In focus: The mysterious extra ‘digits’ of pandas, moles and elephants

The biological ‘five finger rule’ is strikingly consistent throughout living tetrapod vertebrates. Humans and other primates, most carnivorous mammals, crocodiles, lizards and tortoises all typically possess the five digits (fingers and toes) characteristic of tetrapod limbs. It wasn’t always so – the ancient ancestors of the first vertebrates to walk on land, such as Ichthyostega and Acanthostega, had up to…

Sloths’ mysterious teeth decoded

Like most mammals, we humans have a variety of tooth types for different purposes: incisors, for gripping, canines for ripping and tearing, and molars (also pre-molars) for grinding and chewing. But one group, known as the Xenarthra (a particularly excellent name meaning “strange joints”), have very simple dentition, with similar, unrooted teeth which lack enamel and…

In focus: Launching our new CrocBase project!

We are delighted to announce the launch of the first of several new open access databases from John Hutchinson’s team at the RVC, containing complete CT and MRI scans of almost all our modern crocodile specimens! Our CrocBase is hosted via the Open Science Framework, and contains 53 scan datasets of five crocodilian (AKA crocodylian to scientists) species…

Rock-climbing cavefish ‘walks’ like a salamander

One of our interests at the RVC is examining the early history of tetrapods (four-legged vertebrates) and how their ancestors made the transition from water to land. Some studies have examined species of living fishes that can move on land, such as mudskippers and lungfish, but although they are able to make do using their…

#ThrowbackThursday: Reconstructions show that human brains may have evolved more recently than we thought

The human brain may have evolved much faster and more recently than previously thought, researchers suggest from reconstruction of hominid skulls. By scanning the skull of Australopithecus sediba, one of the earliest complete hominid skeletons, scientists could reconstruct the shape and size of the brain from an endocast of the cranium. Essentially, this means they could use the…

#fossilfriday: Amber-encased spider’s head revealed

Although this image of a huntsman spider’s head looks modern, it represents the first clear view of a 49 million year-old fossil. Eusprassus crassipes remains encased in resin were scanned using X-ray computed tomography to reconstruct its anatomy in stunning detail for the first time. Researchers from the University of Manchester were able to conclusively described the…

CT scan of an African pangolin

Computed tomography (CT) scans of an African pangolin or scaly anteater. Pangolins are a unique family of mammal insectivores which are found in forests and desert in Africa and South-East Asia. They are covered in unique keratin scales, which make up 20% of their total weight. The largest species, the giant ground pangolin, can grow up to…

In focus: Chelonians (turtles and tortoises)

This week, we were lucky enough to examine two turtles which had been donated to the RVC. Turtles, tortoises and terrapins belong to a group of reptiles called Testudines or chelonians, which is thought to be one of the very oldest groups of reptiles. They have (slowly) walked the Earth for more than 220 million…