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Zombie badgers and old buried bones


You can probably remember that a few months ago I found a roadkill badger outside my village, and I wrapped it in a wire mesh and left it in a wood near my house which I call The Mortuary wood (the buzzard is there too at the moment as well).

I've been meaning for ages to go back and collect the bones, but I only got round to it at the weekend. But when I went back to check on it I got a surprise !

This is how I wrapped it in wire mesh, which helps keep the bones together on the 16th April, the day after I found it:

The edges were tied up with cable ties to keep predators away:

Then it was hidden in a hole underneath the roots of a fallen down pine tree, and covered up with sticks. Dad checked on it a few times to make sure it hadn't been disturbed. When we went back on Sunday, this is how it looked when I pulled it out. It looked almost exactly the same as when we left it 111 days ago !

I wasn't expecting that ! I have seen a red deer reduced to just white bones in just three months, and a badger is much smaller.

Looking through the mesh the gumline was still there in the jaws, and the teeth were still being held in place:

Very gross image. Click and hold down to see the full picture or click here to see in a new window.

And the paws looked very similar to when it first died:

So what went wrong ?

I thought I had done everything right. The wire mesh would let insects in and body fluids out. It was left next to a pond which would attract insects. It was left in the countryside where the smell wouldn't be noticed. It was covered by sticks but air could still get to it.

I asked on Twitter about what I did wrong, and @HeebieB and @CuratorLaura gave some tips.

Although I think they both missed the obvious answer:

In Scotland we have had a couple of warm weeks, but it has been raining again for the last week or so. But rain wouldn't fall on the badger because it's hidden in a small cave at the edge of the tree roots. My second reason was worrying whether the mesh holes were big enough for flies to get in. Flies lay eggs which turn into maggots which eat flesh.  There were a few maggots I could see on the body but not many, so I cut a hole in the top of the mesh:

I'm going to go back to add water from time to time, or make a hole in the turf above so rain can get in.

There was another interesting thing too. On the way there, walking through the wood, there was an upturned pine tree. (I always check tree roots after I found the WWII bomb last year.) I saw the edge of a bone sticking out of the upturned soil.

This was it:

It was 22cm long, and the outside layer of bone was flaking off:

The bone was similar to deer or sheep lower leg bones, but much bigger. It was either a metatarsal (the bone(s) between ankle and toe)  or metacarpal (between the wrist and finger). In animals like deer and sheep the bone looks like two bones fused closely together. The way to tell the difference between a metatarsal and metacarpal on these animals is the shape of the bone at the ankle end. If it is round, it's a metatarsal (back leg) and if the shape is squashed like an oval or "D", then it's a metacarpal (front leg). I wrote more about the difference in this post last year. This bone is a metatarsal:

The other end shows me that it was a young animal because the ends of the bones at the toe ends hadn't yet fused on.

From the size of the bone, it must have been from a young cow, but not a baby one.

It was disappointing about the badger, but at least I found this bone !

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Will said...

My badger has a very similar problem! I hid it in my rose bush about 4 or 5 months ago, but it is in a similar state as yours! My dad said that badgers are very slow decomposers because things don't like to eat them. That's just my two pence.

Jake said...

I don't think beetles and maggots mind what they eat ! I don't know if foxes or buzzards eat dead badgers, though.

Will said...

I think its something that I might experiment on, having a badger and maybe a fox in near proximity to each other. A decomposition race as you will. Then the truth will be known

Jake said...

Ha ! Let me know how you get on !

Psydrache said...

Maybe it's because a badger is a "fatty" animal, so it will need more time than other animals for to rot down. Even the hair are thicker than the hair of a fox or a hare, so maybe that will need longer as well.

Jake said...

I'm sure badgers are fatty in the same way that seals or bears or hedgehogs are, I think they are mainly muscle. I know the skin is thicker, though.

Sea Wolf said...

Keeping it wet should help some. Flies will lay eggs through the wire so maggots getting to it should not be a problem. It will take a longer time because I think your badger has the same, tough, hide that our American badgers do. Zombie badgers are incredibly resilient. They just don't want to go away.

Jake said...

I think I'll go and squirt it with some water to see if that helps.

becky said...

do you ever keep anything other then the bones?as i am a collector to but i also am interested in things such as tail and skins as well as the bones,if i can figure a way to preserve them.i do it all my self out of road kill.also deer can also be a good free meal if fresh enough and plenty more animals can be to.

Jake said...

No, I"m just keeping the bones for now, but I'm going to do a post soon on other things I have found in the woods.

TeaLovingDave said...

I have had similar issues with a badger I found back in April - ultimately I found that placing the remains in a cage weighed down with rocks and placing the cage in a nearby stream for 48 hours before reburying the remains did the trick; they went from almost entirely undecomposed to entirely clean and only needing the usual degreasing treatment within a month after that :)

Jake said...

Thanks ! Dad went and sprayed it with water today and is going to do the same tomorrow as well to try and help it along.

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