Phacocoerus aethiopicus

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Inhabiting ecosystems that range from the driest deserts to the deep ocean floor, vertebrate animals face a wide variety of challenges and opportunities. Their skulls reflect this variety — vertebrate species have adapted an amazing range of cranial and dental features to fit specialized niches and behaviors. From horns and antlers to canines and molars, the differences between skulls help scientists to identify and classify species. They also serve as a blueprint to an animalís lifestyle.

Spoonbill Orangutan Tiger Shrew
Animal Match: explore the relationship of 32 living animals
with their skulls by clicking any of the skulls above.



Asian ElephantAfrican Elephant

In the 14th century, Giovanni Boccaccio claimed he had discovered a mighty Cyclops skull inside a Sicilian cave. This one-eyed monster may have been nothing more than a docile elephant. The hole that resembles a central eye in the elephant’s skull is actually its nasal cavity – it is surrounded by plentiful muscle attachment space for the animal’s massive trunk.


Polar BearGrizzly Bear

All bears are omnivores, but each species has a unique diet – their teeth tell the story. Polar bears use sharp canines to rip out chunks of meat. They tend to swallow these chunks without much chewing, so their molars are reduced in size. Black bears eat much more vegetation, so their molars have larger, flatter grinding surfaces.


Q: How do walruses use their tusks?
DL: With ivory tusks up to three feet long, walruses wield valuable tools. Using these teeth, they compete for social status, defend against predators, pull themselves out of the water, stab through ice, and secure themselves while they sleep.

Dr. Douglas J. Long
Collections Manager and Acting Department Chairman
Department of Ornithology & Mammalogy

Side-necked TurtleQ: Why do reptilian skulls have two holes behind each eye socket?
PR: These holes, called temporal fossae, provide attachment space for the bulging jaw muscles reptiles use to snap their mouths shut. They help scientists distinguish between reptilian and mammalian skulls - mammals have only one temporal fossa.

Dr. Peter D. Roopnarine
Assistant Curator and Department Chair
Department of Invertebrate Zoology & Goelogy





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