Friday, July 23, 2010

The Deer Skeletons of Presque Isle

I'd like to cover a couple topics in this post, so it will be a longer one.

A few days ago, I decided to check up on First January Deer to see how the decomposition process was coming along. Remember, Steph and I had moved the skeleton in March to a more sheltered area. This was the first time in several months that I had looked for the skeleton, and with the grass, thistle, and tansy so thick, it was a bit of a challenge to find it. To be able to locate First January Deer, one would have to know exactly what they were looking for, and where.

I was pleased to discover that the bones were all still there, and every one of them was disarticulated. The ribs, which were all once connected to the vertebral column, were lying together in a heap, and the vertebrae themselves had all scattered. The skeleton was very clean -- not a scrap of muscle or tendon remained -- and it was stained a warm, honey color. Slugs casually slimed over the bones.

It's interesting to compare the skull of this deer with the jawbone of the same deer; I had taken the jaw home with me on the day that I'd first found the skeleton, as it was mostly clean. The color of the jaw is a cold, white hue -- it seems raw and unfinished, and it reminds me of the winter. In contrast, the skull has a "completed" feel to it; it went through those final stages of spring- and summertime decay. When photographed together, the skull and mandible are mismatched:

Earlier this month I also checked up on Second January Deer. Interestingly enough, most of her bones were still articulated! All her vertebrae and ribs were still attached. Oddly, her skull was a few feet away from the rest of the skeleton, but besides that, the bones really hadn't scattered. Despite their proximity, First January Deer and Second January Deer are in two very different habitats. Perhaps their surroundings have something to do with the speed at which they decay.

Something that I've found to be consistent with wintertime deer kills (April Deer, as well as the January Does) is that the nasal bones are missing -- deer noses are bitten off by very hungry scavengers. Last April, I found a doe skeleton far back in the bog; most of the bones were stained a deep bog-brown and though disarticulated, the skeleton was almost entirely in one heap. It had been there for a couple years, but the skull was intact -- including the nasal bones.

Between that observation and the fact that a) the skeleton was not scattered everywhere (as First January Deer was before being moved) and b) no bones were broken (the ribs and leg bones of the January Does were broken, perhaps by scavengers seeking marrow), this leads me to believe that that doe ('Bog Deer', as I call her) had died in the summer, when food is more plenty and scavenging isn't as desperate.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of the skulls of April Deer (top), Bog Deer (middle), and First January Deer (bottom). All three were found in the Presque Isle bog area; perhaps all three does were related in some way.

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