Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Mystery Skull Baffles the Land for Wildlife Office

Throughout the year, numerous Land for Wildlife members send us interesting photographs and specimens of plants and animals they find on their properties. Often they come with the question “What is it?”

Usually we’re able to answer that question, sometimes with a bit of research, conversations with colleagues at Low Ecological Services, or by forwarding the material to relevant people in the know. It’s not often that something has us completely baffled about its identity.

One regular contributor to our growing stockpile of photographs and specimens is Uwe Path, whose Pathdorf bed and breakfast property is nestled between the race course and Todd River. Since becoming a Land for Wildlife member, Uwe has come across some interesting finds on his property, particularly after the rains of the previous years and after carrying out weed control and buffel removal activities.

Just before Christmas, Uwe emailed these pictures of a skull found on his property.


Photos: Uwe Path

On first impressions, the skull above resembles that of a dog or fox, especially with those vicious looking canines. But when we viewed the photo with some scale (the 50c coin), the tiny size immediately ruled out that possibility.

We really were stumped with this one – Land for Wildlife and Low Ecological staff alike. Several suggestions were made including bats, a very young dog of small breed and several others. But it wasn’t until we had the skull in hand that its identity was made clearer.

When inspected in the hand, the skull showed characteristics of a small, carnivorous marsupial, or Dasyurid. Being a little large for a Dunnart, our best guesses were a Fat Tailed Antechinus, or perhaps even a Mulgara.

While we’re unable to conclusively ID this specimen, this example does show two things:

1.       Some idea of scale in a photograph is extremely important when using them for identification purposes, and
2.       having a specimen to view is much better than possessing only photographs.

Without the benefit of the scaled picture and the specimen, our initial ideas of a dog’s skull would have been clearly wrong.

If any of you can shed some additional light on the identity of Uwe’s find, don’t be afraid to send us an email or comment. Uwe would love to be able to conclusively add a new species to his property’s list!

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