Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bone Home

Yesterday evening, while walking along the path of the Presque Isle bog, Steph found a medium-sized bone that was partially embedded in the ground. She uncovered it; the top of the bone was bleached white by the sun, and the other side was stained brown by the dirt. It was about six inches long, and the jury's still out as to what animal it belonged. There were tiny ants crawling all over it...

Ant Colony I

... and it took us both a moment to realize that there was an ant colony inside this bone. The ants, having sensed their home had been disturbed, were evacuating, taking care to retrieve their eggs and young.

Ant Colony II

From what I could see, the set-up inside was amazing. The eggs and pupae were tucked into the calcium cavities of the bone, and the entry/exit to the colony was a large hole (as seen in the photograph above). After we had observed the ants for some time, Steph returned the bone to where she had found it, taking care to put it back in the same position.

How interesting is it that an entire colony of ants calls a rather small bone its home? I've seen spiders build their webs inside the brain cavities of skulls -- and I've heard the same for wasp nests (hopefully I'll never see something like this in-person) -- but I've never seen such a thing with ants. It's pretty incredible that this insect (which is almost always associated with creating complex tunnels in the soil) has used a bone for this purpose: not for food, but for a home.

What other creatures use the remains of animals as a place not to get nourishment, but to live?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Carp + Raven

The weather has been pretty dreary as of late, with plenty of rain, clouds, and even thunderstorms. I'm hoping that it will clear up soon -- or at the very least, warm up and dry off -- so that picture-taking is a little more appealing. Last week, on a couple of the nicer days, I found two different dead animals: the skeleton of a carp and the remains of a raven.

Thanks to some of the crazier weather we've been having, a lot of bones and other debris have been washing up on the beach near the functioning ore dock.

June Carp III

This carp skeleton was relatively large -- about a foot and a half in length -- and quite complete, too. The first time I photographed it, the sun had just emerged from the clouds and as a result, my photographs were very blown-out. A few days later, I visited the skeleton again, at sunset. By then, the blowing sand had already started to cover up the spine!

Carp skulls are strange looking, and kind of remind me of the skulls of prehistoric fishes. This skull, in particular, even more so, as it was missing much of its sucker-like mouth.

Last week, Steph and I took a drive to the Garlyn Zoo, outside of Naubinway. We saw very few roadkill mammals along the way (and most were so deteriorated that they were unrecognizable), but we did see several roadkill ravens and crows. I photographed one of the ravens.

June Raven I

I couldn't believe how large this raven was. There wasn't much remaining, except its feathers, bones, and feet. The talons of this bird were huge, about the same size as those of the hawk that I photographed earlier this year.

June Raven II

I was surprised at how intact the feathers were. Quite a few were scattered alongside the road: black, glossy, and perfect, despite the traffic roaring by. The feathers' close proximity to the carcass makes me think that this raven wasn't killed so long ago.

The body was picked quite clean, but I wonder, by what animals? I have read that corvids are wary of the dead bodies of other corvids. Would a raven scavenge from the body of another raven, or was it a different species of bird, or perhaps mammals that cleaned the bones so well?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Kawbawgam Trail Bones

Yesterday was cool and cloudy, and Steph and I drove out to the Kawbawgam cross-country ski trail in Chocolay Township. The jack pine forest smelled and sounded beautiful: it reminded me of camping as a child, and of the stays at the Huron Mountain Club's Stone House on Ives Lake. It was very peaceful, and the ground was covered in mosses, lichens, and blueberry bushes. Because the forest floor was so open, it was easy to see the deer bones that were scattered throughout the woods. No two bones were close to one another, and, based on their varied states of decay, it's reasonable to assume that they all came from several different deer. Some bones were quite fresh and still had bits of ligaments attached; others were somewhat bleached; a few bones were so bleached that they were chalky and cracked. Most of the bones we saw were fractured and had been gnawed by rodents.

This deer vertebra, resting on a bed of reindeer lichen, was old and chewed, but was also the home of a large slug. A second vertebra -- found far away from this one -- also had a slug living inside, where the spinal cord was once housed.

Vertebra Slug

It was rather surreal, being able to see the bones so easily from the hardly-used trail. Even more bizarre was the fact that they were all so far apart from one another. Spotting the bones as we walked along was almost like a treasure hunt.


Pelvis Fragment

How were the bones scattered so randomly over such a wide area? How many years have they been lying on the lichens, slowly returning to nature? How many different deer did we see?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Useless Creatures: The Japan Edition

Steph and I returned from our three-week trip to Japan Monday evening, and we had an amazing, inspirational time. Being back in Marquette is kind of strange, and already we are drawing so many comparisons between the United States and Japan. Our blog about it is still being updated, since internet access was very limited during the homestay week.

Amazingly enough, while at the Japan Center for Michigan Universities (JCMU) in Hikone, we did come across some useless creatures.


The first dead animal I photographed was this dead bird chick, found on the sidewalk. I have no idea what species it was -- identifying baby birds is hard enough, and Steph and I were lost as to what adult birds we were seeing in the first place. Finding dead baby birds is always a bit sad for me, because they are such fragile and helpless beings.

The shore of Lake Biwa, on which Hikone is situated, was littered with all kinds of things, from beach glass to animal bones. Here are a few smaller finds:


Fish Bones

Lying in the sand, also on the beach of Lake Biwa, was the body of a Japanese Cormorant. I had seen it wash ashore the first week we were at JCMU, but it had been waterlogged and a crow had been picking at it. However, when we returned to the beach several days later, the body was dry and much easier to photograph.

Japanese Cormorant

The other animal body I found was that of a fish. Amazingly enough, I had yet to photograph a dead fish, and this one was quite large. Again, I don't know what species it was, but it was rather impressive.

Fish Skeleton

So, there you have it, the useless creatures of Japan -- and of Hikone, to be more precise. An interesting observation is that I did not see a single roadkill animal, but an explanation for this could be that there are very few mammals within city limits (they all seem to live in the forests on the mountains).