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Wilma, the unborn red deer fawn


Last week I wrote about finding the skeleton of a pregnant red deer hind, and finding the bones of her baby deer as well. This week I'm going to write more about the baby skeleton.

There were 101 pieces of bone I found and brought back. First of all I put them in very hot water with biological washing powder, then changing the water as it got dirty. That took about a week. After that I dried them out and tried to put them back together.

I started with all the pieces that I thought were from the skull:

The four big bits in the middle were easy because they were the outside of the braincase. There were other parts like where the spine goes in and with the teeth that I knew where they went. But some pieces were missing, like the part between the eye socket and the top teeth, or the plate at the back of the skull. I used a bigger deer skull as a guide because you could see where the plates joined up. In baby deer, the plates aren't really joined at all which is why the skull didn't look like a skull.

After I joined up the bits with Blu-Tak, it looked like this:

The jaw only had the first three cheek teeth, which are called the pre-molars. You can see them here. Pre-molar three (PM3) had three cusps or spikes, so it looks like more than one tooth. All three pre-molar teeth were still emerging.

When I put the rest of the skeleton together it looked like this:

Almost all the bones were found, but some big ones were missing, like the right femur, and the left radius and most of the hip. This is the only bit of the pelvis that I found:

Some of the vertebrae, like this one from near the shoulders, weren't grown properly yet, and had a bit missing at the bottom:

The toe bones and hooves were there but were tiny: (A British fifty pence piece is about 27mm across).

Even the atlas, which is quite a strong bone, hasn't yet finished growing into one piece.

First of all I wasn't sure how old the baby was, or whether the mum died during childbirth. But I think the baby wasn't full grown yet, even though it had fur on it its legs.

The mummy deer's skull had some clues too. This is what the mummy deer's jaw looked like:

Pre-molar one is missing because it was probably just loose and we missed them when we looked.

All the adult teeth are through. If you look, you can see pre-molar three is just coming through because it is lower than the rest. (You can tell it is the adult tooth because it was two cusps, not three.). From this guide (it's a PDF) it says that all adult teeth are through by about 30 months old in red deer. If this deer was about 30 months old, it would have died in December 2009 or January 2010. But that would still be five months before the baby deer would have been born, and I think it was already quite big, so I think the mummy died in about March when she would have been about 32 months old.

This is the skull of the red deer hind together with the baby she never saw:

I have lots of red deer hind skulls already so I am selling this one on eBay at the moment. You can see it here.

Last year, Dad photographed this red deer hind with her baby about a mile away in the same wood:

Being a deer baby is tough, and lots of them die in their first year. Even though I know this, it's still sad to think of this mum and baby dying together.

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