Watching The Detectives

I love a good mystery, and working in a museum gives you plenty of them. While trying to electronically catalogue the taxidermied items on display in the Zoology Museum, this week I have come across a couple already, including a black-gloved wallaby that doesn’t look like a black-gloved wallaby (it lacks all the characteristic features of the species, but I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt on the grounds that it’s a very old specimen and quite faded. I’m trusting that the person who collected it knew a black-gloved wallaby when they saw one – they are quite distinctive!), and a tree shrew that still has me a little baffled!

It is named on its old catalogue card as Tupaia chrysoptera from Malaya (although its display label rather more cautiously has it as ‘Tupaia ?chrysoptera‘), a species which, as far as I can discover, does not and never has existed. It is not a synonym for any species of tree shrew. And the even older accessions register doesn’t help, because while the card catalogue does give an accession number, there is no tree shrew listed in said accession record. Arrgh. So I have been trying to visually identify it, which is not easy on a slightly balding early 1900s taxidermy specimen housed in a large locked glass-fronted display case that won’t unlock!

The closest existing name to it is T. chrysogaster, but Google Images couldn’t find one of these, and neither could I find a written description, so I cannot compare!
The specimen’s only distinctive feature is that it has a dark stripe running down its back, which, as far as my internet searching could tell me, narrows it down to one of two species: T. tana or T. picta. But there is very little information on either of these two on the ‘net, or even tree shrews in general. So I might be wrong. I’m not helped by the fact that all tree shrews basically look the damned same!

I’ll have to take a trip to the uni library tomorrow. This is one instance where the internet just can’t cut it! Books are still useful sometimes. I refuse to be defeated by a dead tree shrew!


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