Friday, May 31, 2013

Buggy Buck

It's a slow process, but it's happening: the buck head out back is gradually being decomposed by a horde of maggots. Last week, when their numbers were at their strongest, the fly larvae seemed to seep out of every orifice on the head: the eye sockets, nose, mouth. The smallest disturbance — whether it was moving their host a fraction of an inch or even simply casting a shadow over them — would send the maggots into a frenzy.

In the days since, the maggot activity has noticeably lessened — at least, from the outside. One reason for this is that the birds have been using the larvae as an all-you-can-eat buffet! I've spotted robins, sparrows, and warblers all within the vicinity of the buck head, and they've been leaving behind their droppings nearby.

The weather has been ridiculously irregular, with fluctuating temperatures and, oftentimes, a chill blowing in from Lake Superior. Since warm weather hasn't been a constant, it has also hampered the progress of the maggots. Still, they're eating away at their host, from the inside out:

Quite a bit of fur has fallen from the skin — which, yesterday, had a rather darkened, desiccated appearance. Some areas of the skin have been eaten away entirely, which is apparent in the photograph above: the buck's lower molars are visible! The inside of the head has liquefied into an indiscernible, spongy mess; the tongue has dried up; the top of the head, where there is no muscle for the fly larvae to eat, looks relatively unchanged.

There is one other reason the numbers of maggots have lessened: they're pupating!

Buried beneath the head and tucked into its skin and fur are fly pupae. Soon, they will emerge as adults, and will likely lay their eggs on the very same host that they fed upon as larvae.

See also: A Dead Animal Sampler (March 15, 2013), Cold Decay (April 22, 2013), and Fly Portraits (April 27, 2013).

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Animals of the Arctic

Traverse City, which is located just south of the 45th Parallel, is an unlikely place to find polar bears or muskoxen. It came as a bit of a surprise, then, when a trip to the Dennos Museum Center revealed both of these amazing creatures — preserved as fantastic taxidermy mounts! The muskox and polar bear stand guard to the museum's superb collection of contemporary Inuit art, and represent two animals that are important to the ecosystems and cultures of the Arctic Circle.

Both of these mounts are of excellent, lifelike quality. Also important is how incredibly accessible they are — I've never before gotten so close to a polar bear mount, as they always seem to be behind glass, and with the exception of the trophy mounts at a certain hunting and fishing superstore in Dundee, this is the first time I've seen a muskox, dead or alive. What really struck me was how small the muskox was. I was expecting an animal the size of a cow or an American Bison, but this muskox (likely a female), without its platform, wouldn't have come up past Steph's shoulder. (For reference, Steph is five feet tall.)

Having the opportunity to see both of these animals up-close was really neat. The polar bear's claws were ridiculously big and sharp; the muskox's horns had the texture of petrified tree bark.

It's always a risk to have such soft-looking taxidermy within reach, and it was mighty hard to resist petting the muskox's beautiful, woolly fur. Thankfully, there was an interpretive sign that explained why it's not a good idea to touch taxidermy mounts:

click for larger view

Without any glass restricting my view of the mounts, it was nice to be able to take some intimate portraits.

Visit Animal Diversity Web to learn more about polar bears and muskoxen!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Blossoms and Roadkill

Steph and I are in Traverse City for the weekend. It's a lot greener here than it is in Marquette, and the trees — the cherries, tulip magnolias, redbuds, forsythias, birches, and so on — are all in bloom. Despite the spitting snow and cold rain, it's quite colorful, and a nice respite from the still-chilly springtime of the Upper Peninsula.

We saw plenty of roadkilled animals on our drive downstate, but have thus far photographed just one — a young doe hit along a country road, where traffic travels awfully fast. The rain had just let up, leaving the carcass damp and speckled with waterdrops.

The doe's neck was bent into a graceful curl; she had been dead for some time, and much of her body had been consumed by scavengers. Her last meal had been corn — the kernels had sprayed from her mouth upon impact.

With the return of spring, the turkey vultures have also returned, meaning this deer won't be around for much longer.