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What skull is this?

We found this at campus point. Do you know what animal it came from? 

Terri, Goleta - January 30, 2022

Curator Response

Hi Terri,

Thank you for sending us pictures of your beach discoveries. Prepare for us to blow your mind: Although this looks like a skull, the bones come from two different animals and only the mandible (jaw part) with teeth belongs to an animal’s head.

Based on the photo, the mandible appears to be from a canid like a coyote, small domestic dog, or Red Fox.

The other bones with the skull-like appearance are actually from the other end of the spinal cord! They are from the pelvis of a seabird, perhaps a cormorant, loon, or grebe. The vertebrae you see coming off are not from a canid’s neck, but from a bird’s tail. The nice little round hole is the socket where the upper limb of a bird’s leg fits. If you do a Google image search for “synsacrum” you will find images of this structure from various angles, some of which look like awesome dragon skulls.

The way you photographed the bones makes a fun puzzle; we hope you’ll share those pictures with your friends and see if they can solve the mystery of this “skull” too.

Stay curious,

Curator Emeritus of Vertebrate Zoology Paul Collins, M.A., and Curator of Vertebrate Zoology Krista Fahy, Ph.D.