09 January 2006

Unexpected discoveries on a cold afternoon

What started out as a routine daily walk one afternoon over the weekend turned into one with several finds in a span of less than 2 hours: 14 snail shells, the ruins of an old farm, a deer carcass and a turtle shell.

All of these were in a small wooded area not too far from my house. I am afraid the area, just outside a park, has been set aside for development. Besides other animals, there are some deer living there. Once they develop the area, the deer will become a nuisance and then people will start complaining that there are too many deer and that something should be done about it. It never dawns on the complainers that maybe the real problem is that there are too many people and that too much of the land is being taken away from the deer and the other animals.

I find deer bones quite frequently in the woods; I even found a skull with huge antlers once. But entire carcasses of recently died deer are rare in the wild (but not along the roads), perhaps because they get eaten quickly. So this find was unusual in that respect. It was not a pleasant sight, although it didn't smell too bad, probably because it was cold. I will return early in the spring and try to recover the skull. Hopefully by then the bones will have been picked clean.

The carcass was under a fallen tree, one side of which was blocked by the branches and undergrowth. I wonder if the deer took refuge there instinctively during its final moments to partially protect itself from potential predators (although there aren't any around here). Are deer known to do die in secluded spots?

On my way back, I found a turtle shell on the ground. It looked like some animal had chomped off the front end of it. From the patterns on the remaining scutes (the large scales covering a turtle's carapace), I have identified the turtle as the Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina carolina. Occasionally, I come across live box turtles in the woods around here.

I will write about the snail shells I found and the old farm I photographed in separate posts.


Watermelon Man said...

Do you have coyotes in Maryland ? I know here in Michigan they have been spreading into urban areas. (actually it is the urban areas spreading into the coyotes)Anyways, a pack of coyotes will leave a deer carcass very similiar to what you have photographed.


I have yet to see one, but yes, coyotes have been reported from this area. People are going hysteric over them: "It was stalking my children!"

Pamela Martin said...

If it was coyotes--or if there are coyotes around, I'd go back and check on the skull now--and take it if it's still there, if you want it. Coyotes will return to, or find, the carcass and cart off the bits.