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  • Specimen of the Week 230: The Beaver Skull

    By Jack Ashby, on 11 March 2016

    North American beaver skull. LDUCZ-Z2731

    North American beaver skull. LDUCZ-Z2731

    It is purely coincidence that Specimen of the Week 230 – the number most associated with going to the dentist [tooth hurty. Apologies.] – is an animal famous for the incredible feats of its teeth.

    Beavers can cut down huge trees, owing to the superb adaptations of their skulls.

    Like squirrels, but at the bottom of trees

    As members of the squirrel-like rodent group Sciuromorpha, beavers have massive, ever-growing, self-sharpening front teeth. Rodent incisors are often differently coloured on the front and back. The orange substance on the front side is super hard enamel, while the back is unusually exposed dentine (a softer material which fills the inside in most teeth). When rodents bite on hard material, or even by biting their top teeth against their bottom teeth, the dentine erodes away at a faster rate than the enamel, essentially sharping the “blade”. (more…)

    What’s the difference between a crocodile and an alligator?

    By Jack Ashby, on 24 October 2013

    Crocodiles and alligators are big nasty predators. All of them. (Except the ones that are small lovely predators). If you see one swimming towards you then be concerned. Whilst considering your impending doom, you may wish to ascertain the correct taxonomic position of the beast. Here’s a quick guide to help you tell the difference between crocs and gators…

    An Australian freshwater crocodile. One of the smaller lovelier ones (a baby) (C) Jack Ashby

    An Australian freshwater crocodile. One of the smaller lovelier ones (a baby) (C) Jack Ashby

    Before that, I should explain that there are 23 members of the order Crocodylia, which contains both the crocodile family (Crocodylidae) and the alligator family (Alligatoridae), as well as the gharial (the sole member of the family Gavialidae). When I say “crocodile” I am referring to members of Crocodylidae, not all members of Crocodylia, otherwise there wouldn’t be much point to this post.

    Things to ask to work out whether you are being eaten by a crocodile or an alligator… (more…)