Posted December 13, 2013
One of the fun parts about museum work is seeing the new collections that come in to the museum. You literally never know what you’re going to find! We recently received a small collection of geological material that was originally part of OHS but was retained at OSU when the Historical Society moved to its present location in 1970. Thanks to the sharp eyes of Dale Gnidovec of OSU’s Orton Geological Museum, who realized that it was part of OHS and saw to its return.
The first thing that jumped out in this collection was the large piece of a femur. It had that dark coloration typical of Ice Age or older fossil specimens. Although color is not definitive to show great age, it is nevertheless a clue. Next was its size; it was close to an elk or other large ungulate in size but there was something different about it. The specimen is the proximal end of the femur, which is the end closest (“proximate”) to the main part of the body, and the posterior surface of this end is what was different. Then it dawned on me, that’s a carnivore! And a BIG one! The old label with the specimen says it was found on a beach in Florida, so I contacted the Florida Museum of Natural History. The kind folks there examined the photos and confirmed that it was indeed a large carnivore. But which one!? It’s always hard to identify a fragmented 3-dimensional bone from a 2-dimensional photo, but they narrowed it down to either the Florida Cave Bear (Tremarctos), the Saber-toothed Cat (Smilodon), or the Ice Age American Lion (Panthera atrox).
These are all really interesting species, but what does this bone from a Florida beach have to do with Ohio? Well, the Florida Cave Bear is a close relative of the Giant Short-faced Bear (Arctodus) for which there is one record from Ohio, but undoubtedly more to be found. The other two possibilities are large cats and have not yet been found in Ohio, but have been found in neighboring states! So it’s just a matter of time before these large carnivores ARE found in Ohio, and I hope it’s sooner rather than later!
Oh yeah, there was another interesting specimen in this box…a tooth of a juvenile mastodon! It’s only two inches long and consists of the crown of the tooth; the roots are missing. The occlusal (chewing) surface shows no wear thus the tooth was not yet in use. We’re fortunate that both of these specimens still have labels with data attached to them. The tooth was found in Burlington, Clinton Co., Ohio. There’s no date but the label appears to be from the early 20th Century. This is one more record for Ohio, and will go into our Pleistocene Mammal database.