Do you know what this is? (Pretty sure it's not a Tribble)

biodiversitywhatami1.jpg Not much information about it, except that the furry stuff does appear to be hair. Current hypotheses involve something to do with a lion hairball that may have been blown about in the dusty savannah, therefore resulting in this poofy look. Other ideas posit an association with the Massai? Anyway, If you have any ideas of what this could be, it would be great to hear them. For now, it remains a mystery. What you're seeing is one of the many samples that the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity gets day in day out. Essentially, this is a centre within the Natural History Museum that acts as an accessible expertise base for all things flora, fauna, and fossilized in the United Kingdom. Kind of like a place where the public can bring stuff in for identification, hang out with scientists, link up with other amateur naturalists, and even help out in a number of open air laboratory outreach projects (also known as OPAL). I've highlighted the "hairball" because it is something that was brought in and even after an initial look is still quite mysterious. However, the vast majority of things that get sent or dropped off do get identified. Earlier, I had a chance to talk to the centre's resident entomologist, Beulah Garner, about some of the things that were particularly odd or interesting looking. See, if you can identify any of them (answers in bold supplied by Beulah):
biodiversitywami2.jpg This isn't the skull of a small dragon (although such folktales often stem from specimens like this). It is a "bird pelvis - the 'eye sockets' are in fact the hip joints. It's from one of the smaller auk species, comparing very closely with specimens of Atlantic Puffin Fratercula arctica and Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle. However, it is clearly worn from its time washing around on beaches, so some of its finer features have been eroded away. Auk remains are fairly common, often from beach wrecked birds." biodiversitywami3.jpg Someone sent in this photo (taken in water) of a very pretty "Porpita porpita (commonly called 'blue button'). It is a hydrozoan and is related to jellyfish." biodiversitywami4.jpg This odd looking thing is "the pharyngeal tooth plate of a Ballan wrasse, Labrus bergylta - These teeth are located at the back of the throat and are used for grinding up the molluscs that these fish feed on." biodiversitywami5.jpg Called a "Turtle Stone." "This is a type of rock called a septarian nodule. A common name for these types of rocks is 'turtle stone' because the pattern of radiating cracks on the surface can resemble the shell of a turtle. They are formed from lumps of mudstone and limestone that have dried out forming shrinkage cracks. It's not fully understood at present why they shrink and crack spherically. Often the shrinkage cracks get filled with another mineral such as calcite. If the nodule undergoes erosion the calcite erodes slower than the mudstone or limestone surrounding it because calcite is harder. This means in time the cracks filled by the calcite can end up projecting out of the mudstone or limestone surrounding them." Anyway, the Angela Marmont Centre also has a website where you can virtually send on queries (the bug and fossil forums are especially active), and they also have drop in times (if you're in London) on Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays.



  1. An owl pellet? From eating a very furry small mammal? It’d be helpful if we could see the inside of it.

  2. When I was a kid we used to play marbles in the school playground. I had quite an impressive collection of “cat’s eyes” and “steelies” and “aggies”. Never had one of these “hairys” though……

  3. No idea what that is, but if I lived close to this place, I’d be there every Saturday.

    “Good work, people.” –The Species

  4. I wanted to claim it was one of these, but in reality it’s most likely a hairball removed from a cow’s stomach.

    Here’s a virtual duplicate from the Miller County [Missouri] Museum. (Scroll down to photo 33 if your browser fails to find the anchor the way mine did.)

    And another, enlarged to show detail.

  5. Oh, you’re not far off on the lion-hairball idea for the bezoar in that first image. Cats are definitely not the only group that will get them, though, it’s reasonably common in cows, partly because they don’t hack them up like cats do. Animal dies, this gets weathered, or is kept by a person (many cultures consider them magic, see also Harry Potter, possibly including the Maasai), and the hair on the surface gets fluffed a bit.

  6. Looks like something that would wash up on the beach in Mallorca, which locals called a “Nun’s Fart”.

  7. I second the cow hairball idea.

    One of the farmers close to our home used to fertilize (?) his fields by spreading whatever leftovers from the slaughterhouse were to be had, and among cow’s eyes there were plenty of those balls in various sizes.

  8. Sycamore trees have fruit that looks like that, but the ones I see aren’t usually more than 1.5in in diameter, however Arkansas climate is a bit more extreme than the UK. My kids like to take them apart. The inside has a hard ball on a stalk. Good for when the kids play fairies.

  9. Owl pellets are elliptical and not so uniform in color and texture. My first thought was a bezoar, but based on the small size, uniform tan color, and appearance of short, velvety fuzz sticking straight out from the surface, I’m thinking it’s a gall.

  10. Any context at all for the unknown fuzzy sphere? How heavy/dense is it? Is it solid or hollow — does the surface “give” at all when poked? Can you tell whether the individual hairs are actually attached to/growing out of the surface, or are they just frizzy bits sticking out of a mat of hair? (Can we get a magnified view?) Any chance of scanning the interior in some way, if cutting into it is right out?

    To me (as an ecology student), it looks like a gall. (From Wikipedia: “Plant galls are abnormal outgrowths of plant tissues and can be caused by various parasites, from fungi and bacteria, to insects and mites.” A bit like a fancy plant wart or tumor.)

    Galls can take on all sorts of strange forms and textures, from the more familiar smooth papery spheres, to bizarre structures that look like clusters of pink tentacles, clusters of grapes, or even fuzzy blobs.

    Yes, *fuzzy* — there is such a thing as a Fuzzy Oak Gall Wasp (Disholcaspis washingtonensis), and there are probably related species in England. Here’s a picture of the galls it causes when it lays its eggs in oak trees:

    That’s just an example — I’m no gall wasp expert. Callirhytis sp. wasps also cause “woolly oak galls”:

    and “woolsower galls”:

    and there are many, many more types of cynipid wasps. Hooray science!

  11. Cool. I’ll make sure to pass these suggestions on (both the bezoar and Marimo are things I’ve never heard of before – going to casually work them into dinner conversation tonight).

    As far as opening it up, the owner was apparently hesitant about doing that in case it was worth something.

  12. Similar items can be found in my kitchen in a bag labeled “DRIED MONKEYHEAD MUSHROOM” Picked them up at a Chinese store once. Still don’t know what to do with them.

  13. Last weekend, I made a trek to Mt. Angel, Oregon to see the world’s largest pig hairball — otherwise known as a bezoar, as other commenters have mentioned.

    It was incredible and looked a lot like this thing.

  14. If you want a disturbing visual foray, do an image search for trichobezoar. There are a few pics of cow balls there, but mostly human ones. Trichobezoars can be formed in the gut of people with trichotillomania (ingestion of their own body hair – usually from the scalp).

    1. “Trichinobezoar”.

      Technically, a trichobezoar would be a bezoar made of three distinct parts combined into a whole.

      The font of almost-always-useless knowledge awaits the next trivia opportunity.

      1. Tri- means three, but tricho- means hair. A trichobezoar could have three chobezoars, but it’s more likely a hairy bezoar.

        1. I was so sure I was right, I spent a good half-hour digging out old books on Greek to argue it. I was wrong (I had been thinking of trikhotomoios, tri-chot-omy). You are correct, trichobezoar would be a bezoar that has something to do with hair. “Trichinobezoar” is a better formulation, grammatically (‘bezoar of hair’ makes more sense than ‘bezoarhair’/’hairbezoar’ ).

          The font of almost useless knowledge stands corrected.

  15. Looks like a cow hairball. The University of MN has some in their Bell Museum collection- up to 14″!

  16. It does look like a large seed pod. i pass by a tree every day that has pods like this that are brighter in color and the size of tennis balls

  17. The fuzzy ball looks like a trichobezoar of some kind possibly from human Trichophagia or Repunzel syndrome although it is rare to find one so spherical so I would venture to say a small primate – lemur comes to mind due to the light color.

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