Crabeater Seal - Lobodon carcinophagus
November 13, 2009
Yesterday when I went in to the Field Museum for my regular bird division prep lab shift, Bill Stanley (collections manager of zoology at the Field) was giving a tour. I love listening in when any one of the scientists is giving a tour, but especially Bill. He always speaks with great enthusiasm and clarity about his area of study, the collections and how they are used, and in addition brings out some impressive specimens to share.
For the tour yesterday, Bill brought out a skull of a really fantastic mammal: the Crabeater Seal, Lobodon carcinophagus. I've been recently posting a bit about my love and fascination with the Antarctic, and crabeaters are one of its most numerous inhabitants. Despite their name, Crabeaters don't eat crabs. Their diet almost entirely consists of krill and whatever invertebrates are happily floating about in those cold seas. And despite that they are one of the most numerous mammals on earth, relatively little is known about their habits. One of the unique features and adaptations of the Crabeater can be seen by looking closely at the photo of the skull above. Notice their unusual, multilobed teeth? Each tooth has small, tubelike, bony protuberances that look pretty threatening, but in reality their function is more benign than noshing on the hands of unsuspecting Homo sapiens. Crabeaters use their teeth like a strainer by forcing water out through the small spaces in between the dental lobes, and thus sieving krill and other invertebrates out.
When Bill isn't working with the collections at the Field, he's in the mountains of Tanzania gathering data on small mammals. If you can't make it over to the Field Museum, you can find a great little interactive video tour by Bill HERE.