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Did I get it wrong about the injuries to Pharoah ?


For the last few weeks I have been writing about a fox skeleton I found in Northern Ireland which had some unusual pathology (which means features) on the bones. My first post was about cleaning them up, my second post was looking at the whole skeleton, and the third post was about some damage to the shoulder blade which I thought was a bite mark, and that I thought the suspect was another fox (who I put in jail at the end of the last post !)

After I wrote these, Ben Garrod of Ben's Bones sent me a message on my Facebook fan page saying that he he disagreed with me and he had different ideas about what happened. This happens a lot in science and good scientists always show how they came up with theories or ideas so other scientists can agree or disagree with them. So this last post on Pharoah is about what he what he thinks and what I think so you can make up your own mind in the comments at the end:

The damage to the scapula (shoulderblade)

What Ben and I agree on: there was damage to the edge of the left scapula which had rehealed with the thickness of the bone being uneven, and there are two holes which go all the way through.

My theory: it was a bite mark from another fox, because the two holes were the right width apart, and it was the part of the scapula where you would most expect to find a bite mark.

Ben's theory: "The scapula (probably) has a projectile hole with associated fracturing that ‘crumpled’ up the distal margin. A bite in this area wouldn't leave that 'clean' little perforation mark."

What I think: I'm not sure. If it was a projectile hole, it was probably shotgun pellets, especially because it's a fox and farmers shoot at them a lot. But there are only two holes close together, but no other holes on the scapula which you expect to see. Also the ridge has been crushed and rehealed in the same area, which is more like a bite than a shotgun pellets:

Ben sounded pretty definite, but I'm not so sure. Dad asked another vet and one thing she said was that if it was a bite it must have been pretty deep because there is muscle that lies on top of the shoulder blade to the depth of the ridge across it.

So if Ben is right, then it isn't a fox bite, and I will have to 'free' the fox ! What do you think ? Write your verdict in the comments !

Then other things Ben noticed were:

The bone growth on the right humerus:

What we agree on: There is a bone growth about a third of the way down the humerus near the shoulder end, at a point where a muscle attaches.

What I wrote: "my dad asked a vet friend who said the growth was at the point where a muscle attaches to the bone, and it had had some damage there (vets call it 'trauma'). I don't know what caused this."

Ben's theory: "I asked a friend who is a very well-respected forensic anthropologist about the humerus and she says it is an enthesopathy - it is apparently in the right place, and could have resulted as a consequence from the injury to the scapula (where Pharaoh suddenly begins to favour one leg, placing lopsided stresses on the forelimb)."[Enthesopathy is a disorder of bone attachments]

Emily's theory (in the comments of the original blog post): "I wonder if the lump on the right humerus could be where the tendon attaching the muscle has ossified (become bony). This sometimes happens in humans if you have very big muscles - you can see them on the bones. Perhaps the injury to the left scapula caused the fox to use it's right forelimb a lot more, so it's muscle got a lot bigger and left this ossified muscle attachment?"

What I think: Ben and Emily both linked this growth to the damage to the shoulder-blade, which makes sense. If you saw Pharoah while he was alive, and their theory is correct, it would be limping with its left leg but have a stronger right leg.

I have other skeletons of animals that have one leg which is broken or damaged. I have the bones from Francis which was a broken front leg of a red deer and those bones feel much lighter than normal because the bone is thinner because the body doesn't strengthen it because it doesn't hold any weight.  The left and right leg bones feel about the same weight. But Dad asked a vet about this and she said the difference in weight wouldn't be much.

I think Ben and Emily's theory is a good one about this.

The growth at the knee joint:

What we agree on: There is a extra bone growth at the knee joint end of the left femur, where it meets the tibia.

What I wrote: "Dad checked with the vet again who said it was a sign of arthritis, which is a sign of old age when the joints start to stiffen up and hurt."

Ben's theory: "Pharaoh did not have osteoarthritis in the femur – it looks like something called an ossifying haematoma (a bone cyst)."

What I think: I asked my mum what a haematoma is because she is a nurse. It is blood which gathers not in the veins but in the tissue in a particular spot. Ossifying means turning into bone. It sounds like it had a knee injury for the blood to be there. I think Ben is right have this but whatever caused it it must have been nasty for the fox.

I don't mind getting corrected if I have been wrong. Being a scientist is about finding out what happened and other scientists correcting you is good if it helps find out what happened. A lot of how bones grow is very complicated so I don't know as much as proper bone experts but I am glad the pictures helped other people work it out !

So what do you think ? Should I free the fox from the prison because the bite mark he supposedly made never happened ?

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Kevin Storms said...

You could radiograph the bones,if there was any lead tranfer from shot it would show as very tiny shadows...Just an idea. Kevin Storms

Jack N said...

I think theres equal evidence for both.P.S I am now off school wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jana Miller said...

Great post and thoughts from you and Ben (and Emily)! I find lots of pathological bones and try to imagine how they became the way they are. They are often favorites of mine in my collection. One thing about the scapula that I noticed are all of the other tiny holes in it from the bone healing over additional damage that's now unseen and/or being infected. Since it is mostly between the two dominant holes it makes me think that there was much more damage than a bite that has now healed over. A shotgun would do that for sure. But also, a bite could have caused an infection also leaving that healed bone pattern. I don't know technical terms, sorry. Haha. So I'm undecided about that. I also have nothing of my own to compare to it that I'm certain has been shot or bit and then healed. I find bones similar to the humerus fairly often and love hearing what could have possibly caused it. The knee joint is a fantastic find. A bone cyst does seem like it would more likely have caused that extensive reshaping of the bone than arthritis. I'd love to see what you guys think about some of the bones I've come across!

Jake said...

Thanks for your help everyone !

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