October 23, 2014

Who needs an osteologist? (Installment 19)

Welcome back to Who needs an osteologist?  Today, we have a special fantasy-chimera edition thanks to my husband, who was recently at GitHub HQ in San Francisco for an all-company meeting.  He snapped this picture of the "skeleton" of the famous GitHub Octocat:

Felis octocatus skeleton at GitHub headquarters

Octocat in the flesh

The sign below the display reads, "Octocat Skeleton. Felis octocatus.  This piece, which GitHub was lucky enough to receive from an anonymous donor, is the oldest known fossil evidence of an octocat. Carbon dating reveals the remarkably well-preserved remains to be approximately 6.3 million years old, suggesting that the evolutionary and taxonomical split between Felis silvestris and Felis octocatus gradually occurred somewhere off the coast of the South China Sea, when a constitutionally robust ancestor of octocatus ventured seaward, most likely as a result of the scarcity of rodent prey."

Yes, this is a cute mock-up of a fake animal.  But I can still rag on it, right?  To wit:
  • Carbon dating can only go back to about 60,000 years, not 6 million.  We can't actually directly date fossils that old; we have to use the context in which they were found (e.g., rock) and we have to use other elements, like uranium, potassium, and argon.
  • Felis silvestris showed up 2 million years ago, having come from the earlier Felis lunensis (around 2.5 million years ago), so it's impossible for Felis octocatus to have diverged from F. silvestris 6 million years ago. 
  • Octopuses have no bones.
  • So, assuming the majority of the skeleton in question would be similar to a cat--domesticated or ancient--it appears that
    • Each of the five arms (yes, the Octocat is a Pentacat) is composed primarily of what look like caudal vertebrae.
    • The rudimentary body is similar to the morphology of large cervical vertebrae, I guess.
    • The nasal opening is far too small for that of a cat.
    • Unless the Octocat is part primate, as it has large, forward-facing eyes and bony orbits more similar to lemurs' and monkeys' than to cats', the eyes are wrong.
    • I'm unaware of any mammal that has bony protrusions for the ears rather than, you know, ear-holes.
I have no artistic talent, though, so can't make a mock-up of what I think the Octocat should look like.  Anyone want to take a shot?

And GitHub... pretty please, could you change the sign so that the C14 information is corrected? A simple substitution of "uranium" or "potassium" for "carbon" should do.  It makes me twitchy.

Previous Installments of Who needs an osteologist?


Danielle Henderson said...

Where is the zygomatic process? I also think those are handles on the temporals, because totally have handles, right? And where is the mastoid process? I don't see anywhere where muscle attachments or foramen should be.

Maybe it possesses a beak to feed with, and the mouth is simply where the nightmares shoot out from.

Rachel Perash said...

I love this post! I've always felt that, even when trying to be silly, incorrect information can hurt the general public rather than entertain it. Just because it's fake doesn't mean it has to be wrong!

Joe T. said...

It's GitHub. If you want something patched, submit a pull request.

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