The Internal Anatomy
of the Thylacine - A Historical Perspective
scientific accounts of the thylacine (Thylacinus
cynocephalus) focus almost exclusively on the description of its external
characteristics (Paterson 1805), (Harris 1808), (Saint-Hilaire 1810), (Temminck
1824). Little detail is noted about the animal's internal anatomy.
Harris for example states:
"On dissecting this quadruped,
nothing particular was observed in the formation of its viscera differing
from others of its genus (at the time, the thylacine was placed in
the genus Dasyurus). The stomach contained the partly digested
remains of a porcupine anteater, Myrmecophaga aculeate" (=echidna,
It was left to a succession of surgeons and medical anatomists to undertake
much of the early investigative work on the internal anatomy of the thylacine
primarily for the purpose of comparison with other species. This legacy
survives to this day in the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons
in London, which still holds a substantial number of thylacine specimens
within its zoological collection (Source: ITSD 5th Revision 2013).
Hyrtl, Cunningham and MacKenzie.
Tucker, Owen, Hill and Moeller.
| The published and unpublished
works of Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke (1845), Edwards
Crisp (1855), Sir William Henry Flower (1865), Sir Richard Owen
(1847, 1868), Josef Hyrtl (1873), Professor Daniel J. Cunningham (1882),
Frank E. Beddard (1891), Professor James P. Hill (1902),
Sir Colin MacKenzie (1919-1924),
Bernard Tucker (1942),
and more recently those of J. Pearson and J. M. De Bavay (1953), Professor
Heinz Moeller (1968, 1970, 1997) and R. Leon Hughes (2000) have collectively
made significant contributions to our understanding of the internal anatomy
of the thylacine.
The earliest historical reference to the study of the internal anatomy
of the thylacine was that of the eye by Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke
(1845), a German physician and physiologist. Brücke's paper
entitled "Anatomische untersuchengen uber die sogenanntaen leuchtenden
augen bei den Wirbelthieren" published in the journal "Archiv für
Anatomie, Physiologie, und Wissenschaftliche Medicin", refers to the
structure of the thylacine's
a reflective layer of tissue that lies immediately behind or sometimes
within the retina of the eye. This is the part of the eye responsible
for eye shine.
the microscope icon for a magnified view of: tapetum
| The remains of thylacines
that were displayed in zoos provided an opportune source of specimens for
detailed anatomical study.
Richard Owen (1804 - 1892), the famous English biologist, comparative
anatomist and palaeontologist, was granted right of first refusal to any
exotic animal (including thylacines) that died at the London Zoo during
his time as Professor (1836-1849) and Conservator (1849-1856) at the Hunterian
Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons. Owen also received thylacine
specimens directly from Ronald Gunn in Launceston (Tasmania). In
the minutes of the Tasmanian Society dated 2nd September 1847, it states:
"Read extracts from
a letter from Professor Owen to Mr. Ronald C. Gunn, wherein he expresses
an anxious desire to obtain an impregnated Platypus or Echidna preserved
in spirits. Also, the brains of the Thylacinus and Dasyurus (Devil
of the colonists), with a view to making out the internal
Hunterian Museum of
the Royal College of Surgeons (London).
Source: Illustrated London News,
4th October 1845, No: 179, Vol. VII.
|structure. A skull broken open
and immersed in strong spirits would give the required opportunity.
Mr. Gunn expressed his hope that some of the members would aid him in procuring
these desiderata for that eminent comparative anatomist Professor Owen"
(Source: ITSD 5th Revision 2013).
In a footnote to a paper
published by Professor Owen (1845) in the Journal of the British Association
for the Advancement of Science it is noted: "Entire and well-preserved
bodies of the thylacine have since been transmitted by Ronald Gunn, Esq.,
to the Royal College of Surgeons".
Owen (1868), in his book "On the Anatomy of Vertebrates", makes
numerous anatomical references to the thylacine. He discusses the
arrangement of the fissures of the brain (p. 104), the turbinate bones
(p. 208), the dental formula (p. 285), the length of the intestinal tract
(p. 420), the female pouch and the sexual organs, eyelids and the tongue
of pouch young (p. 774).