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Country Living: Bones and CSI for amateur naturalists - MoonScape [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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Country Living: Bones and CSI for amateur naturalists [Feb. 28th, 2013|12:22 pm]
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Country living, for those at all interested in Nature Red in Tooth and Claw, provides evidence of same.  We first found the obvious big bones: cow bones, from when this was a pasture, piled in the back corner of the place.  Forensic evidence: more than one bovine, probably died elsewhere and the carcass dragged to this more remote spot for scavengers to take care of.   Next came a deer shoulderblade with shreds of ligament and one leg bone nearby.  Wounded, maybe, or small enough for a coyote to take.    Gradually we found (and in come cases brought home) the skulls of gray fox, raccoon, feral cat...the shell of a turtle, and saw many bones we didn't bring back.  We found fur, feathers, the scattered remains of small animals clearly taken by a predator,  and once a cluster of vultures chowing down on a dead raccoon.  Wary city dwellers, alert to the possibility of anthrax or tularemia from handling dead animals or even old bones.  As part of our wildlife management duties, we kept some track of mortality (feline distemper got a lot of raccoons one year, as well as the gray fox family) and in some cases found a probable human cause (bloodstains in one raccoon's teeth indicating clotting problems, and quite possibly the result of one of the rat poisons.)

Not the skull with the stained teeth--most teeth here are gone.  Found in creek woods in 2006.

However, we had not found the remains of domestic livestock other than the old cow bones.  Until this week.

Two days ago, R-, who has been working fence all winter, found an unfamiliar animal skull--fairly large--on the fence line, the cleared area to either side of a fence in work.  He thought, from the evidence of the teeth, that it was probably a pig of some sort (wild, domestic, feral, cross?) but had no experience with pig skulls previously.  Just---what else has tusks top and bottom that stick out at an odd (for other animals) angle, both upper and lower incisors, and plenty of big complicated molars at the back of the mouth?

Yesterday, he brought the skull back to the house, and by that time I'd been online looking up skulls in the whole pig family.  (There are times the internet is wonderful; this was one.  By the time he arrived with the skull, I had at least a general idea of the difference between a domestic pig skull, a wild boar skull, and a feral wild boar/domestic pig cross skull.  Also a Vietnamese pot-bellied-pig skull.   So this is the skull, all in one glance.

Note the shape of the front of the skull (to R)--neither straight nor deeply indented.

R- had noticed that the skull sutures were not fully fused, indicating (as in humans) a young animal.   But still pretty big.  Not a baby pig you'd keep in a shoebox.   I photographed the dentition, upper and lower, concentrating more on the front of the mouth, so I could look for wear marks on the tusks and the incisors.
Lower jaw.  Tusks show wear, so have been used for rooting.  Lower incisors are relatively straight, very thick, like chisels

Upper jaw:  Note in-pointing incisors, like little shovels.  Tusks show wear near tips--from rooting or pushing brush & rocks aside--but also from rubbing against lower tusks, the self-sharpening mechanism. 

This is not a mouth you'd want some part of your body caught in.

This pig's head was severed from its body by a sharp tool--an axe is most likely, but it might have been a heavy cleaver, from the marks it made on one of the cervical vertebrae.  Our first thought was a saw, but there were none of the telltale back and forth grooves: the blows of the tool made clean, but uneven, marks.    Since we had not seen signs of rooting, or pig tracks, or pig scat, in the woods, our guess is that this is the head of a pig killed elsewhere, possibly just thrown out after butchering, and brought where it was found by one of the local predators or scavengers--or somebody's dog, for that matter.   We think it is a cross between a true wild boar and the domestic hog,  not someone's livestock show project--the skull profile suggests quite a bit of wild hog because it's not straight, but it's almost so...the long, straight profile fits the wild boar and more indented, concave profiles fit domestic breeds.

An interesting find, anyway, and since we already knew there are feral/wild hogs causing havoc only a short distance away, we'll be on the alert for "sign."


[User Picture]From: shockwave77598
2013-02-28 06:37 pm (UTC)
You have gray foxes? Neat! I've never seen a fox this far south.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2013-02-28 08:00 pm (UTC)
Gray foxes are lovely animals; they're excellent predators for grasshoppers (watching the young ones learn to catch grasshoppers--priceless) and small mammals. Unfortunately, they're susceptible to feline distemper and rabies.

There are some pictures of them in my LJ Scrapbook, the Mammals folder. http://e-moon60.livejournal.com/pics/catalog/1801/88977 is one of the best. There are game-cam shots, too.
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[User Picture]From: gifted
2013-02-28 10:14 pm (UTC)
Woww, they are so pretty!
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2013-02-28 11:22 pm (UTC)
I really like them. They're so graceful in motion. I don't begrudge them anything they eat, even birds. They can also climb trees, though I've never seen one in a tree.

Their eyes, seen up close, are sort of pumpkin-colored. At one time we had a vixen raising a family up near Fox Pavilion (named for her offspring, who when it was just getting started came and sat on the piles of lumber, kibitzing. Unfortunately..the distemper got them.) She became just used enough to us that she would let us watch from a distance as the young ones tried to get grasshoppers (and increasingly did) and she lounged. If I was alone, in my usual bird-watching spot, she would come to water within about 15-20 feet of me. Once she left (I thought) but instead decided to rest in the bushes about 25 feet away. Not knowing she was still around, I got up to check on the pump for that watering spot, and spooked her. She burst out of her "nest" and then turned back to look at me. I apologized. She let out a kind of huff of disgust and walked off. But she trusted me the next time I sat there and once again walked past me to drink.

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[User Picture]From: gifted
2013-03-01 06:29 am (UTC)
What a special experience, I'm kind of envious. :] It's so nice having wild creatures around when you go about your business (I had a barn owl that would sit on the washing line at night, and stare at me while I relaxed and talked her from the verandah). It's a dream of mine to run a larger property of my own -- all in good time..
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2013-03-01 02:23 pm (UTC)
I'm envious of your experience with the barn owl...I've never seen a barn owl. We've seen a great horned owl a very few times down in the creek woods, and heard one a few times in town (and heard screech owls in town, but again without seeing them) and no barn owls at all.

But yes, Ms. Fox was special. And happening to be sitting out at Owl (the rain barn named for the Great Horned Owl) with the big lens on the camera, photographing winter resident birds, when that fox came into view was a very special gift to the watcher.
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[User Picture]From: gifted
2013-03-01 08:40 pm (UTC)

I've been blessed to see a number of barn owls in my lifetime, as well as a few tawny frog mouths, and many other native birds -- often in unexpected, up-close experiences (sometimes involving a rescue). Certain friends who have not caught a glimpse of any owls yet think I must attract them, but I'm not sure about that.. I seem to have attracted the washing line owl (or maybe she found good eatin's around my yard). :]

Ah, it's so good having something interesting come along when you actually have your camera out.

Edited at 2013-03-01 08:40 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: pickledginger
2013-02-28 07:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing your sleuthing!

Possibly a returned-to-wild boar? It is amazing how quickly gene expression changes, even in the zeroth generation post domestication.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2013-02-28 08:04 pm (UTC)
According to a friend with more wild hog experience than I have, this individual was almost certainly feral from birth--because the tusks are sharp. Domestic hog farmers de-tusk infant pigs to prevent damage to each other and humans. Most just yank them out, but some cut them short--so they don't have pointy tips.

She also is my source (along with a couple of websites) for this individual being a cross of wild and domestic.
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[User Picture]From: pickledginger
2013-02-28 08:32 pm (UTC)
That makes sense - thank you.
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[User Picture]From: gifted
2013-02-28 10:11 pm (UTC)
Very interesting, thanks for sharing.
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From: badgermirlacca
2013-03-01 01:02 am (UTC)
Gotta love country forensics.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2013-03-01 03:57 am (UTC)
I've taken pictures of some very interesting "murders" (predation) too. I knew frogs ate flies. I did not know a frog would grab an odonate as long as the frog. I knew water striders were bugs, and predators...but not that they, too, stalked odonates. So do big fishing spiders. I watched as one of those stalked a female Neon Skimmer ovipositing in the pond...jumped at the right moment, knocked her down into the water, and then, having bitten, stood on her back, legs on her wings, holding her down until the toxin took effect. I've seen a chicken kill and eat a small snake. I've seen a small snake take a tadpole. Then there were the small birds mobbing a red-tailed hawk, and a Cooper's hawk neatly taking a dove on the ground...and a peregrine trying to take a white-winged dove in flight (dove made it into the trees.)
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[User Picture]From: xphilega
2013-03-05 07:54 pm (UTC)
So interesting to see this here after just finishing EoB last night and thinking about bones and the ossuary's role...

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From: (Anonymous)
2013-03-08 04:11 am (UTC)

Happy birthday!

Congrats on getting your new socks ready to wear in celebration!

[Why yes, I do read RM's blog. ;)]

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2013-03-08 04:27 am (UTC)

Re: Happy birthday!

Thank you. The socks are not quite ready, thanks to a mistake I didn't notice until I put them on. The left side gusset decreases on one side have laddered, not from a dropped stitch but from failure to tighten the decreases themselves enough. Thought I had, but hadn't. So I'm trying to fix them, but so far all my bright ideas haven't worked. I'm probably going to give up and do a very kludgy sewing job. But EVENTUALLY they'll be wearable and useful. However odd that side of that sock looks. Funny, it hasn't happened on any other sock.
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