Mystery Object: What kind of skull am I?

Identifying obscure and bizarre objects is all in a day’s work for staff in the Queensland Museum Discovery Centre!

Today Steve Wilson, Information Officer, joins us to share the mystery object of the month for June.

What kind of skull am I?

Hint! Am I a honey-badger skull, a marsupial lion skull or a boxer dog skull?

When this skull was brought to the attention of the Discovery Centre many years ago it had us all stumped.  Was it exotic or native? We do not know where it came from, and it took some investigation, including comparing its teeth with other skulls, to identify it.

Image credit: Steve Wilson
Image credit: Steve Wilson
Image credit: Steve Wilson

The correct answer is a boxer dog!

This skull demonstrates how selective breeding by humans has manipulated the shape of the dog’s head and the different bones that make up the skull. Boxers are known as a brachycephalic breed. The name refers to dogs with short wide heads and “pushed in faces”.

With the shortening and widening of the skull, the nasal bones have become greatly reduced. For dogs the world is made up largely of olfactory stimuli. Their sense of smell is virtually unparalleled in the animal world and certainly well beyond human comprehension. We humans have come to rely on dogs because they are so finely tuned to the chemical cues around us. There are tracker dogs, cadaver dogs, and even dogs that can detect some forms of cancer, all using smell. The long snout of a dog contains about 300 million olfactory receptors, compared to about six million in humans. Of course the snout is also required by the dog for breathing! By shortening the boxer’s snout we have done it no favours. That short nose can still perform wonders in detecting scents but boxers commonly develop breathing issues predisposing them to snoring and upper respiratory problems. They also suffer from dry cracked noses.

Then there are the teeth. An adult dog should have 42 teeth, 20 on the top jaws and 22 on the bottom. Boxers have the same number of teeth as other dogs, but with a shorter palate, where do they all fit? The teeth on this skull are displaced, jockeying for space and crooked on a palate that does not have enough room for them. The front teeth on this skull are also protruding forward in an abnormal fashion.

The brow is much higher than that of most other dogs. This is because a high-domed, round head was an attribute that has been selected when the boxer breed was first developed.

Boxers were originally bred in Germany as bull-baiting dogs. Today they are popular and affectionate pets despite their history as fighting dogs.

Ask the Discovery Centre staff to show you a dog skull with a longer snout and teeth in their correct alignment.

Do you have an interesting question or mystery object?

Our helpful and knowledgeable staff can answer your questions through our Ask an Expert inquiry service.