Wednesday, June 29, 2011

March Buck: the Conclusion

It took more than three months, but the skull of March Buck is clean and whitened at last. It was a sometimes-soggy, often-buggy process, but in the end, I am most pleased with the results:

March Buck: End Result

After the beetle activity died down, I removed the skull from my parents' backyard and placed it in a bucket full of water and dish soap. This process, known as degreasing, eliminates fats and other oils from the bone. Every few days, I changed the water and soap. It was fascinating to see the fat slowly drawn from the skull; it would exude from the bone, forming little piles that looked an awful lot like Crisco. This went on for a few weeks, and it was a stinky operation. Finally, enough of the fat had been eliminated and it was time for the whitening process. Since bleach ruins bone, I used a very diluted mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide. It only took a day or two, but it worked wonders, turning the skull a nice off-white color.

March Buck's skull, which had been submerged for about a month, could finally dry. I glued the incisors back into place, then glued the two halves of the jaw back together.

As far as skulls go, this one's relatively typical. The only abnormality is the left pedicle, which is a bit deformed. It also appears as if March Buck was getting ready to shed his antlers.

March Buck: Weird Pedicle

I also kept the black plastic ring that was found strangling one of the buck's front feet.

Much Buck: Plastic Ring

And now, an announcement -- Steph and I are moving back to Marquette! We're both extremely excited about this; while Ann Arbor treated us alright, we found we truly missed our friends as well as the Upper Peninsula's landscape. We'll be relocating in less than a month, moving into a small house with a riverfront view. I can't wait to find out what animals we'll see, and I'll certainly continue this project -- in the place where it started.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Chipmunk

A few days ago, my mother brought home a dead Eastern Chipmunk that she'd found at work. Surprisingly, up until then, I had yet to encounter a chipmunk for this project! I photographed it in my parents' backyard, as evening sunlight filtered through the trees. I'm rather pleased with the results –

June Chipmunk I

June Chipmunk II

I feel like I don't know very much about rodents, especially chipmunks. I see them all the time, and second to fox squirrels, they're the most visible rodent in town. They're constantly chirping and dashing through the courtyard; I often wonder why they scold and run, as I never see them until they move. In Marquette, they were always raiding our birdfeeder, stuffing their cheek pouches full of seeds and stashing the stolen goods elsewhere.

I got to know this chipmunk -- a female -- quite well. After photographing the body, I skinned it. I had never skinned an animal before, and working with such a tiny corpse was certainly a challenge. After an hour and a half of cutting and prodding, the skin was freed from the rest of the body, and surprisingly enough, I did a pretty good job. Whether or not the tiny pelt will be any good is a different story; the chipmunk may have sat outside too long, and the fur very well might slip, even after being salted. However, while skinning this animal, I feel like I learned a lot.

For example, female chipmunks have one pair of teats (how they manage to nurse several babies is a mystery to me). Their ribs are thin and weak, seemingly no stronger than dry blades of grass. Their front paws have four toes, with an additional tiny nub that is clawless. Overall, they are quite lean, save for fatty deposits near the neck. Their jaw muscles are well-developed, while the tail, once the skin is removed, is little more than bones.

I know I haven't been posting much as of late -- between work and other things, life's been pretty busy! I've got an exciting announcement to make which, along with an update on March Buck, will be detailed in my next entry.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

An Old Opossum

Needham Opossum was one old opossum. The end of his tail was missing, his ears were notched, his canine teeth had cavities, and his lower jaw was marred with a partially-healed wound.

His skull, as it turns out, is full of holes.

Needham Oppossum: Day 72

Seventy days after finding this opossum dead on the road, I pieced his skull back together. The braincase had separated from the rest of the skull, and the zygomatic arches had detached -- normal, it turns out, for opossum skulls, regardless of whether or not they're road casualties. What isn't normal, though, are the holes and pits that cover the right side of the opossum's snout.

Mr. Opossum likely had a nasty injury from which he never fully recovered. So infected were his wounds, even the root of his upper canine tooth -- visible in the picture above -- was severely deteriorated. The afflicted bone is thin, spongy, and delicate. I imagine life for this opossum had to be quite painful.

Opossums don't live for very long, in fact, they're quite lucky if they make it beyond a year. According to Animal Diversity Web, the oldest wild opossum was three years of age when last captured. And yet, I wonder -- how old did Needham Opossum live to be? Had he not been struck by a car, would he have lived much longer?