Saturday, April 2, 2011

Can One Have Too Many Books?

No, I don't think so.  Those who help me move, however, may beg to differ!

Anywho - when I saw this book for sale (and having some unknown skulls on my desk), well, you can only imagine - I HAD to have it!

 I have several (okay, two other) of Mark's books - they are terrific for the tracker and outdoor enthusiast.  I highly recommend his Mammal Tracks and Signs, and his Bird Tracks and Signs.  Also in the series, but written by different authors, is Tracks and Signs of Insects and Other Invertebrates.

But, back to the book at hand.  When I took mammology in college, we had a spiral-bound book on skull ID (it's packed in a box somewhere).  I have also added one or two other skull and bone ID books to my collection, but they are really written for scientists, not for the lay person.  What Mark does in his book here is really explain the parts of the skull (and all the jargon that goes with it) so the layperson can understand what is what.

Color-coded illustrations help with initial identification of various parts.  He also shows how to take accurate measurements (sometimes a requirement on more difficult skulls).

And after all the lessons, there is the rest of the book, full of species accounts.  GREAT information, easily read, easy to use.

I immediately applied it to identifying the mystery skulls on my desk earlier in the week (a raccoon, a fox squirrel and an eastern cottontail, the latter of which I should've known had I actually looked at the teeth).  So, when we found the following skull on the prairie yesterday morning, I was pretty sure I knew what it was.  Never the less, I took several photos of all aspects just to be sure when I got back to the office and could check it with The Book.

First, it is a medium-sized skull, so that rules out all the small animals (local snakes, frogs, mice, squirrels, rabbits, sparrows...).

It has teeth, ruling out birds.  It has prominent canines, and no bright orange incisors, ruling out rodents of any kind.  With pointy teeth like these, we know we have a predator.  Could that be fox?  Coyote?  Cat?  Raccoon?  Opossum? 

I knew from reading Mark's book that opossums have fairly uniform teeth - not much variation (canines, molars, etc.).  I also knew from previous experience that they have the most teeth of any land mammal in North America.   This skull, even taking into account the missing teeth, didn't have a lot of teeth, and they were quite varied - not an opossum.

Canines tend to have rather long snouts - their sense of smell is pretty dominant.  This animal's snout was rather short, so that ruled out foxes and coyotes.

The well-defined ridges on the top and back of the skull, while not completely diagnostic, were helpful clues... were the protrusions (called postorbital procseses) above the eye sockets ( frontal) and from the cheekbones (zygomatic).

What we had here was a raccoon.  My coworker was happy to know this - raccoons are not well thought of in these here parts.  I guess, like the deer, their population is rather robust, making them somewhat numerous and troublesome.  Still, as long as they stay in their place, I rather like raccoons.  They have delightfully clever "hands" and curious personalities.  And baby raccoons are downright cute, although they can easily get into trouble - just ask any wildlife rehabber who has had a bunch of them in his/her care.


  1. Happy bone hunting, Ellen. Looks like a good book. By the way, since you mention the burdens of moving all those books, did you buy that house you mentioned many posts back?

  2. We have the same book, and we love it!

    Jerry Liguori

  3. Thanks for the tip on the books. I'm always wandering around in the winter looking at tracks. It might be time to read up on them. :-)

  4. What, no "Reptilian Tracks and Signs"? Hmm, perhaps an idea for a Christmas present. Nice images of my hairy grandson, however!

  5. Is there a Reptilian Tracks and Signs? Would be interesting, although around here there aren't too many to choose from. Down south, though, I imagine such a book might come in handy! Or in the desert!

    Jackie - No house yet, but I'm set to close in less than two weeks. ACK! Big old (1910) farm house on four+ acres about 18 miles from work. Will post when it comes to be.

  6. Looks like another great book find.
    I agree with Stirling North: Raccoons are the brightest people. There was a Nature of Things episode recently about raccoons. Apparently after the movie of Rascal came out, raccoons were imported into Japan as pets and then released, so there is now a sizable and troublesome population.

  7. Sheri - I was a HUGE Sterling North fan as a kid. Loved raccoons - had pictures all over the place. Didn't know they made a movie from his book, though! Silly people in Japan - will we never learn not to import alien species? :)