Wednesday, February 6, 2013

From the Collection: Mink and a Mystery Mustelid

The American Mink (Neovison vison) is widespread throughout the North American continent, ranging from Florida to Alaska, and is absent only in the deserts of the Southwest and the islands of the Arctic. A member of the weasel family, Mustelidae, the mink is a semiaquatic carnivore, and has long been an important facet of the fur trade. Minks are cunning, intelligent animals, and I have been lucky to see them several times — always near bodies of water, including the Chocolay River.

In August of 2011, a mink was hit along US-41, not far from the Carp River bridge. I watched the body bloat then deflate, and before long, it became a dessicated mummy. Despite laying alongside the highway for a number of weeks, the head was intact, and I removed it from the body, cleaned it up, and was left with a perfect little skull:

As you might have noticed, for their size, minks have extraordinarily large brains! The braincase on this skull makes up more than half of its 2.75" length, and the rest is teeth.

Seen from above, the braincase is also quite wide. I am unsure of the age or sex of this individual, but this skull seems to be of the average size; the sagittal crest is pretty well-developed, and the canines are somewhat worn. There is a strange hole on this skull that seems to either be an old injury or perhaps a deformity:

Many years ago, I was given several skulls, some of them labelled and some not, that were no longer wanted at the museum. This unidentified Mustelid skull was one of them:

It's quite obvious that this animal was very aged when it died. The canines are worn and dull, and some teeth are missing. Very rarely do wild animals live to be so old — it is most likely that this animal was a captive specimen. The skull measures 3" in length; it's both longer and more robust than the mink skull discussed earlier.

The dorsal view of the skull shows a stronger sagittal crest and more furrowing of the bone on the braincase. Generally, though, this skull is very similar to that of the mink. The question is, then, what animal did this skull come from? Was it simply a very old, male mink? For what it's worth, I do not believe it is the skull of a European Polecat (Mustela putorius), or of the domesticated version, the ferret.

Here are a few side-by-side comparisons of the two skulls. The skull of the unidentified mustelid is really quite different in shape from the mink, which makes me think it might be a different species:

click for larger view

click for larger view

If you've got an idea of what animal this mystery skull belongs to, let me know! It's got me stumped. Here is a list of members of the genus Mustela — several of the accounts include skull photographs.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Gift Art

A few entries ago, I mentioned that I received a painting from Stephanie as a birthday present! Steph is an excellent artist, both in traditional and digital media, and it's always a treat to see what she creates, even if it's a five-minute doodle in Photoshop. Working from a photograph of the dead neighborhood gray fox — taken when the body was still in an awkward, frozen position — she made this beautiful painting:

Dead animals have long been associated with painting and illustration, whether as the intended main subject or used as reference. Perhaps the most famous example of the latter are the works of John James Audubon, whose bird illustrations were referenced from dead specimens, held in lifelike poses with string and wire.

I also received quite the surprise for Christmas! Steph commissioned the very-talented artist Lindsay Campbell, and she painted a wonderful portrait of me, with a few of my favorite things:

So — a huge thank you to both Steph and Lindsay! Your art means a lot to me, and it is a joy to see it everyday. I find paintings in particular to be very special — they are one-of-a-kind works of art, with a much different feel than digital photography.

Stephanie's art blog can be found here and her website here.

Lindsay Campbell's website can be found here.