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Putting a fox skeleton back together


Important: Are you looking for a step-by-step guide on how to put a fox skeleton back together ? If so, I wrote this guide in January 2013 which is more help than this page.

I used to think that if I found an animal skeleton all the bones would be in the right order. But in most of the skeletons I've found the bones are all jumbled up, and often bones are missing. That means that if we want to know more about the animal, we have to try to put the pieces back together. Here are bones of a fox that I collected. When I put names to my skeletons, I called this one Harry. I found the skull first of all, then we looked harder, and we found some other bones which were buried beside it.

Here are the bones we found. You can see they were all jumbled up when we brought them home. Different types of bones have different shapes, so then we begin sorting them out. Even though we this was the first fox skeleton we brought back, we could see that a lot of the bones were just the same as a deer or a rabbit. We began by sorting them into different piles.

These were what the different types of bones were:

  1. This is a shoulder blade, or scapula. These are what the front legs are attached to. We only found one of these.
  2. This is the atlas, the last neck bone, the one next to the skull.
  3. These are the ribs. I think, but an not sure, that a fox has 12 nine pairs of ribs (based on the picture on this website). We only found 15 ribs in total, so there were at least three that we missed.
  4. These are the neck bones. In rabbits, deer and foxes, these bones are thick and strong, because they have to support the head. Scientists call these the cervical vertebrae, but if you say neck vertebrae, they know what you mean.
  5. These are the bits of the spine that go from the base of the neck, down the shoulders to the middle of the back. They have an extra bit pointing away from the body. The ribs attach to these vertebrae. These parts of the spine are called the thoracic vertebrae.
  6. These vertebrae are part of the lower back, going towards the hips. They have little sticky out bits on either side, pointing back towards the body, like tiny ribs.
  7. These little thin bones were part of the tail.

Here are some of the bones that we didn't find:

  • We didn't find the bottom jaws. That was a shame because skulls look brilliant on my shelves when they have their lower jaws.
  • We didn't find any of the legs. We only found one shoulder blade.
  • We were missing parts of the tail and ribs, and a couple of bits of the spine.
  • We didn't find the pelvis, which was odd. The pelvis is a very big bone.

This is what it looked like when we put the bones back in the right order:

Now I can see how big the fox was in real life. It measured about 50cm from the atlas at one end of the spine to the start of the tail. We don't know how long the tail was, but normally the tail is about two-thirds the length of the body and head. The skull is 14½cm long, and I think there are three spine bones missing, so overall, from nose to the beginning of the tail, it would be about 65cm long. The BBC website says that the length of a fox head and body is usually between 50cm and 90cm, and the National Geographic website says about the same, but maybe a bit smaller. So it looks like this was an adult fox, but maybe a bit on the small side. Maybe it was a young adult.

Here's the skull by itself.

The skull feels different to a deer or a rabbit. It feels smoother and shinier. The eye sockets are different, and the teeth are very different. We didn't find all the teeth, and we were missing one of the pre molars, one of the big canines, and four of the top incisors. Otherwise, the skull is in very good condition. Of the skulls that I have, this is my favourite.

The skull is 14½cm long. This website says a bit more about red fox skulls, and says the male skull is bigger than the female skull, and that this person's biggest male fox skull is 15cm long. That makes think that the one I have is for a young adult male fox.

Here's a picture of a fox that my Daddy took:


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Ella said...

i found a skull and i think that it is a fox skull however it is only 7 cm long does this mean it is not one or just very young, the teeth seem to be large in size and not small like i would thing a baby foxes teeth would be can you help ?/??

Jake said...

Hi Ella,

My skull is about twice as big, and it is an adult. It might be cub skull, but it's probably not a fox. Do you have a picture of it you could send to jakesbones@gmail.com ?

If it looks like a fox but is smaller, it might be a cat. How many teeth does it have after the big spiky ones ? If it's just three, it's a cat. Here's what my cat skulls look like.

Caitlin said...

I wish there were some bigger pictures so i could see exactly how these fit together. I have a baby deer skeleton right now; most of the spine and some of the ribs. When I cleaned the bones many small pieces split off from the spine which are now confusing me.

Jake said...

Hi Caitlin,

Do you know what type of deer it is ? Do the bits that come off the vertebrae look like little thin circles ? Those are thin discs of softer bone that stop the harder bone rubbing together.

Jacob said...

Hi Jake,

I'm a bit of a fanatic myself, since I found a whole fox skeleton. Though, I would really appreciate it if you could give me some pointers on the sort of area I need to look in. I live in Cornwall, by the way. :)

Jake said...

Hi Jacob,

That's a brilliant idea for a story here. I will think about it and write something up in January. But sometimes you just need to be lucky in look in lots of woods before you find something.

I should have a fox skeleton soon ! I was going to dig it up in December but it's been far too snowy.

Sue said...

Hey Jake,
Thanks to you a fried of mine was able to identify a fox skeleton we took a picture of in Andrew Molera State Park, California! Great site!

Jake said...

Hi Sue,

Glad it helped, and glad you like my site !

Anonymous said...

hi jake its me emmy. my moms friend found a bunch of bever dams about 3 feet long and tall. i went 4 wheeling with her to see them. it was amazing. i thought it was a breeding zone for them. and i know i will find dead beavers so i think you would want one soon!??

Jake said...

Hi Emmy,

That sounds amazing ! I already have an American beaver skull that I wrote about here but if you had a spare one that would be cool. If you don't find any, no worries.

We have a few beavers in Scotland but I haven't seen any yet.

Jake said...

PS. Thank you !

Bella said...

Hi jake,
I went walking with my friends in a wood and we found a fox skeleton, i was wondering if you have found out the exact number of ribs a fox has, as i found about 12 pairs of ribs but im not sure if they are all defiantly ribs. I know you found your skeleton a while ago now, but did you try and go back and look for more bones as i went back a lot of times and came back with more and more pieces. Are the very small bones that have slightly more blunt ends than the tail bones toes? Do you know a way to clean bones easily, but effectivily?

Jake said...

Hi Bella,

I have just looked at my new fox skeleton called Vulpy (you can read about it here) and it has 12 pairs, although some of the ones nearest the head are very small. Not sure what you mean by the toe bones though.

I've started to clean bones with hot water and cheap biological washing power, then leaving it for a few days, changing the water when it gets too dirty. I sometimes still use hydrogen peroxide which bleaches the bone. I wrote about using that here. Hope that helps !

Bella said...

Hi again Jake,
I live in the north west of France in Britainy, where do i need to look to find bones ? I find your bone collecting amazing, what are the rarest bones you have found?

Jake said...

Hi Bella,

Sorry it's taken me so long to reply ! I look in woods which are a long way away from roads, an which have a lot of wildlife in them. Looking round the edge of the wood is a good place to start because that's where foxes take things they have killed, and where buzzards can drop bones. I've found a lot of deer at the edge of woods as well.

My rarest bone I've found might be a red deer with an extra tooth, or a red deer with one antler, or a duck's quack ! Or I think my leopard is quite rare but I didn't find that.

Hope said...

Thank you Jake. For my work I really needed to see a fox skull and your images are the best.

Kim Osterhout said...

Great Article! Right now I am in the midst of putting together a fox skeleton myself (though I'm going to have to search the stream for several missing paw parts). I had the luck of finding mine early on in the decomposition process, but I also have the ill luck that my parents will not let me bury any bodies in the backyard, so I had to wait for it to decay. It's always nice to find others who share my passion for this rare hobby.

Jake said...

Glad it helped !

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