Skip to main content


I have been meaning to write about this for the longest time, but things kept getting in my way.  Now, I have the perfect opportunity, as Paolo at Zygoma has coordinated with me to write a post on this very topic.  When Paolo was at the Bristol City Museum, I used to go bother him a lot, and together we'd go through their extensive cat skull collection.  One day, we came across a very interesting tiger skull specimen.  The box kind of said it all; it was labelled 'TIGER' on one end and 'MAN-EATER' on the other.  So we excitedly opened the box and found an isolated skull with no mandible but with a handwritten label.  The label read:

So this tiger was hunting humans for two years (how regularly, no one knows) until someone shot it dead.  Upon examining the skull it was apparent why this tiger was preferentially hunting humans; its canines are heavily worn down.

The canines even look like they could have broken and were subsequently worn down from continued use.  With its teeth so worn down this tiger must have found hunting large game difficult, so it resorted to hunting easy prey, i.e. humans. It's a pretty neat specimen, and we admired it for a while, but after our initial excitement wore down, we moved on to other specimens.

However, this specimen was yet to give us all its surprises. After I had gone through quite a few of the cat skull boxes, I came across a number of isolated mandibles; some lion, but others tiger.  I noted that the specimen numbers on these mandibles matched those of isolated skull materials that I had previously measured so I got pretty excited.  What's more, I found the mandibles to the 'man-eater' tiger skull:

As you can see, it is totally messed up (yes, that is the technical term).  This tiger had fractured its right mandible and survived long enough (at least two years judging from the label) for it to heal. However, obviously the bones had not set right and so this tiger probably couldn't bite properly. Combined with the worn-down canines it must have made hunting extremely difficult.

A further shock is how the teeth occlude.

A keen observer may have noticed an odd hole in the palate of the ventral view photo above, but I had completely missed that when I saw the isolated skull specimen and I had not noticed it until I found the mandible. It turns out the hole was caused by the lower molar biting into the palate.  It looks almost as if the bones in the palate gave way over a period of time, so this tiger was probably biting and chewing at a regular interval for quite some time after the fracture had healed. Although I am not a pathologist so I don't know for sure that's what happened...

Aside from the obvious job satisfaction of studying specimens in museum collections, the occasional specimen like this 'man-eater' makes it that much fun to work with historical museum collections.  Most of the cat specimens in the Bristol Museum are trophy specimens but some have unique histories.  There are a couple of more specimens from the Bristol Museum that are quite interesting so I may post something about them in the future.

Thanks to Rhian Rowson of the Natural History Collection at the Bristol Museum for encouraging me to write this post.

And last but not the least, be sure to check out Paolo's post for more man-eater tiger specimens:


Rachel said…
That's very cool! I saw the box marked 'man-eater' when I was at Bristol, but I'd never had a good look at the specimen!
Nick Gardner said…
I would expect this is worth a short communications paper, no?

certainly of interest

Raptor' Nest said…

Oh a shame - it is one of my favourite specimens of all times!

hmm...I never thought of it that way. good idea
Malacoda said…
Hey Mambo, just curious, do you know the gender of the specimen?
Raptor' Nest said…
It's listed as a female
Malacoda said…
In that case:

He he, sorry. That's just what pops into mind.
That tigress shot by Col. Edward James "Jim" Corbett. In two years that tigress killed 400 people. Half of which in Nepal and half in India.
Dr BM Arora said…
certainly good information disseminated. I have also certain such cases published in my books.

Popular posts from this blog

R for beginners and intermediate users 3: plotting with colours

For my third post on my R tutorials for beginners and intermediate users, I shall finally touch on the subject matter that prompted me to start these tutorials - plotting with group structures in colour.

If you are familiar with R, then you may have noticed that assigning group structure is not all that straightforward. You can have a dataset that may have a column specifically for group structure such as this:

B0 B1 B2 Family
Acrocanthosaurus 0.308 -0.00329 3.28E-05 Allosauroidea
Allosaurus 0.302 -0.00285 2.04E-05 Allosauroidea
Archaeopteryx 0.142 -0.000871 2.98E-06 Aves
Bambiraptor 0.182 -0.00161 1.10E-05 Dromaeosauridae
Baryonychid 0.189 -0.00238 2.20E-05 Basal_Tetanurae
Carcharodontosaurus 0.369 -0.00502 5.82E-05 Allosauroidea
Carnotaurus 0.312 -0.00324 2.94E-05 Neoceratosauria
Ceratosaurus 0.377 -0.00522 6.07E-05 Neoceratosauria
Citipati 0.278 -0.00119 5.08E-06 Oviraptorosauria

The difference between Lion and Tiger skulls

A quick divergence from my usual dinosaurs, and I shall talk about big cats today. This is because to my greatest delight, I had discovered today a wonderful book. It is called The Felid√¶ of Rancho La Brea (Merriam and Stock 1932, Carnegie Institution of Washington publication, no. 422). As the title suggests it goes into details of felids from the Rancho La Brea, in particular Smilodon californicus (probably synonymous with S. fatalis), but also the American Cave Lion, Panthera atrox. The book is full of detailed descriptions, numerous measurements and beautiful figures. However, what really got me excited was, in their description and comparative anatomy of P. atrox, Merriam and Stock (1932) provide identification criteria for the Lion and Tiger, a translation of the one devised by the French palaeontologist Marcelin Boule in 1906. I have forever been looking for a set of rules for identifying lions and tigers and ultimately had to come up with a set of my own with a lot of help fro…

Top 10 scientifically important theropod dinosaurs of all time (off the top of my head)

I thought I'd do a fun post for once. And since list based articles are the norm for fun on the internet, I thought I'd do one on dinosaurs, but given that I know most about theropods, I've decided to restrict my list to theropods (...maybe in a future post, I'll do other clades).

My ranking is based mostly on scientific importance so it may not reflect awesomeness, and it is obviously subjective as to how I rank importance to science. For instance, interesting discoveries or unique palaeobiology are ranked relatively low compared to wealth of information and data or completely revolutionising our understanding of the evolution of theropods.

So here are my top 10 scientifically important theropod dinosaurs of all time (off the top of my head)

10. Megalosaurus

Being the first dinosaur to be named, Megalosaurus automatically deserves a spot on this list, but given the fragmentary nature of known fossil specimens, and being mostly useless as a meaningful source for biologi…