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. I 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.
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.