Skull nos. 8, 9, & 10: Pussy

not that kind.  This is a bobcat and two domestic kitties.

 

Bobcat.

I bought this skinned head from a tanner in Washington, Promise Land Tannery; an amazing place full of wonders!  You should go there and spend all your money right away!  This bobcat was included along with six other skinned heads I processed using maceration techniques I learned from Jana Miller at BoneLust.  Everything you want to know about processing bones can be found there.

 

Domestic Cat.

This big feral kitty was the unfortunate victim of a speeding car.  Consequently, the skull was broken and many pieces are missing, including the auditory bulla and some teeth.  It looks a lot like the bobcat, only smaller.

Since posting, this skull has found a new home with Buddy America, a talented acquaintance that I’m in the process of converting to a friend.  You should check him out here; it’s worth your time.

 

Domestic Cat.

This cat was given to me as a gift of appreciate for some volunteerism, but not directly.  My wife volunteers at a wonderful pitbull rescue, SevaDog;  we offered to help build out a space for some little dogs and the owner asked Chaela what I was into, so she could express gratitude for our work.  When Chaela told her I was into skulls (and after some initial disgust), she contacted a friend who had a kitty in her freezer.  The friend was working at a vet clinic when someone brought in a sick and dying cat; when the cat died, the friend kept the carcass for exactly what I wanted it for: processing and display.  The cat was a long-hair tuxedo kitty, not very big, pretty old (as evidenced by it’s teeth).  It’s interesting to me the differences between these two domestic cats; this one is decidedly more “cat” looking than the other.  It’s also interesting to me the times we live in.  There are very bizarre going-ons nowadays.  Sometimes the phrase “what the fuck is happening?” runs incessantly through my head; I wish there were some reprieve, but current events are not normal.  We’re in the midst of the hottest decade on record and we have a comic character buffoon running the country (USA! USA! USA!).  I want this douchebag’s douchebaggery to finally catch up with him, but then we’re even more fucked; Pence et. al are working hard to destroy any kind of infrastructure we might have that’s good for people.  I just watched “Get Me Roger Stone” on Netflix, which sheds some light on “how we got here.”  I’ve always felt that finding out how things work makes them less frightening, but now, exposing the horrible truth of things only makes it scarier!  I once read about Terance McKenna’s Timewave Zero theory about how time functions as a fractal, with a base time period (I think its something like 4000 years initially), which repeats over and over;  the trigger for the repetition is novelty – some, something NEW comes along and the base time period starts all over again.  The only thing is, it works like a fractal and the time period is shrinking at an exponential rate.  So, what took 50 years in my grandparents’ time now takes 5.  And that’s all down from four thousand years or whatever (fair warning:  I may have all of this completely wrong).  The theory states (as I understand it) that eventually the time needed for each cycle to complete will be zero, at which point there will either only be novelty (or newness) or nothing.  Sometimes it feels like the newness is happening at lightning speed, and our president is a prime example; from the fact that Trump is the first US President who’s never held an elected office to the early morning tweets that completely refute the elaborate lie his administration just made up to cover they asses.  And what about the whole Russia connection right in our faces?  The amount of effort going into blocking any kind of investigation negates the possibility that this is just a bizarre series of coincidences.  I think there’s a long history of people thinking that we’re living in the end-times; I think all of them have been wrong so far, but do an experiment: ask the person sitting next to you if they believe the end of the world will come in their lifetime.  Chances are the answer is “yes.”  I don’t know if this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I DO think that the way we’ve decided to live travels a path to eventual self-destruction.  The pan-flashing lives of the 27 Clubbers is a microcosm of the phenomena.   So essentially, the long arc of Western Civilization is a talented, self-absorbed artist self-destructing from a deep-seated place of inconsolability in slow motion and over a vast time frame.  Seems pretty hopeless at the moment…  This cat is the most recent skull I’ve processed.  I’m at about 45 skulls, and I think that’s enough.  I will probably give the roadkill kitty to my daughter’s science teacher – he has a skull collection in his classroom, and my shelves are too crowded.  If I ever get around to installing a mantle for our fireplace, I’ll fill that up too.  Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TYLER!!!

edit: I eventually gave the roadkill kitty to my new bestie, Buddy America!

Skull no. 7: Virginia opossum

Didelphis virginiana

Didelphis virginiana

Virginia opossum wiki

Virginia opossum have 50 teeth – more than any other North American mammal.

They are surprisingly short-lived for their size; about one to two years in the wild, less than five in captivity.

Opossums are highly resistant to snake venom, ricin, and botulism; they limit the spread of Lyme disease and they’re virtually immune to rabies, presumably due to their low body temperature. 

Opossums are relatively clean animals and love pedicures.

The generic name (Didelphis) is derived from Ancient Greek, meaning “two wombs,” referring to the opossum’s pouch.

Like primates, Virginia opossums have opposable thumbs (which may allow them to hold a pen and write poetry), but their thumbs are on their back feet. They also have a semi-prehensile tail.  They can hang on – if you’ve ever seen a momma with her young, you can attest.

The Virginia opossum has one median nipple, surrounded by twelve others, for a total of thirteen teats (The record number of teats for an animal is the tenrec, which has up to thirty nipples; the record for a human is seven.)

Like all marsupials, their pelts consist only of awn hair, meaning they have no undercoat, nor guard hairs. 

Virginia opossums have one of the lowest brain-to-body-mass ratio of any marsupial.  This, paired with their close-set eyes, makes them arguably the stupidest looking North American mammal.

Opossums are infamous for ‘playing ’possum.’  This reaction, to lay completely inert, is involuntary, like fainting, and is usually a last resort.  For obvious reasons, they try to make themselves inedible at this point by extruding noxious smells and generally appearing to be dead and rotten.  Before they get this far however, they’ll bare their teeth and hiss or growl or, better yet, escape altogether; they’re rarely aggressive and poor fighters at best.

The word ‘opossum’ is borrowed from the Algonquin word for the creature which roughly translates into “white animal” (maybe).  Because the word is Algonquin, and not Latin or Greek, the plural form is opossums, not opossa or opossi. 

Virginia or North American opossum

Since our English is so lazy, we Americans abbreviate that word to possum in speech when we are commonly referring to the Virginia opossum, the only marsupial in North America.  This was the first opossum to be identified by Europeans, and so, the 102 other species (all in South America) are also called ‘opossums.’

Common brushtail possum

The possum hails from Australia, New Zealand, and New Guinea and there are none in the Americas. Since the Algonquin peoples were discovered by Europeans about 160 years before the discovery of the island continent of Australia, a similar animal in that region was named after the North American ’possum.  When the Europeans discovered that the two are taxonomically distinct, the American ’possum was reverted to being called an ‘opossum,’ and the Australian equivalent is ‘possum.’  But I still say ’possum when speaking.  

They’re a strange animal, and I can’t make up my mind whether they look cute, dumb, or gross – they seem to be all three at times.  Plus, they’ve got that rat tail.

Where I Got It:  Since I decided to start collecting skulls, I’ve picked up more than a few dead animals.  My family is sort of used to me stopping suddenly or circling back around to pick up a carcass.  It took me a few tries before I learned that freeway carcasses aren’t worth stopping for; the skulls are almost always broken from the impact(s).  Country highways and rural roads are better.  But the best are found in the woods, off roads, not a victim of an auto collision.  I’ve found deer, squirrels, nutria, raccoons, and cats.  But by far the most animals I see are opossums.  I’ve picked up a few, but I won’t any more; they’re a pain in the ass.  The first opossum skull I had, however, I bought at a little shop called Crafter’s Alley in the virtually abandoned Gateway Mall in Springfield, OR.  This shop is like a miniature flea market.  Presumably crafters (or possibly hoarders) rent space in the shop inside the mall to sell their stuff.  In one corner of the shop, there is a small collection of skulls, as well as other bones, and bugs in shadow boxes or resin.  I found an opossum skull here once, the first skull I bought from this store.  Not until I got it home did I notice that the bottom jaw didn’t fit.  You probably already knew this, but there is a joint in the center of (most?) mandibles, which is usually connected by ligaments, but sometimes grows together, as in humans.  Often ligaments are removed during processing and the bones come apart.  In this case, I had half the mandible from this opossum and half from another, glued together, so the jaw didn’t quite fit right.  My daughter’s 7th grade science teacher has quite a few skulls in his classroom, and I eventually donated that skull to his collection.

This is not that opossum.

Coming home from some family adventure or other, I had just pulled off I5 onto a rural highway when I saw an opossum on the shoulder.  Naturally, the family had become semi-accustomed to my stopping for roadkill, so there was more groaning than curiosity from my passengers.  This little creature was not horribly mangled in any way – it was relatively bloodless and its coat was dirty, but basically intact.  However, it’s tongue lolled out and it had bitten completely through it with its left canine, which was now broken; none of the other teeth were injured, so it seemed as though it had actually bitten through its own tongue, rather than having had its tooth forced through it from the impact.  Having said all that, you never know what can happen in an auto accident.  As you know (see above) ligaments are removed during skull processing, along with everything else but the bone; skin, muscle, cartilage…. This inevitably leads to things falling apart; some or all teeth, nasal bones, jaw bone.   So there’s a little bit of gluing involved; usually there are three to seven pieces to glue together, and some teeth.  This skull fell into fifteen pieces, and the teeth that fell out were incisors, virtually identical in both rows and top and bottom. They took some time to decipher, and I’m still not sure I have them in right. This is typical for opossum skulls processed using maceration, perhaps due to their short lifespans; maybe their skull bones don’t have time to fuse together.

20150509_101311

This skull turned out pretty good.  The background in these pictures is the 12 feet or so of eight inch thick concrete I’d busted up with a jackhammer rented from the Home Depot.  That job gave me a bleeding hemorrhoid, but that’s a story for another time.…

Skull no. 6: Nutria

Myocastor coypus

Myocastor coypus

 

Description:  Nutria wiki

Nutrias are semi-aquatic creatures, spending half their lives in the water. Their webbed feet help make them excellent swimmers and they can spend up to five minutes under water without returning to the surface to breathe. Females have four pairs of mammary glands located on the side of the body, rather than on the belly, allowing them to breastfeed their young while swimming.

Nutrias are nocturnal animals, mostly active around midnight.

These critters have a huge appetite, able to eat about one quarter their of own weight every day.

They breed year round and are extremely prolific.

Nutrias are covered with two types of fur:  an outer coat made of shaggy hair that can be yellow or brown in color and an inner coat made of fine, grey fur. Nutria fur became very fashionable in the 1930s, and stayed popular through the ‘60s.  Faux nutria, made of rabbit fur was at one time branded as nutriette.

Where I got ’em:  Turkey Vultures are fascinating creatures; if you couldn’t tell by their name, they kinda look like turkeys.  Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, I cannot legally own a turkey vulture skull.  A permit might be obtainable, but I doubt I’ll ever know. I was leaving my office one morning when I saw a pair of them; one standing on a fence post and another one on the ground.  They’re pretty huge; about the size of a turkey (see above).  Normally, these raptors are soaring high in the sky, riding thermals; they use their incredible sense of smell to find smelly stuff.  When they touch ground, it’s for a reason.  I looked around and sure enough, almost right in front of my car was a nutria, and I wasn’t about to be the first person to run it over – more like the fifth or sixth.  I office in a great building, but it sits on a gravel road off highway 99, sandwiched between a yard debris composting facility and a lumber yard, so we’re a little ways out.  I pulled away, missing the carcass and careful not to upset the scene.  When I returned to my office a couple hours later, the vultures were gone. All that was left of the nutria was a greasy spot in the road.

These are not that nutria.

Nutrias (coypu if you’re Latino, beaver rat if you’re Dutch), are the South American equivalent of a beaver.  According to the guy I get my hats from, the pelts are virtually identical.  In an effort to combat extinction, and because their fur was desirable, nutria farms were established in the late 1800s through the 1930s and ‘40s. More often than not, the farms proved unsuccessful or unprofitable and the nutrias escaped or were intentionally released.  Those wild populations did just fine though.  Today, the state of Louisiana, in conjunction with the US federal government, is paying $5 a tail for hunters to help control (i.e. kill) nutria, with a goal of harvesting 400,000 nutrias annually in the state.  Just the tails; the rest of the carcass is your problem.  It is estimated that the animals have destroyed thousands of acres of wetland; they’ve migrated as far north as Canada in North America, and are invasive throughout much of Europe and many parts of Asia.  Global efforts are underway to eradicate this invasive species.  Efforts are also being made to convince you to eat them, but that’s a hard sell, since they look like rats.  Nutrias are, however, currently being used for dog food.

Nutria gestation is about 130 days, which means, if timed right, they can give birth three times a year; the number of young per litter averages five, but could be as many as a dozen.  Which means they can potentially produce over 30 young a year, but ten is normal.  They only live about three to five years in the wild, but they can live up to twelve years in captivity; they’re extremely docile and easily handled.  They’d make good pets, if they didn’t require a body of water – I don’t think they can live in your bathtub.

Nutrias are a common sight around my office.  In fact, there is a shed about the size of a single-wide trailer behind our building and I’ve seen nutrias enter through the bottom of a gate where the wood has decayed.  My guess is that they die and are then run over way more often than they are run over and then die.  They kind of look like beavers, because they have square heads and their eyes sit up so high on ‘em.  But they have rat tails.  That’s a turn-off for most people.  Think of the cutest animal you know, then put a rat tail on it; it’s a deal-breaker for sure.  They are definitely a little strange. And so are their skulls.  One peculiarity shared by many South American rodents is enormous infraorbital foramen.  I’m not a scientist, so a grain of salt here, but skulls have holes.  These holes are called foramen or foramina for more than one.  The biggest hole in your skull, where your spine comes in, is the foramen magnum.  Again, I’m no scientist, but every mammal skull, with one notable exception, has at least one foramen below each eye called an infraorbital foramen. Rabbits and hares are different: their bone is fenestrated, like a latticework on either side of the rostrum (not a scientist). I’m not aware of any other skull quite like it, but my knowledge is by no means exhaustive (more on rabbits later).  Anyhow, nutria infraorbital foramen are HUGE.  They also have a unique, alien-looking flare on their bottom jaw.

The first time I saw a dead nutria outside my office, I scooped up the entire body in a cardboard box and took it home.  Louisiana style, I took what I was after (in this case, the head, not the tail) and tossed the rest.  The skull turned out beautifully, and was my first overall success with skull processing.  I did lose a molar, but I found it a year and a half later.  About a year after processing my office nutria, I got a very large skinned nutria skull (along with a few others) from Promise Land Tannery in WA; buying skinned heads for processing is a lot less expensive than buying finished skulls, and I enjoyed learning the process of maceration (thanks again, Jana Miller!).  Both of these skulls were processed using maceration; the latter, I partially processed with a wild dermestid colony I inadvertently developed.

This is the first skull that came out looking beautifully; just look et them pitchers.

The above photos are set to random sequence, so the order will (usually) reorganize every time you refresh the page.

Skull no. 5: Western Gray Squirrel

header

Sciurus griseus

DescriptionWestern Gray Squirrel wiki

Gray squirrels build tree nests called “dreys.”

The squirrel is the Native American symbol for preparation, trust and thriftiness.

Squirrels are known to put on elaborate food burying displays to deceive onlookers. Presumably, the fake burials are intended to trick potential thieves, such as other squirrels or birds, into thinking that they have stored their food stock there.  An observer planning on taking the stash will then focus on the bogus burial site, allowing the squirrel to safely bury the real stash elsewhere.

It’s long been thought that squirrels don’t remember where they bury their nuts, but a gratuitous Princeton study found otherwise:  grey squirrels are quite adept at finding their nuts.

Where I got it:  Where we live there is an abundance of gray (or “grey” if you’re British) squirrels.  I do not recall seeing gray squirrels before, but they’re as common here as the brown ones.  Their tails are about one and a half times as long as regular squirrels and twice as fluffy.  And they’re gray.  Everything else is the same though.  Anyhow, it was inevitable that I would eventually happen upon a gray squirrel carcass.  I was now pretty adept at head removal, so no drama there.  But I decided I really needed to dig into the process of processing skulls.  I realized that my current method of processing (i.e. doing nothing) was losing me teeth and bones.  I had already lost several rabbit teeth (more on that later), and I wanted a complete skull (one that I didn’t buy, anyway).  This squirrel hadn’t died a particularly violent death, at least as far as its skull was concerned, so here was my first shot.  After much googling, I finally came across Jana Miller’s blog which highly details the process of maceration to remove flesh from bones, sterilizing, and whitening.  If you are thinking of trying this yourself, the absolute best guide to maceration that I’ve found is Ms. Miller’s blog.  There are, of course, other methods of cleaning bones, the most common of which is the use of dermestid or skin beetles. These little guys strip bones clean but leave the bone intact.  It’s probably the most efficient and least messy way of processing bone, but this was not a good route for me because keeping dermestids is like keeping any other pet – they have to be housed, cleaned, and fed.  I’m really more interested in dead things since there’s zero care involved.  I diligently followed Jana’s guides and by the time I pulled everything out of peroxide to put back together (bones fall apart, teeth fall out – that’s life), I found I was missing both top incisors (!) and a nasal bone.  I was disappointed in my failure, but I knew they had to be around somewhere – we still lived in the same place and the feds hadn’t been here to clean the scene yet. Squirrel molars are tiny, so I was surprised that I’d managed to hold on to those (gluing them back in the right place took hours though – when I would hold one, the pads of my fingers were too fat to actually place the tooth, and they’re like puzzle pieces; they only go in one way.  There was a lot of dropping, hoping, and cursing involved).  So I looked.  I mean I looked for those teeth and that nasal bone.  I thoroughly combed every place I could think of, but my searching proved fruitless.  I gave up and resigned myself to the fact that I had yet another incomplete skull.  And that squirrel skull sat on my shelf that way for months.  My collection grew around it, and there it sat, mocking me in my failure.  One day, messing around on our back patio, doing something idiotic I’m sure (don’t judge – you’ve been there), a twig on the ground caught my eye – I picked it up and realized it was an orange incisor (the orange is from iron in the enamel – those suckers are strong!).  I was so excited and incredulous that I had to rush inside to see if it fit.  Of course, it did.  Not until about a week later did I think: “maybe the other one is around the same place.”  I really didn’t believe that it would be, since my maceration tubs were several yards away, and I’m sure I looked over the patio in my initial search.  But sure enough, there it was, hardly a foot from where I’d found the other one.  So, I had a nearly complete skull, which looked a lot better, as long as I placed it at an angle on my shelf to hide that damned missing nasal bone.   I completely scoured the patio (again) to see if it had somehow been transported there along with the incisors.  No luck.

After living in that rental house for two years, we finally bought our own house up the hill.  I was cleaning up my maceration tubs in the back yard and picking up any pieces of bone and teeth I could find –not for the first time, I had visions of needing to explain myself at some point in the future; while I was innocent of any crime, I wasn’t really interested in that particular series of events.  I had picked up a few bones and found a lost nutria tooth (finally!).  I walked around with that nasal bone in my hand for about an hour.  I even put it into peroxide to whiten.  Fully two weeks passed before I realized that I had completed my squirrel skull, well over a year after I’d started.

I guess that’s how it goes sometimes.  If you are looking really hard for something and you can’t find it, stop.  It’s likely to show up later, maybe right in your hand.

Skull no. 4: White-tailed Deer

Odocoileus virginianus

Description:  White-tailed Deer wiki

A deer’s powerful legs allow it to run at speeds of up to 40 Miles per hour and jump fences up to 9 feet tall.  At a run, a deer can broad jump 30 feet.

The positioning of the eye sockets on a deer provides a range of vision close to 310 degrees; however, this means that they are not able to focus on the same object with both eyes, resulting in poor depth perception.  Whitetails are believed to be completely color blind.

Deer are the only animals on the planet with antlers.  Antlers are the fastest growing tissue on earth.  A whitetail buck’s antlers can grow up to half an inch per day.

Some experts believe the whitetail deer’s hearing is so good they can determine how far away a sound was made. Their ears can turn in any direction without moving their heads.

Deer can detect odors and scents from several hundred yards away.  A deer licks its nose to help keep it moist.  Scent particles stick to a wet nose, helping the deer to smell better.

When free of predators and hunting pressure, deer can double in population every year.  Just 2 deer when left alone can produce up to 35 deer in as little as 7 years.

Where I got it:  When we first moved to Eugene, we were so excited to be back among the trees!  Boise’s nickname is “The City of Trees.”  I upset quite a few people by asking where they were.  Conversely, Portland is the “City of Roses.”  I’m pretty sure I saw more roses in Boise than I did in Portland.  What gives?  I guess they’re following the American political tradition of naming something the exact opposite of what it is (e.g. “Affordable” Care Act).

Anyhow, we moved in the summer, so we immediately set about exploring the vast forested areas all around us (one adventure led to the worst case of poison oak ever, but that’s a different blog).  During one of our excursions, we found a public park (with a crazy play structure) and as we made our way back down the hill, we left the park through the meadow behind it, with complete disregard for private property.  As the grass got taller and turned into shrubs, we found ourselves picking our way through a disappearing deer path.  I was also keeping an eye on the not-to-distant houses; having just spent a year in Idaho, I was nervous we’d piss off a gun owner hell bent on protectin’ his property.  One of the kids said (I don’t remember which, and it doesn’t matter):  “look – a deer!”  (suburban deer are a common sight in Eugene, which should have informed me that there are no irate gun owners to be leery of).  I looked around, but I didn’t see any deer.  “Where?”  “There!” pointing to the ground.  Sure enough, there was a full-grown white-tailed  doe not more than a dozen feet away, clearly dead. It must’ve been there a while, because there wasn’t any smell.  Unfortunately, I had not had the foresight to bring my hammer, 2×4, and blunt ax with me (see previous post).  I made the kids help me look around for a sharp rock.  This is one of those times that it’s helpful to give specific instruction when directing children; dime-sized angular pebbles, while pretty, were NOT what I was after.  We found a “sharp” rock, and I tried sawing through the leathery neck.  The rock crumbled pretty quickly; the hide remained intact.  As (in uffish thought) I stood there, the kids pointed out the “No Trespassing” signs everywhere and asked if it was okay for us to be here.  So, I took the kids home – no sense in scarring them further; there would be time for that later.  I had to get back here and take care of business.  The walk home took FOREVER.  When I got there, I grabbed a sharp knife (I’d gotten smarter), jumped in the car, and drove back up the hill.  I parked around the corner from the “Private Property.”  Sneaking back into the meadow, I must have looked a bit like Belushi in Animal House.  I cut off the deer head as quickly as I could, tossed it in a bag (paper; plastic bags are outlawed in Eugene) and headed home.  I still had half-decaying coyote and fox skulls in the front yard, so I added the deer to my macabre landscaping and let nature take its course.

The odd thing about this particular deer is that all of its front teeth are chipped.

Chipped Teeth

Chipped Teeth

I’m not sure if that’s a result of my neglect, something relating to this its death, or some other thing I’m too uneducated to guess at.  A fascinating thing about ruminants is that they lack upper incisors and instead have a hard pad in their upper front jaw.  Deer skulls have huge irregularly shaped holes just in front of their eyes that makes them look like they are broken or missing bone pieces.

Infraorbital Foramen

Infraorbital Foramen

No amount of google searching tells me why.  Of course, my amount of searching may be lazier than yours.  They also have a deep pit between this hole and the eye socket which houses their preorbital or lacrimal gland.  This is one of seven (!) scent glands white-tailed deer have.  In reading about these smelly animals, I couldn’t help thinking about our obsession with smelling ourselves.  No one admits it or talks about it, but sometimes when you scratch yourself in your sweaty and/or oily areas, you give a sniff.  Or if you don’t, the urge is there.  Why is that?  Why do we like to smell ourselves?  Why don’t we ever have the urge to smell someone else’s?  And why do we universally not talk about it?  Uncle Tyler is sure it has something to do with the whitetails’ seven scent glands.

Lastly, since I’m not really sure of the legality of all these activities, I have two things to say:

  • All of these events took place over seven years ago (or whatever the statute of limitations is in my area)
  • None of these events actually happened – everything here is false (but the upcoming story about our geriatric rabbit is all true!).

Skull nos. 2 & 3: Western Coyote & Red Fox

DSC00357

Vulpes vulpes & Canis latrans

Description:  Red Fox & Western Coyote wiki

A male fox is called a tod and females are called vixen.  A group of foxes is a “skulk.”  Foxes have whiskers on their legs as well as their muzzles to help them find their way, and they have been known to climb trees.  They catch small rodents with a characteristic high pounce.  This technique is one of the first things cubs learn as they begin to hunt.  A fox’s den, normally an underground burrow, is also known as an “earth.”

 The coyote is also known as the American Jackal, and is the most vocal of all North American wild mammals, with a number of distinct calls  consisting of woofs, huffs, squeaks, growls, barks, whines, yelps, and howls.  Coyotes can also mate with dogs. The offspring are called “coydogs.” Coydogs don’t have a very big population because they tend to mate and have babies during the winter, making it harder for the pups to survive. Also, males do not help the females take care of the pups, which also lead to poor survival rates.

Where I got ’em:  I had decided to start keeping skulls when our ancient pet rabbit died (I’ll get to that later), and the massive amounts of roadkill in Idaho got me thinking about opportunity.  Most of the time though, the species of a hit-and-run victim was all but indecipherable; they drive fast in Idaho.  So I kept an eye out for something salvageable.  I was working at a dairy farm out past Kuna and it took a few rural roads to get out there.  On one of my early-morning return drives, I caught glimpse of what I thought was a dog by the side of the road.  As the days went by, I kept an eye on it, and figured out that it was a coyote and no one was going to come collect it for burial.  So, of course, I packed the wife and kids in the car for a Sunday family drive out to the country.  I took a couple giant pickle jars, a block of wood, a hammer, and a (very dull) hand ax.  There was a wildlife area out past Kuna.  My idea was to drive out to the wildlife area, check out the views, take some pictures, and grab that coyote head on the way back.   I realize now that skin (and especially weathered and dried hides) cut easily with a sharp knife or razor blade.  I didn’t know that at the time.  As we came to the coyote’s resting place, I pulled the car to the shoulder in front of the coyote – no sense in having my family stare while I brutally mangle a coyote corpse.  When I finally got close to the body, I noticed a couple things:  there was a length of rope around the coyote’s neck and one side of its body was completely free of skin.  Also, its paws were pretty tattered.  I realized it probably was not a hit-and-run victim.  I could only guess at the poor creature’s ultimate fate.  I placed the block of wood under the coyote’s neck, set the ax a few inches below its skull, and began beating on the back of the ax with a hammer.  At this point, there was no flesh left, so there wasn’t really any smell; it was basically leather and bone.  But the brutality of the event must’ve looked awesome (not in the good way).  Poor coyote.  After several blows to the back of the ax, the head finally came free.  I scooped it up into a pickle jar and got in the car, a little exhilarated from the slight adrenaline rush of the event.  As I got back on the road, my senses on high alert, my eye caught on a flash of red in the gutter less than a quarter mile away.  I circled back around and, just as I suspected, there was a fox (this time, certainly a hit-and-run) on the side of the road!  What a score – it looked like my first time out was a twofer!  I repeated the whole gruesome scene, but this time the carcass was fresh.  There was blood and smell and maggots.  It was right about this time that I realized I’d never make it as a murderer.  I’m sure that’s not a surprise to most of you, but I probably just lost my influence over the rest of you.  I got my skulls home, tossed them in the back yard, and forgot about them.

I didn’t finish processing these skulls until we moved back to Oregon (yep, I threw all my bones and skulls into containers and shoved them in the back of the U-Haul).  Because these were roadkill (or, in the case of the coyote, dragged behind the back of a redneck truck for god-only-knows how many miles), they were not complete.  Both skulls have the majority of the brain case missing. Coincidentally, this is mostly on the animals’ left side in both cases.  DSC00354I also lost some of the fox’s lower front teeth in the move.  I’m guessing the fox was a tod (I was too busy swinging a hammer to check), because those canines are huge – they’re nearly as long as the ‘yote’s, but the skull is a third the size.  The fox also lost a lower premolar at some time in his life, which healed but left a gap in his teeth on the right side.  It’s cool.DSC00350
Coyotes have an awesome sagittal crest; this one is missing, but its front teeth are perfect.  Studying them helped me figure out how teeth are supposed to interlock and I realized the error in my bear skull (see previous post).

Allowing nature to process these skulls (i.e. leaving them outside and forgetting about them) gives them a nice patina – they are darker than any of my other skulls.  I think I will replace them at some point with complete skulls, but there is something earthy about them that my other skulls lack.  For now, they look nice on my shelf, but only on one side.

UPDATE:  Both of these skulls have been donated to Kennedy Middle School’s Mr. Hansen and his science class – he has quite a growing collection of skulls for his students.  He was going to get a pussy skull, but Buddy America won my heart.

 

Skull no. 1: Black Bear

coverUrsus americanus

Description: American Black Bear wiki

01_schwarzbc3a4rA group of bears is called a “sleuth.”

One of the black bears’ favorite foods is acorns.

Range:  All over the f*cking place!

Diet:  American black bears are omnivorous: plants, fruits, nuts, insects, honey, salmon, small mammals and carrion. In northern regions, they eat spawning salmon.

Black bears will also occasionally kill young deer or moose calves.

Where I got it: Just outside of Caldwell, Idaho is a shop called Rocky Mountain Fireworks and Fur. I had decided to start collecting skulls when our pet rabbit died in Boise (more on that in a later post). I visited this shop months before, curious about the giant warehouse style building with “FIREWORKS” plastered all over it, and discovered the “fur” part. As we headed out of Idaho, packed up and moving back to Oregon, I knew I had one last chance to visit this place (and actually buy something). I pulled head-first into the tiny parking lot and shot past the fireworks, american flags, leather wallets, fireworks, and headed straight for the skulls shelf. They had a few different animal skulls, some snake skins and beaver pelts, some turtle shells.  But I was looking for a bear skull, and there was a real gem in the back – the largest bear skull on the shelf, and a real good looker to boot. I walked to the counter, plopped down my $65. I must’ve looked like an idiot, because the lady behind the counter looked at me sideways the whole time. But then I thought, “maybe that’s just how she looks.” I spent the next ten minutes trying to U-turn a 26-foot U-Haul with a Honda Civic in tow without jackknifing in the parking lot. I barely made it. Later, I realized that the skull had some sort of shiny patina. I hadn’t noticed this at first, because all of their skulls were shrink-wrapped. Unfortunately, I thought this was “correct” so I ended up sort of ruining a few skulls (including the bunny – I’ll get to that one) by spraying them with shellac to mimic this skull’s finish. I thought that the bones needed to be sealed somehow. Through later research (mostly reading Jana Miller’s exhaustive guides on the subject), I found that bones, when properly processed, do not need any further special treatment. Another thing I discovered, the bottom front teeth were glued in incorrectly – the left and right sides were swapped. I was able to soak the jaw to loosen the glue and replace them properly. It’s weird how much it bothered me and how satisfied I was when it was fixed. It’s like the skull was just a piece of garbage before, but a prized treasure afterwards. I imagine that feeling intensified about a thousand-fold is how OCD sufferers live their days. There is a slight yellowing to the skull, which I do not think was present when I first got it – I believe (though what the fuck do I know, really) that this is indicative of bleaching; I’ve found that the word “bleach” is equivalent to “cunt” in the skull and bone processing community – people squirm when you say it and you might get slapped. Apparently, while bleach will initially make bones white, it makes them brittle and they will, over time, yellow. Which is ironic.
Anyhow, this was my first proper skull. It’s probably the 2nd largest I have. I love it dearly.