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


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):

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."

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."

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."

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.