Well, I missed my chance to post this on Valentine’s Day but it still makes a good Freak of the Week. I used to put this specimen on osteology exams, with multiple choice answers, and one of the choices was “It would make a creepy Valentine’s Day gift”! If a student put down this answer, I would still give them credit because it would make a creepy Valentine’s Day gift! So what do you think it is? It’s an unmodified, natural bone specimen. It is 1.5 x 1.5 inches, and both sides of the object are shown in the photograph. Put your best answer in the “Reply” box, and the right answer gets 5 points!
“If your family has a serious case of cabin fever, plan a trip to one of central Ohio’s nearby natural wonders! Enjoy storytimes, crafts and information about incredible sites and upcoming events from area experts. Kids can also shoot a bow and arrow, assemble a bird kit and check out a monarch butterfly display!”
LEARN MORE ABOUT:
Bring the Farm to You
Columbus Metro Parks/GreenSpot
Dawes Arboretum/Dutchfork Wetlands
Dayton Society of Natural History
Friends of the Sawmill Wetlands
National Wildlife Federation
Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Ohio Division of Wildlife/Aim High Archery
Ohio Historical Society/Cedar Bog
Ohio Natural Areas and Preserves Association
Ohio Wetlands Association/Biggest Bird Week
Ohio Wildlife Center
Ohio Young Birders Club/Columbus Audubon
Stratford Ecological Center
Wild Birds Unlimited
Worthington Hills Garden Club
SUNDAY, MARCH 2
OLD WORTHINGTON LIBRARY MEETING ROOM, 820 High St., Worthington
1) Notice how both ends of the bone are cut in straight lines. This tells you that the bone was cut with an electric saw rather than a result of natural breakage. Thus the bone must be from a commercial cut of meat. 2) The size and shape of the bone indicates that it’s a rib. In the photo to the left, the curve of the bone and the distinct groove down the length of the bone are characteristics of the proximal (nearest to the body) end of a rib. The cross section of the bone is roughly the shape of a parallelogram, which is also distinctive for a rib. The only common meat animal with a rib that large is domestic cattle. 3) The parallel, deep grooves carved into the ends of the bone are tooth marks from the gnawing of a rodent (see photo below). Rodents will gnaw on bones to obtain nutrients and to wear down their ever-growing incisors. The gnaw marks are too large for a mouse or rat, thus are most likely from a squirrel. The fact that the bone was found in a “leafy neighborhood near campus” is another clue that it’s a more urban rodent like a tree squirrel, rather than another large rodent such as muskrat or marmot.
So, we have a cow rib that was gnawed by a squirrel and was most likely dropped from high in a tree by the squirrel or fell from it’s nest. Whether this squirrel intentionally tried to hit this particular professor with the bone is purely conjecture…
I apologize for the awful photos, taken with my cell phone! The photos I took at the Museum of Biological Diversity used in a previous blog post turned out better than I expected, so I thought these would be OK too. But I decided to go ahead and post this blog now rather than wait to try to track down others who took better photos that day. I’ll hopefully post those later.
Congrats to Juli and to our intern Micayla, who recognized these as snake vertebrae! The distinctive feature that identifies these as reptilian is the “ball and socket” type joint between the vertebrae (termed procoelous). The “ball” structure is on the posterior end of the body of the vertebra and the corresponding “socket” is on the anterior end. Some types of reptiles will have this reversed but it’s this way for snakes. This structure gives the joint much more mobility and strength. Think of the other common ball and socket joint in the body, the femur and pelvis. It’s much harder to dislocate the femur than it is to dislocate a shoulder or knee!We can also tell these are vertebrae from a rattlesnake as opposed to some other species of large snake based on the presence of the elongated ventral spine (haemal spine). This is distinctive for the pit vipers (Viperidae -Crotalinae). In Ohio this would narrow down the species to the timber rattlesnake, eastern massasauga (swamp rattlesnake), and copperhead. Based on the large size of these vertebra I would say these are from the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus), the largest of Ohio’s venomous snakes.
Fortunately each major group of vertebrates has a distinctive morphology of the body of the vertebrae which allows us to readily identify them to at least mammal, bird, reptile, or fish. Mammals have a flat surface on the body of the vertebra (see the skunk vertebra in the photo) called amphiplatyan, while birds have an unusual saddle-shaped body of the vertebra (termed heterocoelus) which allows great mobility of the neck. Many people have seen fish vertebrae, with their distinctive concave surface on both ends. I remember opening a can of tuna once and seeing a complete fish vertebra lying on top of the meat! Being the dork that I am, I said “Oh cool, a procoelous fish vertebra!”
In honor of the Winter Olympics, it seems to be a good time to post this blog from Bob Glotzhober about an ice-skating (?) vole!Have you ever felt like life was causing you to just run around in circles? It seems that happens to all of us from time to time, but I’ll bet none of you can mirror the experience of a Meadow Vole that Tom Shisler (site manager at Wahkeena Nature Preserve) and I watched this past November 12th.
Tom and I had stopped to talk near Wahkeena’s silt pond when we spotted a Meadow Vole (probably Microtus pennsylvanicus) running in circles on top of a thin skim of ice on the pond. The vole just kept circling and circling at a run, virtually non-stop for at least 20 minutes. Typically it ran in one to two foot diameter circles, but sometimes circles as small as 2 inches in diameter and once or twice in circles as much as 10 feet in diameter. The circles were always clockwise. A couple of times it stopped very briefly to groom — always grooming its right side, and often just falling over to its right side while grooming. As it ran, its circles gradually moved southwest to northeast across the surface of the thin ice. At one point, it came to a spot with no ice film, and it swam in circles here until it got back onto the ice.
After 20 minutes it stopped briefly near shore, and I caught it with a gloved hand. Tom and I briefly examined the vole, and could see no obvious injury. Then I released it on dry land. The vole sat there for a minute or two — then eventually ran off (rather slowly and in fits and starts) into taller vegetation. Previous to capture, once it came with its circles to the edge of the pond, and even ran in clockwise circles up into the leaf litter, then back onto the pond. It did not by itself leave the pond any further, until I captured it five minutes later. Total observation time of this circular running was twenty minutes. Very strange behavior. I vaguely recall something about a parasite, but cannot recall any specifics. I know that trout have a “whirling disease” but few parasites would affect both fish and mammals. After a lot of web-searching, one of the websites I found wondered if it could be from the toxin of a bite from a Short-tailed Shrew (Blarina brevicauda). I sent a similar e-mail back in November to a wildlife disease site, but never got any answer from them. I also tried a couple of mammalogists I know – and none of them had any clues nor any suggestions for other places to search for information.
So our circling Meadow Vole remains a mystery. Even without a specific answer, it was a fascinating observation. If any of our readers have any information on this phenomenon, or any sources where we might find an answer, please let us know!
Curator Emeritus, Natural History