Osteology for Fun and Profit
May 8, 2013 10:37 PM   Subscribe

Help me distinguish reptile and mammal bone!

I've been googling like mad to try and find these answers on my own, but I'm coming up blank (and I know someone out there has done this before!).

I'm looking for any resources or references for differentiating between reptile and mammal bone. I'm looking at these bones from an archaeological point of view, but I don't want or need to limit the resources to archaeological texts.

I have access to a few nice university libraries, so hard copy book recommendations are good. But I'd prefer electronic resources like dissertation PDFs and journal articles (I have access to a good range of academic journals).

And at the same time, if anyone's done this before, anecdotes and first-hand pointers are welcome! I'm used to working with mammal bone, myself, but I'm sure there are going to be pointers and tips that can help get my eye in on to see clues and markers that are indicative of reptile osteology.
posted by barnacles to Science & Nature (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Are you still working in the Pacific? If so, the ANU Archaeology and Natural History Osteological Reference Collection seems like it might be a good starting place. Although their reptile collection is small, they might have a better idea of key texts for reptile and mammal identification in your area (versus something like the the Fish, Amphibian and Reptile Remains from Archaeological Sites: Southeastern and Southwestern United States, which seems like it might be less useful for your identifications.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:19 AM on May 9, 2013

Best answer: Are you looking for like rules of thumb that would enable you to look at any bone and confidently say Reptile or Mammal? Or are you looking to get better at reptile identification to species level (or as close as possible)?

I haven't done this in a long time, and this is probably a wrong and useless comment, so apologies - but this really is something that requires just a hell of a lot of time and work with a reference collection. Reitz and Wing, I suppose, but I don't remember any other books. Site reports, dissertations, and that sort of thing tend to focus on reporting what they found, not so much the methods of working out how they came to their conclusions. How did you develop the skills you use now for mammal bone? My memory of doing this involves a lot of back-and-forth between my little piles of bones and various drawers in a reference collection - which, luckily, was extensive, so I could see variation within species and sexual dimorphism and stuff. But it's a hands-on, eyes-on sort of thing and access to reference materials is really the best teacher. Also roadkill. Roadkill is the best teacher. If you'll be doing this for any length of time and you're interested, building your own reference collection is a very good idea indeed.

That having been said, I just found this -
The Virtual Zooarchaeology of the Arctic Project (VZAP) is a virtual, interactive, osteological reference collection for the study of northern vertebrates. VZAP is a dynamic natural history archive which allows students and researchers to examine the complete skeletal anatomies of multiple bird, mammal, and fish species in both 2D and 3D.
- but alas, no reptiles.

The Osteology of the Reptiles (1925, seems to have some decent drawings and descriptions) might be of some use? Seems to have been updated/rewritten by Romer at some point? But I couldn't find an online version of that.

Oddly enough, there seem to be two worthwhile answers to a similar Yahoo! answers question.

And maybe Comparative study of the osteology and locomotion of some reptilian species.

Other than that, possibly try searches for 'comparative osteology' plus a genus or other specific term?

Obviously, some time with an expert in a lab would be the ideal, and possibly contacting someone near you would prove fruitful.

(Sorry. That was a very long answer for something probably composed entirely of unhelpful things. I'll stop work-avoidance now and get back to writing. Good luck with it - sounds like a fun project!)
posted by you must supply a verb at 8:17 AM on May 9, 2013

Response by poster: jetlagaddict, thank you for both of those links (and this project deals with mainland Australia at the moment, by the way). I knew that ANU had comparative specimens, but I wasn't aware they'd started up an online presence for the collection. That's very interesting. Likewise, the book you linked looks like something to definitely check out.

you must supply a verb, thank you also, and please don't apologize for long answers! You've put a sheepish grin on my face because I have a copy of Reitz and Wing, but hadn't remember to check it. Doh! The VZAP looks like something to keep an eye on (and yes: alas, no reptiles). Unfortunately, the 1925 book appears to be about fossils and dinosaurs, so not of use unless I make a lateral career shift. You've also blown my mind by showing me a useful Yahoo! answers page! Finally, the journal article looks rather promising for my purposes.

I guess the next step is to get back to a comparative specimen collection and start getting my hands dirty (I'm fine with that).

I appreciate the help of both of you!
posted by barnacles at 12:05 AM on May 10, 2013

That's hilarious - all I saw when I was looking at the 1925 book was 'ooh. quite nice drawings!' and totally did not notice the whole fossils/dinosaurs thing! Heh. Sorry about that.
posted by you must supply a verb at 2:53 AM on May 10, 2013

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