This was on the news about 30 minutes ago, so I thought I’d check it out online for a little more information.
Apparently two trail bike riders were cruising around the Tasmanian bush and stumbled across what they think to be a Tasmanian Tiger skull. For those of you who don’t know, the Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine (Thylacine cynocephalus) is believed to be extinct with the last living individual dying in captivity at Hobart Zoo in 1936.
Below is the video they trail bike riders made documenting their discovery of the supposed thylacine skull in the wilderness of Tasmania.
I was stoked to hear the news as I’ve always had an intense fascination with these beautiful carnivorous marsupials of Australia. When put next to a wolf, anatomically and physiologically they’re just a beautiful example of convergent evolution. Where two very similar niches obviously existed where these animals lived, and thus allowed for the evolution of two very distantly related species, one being a marsupial (the thylacine) and the other a eutherian mammal (the wolf), to converge into very similarly looking animals.
Anyway, I the news story said the skull was undergoing scientific examination today. I was hoping, “WOOO THEY”VE FOUND ONE! THE SPECIES MAY STILL BE ALIVE!!!” I was sure it had to be a thylacine, thinking from memory that skull didn’t look at all like a dog’s skull, and in the clip the thylacine skull pictures they compare to their skull look pretty similar at a glance.
I thought I’d do a little googling and compare thylacine skulls with some wolf skulls. I’m by no means an comparative anatomical expert but I thought I’d look nonetheless. Totally devastated though, as it is a dog skull and it becomes blatantly obvious when you line up a wolf’s skull next to a real thylacine skull and the skull these trail bike riders found. Lame!
This was the comparison I put together, with top: real thylacine skull, middle: supposed thylacine skull, and bottom: wolf skull.
Two things really jumped out at me pretty quickly though. Firstly, the infraorbital foramen on the supposed thylacine and wolf skulls are incredibly similar in location. They’re the hole in skull about 3cm in front of the eye socket, and about 2cm above the second last molar tooth to the right on the top jaw. Whereas, in the real thylacine skull (top) there are 2 infraorbital foramen, and they are incredibly close to the eye socket, less than 1cm away, and sit several cm above the gap between the second last and last moral teeth from the right in the top jaw.
Secondly, the size of the last premolar teeth (see below picture) in the supposed thylacine skull and the wolf skull are of the same size and shape, dramatically larger than any of the molar teeth found in the real thylacine skull. How unfortunate!!!
As you can see in the above picture of the wolf teeth there’s a great deal of variation among the premolar and molar teeth.
In the above picture here of the thylacine teeth you can see that there’s a great deal less variation in morphology of the molar teeth. Where the teeth follow a pattern of getting gradually bigger (right to left from being the canine tooth) through what I’m guessing are three premolars and then three molars.
For more pictures of thylacine museum specimens.
I’m sure this won’t deter many people from still hoping though that there may still in fact be a handful of thylacine still running around the dense forests of Tasmania. As the years go by with our every expanding population, and still no serious sightings or finds suggesting they are still here, it’s becoming less and less likely. So yeah, I’d put all the money I have (not much unfortunately) on scientists confirming it’s not a thylacine skull but a domestic dog skull later on today or tomorrow.
EDIT: 3 hrs ago the Examiner chucked up a follow up article on stating that collections officers from the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery found that the skull was that of a domestic dog.