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Skeletons

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Skeleton discovery is exciting and initiates mystery investigation. Who was it? Why and how did she or he die? Who should we tell or show? Should we keep the bones? Will a museum want to keep the bones in their artifacts collection? 

When I was ten, I found a skeleton with dried skin in the corner of the garage. Though it had been dead all winter, I was able to determine it was a robin’s remains. The bird is still in my possession and was shown to visitors recently along with other discoveries from my childhood. 

When exploring a bog with my older brothers in 1961, we walked out on a log. At the end, Mike saw the end of a bone protruding from the bog surface. He pulled it up and saw it was a deer’s femur. We probed and found other bones. We tried to determine where the skull would be located. He thought to the right and I thought to the left. As we pulled up ribs, vertebrae, hip bones and more, I felt something large and hard. 

I lunged my arm deep and pulled up the skull with my fingers holding it by empty eye sockets. It was a thrill to find a skeleton that had been preserved in a bog for who knows how many years or decades. Tannic bog acids slowed decay and colored the bones a rich tan. We guessed the deer fell off the log and became stuck in the bog ooze. That skeleton was shown to recent visitors also. It has been in my possession for almost 60 years. 

Most skeletons are left where found. Once when walking along a dirt road in the upper peninsula near Lake Michigan, my daughter was exploring the roadside and saw bones. She found a monster that was probably ten feet long. She was four years old. We spent time looking at the great variety of bones and determined they were from a horse. Someone perhaps had been riding their horse when it died. They probably retrieved riding gear and left the carcass to vultures, coyotes, and other scavengers. 

I should be so lucky when my demise comes and be returned to the elements by hungry neighbors like a dead tree left to be decayed by fungus, bacteria, hungry beetles and scavengers. For many readers this might bring queasy feelings because many want to be embalmed and kept in underground vaults or be cremated. 

My remains will not get up and wander graveyards each Halloween to frighten people but it is fun to imagine such scary events. Children have fun costuming as zombies or skeletons that wander neighborhoods when darkness ends the day.

When exploring the neighborhood or roadsides, do not be surprised to find tiny to large skeletons. By year’s end, antlers will be discarded by bucks. Mice, squirrels, and other animals will gnaw on them for needed phosphate and calcium. Antlers provide essential nature niche nutrients to those still alive. 

Antlers are bone material grown from spring to fall and discarded after breeding season. Some are giant like those of moose and elk. Others are moderately small like those of deer. 

Horns are different and not shed. They persist from year to year and continue growth throughout the animal’s lifetime. They might be straight like a pronghorn’s or curled as with big horned sheep. Horns are modified hair made of keratin instead of bone material. Hooves are composed of keratin.

Spend time this Halloween season exploring for skeletons. It should be fun and educational instead of frightening. Keep the fun frightening part for Halloween trick or treat events with friends and family.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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