Tet Zoo picture of the day # 18

i-1e827ab458ee4c1045357faa0b2ce813-GT carcass retake.jpg

Another mystery photo for everyone to guess at. And in fact this specimen isn't just any old dead animal...

... it's internationally famous, having been widely discussed in the news media [see article here], and the subject of correspondence between mammalogists across the USA. It has variously been identified as a dinosaur or as some sort of embryo, but is clearly the mummified carcass of a mammal. It was discovered in a cave in Namibia. This photo was kindly supplied by George Tucker, who is keen to determine its identity: I regret that we need to retain the rights on the image, hence the copyright and so on. Congrats to everyone who identified the skull in the previous Tet Zoo picture of the day as that of a baboon. As for what species it is, I will elucidate at a later date.

So what do you think? I think I have identified it, but I am not 100% certain, so the more detailed your reasoning the better. And it is not a gorgonopsian (which reminds me, I finally finished watching the entire series of Primeval on DVD yesterday).

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Is it a springhare (Pedetes capensis)? They're found in the right area, have long hindlimbs with four toes (that's how many appear to be in the photograph), the size is about right, and the incisors definitely look rodent-like to me. The problem is that the skull looks too short and there don't appear to be bulbous nasals, but that would be my preliminary identification from this photograph. And Mark Witton agrees.

By Richard Hing (not verified) on 26 Jun 2007 #permalink

long low skull with eyes quite close to the front.
Rather strong looking tail.
To me it looks like Otter but I have been known to be wrong time to time. :/

A cryptozoologic enygma! I like it. 25 cm., mammal, rodent maybe. Powerful legs, but arms so long to be a squirrel. For the antiquity claimed in the website, I'm not sure. More like a mummified corpse than a fossil; maybe the sediments were compressed, giving the impression of meteorized sandstone. I bet for a hyrax, maybe those tree hyrax (thinner jaw bone).

By Luis Daniel (not verified) on 26 Jun 2007 #permalink

Big rodent-like incisors? Back legs longer than forelegs? Impulsive guess is a springhare (Pedetes capensis). I'm not sure how well the body size fits but the Namibian location is consistent

By Dave Hughes (not verified) on 26 Jun 2007 #permalink

Well, Darren, it surely is something strange but I'll add my two cents as to its identity. Though I'm far from a mammal-expert, the dentition screams rodent to me. As for what sort of rodent, I'm saying: a porcupine (a hystricid).

My initial thought was "lemur", but then saw that it was from Namibia, now I have no clue.

Is it possibly a genet?

By Bruce Mohn (not verified) on 26 Jun 2007 #permalink

I don't think those pointy postcanines are consistent with a rodent. The whole shape of the skull says 'mustelid' to me. It is too small to be a honey badger, I think. Has too well developed claws to be any of the southern african otters, so I will go with striped polecat (Ictonyx striatus).

I'm emmending my last comment. Cape clawless otters do have claws on their hind feet, and I realise I can't see any claws on the front paws so I'm changing my ID over to the Cape Clawless otter (Aonyx capensis) as it matches the skull shape better than that of a polecat (long low braincase and very anteriorly placed orbits).

I'm not so sure now...The springhare skull looks much shorter, higher and more compact than the head of this thing. Also, Pedetes has huge eye sockets and the upper incisors strongly overhang the lower, neither of which seem to be obvious here.
Back to the drawing board!

By Dave Hughes (not verified) on 26 Jun 2007 #permalink

> And it is not a gorgonopsian

...than it must be a therocephalian :)

One point that might help - is the ruler scale in inches or centimetres? It's not obvious to me from the photo.

[from Darren: cm]

By Dave Hughes (not verified) on 26 Jun 2007 #permalink

I took the photo and a naturalist who saw the photo in Namiba insisted it was a springhare, however a zoologist who saw it at the same time said it was not because of its teeth (I don't recall the details of his argument). They had quite a discussion. Someone from the Namibian science service came to see it and brought some skulls for comparsion but could not find a match. I wasn't present for the comparsion so I don't know if he had a springhare skull.

African civet?

Well whoever thought it was a dinosaur is very much mistaken, though the face does look somewhat parrotlike because of the way the lips cover the incisors.

There aren't any canines, and the clear diastema rules out otters (or indeed any Carnivore I can think of.) The legs are all wrong too.

As for what it actually is, I'll happily agree with the springhare posse, until a better suggestion comes along.

By Dave Godfrey (not verified) on 26 Jun 2007 #permalink

My vote is Hystrix

I don't think it's a springhare. Springhare skulls are quite different looking than the skull of this creature. My initial thought was marsupial, due to the strange tail, but then rodent after learning the animal was from Africa. Now I'm certain it's not a springhare, and probably not a rodent. I'm thinking it's a member of Carnivora, possibly of Mustelidae. The eyes appear so near to the front of the skull, and the incisors do not appear to be rodent-like. The space betweent the incisors and the remaining teeth is quite puzzling. I'm not aware of any extant African marsupial, but it sort of looks diprotodont. But I'll stick to Carnivora. Odd tail though.

By Tom DiVito (not verified) on 26 Jun 2007 #permalink

White-tailed mongoose (Ichneumia albicauda)? Largest mongoose and native to Namibia.

By Tom DiVito (not verified) on 26 Jun 2007 #permalink

Well done, Darren, that latest post impulses the neurons to work.....the skeleton...perhaps a giant African rat?

If it's from the Errongos it is most unlikely to be an otter. That is quite dry country and has been for a long, long time.
If it is not a Spring Hare, I'm more or less stumped. There are a number of African rodents with powerful rear legs (jirds for example) but they seem too small for this.

Could it be a Petromus (Dassie rat)? The habitat and size fits, but I don't think dassie-rats have such powerful rear legs.

It is certainl not a Tree Hyrax or Honey Badge which are tailless.

By Tommy Tyrberg (not verified) on 26 Jun 2007 #permalink

I agree it is not a spring hare because the skull and dentition look different -post-canine teeth form a grinding battery. Not a hyrax due to short tail. Unlikely to be carnivore due to diastema. Methinks its a ground squirrel

The scale is cm.

The picture on my computer looks really fuzzy. I don't know if the long teeth in the front of the skull are canines or rodent-like incisors or whether there are claws or just the bones of the toes poking through the skin on the feet. The legs don't seem that unusually long to me. But longer then on an otter or a genet or a mongoose. The front legs are folded up making them appear shorter then the back legs but I don't think they're really proportioned this way. The toes look digigrade, like on a dog or a cat of some sort. The shape of the feet and the shoulders rules out primate to me. It looks like a carnivor of some sort in the over all body shape. I think there are some teeth missing in the skull that's maybe making it look like a rodent, but the skull shape doesn't appear rodent to me. The ruler indicates it's not an especially large beastie. Maybe its a small dog-like carnivor like a bat-eared fox or maybe it's not fully grown (Although it seems to have a lot of teeth for a pup also, the tail would be tiny)I'm guessing the years it has spent fossilizing have squashed, shrunk and distorted its appearence to some degree. I'm going to guess it's a baby leopard that still has its milk teeth. From what I understand, leopards will sometimes have their cubs in a cave. Maybe it wandered deeper into the cave, got lost and died. Although, I'll have to admit, the overall body shape suggests an adult animal to me, too skinny and long limbed to be a cub, maybe the process of mummification shrunk and tightened the skin up.

I daresay it's the extremely rare Namibian arboreal sea lion!

Or else a mustelid or a civet or a mongoose.

By Stevo Darkly (not verified) on 26 Jun 2007 #permalink

Took a look at the mummified mammal again. After consulting my handy dandy ruler I've come to realize that 27cm is pretty small for any carnivor, even a baby one. I don't know if the mummification process would have caused some shrinking or not. I can understand why people thought it was a spring hare. I looked up pictures of them, they're cute little guys. I still think it's a carnivor of some sort. Maybe it is a genet.

Solid tail, rodent-looking incisors, and...is that a quill under its shoulder? I vote naked porcupine.

By Ian Govey (not verified) on 26 Jun 2007 #permalink

It does appear smaller than I was thinking, so the mongoose does sound like a damn good guess. Those that think rodent have not seen a whole lot of rodent skulls I am guessing, and those that think there is a well developed diastema should remember that smaller teeth both, fall-out in that region often after death, and are easily covered by things like dried out flesh....

The skull has a very long lower jaw. We see this in predators due to a general selecation for a wide gape in preds for grasping prey.

The eyes are very forwards, and there is an elongated post orbital skull, as in mongooses, ferrests, weasel, Civets and other small nasty predators.

The jaw joint is not set up for grinding, as we see in rodents, but for fast snapping, as in a predator, as the attachment site for the muscles of the jaw are at a rather great angle, and are not so up and down.

The premolar/molars appear to be triangular, and come to points, hence not grinding teeth, and are most likely carnassials in number and spacing.

From the body Elephant-Shrew (Macroscelida) came into my mind, Genus Rhynchocyon would have the right size. But again even if one accepts that the critter lost its trunk, the skull does not fit very well.

The location does cut out an otter ID. In my defence I had no idea where in Namibia Errongos is. There is no way this is a porcupine (they have strange bulbous skulls most unlike this guy). I am 100% sure its a carnivore and very probably a mustelid (the diastema is probably an artefact of missing teeth and/or some of the smaller premolars being hidden behind the dried lips). The big front dentary tooth is undoubtedly a canine. Perhaps I was right the first time with striped polecat. You can see a skull here http://macro.dokkyomed.ac.jp/mammal/en/species/ictonyx_striatus.html


I didn't realize the scale was in centimeters. The tail seems to thick to be a polecat or weasel/ferret-like mustelid. Seems more similar to a mongoose tail.

By Tom DiVito (not verified) on 27 Jun 2007 #permalink

There aren't any canines

Unless the "incisors" are canines. That would rule out Viverra and Ictonyx, though, because their incisors are visible in lateral view and their canines are smaller (thanks for the skull photos!).

I go with carnivore because the premolars & molars seem to fit that best, but I must say the resolution of the picture is quite coarse.

By David Marjanovi? (not verified) on 27 Jun 2007 #permalink

The teeth look diprotodont if not plagiaulacoid, wich rules out carnivores, galagos and elephant shrews, wich are polyprotodont with well developed canines. It also lacks the huge eye sockets of a galago and the wedge shaped skull of a macroscelid.

The upper incisors look too short, blunt and robust for a rodent, and the diastema, while present, looks smaller than that of a rodent, too.
The whole thing looks somewhat like a plesiadapid, but it would be rather unlikely to find an early paleogene laurasian critter in a pleistocene (it is said to be 10.000 years old) or younger african deposit.
So I settle, somewhat reluctantly, for a rodent.

It is too small for a springhare, wich is 35-43 cm long without the tail (according to Haltenorth/Diller), leave alone a porcupine. The shape of the skull isn't right for any of them, either.

Zenkerella has the right size, but is not found south of the Kongo.
This leaves the Cape Bristly Ground Squirrel, Xerus inauris, as the most possible candidate. But the hindlegs still look too long...

Hi Darren,

Maybe a dassie (African rock) rat (Petromus typicus)? Skull suggests rodent and this is the only southern African rodent with such an elongate skull, longish thick tail and similar body proportions. They are also known from this area of Namibia.

Cheers, Paul

By Paul Barrett (not verified) on 27 Jun 2007 #permalink

I've posted the rest of the photos of the remains I took in May 2003 here. Sorry if the quality is not the best but they are the best I could do under the circumstances (long story). One comment, the dassie rats I've seen were much smaller than this but perhaps I've only seen immature ones.


Thanks to all for your interest.

I am simply amazed at how many people see "rodent" in this skull...

A rodent skull usually has a big lower jaw that is not elongated.

The muscle joint is closer to where the molars are due the need for grinding power...

The molars are thick and flat in rodents.

The ramus of the mandible is not deep and wide as in rodents, but is shaped for a fast wide bite...

This specimen HAS CANINES, and I have no idea why so many people are not seeing them. It's molars/premolars are pointy, as in a predator, not a rodent..

Think "ferret" skull, and you have the general morphology of interest, even those that basic predatory shape implies quite a few species besides ferrets...

It is definitely not a rodent. My thoughts on identification will appear in the next post (to come later today).

The claws look downright feline in those closeups.

By Mike Keesey (not verified) on 27 Jun 2007 #permalink

I'm going to guess caracal kitten. The range is right, and that would explain the longish legs.

By Mike Keesey (not verified) on 27 Jun 2007 #permalink

I looked at the photos on Tuckeg's flickr sight and the creature posted above is weirder then I thought. After seeing the photos of the skull, I can understand why people might have thought it was a dinosaur. It looks like it has retractable claws, on it's feet at least, but they seem too small for a cat's claws. The back feet seem to have five digits and one of them appears to be opposible. I don't know of any carnivore that has anything like that. I don't know if the quality of the photos are making me see extra opposible digits when there aren't any. The teeth, however, are pointy and carnivore-ish. I guess I'll stick with the genet/civet theory. Maybe it's a fossa that escaped from Madagascar? Maybe it's a Mexican sewer rat that was brought over by a vacationing stone-age couple? It has me stymied.

So what did you think of Primeval. I found it quite enjoyable once I switched of the palaeontologist in me :)

I think it is a space alien. Furthermore, anyone that touched it will probably have one pop out of his chest and eat your toast for breakfast.

The cave was probably a stargate and more are on the way.

Having waded thru the speculation and incredible misidentification I'll go out on a limb and say take a look on "Where Dark Meets Light"'s home page and you'll see something closer to the mark.Clue: it's got stripes.

By Paul Derbridge (not verified) on 28 Jun 2007 #permalink

looks like a baby Trex. just with longer front legs, than expected.maybe the next step in the evelovment of that species.