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CSI: Bambi part 2 - the stag skull

This is the second of a series of posts about this skeleton.
You can read the first one here.
I haven't written the third one yet !

This week I was going to start writing about the big box of really cool bones I got sent through the post, but I need to do more research on all of the skulls first. So instead I am going to write more about the cool red deer stag skeleton I found last November.

Last time I wrote about how I collected the bones. This week I am going to write about the skull, which is really cool and has lots of clues to how the stag might have died.

This is a massive skull. I didn't realise how massive it was until I put it on a shelf in my room next to a female red deer.

It doesn't seem much more massive when you measure it, though. The condylobasal length, which is what scientists call how long it is, is 38cm long, and zygomatic width, which is really just how wide it is, is 16cm. That's not much bigger than the adult hind skull, which is 34cm long and 13cm wide. But when you put them side by side, the stag looks much bigger. Sometimes, an adult stag can weigh twice as much as an adult hind !

The strangest thing you notice with this skull is the antlers.

Both antlers look like they have been broken. The left antler looks like it has been broken in three places. But antler is incredibly strong, stronger than some bones, so it didn't break in a fight or an accident. Maybe this deer wasn't getting enough food and nutrients, because food is needed for antlers to grow properly, or maybe the antlers broke when they were still growing (in velvet) when they were still soft.

There is another clue in the antlers which shows how old the deer was. This next picture shows how the antler might have grown if it had grown properly.

Deer antlers grow new every year before they fall off and grow again. On red deer, they usually grow bigger and bigger each year, usually starting with one point and adding more points each year. The bay antler doesn't grow until the deer is older. That means this skull is probably not from a young deer.

Teeth are a good way of seeing how old a deer was. This stag had all six adult teeth through, so it was an adult. The teeth are a bit worn, but not worn all the way down. That means it was not elderly. But there is something else you spot when you look at the teeth:

The strange thing is the lump on the left jaw. It is as if a new layer of bone grew in a bubble above the old jaw. I have never seen anything like this before, and it is a big puzzle. I asked two experts what it might be. Lucina who I met at the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification said something like a thorn might have got stuck in the tissue next to the jaw while the deer was alive, then a new bit of bone grew over.

Stuart is a vet who my dad sometimes works with, and he helped me before with a puzzle with my roe deer skeleton called George. Stuart thought Lucina's suggestion was a good one, or that it could have been a special kind of cancer that was benign, and so it didn't destroy the bone. But everyone I spoke to thought it was a puzzle. Do you know ? Email me if you do.

It's a really big lump. This picture shows it from underneath. It must have been very sore for the deer, especially when eating.

This picture shows the stag skull on the right next to a an adult red deer hind (female) skull on the left. One thing I have noticed is that where the arrows are pointing, there are two lumps if the red deer is young, and it is smooth when it is old. On my oldest red deer skull (called Lisa) the bumps have completely gone.

On this stag skull the bumps are small and almost gone. That is a sign it is old, I think.

But then there is another puzzle ! I am learning to use the sutures, or cracks in the skull, to work out the age. On older animals the sutures get thinner and disappear. Here are the backs of the skulls for the adult hind on the left, and this stag on the right.

The puzzle is that the stag skull, which I think is the same age or older has big suture lines, but the hind's have almost disappeared. The best place to see it is on the backs of the skull. Maybe all stag skulls are like this, or maybe there was something wrong with this deer.

I thought it was amazing to collect a whole stag skeleton, but it's cool that there are so many puzzles to solve. I hope I will be able to work out why it died. If you think you can help, please email me or leave a comment !

This is the second of a series of posts about this skeleton.
You can read the first one here.
I haven't written the third one yet !

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Anonymous said...

Hijake, awsome stag skull.


Jake said...

Hi Ross ! Thank you, it's really cool and I like it too. I really like bones where there is something a little bit different about them.

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