Mammals of the World
Discover skeletons and stuffed specimens of non-Irish animal species, from elephants to whales.
Monkeys such as the brown capuchin (Cebus paella) typify the characteristics that primates, including us, have in common. Their eyes face forwards, providing good vision in front, which developed for a life in the trees where the ability to judge distances is crucial. A second feature common to the animals in this group is the opposable thumb on each hand, which allows them to hold on to branches. Many of the primates can do this with their feet as well as their hands, and some have tails that can grasp branches to help their balance in the forest canopy.
Another group with forward-facing eyes is the carnivores. Their vision has adapted for hunting prey. Some of the most skilful carnivores are cats. The largest is the tiger (Panthera tigris), which can weigh more than 400kg. Of eight subspecies of tiger at the beginning of the 20th Century, only three survive. The specimen on display is a Bengal tiger from Nepal that was given to the Museum by King George V in 1913. Since then, tiger numbers have dropped dramatically. Although prized for their fur, they are also hunted for their bones, which are used in medicines popular in the Far East.
Rodents, including hamsters and squirrels, are characterised by sharp gnawing teeth at the front of their mouths. An Indian giant squirrel (Ratufa indica) can weigh up to 3kg and is much larger than its familiar red and grey relatives seen in Ireland. Also known as the Malabar squirrel, the species uses its tail to balance as it perches in trees, keeping its hands free for holding food as it eats soft fruits, nuts and shoots in its Indian forest home. Their tails enable squirrels to maintain stability when bounding through the forest canopy. This is a feature that squirrels share with some monkeys.
The common hamster (Cricetus cricetus) can literally fill its face with food. The delicate skeleton on display shows the size of the cheek pouches where seeds or vegetation are packed. The pouches allow the animal to collect its harvest as quickly as possible and run back to the safety of its burrow to eat in peace, using its front paws to push out the food. In addition to eating plants, hamsters have been known to eat small animals, including frogs, mice and even snakes. The example on display in the Museum is a wild specimen from Germany, but the species is found throughout central Europe and Russia. The species is solitary and aggressive, but its close relative, the golden hamster (Mesocricetus aureus) from Eastern Europe and the Middle East, is more friendly and is commonly kept as a pet.
Animals of the open plains have very different body shapes from tree dwellers. The oribi (Ourebia ourebi) is a small antelope with the characteristics of a fast runner, like long, straight legs ending in small hooves on the very tips of its toes. This tip-toe running adaptation is shared by all of its ungulate relatives. A feature of grazing animals exposed to predators on the open plains is the position of the eyes at the side of the head. This gives good all-round visibility, which, together with living in a herd with many watchful eyes, helps to keep antelopes on the alert for danger. Oribi freeze in long grass when a predator is spotted, they make whistling calls to alert others to danger, and they run stiff-legged in a ‘stotting’ gait, bouncing around and confusing any attacker who may rush the group. The oribi on display in the Museum is from the Longwe Salt Pans of Angola, in South West Africa.
An ungulate that has survived largely through its ability to live in a harsh environment far away from most hunters is the musk ox (Ovibos moschatus). This is an Ice Age survivor found today in various regions around the North Pole. The mother and calf on display in the Museum were shot on Melville Island in northern Canada in the early 19th Century by Arctic explorer Leopold McClintock. Adapted to extreme cold and poor-quality grazing, the musk ox is one of the few large animals to be found in this region. These animals were among several eaten by McClintock’s party on its long trek across the frozen islands of the North-West Passage.
Slower-moving animals often have to defend themselves against predators. The small-scaled tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis) is covered in scales formed of a the material keratin, similar to your fingernails. When threatened, they roll into an armoured ball that is hard to attack. The specimen on display is from the Huri forest in the Congo and is one of several species of pangolin in Africa. They have long tongues covered in sticky saliva, just the thing for catching ants and termites. Their powerful claws can tear open the nests where these insects live.
The giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) from South America shares some features with African pangolins, even though it evolved on a different continent and is not related to them. The similarity has come about because these animals have similar lifestyles. Anteaters too have strong claws and a long sticky tongue over 60cm in length, which can lap up ants at the rate of 150 licks a minute. At 32.7° C, their body temperature is the lowest of any land mammal; ours is 37° C.
Mammals of the World is located at:
The first floor of the Museum is home to the lemurs, apes and monkeys that make up the group known as primates, to which we also belong.
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