline.

    You can immediately tell from how the digit prints are arranged. In cats, they form an asymmetrical pattern. You can see what I mean in this or in this photograph (those tracks are made by an Eurasian lynx and a bobcat, respectively, but Panthera cats and all other felines, AFAIK, have pretty much the same digit arrangement).

    Digit prints in dog and other canine tracks, on the other hand, are nicely symmetrical – as in this wolf track. And in canine tracks, the claws are usually visible – as they are in the tracks of the anmal in the Daily Mail article. So my guess would be that those mystery tracks are either made by a very large dog (and note that there are several breeds that are considerably larger than Alsatians), made by a wolf/dog hybrid, or they are a hoax. But they’re certainly not made by a cat of any kind.

  23. #23 Mark Evans
    February 7, 2009

    Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae)?
    If I were at work I could pop down the corridor to check.

  24. #24 Edgar
    February 7, 2009

    Cool weekend entretainment….perhaps Branta or other “goosey” anatid?

  25. #25 Rosel
    February 7, 2009

    Demon Duck of Doom?
    aka Bullockornis.

  26. #26 Metalraptor
    February 7, 2009

    A Nolatifniwaguacbewdiftotaycus sp., a large species of large, flightless bird native to the computer hard drive of one Darren Naish.

  27. #27 Terry Hunt
    February 7, 2009

    JuliaM, Dartian: I’d seen that Daily Mail piece before and also thought “large dog”, but inspired by (OK, liberally stealing from) Dartian I’ve now gone back and left a comment (surprisingly, none had already been made).

    As for the mystery tetrapod, I would have guessed some sort of snake, which shows how much I know.

  28. #28 Raptor Lewis
    February 7, 2009

    Hmmm….I’m stumped.

  29. #29 shiva
    February 7, 2009

    As for the neck… it seems sort of overly chunky for most living long-necked birds (ostrich, flamingo, swan, Ciconiformes, etc), too long for much else, and not fossilised enough for moa. So i’m going to stick my neck out (ha ha) and say Casuarius. Probably totally wrong, but what the hell, worth a try.

    As to the prints: Definitely canine, not feline. The one odd thing seems to be just how *long* that one print is, especially as the ruler doesn’t look distorted, ruling out photoshopping or weird camera angle. But it could be an unusual print caused by jumping or limping or something – the others in the photo look much closer to normal dog print proportions. Cat prints are rounder than dog prints, anyway, so this is the opposite extreme to what a big cat print could reasonably be expected to look like…

  30. #30 John Scanlon, FCD
    February 8, 2009

    Not Cygnus or dromornithid, otherwise hard to get a sense of scale. No bird would keep its neck so nearly straight in a state of nature, which makes me suspect it’s the very-vertical Dinornis mount made famous by being touched inappropriately by Richard Owen (there’s photographic evidence! – I’m amazed he was allowed to get away with it, and him not even a clergyman). A lot of moa remains are pretty fresh-looking. (I’m not at work and haven’t even taken a book off a shelf)

  31. #31 onychomys
    February 8, 2009

    I don’t think it’s a moa for one simple reason: we’ve been told we can get it down to genus. That means that one of two things is true. Either there’s some distinguishing character visible in the picture, or it’s from a family with just one genus. Now, I don’t know the first thing about bird anatomy, but there aren’t any mammals (…that I can think of right now, anyway) that you can identify just by vertebrae.

    So if there’s not any good characters, then it must be from an easily identifiable genus. And moas came in six genera, which makes me think it must be something else.

  32. #32 Hai~Ren
    February 8, 2009

    Most of the guesses are that it’s some sort of avian, but it would be a hoot if it turned out to be a mammal or plesiosaur.

    My own guess is that it’s a cassowary.

  33. #33 TJ
    February 9, 2009

    Since everyone seems to have given up on mammals I’m going to say Bradypus, just for the heck of it. He laughs at your puny 7 cervical vertebrae.

    Or what about something like Pelagornis. The only reconstructed skeleton I’ve ever seen (NMNH) had a long, fairly straight neck.

    But if a bird, need it be a very long-necked one? Even penguins have more neck vertebrae than most mammals.

    These are all just wild guesses. Can we go back to identifying skulls now?

  34. #34 Graham King
    February 12, 2009

    I thought ‘swan’ and then thought not. I reckon those are too short and too many to be cervicals of any extant long-necked bird.

    Moa (=plural too, so I’ve read here) had as I recall a more drastically tapering set of cervicals (big body, tiny head, like Anne Elk’s brontosaurus).

    Thinking laterally, if Darren’s short of time it may be something in his workplace or even at home (unless he’s working away from home busy. Shucks. Or had the image already stowed somewhere. Even likelier shucks.)

    No… wait!! Surely….

    It’s the mythical long-necked pinniped at last!

    hmm, I’m sure I’m getting closer.

    Maybe it’s not a bird at all.

    More lateralism… Look at the background for clues. Scale: is that wood… shelves? a crate? a chair? Smallish, then.

    Gaaah, I’ll just go crazy and say a stoat with all its ribs pulled off. Then at least you can all have a laugh at me.

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