The Art of Xylotheques – Wooden Books about Woods

Xylotheques are quite likely the most artistic and beautiful examples of herbaries. Dating back to the early 18th century, they were still to some degree made in the tradition of the old cabinets of curiosities, which combined all fields of nature with arts and crafts. They were dedicated to educate about the characters and traits of the various trees and shrubs of a certain area.

In contrast to a simple casebound herbary, which usually only includes preserved leaves and other pressed parts of a plant, the „books“ of a xylotheque also includes the massive wood and often many more parts of a tree. Every book is made from the wood of one kind of tree or shrub, with the spine of the book covered with bark, and sometimes even specific lichens.

The insides can include dried branches and leaves, seeds, cones, little wooden containers with pollen and standardized cubes of wood to show its  specific weight. There can be also cross-sections of branches, dried roots and charcoal.

The backbone of the book has also a removable panel at the inside, with a piece of paper with a written description of the tree and the content of the book.

There were never many xylotheques, and they have been always quite worthy, as it was quite expensive to make them. This examples are from the xylotheque exhibited at the University of Hohenheim, which includes a large number of wooden books from two different series.

This smaller books are lesser complex in construction and also include not as much inventory:




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The Tarbosaurs of Warsaw

Last year I made a city holiday at Warsaw and took the opportunity to visit a lot of museums there. I was especially eager to see the Museum of Evolution, which is located in the monumental Palace of Culture and Science. One of the exhibition rooms has a whole gang of Tarbosaurs on display, including some famous specimens. Tarbosaurus gets much lesser attention than Tyrannosaurus, so I thought this would be a good chance to post some photos of the skeletons at Warsaw.

That´s likely the most famous one:

The information table next the the left skeleton is around 1,8 m in height, so this specimen was only a subadult with a hip height of not much over 2 m in life, with a total length of somewhat over 4 m or so.


Tarbosaurus and Tyrannosaurus seem really quite similar at first look, but if you look at the proportions of their skulls, you can see that the one of T-rex was significiantly more massive and especially also much broader.





A photo which shows how the specimens was excavated:


There is also a cast of a complete skeleton of a pretty big specimen, which easily dwarves the other skeletons nearby.


It was not easy to get them all completely on a photo, but it gives you an idea about the massive size difference.

There was also a cast of another skull and some isolated bones as well:




And last but not least some old paleoart:

Veröffentlicht unter Dinosaurier | 2 Kommentare

Photo of the Day: Sri Lankan Spotted Chevrotain

Today´s photo fo the day features one of the smallest extant artiodactyls, the tiny Sri Lankan Spotted Chevrotain (Moschiola meminna) from the South Asia animal section of Haus der Natur, Salzburg:

Sri Lankan Spotted Chevrotain (Moschiola meminna), Haus der Natur, Salzburg

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Curiosity of the Day: Whale bone chairs

Today´s curiosity of the day are chairs made of whale bones. The first one is constructed of two large cervical vertebrae and apparantly pieces of ribs for the chair legs. It is exhibited in the Zoological Museum at Copenhagen, Denmark.

Whale bone chair, Zoological Museum Copenhagen

I have no idea how comfortable this chair was to sit on, but I really like the nearly gigeresque Design which would surely fit very well into a Science Fiction movie, for example for a Predator spaceship.

Here is another example of a different construction, made from the bones of a fin whale. It was exhibited at the Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Karlsruhe (State Museum of Natural History Karlsruhe) but is now sadly no more on display.

Whale bone chair, State Museum of Natural History Karlsruhe


Veröffentlicht unter Anatomie, Curiosity of the Day, Wale | Hinterlasse einen Kommentar

Photo of the Day: A frizzy-haired freak roe deer

Here is a pretty unusual specimen of a Western roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) with frizzy-haired fur. This was apparantly the result of an unusually strong production of cutaneous sebum.

Frizzy-haired freak roe deer Haus der Natur, Salzburg

Detail of the fur:

Veröffentlicht unter Bild des Tages, Säugetiere, Teratologie | Hinterlasse einen Kommentar

Photo of the Day: Sumatran Rat

The Sumatran porcupine and the moonrat are now in good company with another little-known critter from the same part of the world, the Sumatran rat (Rhizomys sumatrensis). Photo taken at Haus der Natur, Salzburg:

As in the Sumatran porcupine, this old taxidermy specimen has faded somewhat, living Sumatran rats are usually somewhat darker and more greyish.

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Photo of the Day: Moonrat

It´s again obscure mammal day, so here´s a moonrat (Echinosorex gymnura), a long-tailed oppossum-lookalike related to hedgehogs. This specimen is again from Haus der Natur, Salzburg:

Another photo to show its size:


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Photo of the Day: Sumatran porcupine

Writing blogposts, even quite short ones, often requires a substantial amount of time. Finding topics to write about is not the problem, and I already have more photos for potential blogposts in my archives, than I could ever write. So I decided to try posting at least some more photos of interestig subjects without much text, at best a post per day. I´ll see how well it works. I´ll start with a photo of a pretty obscure mammal you´ll quite rarely encounter in any museum, the Sumatran porcupine Hystrix sumatrea. This specimen is from the pretty awesome museum „Haus der Natur“ at Salzburg, Austria. Note that this is a pretty old taxidermy specimen with faded colouration, in life they are much darker.

Sumatran porcupine Hystrix sumatrae, Haus der Natur, Salzburg.

Detail of the head:

As you can see the quills are much lesser pronounced than in the common crested porpcupine Hystrix cristata you usually see in zoos:


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No, there was no gorilla arm found on an Irish beach (Spoiler: it´s from a seal)

At the moment there is a strange story in the news, about an alleged gorilla arm which was found on a beach in Kilkee, Ireland. You can read the original story here. The photo in the article shows the grisly-looking, nearly fully skeletonized remains of a very robust limb, with the bones still attached to each other by the remains of the ligaments and other tough soft tissue.

When it was found, it was even assumed at first to come from a human, but was later „identified“ to belong to a very large primate, most likely a gorilla, but there are also speculations that it ss from a chimpanzee. I really wonder who made those analyse of the remains, as the alleged identification is simply plain wrong. First of all, if you walk on an Irish beach and find some bones, should you really assume in the first place that they belong to an animal native to the African continent? Why not, well, trying to look if there is any local animal which would better fit it, like, for example a marine mammal?

We live in the times of the internet, and it was never easier to look for and find information and photos than today. But this capability is still usually never used by most people in such cases. It is just dead easy to google for „gorilla arm bones“ or „gorilla skeleton“ to make a comparison and see that it obviously does not belong to a gorilla or any other primate. What you see is not the arm of an ape, but the hind flipper of a seal. The two long bones are not an ulna and radius, but a fibula and tibia. If you take a close look at the original photo, you can also see that they are also close-knit at the base. The four long „fingers“ are also just the long toe bones of the seal flipper, with the fifth one already lost.

For comparison, take a look at this bones from a mounted skeleton of a harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) at the marine mammal section of the Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde at Stuttgart:

Harbour seal hind limb bones, Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Stuttgart.

The ceratinous sheats of the claws at the proximal bones are already lost on the „gorilla arm“, but you can see them still on the photo above. You can also see a very good photo of a disarticulated hind flipper of a grey seal (Halichoerus grypus), which shows all the isolated bones here. Seals have toe and finger bones which are comparably circular in cross-section, whereas gorillas have extremely gnarly bones for the attachment of massive tendons. The lengths and proportions of the different phalanges are also quite different from those of a seal, where the first and fifth toe are longer and thicker than the ones in the middle to form a shape similar to rubber flippers.

The bones from Kilkee belongs most likely either to a harbour seal or a grey seal, as both species are native to the waters off Ireland and could both fit the size of the remains. So no more mystery about a gorilla arm on a beach, just another case which shows how easily people are tricked by the differences between the external shape of an animal and the shape of the underlying bones.

Veröffentlicht unter Anatomie, Populäre Irrtümer, Säugetiere | 2 Kommentare

Out-of-place flamingos at Bavaria

During my recent visit to the Chiemgau Alps, I made also a day trip to Chiemsee, one of the largest Bavarian lakes. I made a slight detour to a nature reserve around the area where the river Großache issues into the lake. This wonderful delta has a quite diverse landscape with a very rich fauna. And as it turned out, the local bird fauna was even much more extraordinary than I had imagined. When I was standing on a birdwatching tower and took a look with my binoculars over the lake, I was extremely surprised to see a strange pink bird among the flocks of ducks, cormorants, swans and coots. I could hardly believe my eyes when I realized that this odd bird was actually a flamingo:

Flamingo at Chiemsee

It was sadly very far away, and it spent most of the time with its head underwater, so I could not take very good photos of it.

Another one:

Here are also some other photos to give you an idea about the rich diversity of waterfowl there:

As good as a bonus, I could also discover four juvenile grass snakes (Natrix natrix) on a tree trunk in a swampy area in front of the birdwatching tower. You can see two of them here:

Juvenile grass snakes

Here is another one, showing a juvenile grass snake  and a juvenile viviparous lizard (Zootoca vivipara):

Some later research revealed that this flamingo was only one of five specimens, which have been around in the Chiemsee area since some years. The first sightings date back to 2001. Their true origin is not fully known, but they are possibly escapees from a private exotic bird collection at Leopoldskren near Salzburg, which has a colony of 90 greater flamingos and Chilean flamingos. It seems that at least some of the flamingos at Chiemsee are of the Chilean species.

You can see some better photos and even a good video of them here.

It seems likely that this small group won´t successfully reproduce and increase its number, as there are hardly any suitable breeding areas around. There actually is however already another breeding and reproducing population of flamingos at Germany, at Zwillbrocker Venn, just next to the border to the Netherlands. This colony dates back to around 1970 and consists of three different breeding species, greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus), American flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) and Chilean flamingos (Phoenicopterus chilensis). Even hybridization between the greater flamingo and the two other species was already observed. Since some years there were even sightings of isolated specimens of the lesser flamingo (Phoenicopterus minor). One reason why this colony could survive for decades is the plancton-rich water, which is mainly a result of the excrements from a black-headed gull breeding colony at the lake. The other reason is the existence of an island in the lake, where they can breed. But today it takes additional human help to make this reproduction possible, as fox predation, even on the island, has become a serious problem.


Veröffentlicht unter Naturbeobachtungen, Neozoen, Vögel | 1 Kommentar