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Skulls and Animal Odors

Discussion in 'Skulls and Skeletons' started by nuclearjunky, Sep 14, 2014.

  1. nuclearjunky

    nuclearjunky Member

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    When handling a scientific skull collection, I noticed something pretty interesting. All skulls were cleaned and at least partly degreased. But still, any skull had a particular odor similar to what I would expect in the living creature the respective skull is from. For example, alll hyena skulls smelled particularly appalling and intensive. Grizzly Bears were strong and musty, polar bear had a weaker, yes martime or salty, smell. Black bear was different again. All cat skulls had a more pleasent weaker odor. Wolf skull smell was particular and strong. Wild boar skull smelled sweetish and musty, like the living animal, while deer and sheep skull smelled different again. Domestic Dog smelled similar to- yes just how a dog smells like. Have anyone experienced something similar? If yes, why do skulls emit the smell of the particular animal even though they are cleaned?

    Another question: Is it possible to judge the size of an animal from the size of the Foramen magnum, where the spinal cord is attached? For example, when I put a coati skull next to a European Badger (which weights twice as much as a coati) skull of similar size, the foramen magnum of the badger was much larger than in the coati.
     
  2. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    I think it has something to do with residual oils in the bone. Unless it's something with very thin bone, I don't think you can ever get 100% of the oils out. The bone is still part of a living thing and I think the oils carry the scent of the type of animal it was. It is residual in cases, but enough that you can detect it. Many science collections are poorly degreased, if at all. It just wasn't part of what they were focusing on and needed the specimen to work on. Degreasing it would have taken too much time.
     

  3. Zombiegirl

    Zombiegirl Member

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    I have a few skulls that have been cleaned/degreased/whitened to a "museum quality" that have zero odor and are immaculate...granted these were mostly cleaned by individuals, a couple by Skulls Unlimited and not necessarily by scientists in a hurry...not sure if that has any relation to what you were posting about though?
     
  4. AH7

    AH7 New Member

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    You're nuts about the smell. Most of what you smell when you smell animals is either the skin itself or oils released by the skin. The oils in the bone will smell different and I am absolutely sure that if you did a blind test there would be no way at all to identify specimens with that level of accuracy.

    As for the foramen magnum - it certainly will scale with body size. Brain size scales with body size fairly well and foramen magnum size will match that pretty well too. There are probably better techniques - for instance a geometric mean of skull size (i.e., multiply a bunch of measures like length, width, height, etc. and then take the Xth root of that where X is the number of variables) will probably be the best. The size of the orbit has been show to scale very tightly with body size in many lineages - though issues of nocturnality will screw that up. I'd bet foramen magnum size will be one of the better proxies though.
     
  5. nuclearjunky

    nuclearjunky Member

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    @ Sea Wolf

    thanks for your answer. I did not think about that it may be residual oils. But it seems plausible.

    @ Great Skulls

    I have worked at zoos alongside keepers. There I got in closer contact with many different critters and their holding areas. There, I noticed similar kind of smell of the respective animals and their waste. The kind of odors were pretty similar to the ones of the skulls. So I am not making it of. But I must say that my nose is pretty sensitive compared to most people. So some people may not notice smells that I do.

    In addition to this: How would you explain the fact that meat from different type of animal such as pork or beef smell and taste different?

    Thanks regarding the foramen magnum information. Is there a formula with which I could calculate the spinal cord length (excluding tail) based on its size? Orbit size may be suitable when analyzing skulls all coming from the same species. But when comparing bear and cat species for example, it becomes tricky.
     
  6. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    I can't verify that skulls smell like the critters. I personally don't have any stinky skulls in the house .. other than a whale that still has grease in it and smells fishy to me. Pork and beef smell and taste different because I cook them with different spices and steak almost always gets a good dose of A1. :) And the foramen magnum information is a very good point and a great observation that I never considered.
     
  7. AH7

    AH7 New Member

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    Pork and beef taste different because of different amounts of different types of muscle fibers. different amounts of fats, etc. The fats will taste different (just like different oils taste different) and they will smell different too, but I would be shocked if skulls could be identified reliable from smells. (Note that as fats age they also take on different smells - i.e., becoming rancid.) With all of that said, a properly cleaned skull will not have any real smell.

    As for spinal cord length, again there is going to be a correlation between animal body mass and length. That correlation is going to be a bit loose as some animals are short and squat and others are slinky, and the calculation will be even worse when you add in the error derived from estimating the body mass using another proxy. That is, if you are trying to estimate the spinal cord length and all you have is a skull, then you will probably need to estimate the body size from the skull and then the cord length from the body size thus multiplying the slop in both of those estimates. With all of that said, you would need a ton of data to create both of those estimates and I'm just not sure it exists. (I'm at a conference now and can't look it up from here.)