For display only

For Christmas I gave Jon a GoPro camera and 30 grams of gallium.

He gave me a geologist’s hammer and a skull of a little tiny man.

Squirrel Monkey

For real, it’s a squirrel monkey skull. I have some history with squirrel monkeys. I once interviewed, and got offered, a job feeding squirrel monkeys grapes and training them to sit in a little chair. Sadly, I really wanted the job but could not take it because the salary offered was…not enough for me to afford to eat.

They’re without a doubt the cutest of all monkeys, and possibly of all living things. Here’s what they look like when they have skin over their skulls.

I once had a job that involved squirrel monkeys every now and then. Periodically the entire squirrel monkey colony would require a complete physical and TB test. The squirrel monkeys had to be sedated in order for them to be safely handled, and all the vet techs and vet students would fight over who got to carry the sleeping squirrel monkeys back to their cages after the physical. There’s a specific SOP in place on how to properly carry a monkey, and every single person doing so would defy that SOP and carry the monkey like a baby, including me. When I put sleeping cagemates back in together, I would take one arm of one monkey and make them hug eachother in their sleep. Then I would curse not being allowed to take pictures.

Some other fun facts about squirrel monkeys is that they’re really small. Some of the monkeys we weighed during the physicals were just over 500 grams- barely over a pound. You could almost fit your thumb and forefinger around their waist. But despite being small, they have the largest brains of all primates relative to their size. I can see that in my squirrel monkey skull- his brain case is gigantic, like a tiny, domed alien skull.

The best fact is that the female squirrel monkeys have a pseudo-penis, which is rare in mammals. I discovered this first hand at work. I was examining a monkey that the chart said was female and noticed something small and funny on her. I said to the vet “Hey, this chart is wrong. This monkey is a male…” Nope, he said. That’s a female. “Really? But she has a…”- I wanted to be all proper and say phallus, but it was so tiny and silly-looking that the term “wee-wee” or “doodle” seemed like a more appropriate term.

The vet explained the idea of the pseudo-penis (females hyenas have then too) and in some social animals, the females have dominance hierarchies just like the males and the pseudo-penis is for dominance display. Weird, huh? It seemed funny to think that this tiny girl’s monkey-doodle would intimidate anyone.

There’s no way to know whether my skull belonged to a male or a female, though. But he or she probably had some equipment regardless.

My other gift? The geoogist’s hammer? I love it. I can’t wait to smash up rock formations. In the meantime, I had to make do with pretend-geology. I was tooling around the Pokey Formation recently, chipping away layers of clay, and I did come across this mysterious fossil.