I enjoy receiving photos of found skulls and thought it would be instructive to show these as examples of “real” specimens, a little more challenging than idealised studio shots and each with its own story to tell.
A skull can't always be identified to species from a photo, but if you think you can improve on my identifications - let me know, and if you find an interesting skull, please send me a photo.
Shelly : Brighton
A robust, sutureless skull with a relatively small eye socket and permanently attached lower jaw, found in the UK, is very likely to be a badger. The well-developed sagittal crest suggests that this was an aged individual.
Beautifully prepared and photographed, this roe deer skull shows developing antler buds even though the carcass was identified as female. In fact over 5% of roe does have been found to have varying degrees of antler development in some populations.
Another partial seal skull (see below), this time from a Pacific fur seal, probably the northern fur seal (Callorhinus). The prominent post-orbital processes are distinctive as is the position of the occipital condyles relatively high on the skull.
Joan : Norfolk
The beak of this bird skull had been broken off, so it was not immediately obvious what zoological group it belonged to. It is, however, simple to separate mammal skulls from those of birds or reptiles by the occipital condyles - the place where the skull articulates on the topmost vertebra. Mammals have two, birds & reptiles have only one, as can be seen in this rear view.
This is part of the skull of a seal, the nose and upper jaw having been broken off. Skulls of small whales and seals often finish up in this condition because they are flimsy and are battered by surf as they are washed up. The globular, thin-walled brain case is typical of seals, as are the large eyes, hinted at by the spreading zygomatic (cheek) bones. On the coast of the UK it is likely to be either grey or harbour seal, this looks rather more like the latter.
Peter reported finding this skull plus one jawbone as the contents of a barn owl pellet. It's a hedgehog skull, the prominent incisors which look a bit like canine teeth are diagnostic. It appears from the sagittal ridge and receeding bone around the tooth sockets to have been an old individual. How did an owl manage to swallow, or even catch and decapitate, a hedgehog ?
Julie cleaned and restored this unusually long-nosed dog skull, and gave me a measurement - 8 inches long, about the same as a greyhound. Although it is a narrow-headed breed similar to a greyhound, the muzzle seems even longer in proportion and may be a saluki.
Carefully photographed fragments of the skull of a young pig. The high rear of the skull and the wide, flaring zygomatic (cheek) bones are characteristic, as is the form of the teeth. Celina reported that the bones were light and porous, which is typical of young animals, as is the way the skull is separating along the unfused sutures.
Some fish and turtle skulls have similar crests, but this isn't a skull, it's the sternum (breastbone) of a bird. The inserts for the ribs can be seen along the side. The way that the bone is extended to the posterior (right-hand) side is unusual and may be an adaptation to swimming and diving.
Rebecca : Anglesey
This is the skull of a dolphin or porpoise. It can be identified by the sub-spherical shape of the brain-case with the "beak" typical of these small toothed whales. You could tell whether it was a dolphin or a porpoise by a length measurement, and dolphin species can be separated by tooth counts.
At first sight this looks like some kind of CGI prop for a horror film but the grotesquery is real and deliberately created. It's the skull of a brachycephalic (short-headed) or "pug" variety of domestic dog, possibly a boxer.
A stained and weathered raccoon skull which must have been lying on the soil for a long time. The canine tooth is missing and the zygomatic (cheek) bone is broken. The overall rounded shape of a raccoon skull is characteristic and the crest along the top of the skull developes with age, suggesting that this was a mature animal.
A nice Eurasian badger skull, the missing teeth would probably be lying nearby. The overall rounded profile, similar to a raccoon, helps to identify it, as do the thick canine teeth and small eye-sockets. As is usual with most badger skulls, the jaw has remained attached due to wraparound sockets at the hinge.
An interesting find - this is the skull of a “toy” dog such as a Chihuahua. The skull has been carefully photographed, apparently using window-light, and a scale included, making it much easier to assess the specimen. The foreshortened snout, large eyes and elevated forehead gave the dog a childish appearance, but surely a real child would have been more fulfilling ?
This is the skull of a hornless cow/beast/steer - what is the singular of "cattle" ? The teeth and structure of the complete ring of bone around the eye socket show that it is an artiodactyl (cloven-hoofed animal) and the large size excludes most other contenders, especially in Texas ! The ribs showing to the left of the photo suggest that the whole skeleton is present. This would be unusual in a wild animal whose skeleton would have been scattered by scavengers and is more likely to be deliberately buried dead stock.
Not a skull ! This is the pelvis of a bird, obviously a large one, and as it was found in a garden it is probably from a turkey. People often send me photos of bird pelves, mistaking them for skulls because of their symmetry and the presence of a socket on each side which look a little like eye sockets but are in fact the hip joints.
Tom : Leicestershire
Another carefully-taken photo, this time of a squirrel skull which, as Tom gave measurements, can be identified as a grey squirrel. The large incisors with a gap behind them suggest a rodent and squirrel skulls are rather wider in proportion than many rodents. A key feature is the pointed projection to the upper rear of the eye socket (super-orbital projection) which is characteristic of squirrels.
The mummified head of a coyote, although it looks grotesque most of the decomposition has finished and the skin has dried in place. If the head was soaked in water for a few days the skin would probably come away easily and reveal a nice skull. The way that the ear is cut through suggests that the head was cut off.
Well photographed skull of a raccoon, clearly showing the incomplete eye socket typical of carnivores. The sutures are mostly fused and a sagittal crest is beginning to develope showing that this was a mature animal.