e_moon60 (e_moon60) wrote,
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Country Living: Bones and CSI for amateur naturalists

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.)

skull-creekwoods146
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.

whole-skull-pig091
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-dentition-pig094
Lower jaw.  Tusks show wear, so have been used for rooting.  Lower incisors are relatively straight, very thick, like chisels

     
upper-dentition-pig093
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.
gaping-mouth-pig092

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."


Tags: life in the country, pig, skeletons
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