Friday, January 2, 2009

Odocoileus virginianus

When walking around in the woods this fall, taking pictures, the sight of a skull sitting in the dirt, caught my eye. At closer examination, I immediately identified it as the Odocoileus virginianus, also known as the White Tailed Deer. I also noticed nearby that there were what looked like a few ribs. Within minutes of searching the area, I had found two almost complete legs, the full back and neck vertebrae, the skull and both jaw bones, the hip joint, both shoulder-blades, and a couple dozen ribs. After finding a clear spot, I started assembling the parts, with the help of an illustration of a deer skeleton, and discovered that I had a nearly complete female deer skeleton that I decided to name Ginny.

I've found parts of deer skeletons before, but they were hardly worth trying to collect, considering how damaged they were. What was unique about this skeleton, was that it seemed to have hardly been touched. Except for the fact that two whole legs, and the tail vertebrae, were missing, this skeleton was perfect. Nothing had been obviously chewed on. Last March, I came across a doe that had been attacked and partcially eaten by coyotes (as proven by the dozens of coyote prints found nearby). I kept a close eye on the carrion, and within a week, all of the meat had been stripped from its body. The skeleton was full, but about every bone on it (including the skull) had been knawed on. How this skeleton somehow avoided complete mutilation is beyond me.

An interesting fact that I learned when searching online for an illustration of a deer skeleton, was that with the way that deers are constructed, they are literally standing on their toe nails. For those of you that aren't familiar with the bones of the human body, the bone in your thigh is the femur, the bones in your shin are the tibia and fibula, and the bones in your feet are the meta- tarsals. As seen by this graph of Ginny, the deer's metatarsals are actually located in the leg. This means the ankle are their toes, and the hooves are their toenails. As demonstrated by the deer's incredible ability to run and jump and incredible speed, their unique structure has been a huge success.
I took this picture in the fall of 2006.