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"I've found a bone...but what is it ?"


I currently get about 750 emails a year and I try to respond to every single one of them. A lot of the emails I get are people asking "I've found a bone, but what is it ?", asking me to identify bones that they have found but they can't work out what they are from. Sometimes the bones are actually quite simple, but you have to look at them in a certain way to work out what they are.

Over the summer I've been photographing common bones that I find on walks, the sort of thing that I don't look at for long any more because I have others at home, or because I find so many of them. I hope this helps others trying to identify bones they have found !

Long thick bones

Long thick bones like this are usually from animal legs. If they have a small round ball at the top, like this one, they are usually femurs. Bones which have a triangular top end and which are thinner at the other end are usually tibias (shin bones). Oval shaped bones with a curve in them are radiuses (lower arm bones). Bones which are thin needle shaped at one end and thicker at the other with a notch are ulnas (they go beside the radius). Bones with a big smooth head and a notch at the other are humeruses (upper arm bones).

The bone above has a small ball head, so it is a femur. Because the other end curls to the back of the leg, it is a right femur. 

The most useful way to tell which animal it is from is by size. This wood had mice, voles, rabbits, foxes, sheep and roe deer. It was too big to be from a rabbit, and too small to be from an adult roe deer, which leaves fox. It could possibly be from a dog, but it is very unlikely. 

Medium-sized skulls with big eye sockets.

Skulls like this often get mistaken for rats because they have two front incisors like rodents. It's actually from a rabbit, which is a different family (lagomorphs) to rodents. Lagomorphs have two extra teeth (peg teeth)behind the two front incisors, and their incisors are coloured white, not orange like rodents. I wrote about telling the difference here. 

A big u-shaped bone with two holes.

This is a pelvis. It's usually found in two halves but older animals have them joined together. (Baby animals have them in four or six parts, like this baby deer). The pelvis joins the femur to the spine. The ball of the femur goes in the hollow. My rearticulated fox skeleton shows it better.

From the size, this looks like a fox.

Pointy skull with low down eye sockets.

These are dragon skulls. They are very, very rare. You did really well to find one.

No, not really. They are bird pelvises, which are different to mammal pelvises because they are fused onto the spine and are much lighter. The eye holes are close to where the bird's femur goes in. You can see another one from a buzzard here.

Bones shaped like the space shuttle

It's a vertebrae from the lower part of the spine. This is probably from a sheep because it looks too thick to be a roe deer. On this one the outer layer of bone has worn away showing the honeycomb inside.

Small bone shaped like a forearm and clenched fist

It's a bird humerus, the first wing bone. The thick end goes closest to the body. It will feel very light. I've written more about bird skeletons here.

A thin Y or U shaped bone

Congratulations -you've found a dinosaur bone !

This is a bird furcula which hangs at the front of a bird's neck as if it is wearing a necklace. It adds strength to the front of the shoulders. It's the equivalent to our collarbones (clavicles) which have fused together in birds. I wrote more about furculas here and again when I talked about my buzzard skeleton here. I'm not sure what bird this one is from but it looks woodpigeon sized.

Very fine, fragile folded bone.

This bone is very thin, and like a finely folded sheet of paper. It is tricky to ID because it is normally seen as part of a bigger bone, the skull. It's the bones inside the nose called the nasal turbinates.

It is from this baby roe deer skull. Skulls are made up of different parts, called plates. In baby animals these plates aren't fused together yet, which is why you can see the two halves of the braincase.

A small ball of fur

This is a bird pelletI wrote about them here. Or a fox poo. I've taken fox poo home by mistake before. Fox poo is thinner and tapers at one end, though. This one was definitely a bird pellet, though.

A long bone with a spike

The spike makes this bone confusing, but it is a leg bone called a tarsometatarsus from a pheasant. The spike is called a spur. You can sometimes tell the age of the bird from the size of the spike.

A hollow ball with spikes on the front

This is confusing because it's broken. It's obviously a skull, but the front beak has broken off at the 'hinge' on the nose. This is from a pheasant as well.

If you find a bone but can't identify it, email me at jakesbones@gmail.com. Things that help are photos which show scale and it from different angles, and where you found it (a lot of people forget to say the country !) I currently get about 750 emails a year and try to reply to every one. You might also want to see if you can recognise the shape here (if it's a mammal) or here (if it's a bird)

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Marie said...

Great post Jake, thanks!

Arlene Harris said...

I'm so pleased to have been told about your blog. And I like this page - a very useful resource for beginners like myself. Thank you and look forward to learning more.

Sarah R said...

I have an armadillo pelvis that looks weird. Took me a while to figure out exactly what it was. Would you like a picture of it to add to here in case someone finds an armadillo? I can also put a bit of armadillo plating in the picture... They aren't from the same one, but I at least think they were both adult. The pelvis is kind of a strange color because it was extremely fragile (I think from being bleached in the Texas sun for too long, could have been years) so I dipped it in epoxy to preserve it.

Brad Simons said...

I have one of those skulls. I thought it belonged to a squirrel but now I can see it's pheasant. Curiously, my pheasant skull is broken in exactly the same shape.

Jake said...

A lot of bird skulls break here, it's the 'hinge' where the beak can flex, so it's a weak spot.

keshia said...

Hi, I was wondering what the green staining of the bone is?

Emily emmett said...

Anyone have an idea what this belongs too I originally thought it was a tooth due to the shape but realise it's most likely a bone I found it on the beach x

Jake said...

Some kind of algae growth.

Jake said...

No idea...you didn't attach a pic !

Neil said...

Can anyone help me identify this please

Jake said...

Hard without a picture !

Neil butler said...


Neil said...

Side view and under

Neil butler said...

Another pic

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