Guess the bones

October 15, 2010 • 2:30 pm

UPDATE AND EVOLUTIONARY LESSON: We have a winner!  I thought this would go fast.  Palefury, comment #16, guessed correctly: giant panda (top), grizzly bear (middle) and polar bear (bottom).

Note how well the teeth suit the animal’s diet.  Pandas are herbivorous, nomming the stems and leaves of bamboo, and need tough teeth for grinding.  To do this, their teeth evolved a broad, flat shape.  Grizzlies are omnivores: they have “Swiss Army teeth,” useful for eating both vegetation and meat (note the higher cusps that aid in shearing flesh).  Finally, polar bears are completely carnivorous, and their teeth are “carnassial,” with high cusps for shearing the flesh of seals. These animals are all in the family Ursidae.


I still feel bad that nobody guessed the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Medicine/Physiology.  Therefore, I’m putting up the spare autographed copy of WEIT to the person who correctly guesses the identity of the three mandibles (lower jaws) shown below. I took this photo during my visit to Kentucky.  They’re from three different species in a single family of mammals.  Name the species (giving both the scientific and common names) in order from top to bottom, and explain how you identified these.  Click to enlarge the photos. (Ignore the mandible nestled inside the middle one.)

First correct winner gets the book; contest closes at 4 pm tomorrow or when there’s a winner—which there will be.  Employees or students of the University of Kentucky, and their relatives, are ineligible.

The answer will appear in this space.

29 thoughts on “Guess the bones

  1. Well, the one on top is clearly Biggus cattus, commonly known as, “Gee, I’m glad the windows on this jeep are bullet-proof.”

    The middle one just has to be Felis ginormous,, or “Holy shit! Run! AIEEEEE!”

    And the bottom one is Fred. Nobody’s ever lived long enough in her presence to give her a Latin name.



  2. Sus domesticus, domesticated pig
    S. scrofa, the wild boar

    The dentition, upward curving canines especially, are a giveaway. They also have many molars fitting an omnivorous species. I picked the above two as they are found in the United States, but as for a third species, I’m lost.

    Possibly Phacochoerus africanus, the common Warthog.

  3. I have no formal training in mammalogy, but go my best guesses:

    Top is a Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) due to the larger amount of molars.

    Middle is a American Black Bear (Ursus americanus). Looks about the right size and has the correct number of molars.

    Last one was a stumper for me. I just searched for a bear that had the most stretched out face, and the best I could come up with is the Sloth Bear (Ursus ursinus).

    Hopefully I at least got the family right..

  4. Giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)
    Polar bear (Ursus maritimus)
    Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)

    Google + mad guessing skills.

  5. Top: Panda Bear (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)
    Middle: Black Bear (Ursus americanus)
    Bottom: Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)

    Just googled “X mandible” for pictures. Narrowed it down to family based on characteristics and then googled images for individual species within that family. Then compared based on molar shape, jaw size, space between front and rear teeth, etc.

  6. My wild guess (and with help and wisdom of Flying Spaghetti Monster):

    [top]: dog/wolf (Canis lupus) ?
    [middle]: grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
    [bottom]: Polar bear (Ursus maritimus)

  7. I’m guessing these are all Suidae (pigs).

    The bottom two are wild boar and feral pig (both Sus scrofa), the little tooth (Euro tooth) behind the canine gives them away. The top one could be a peccary or javelina(Tayassu tajacu).

    But I confess I’m just guessing. Plus, a javelina is a different family, Tayassidae, so I guess I’m wrong, Jerry, because you said the three of them are in a single family.

    I already have your book, but I would like to get a pat on the back for trying.

    1. Too excited that I didn’t read the instructions. All three are obviously carnivores – going by the huge articulations where the powerful jaw muscles would attach. Huge canines in ratio to over all jaw – very likely the big cats.

      Top: Leopard, Panthera pardus (although now I doubt this, based on number of teeth)

      Middle: Panthera tigris

      Bottom: Panthera leo

      Distinction between lions and tigers – the form of the carnassials?

  8. Ursus americanus, American Black Bear
    Ursus arctos, Brown Bear
    Ursus maritimus, Polar bear

    Molars are flattened indicating at least partly herbivorous diet. Big fangs to kill and eat meat.

    Big. Mammal. Narrows it down. Bear.
    Googled bear mandibles. Match. I assumed that these are not fossils. Therefore living species. Smallest to biggest top to bottom.

    Overall, a wild guess. Hey – I’m a geologist.

  9. Sus domestica – Domestic pig
    Sus scrofa – Wild Boar
    Sus barbatus – Bearded pig

    Identified by guessing, Google image search, and Wikipedia.

    I have your book (but not signed), and do not think I am correct, by the way.

  10. I’m no cryptozoologist, but it is October.

    1. The werewolf in “American Werewolf in London” circa 1980.

    2. A werewolf from “Howling III: The Marsupials” Also from the ’80s

    3. A lycan from “Underworld” circa 2000.

  11. A little Wikipedia and the UK hint narrowed down the choices considerably, given what their forestry division is looking at in Florida. Plus, jaws 2 & 3 are very comparable in size, so they must come from species of bear that are equally large.

    American black bear, Ursus americanus
    Polar bear, Ursus maritimus
    Kodiak bear, Ursus arctos middendorffi

  12. My best guess from top to bottom
    Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)
    Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
    Polar Bear (Thalarctos maritimus)

    Animals from teeth are omnivores. Thought pig at first but pig canines protrude more laterally. Thought the back was giant panda, more molar like teeth, more veges in diet. Grizzly more omnivorous and Polar mainly meat.

  13. Common Wombat (Vombatus ursinus)
    Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons)
    Norther Hairy-nosed Wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii)

    Give me my book! 😉

  14. I had no idea, but just had two comments:

    I didn’t know that pandas were omnivores. I thought they were herbivores. They must have good press agents.

    I wouldn’t want to meet any of these jaws in a dark alley.

    1. I guess what I meant was evolved relatively recently from an omnivore going from the combination of teeth – particularly those big ole’ canines. Ya don’t see those suckers on a cow now do ya.

  15. A friend of mine was in a museum somewhere on Vancouver Island and saw a comparison display with a coastal brown bear skull and a Stellar sea lion skull. They were more or less indistinguishable to a layman (him).

    Makes you shiver a bit when you’re in a flimsy little kayak at below eyeball level with swimming Stellar sea lions! Basically, fast, water-going grizzly bears.

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