31 October 2008

Down among the corpse eaters


On this fine Halloween day let us follow Dr. Motter* into the forbidding recesses of ominous crypts to learn about the "fauna of the grave" or the creatures that feed on the dead, the undead and the human brains that won't decompose.

Our first stop is a mummy covered with silverfish (Thysanura).


Next, we visit a "fairly alive" corpse, definitely one of the undead.


Here is a piece of information from Motter that would have been of interest to Dr. Frankenstein.
The brain I have found a still recognizable grayish mass, lying within the skull after all the other soft tissues had disappeared and the skeleton had been completely disarticulated. Indeed, I have found it, after eighteen years and two months (No. 136), lying on the occipital bone after the skull itself had fallen apart.
Motter collected more than 70 species of arthropods, including one isopod (Armadillidium vulgare) from the graves he opened. However, it wasn’t just the insects and the like that were partaking of rotting human flesh; Motter also found 4 species of snails that were in on the devouring of the cadaverous victuals.


Helicodiscus lineatus is now called Helicodiscus parallelus, Zonitoides minusculus is Hawaiia minuscula and Vitrea electrina is Nesovitrea electrina, while Zonitoides arboreus is still known by the same name. It is surprising that some of these snails were found rather deep in the soil. The next time I go to a cemetery to collect snails, I am definitely taking a shovel with me.

May we all one day become food for the fauna of our graves.

Happy Halloween!

*Motter M.G. 1898. A contribution to the study of the Fauna of the grave. A study of on hundred and fifty disinterments, with some additional experimental observations. Journal of New York Entomological Society 6:201-233. Available on Google Books.


Megan said...

Ick, well, Happy Halloween!

I'm impressed with how many insects and snails worked their way 5 ft. down. I would've figured that the snails would have been happier on limestone tombstones.

Nuthatch said...

Best topical Halloween post ever!

restoration_rake said...

This is one of the most interesting things I've come across. Thanks!