Certainly you awed your Thanksgiving companions the past two years with bone-related facts gleaned from Twelve No-Fail Conversation Starters Regarding Wishbones (November 2017) and It Takes A Turkey to Call a Turkey (November 2018). Your admirers are undoubtedly wondering what fascinating information you will bring to the holiday table this year.

When the usual chatter about wishbones seems to be waning, cut right in with, “You know, wishbones are not the only bones possessed by some animals but not humans.” Then go down the following list as far as necessary in order to ensure that you will be the center of attention for years to come.

eye rings: pigeon, Komodo dragon
Museum of Osteology

Some birds and reptiles have a flat ring of bone embedded in the white of their eyes. Dinosaurs did too. The ring surrounds the eyeball and tends to give the skull a scholarly look. It probably helps support the shape of the eye, but nobody knows its purpose for sure.

left to right: moose, cow, goat, bone-lover

I have discussed cannon bones (August 7, 2018) before. They are a fusion of several bones located between the ankles/wrists and digits of many hoofed animals. In life, the cannon bones facilitate running; afterwards they are particularly prized by indigenous peoples and handicrafters, who take advantage of their flat, straight surfaces and thick walls to make buttons, fish hooks, musical instruments, and decorative items.

extinct marine mammal, Glasgow Natural History Museum
courtesy D.W. Niven

The next is a set of bones, the gastral basket, possessed by a variety of prehistoric birds and reptiles, including T rex. Crocodiles and a lizard-like New Zealand creature are the sole present-day owners. A gastral basket looks like an oven-rack, in other words, a set of extra ribs at belly level, except that they are not attached to the rest of the skeleton. The gastral basket provided shield-like protection for the owner’s soft underbelly. It may have contributed to breathing, to flying, or to both. It was the Spanx of the prehistoric world.

Is your audience still raptly attentive? If so, carry on.

sea lion, courtesy Cetacea Contracting; ground squirrel, courtesy U Michigan

Nothing is in doubt about the function of the penis bone. It allows for prolonged intercourse, which is the necessary strategy for ensuring paternity of offspring when suitable females are encountered infrequently. Various current-day owners include dogs, cats, raccoons, and sea lions. Its shape varies from rod-like to phantasmagorical. Its size varies from tiny in small monkeys to over two feet long in walruses. Females of species that harbor penis bones generally have clitoris bones, although much smaller.

Likely by this time your tablemates are totally engrossed with your mastery of specialized osteology, but it’s better to stop now and leave them begging for more bone lore, which I will provide next November.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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