My mummified fox

I think everyone seriously interested in animals collects dead animals, or bits of dead animals. Over the years I've built up a reasonably good collection of bones, teeth, antlers and carcasses, most of which are used 'academically' (in teaching and research) and not just kept for fun. Some of the specimens I have are amazing, like the robin Erithacus rubecula still attached to the twig and the wind-dried squirrel (both discussed here on Tet Zoo ver 1). One specimen above all others might be regarded as the centre-piece of my collection...

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This is a mummified fox Vulpes vulpes. Its right side is, as you can see, intact and with all the soft tissues in place. All the hair has dropped off - but not the whiskers. Its left side is less pretty, with bare bone exposed on the skull and a gaping hole exposing the interior of the abdomen. How did it get to be like this? It died, in its sleep, in a stable on top of a thick pile of straw. Its teeth look like those of a young animal, so I don't think it was old age that killed it. Maybe it was sick, or poisoned. As it decomposed (the stables were unused), the straw soaked up all the resultant fluids, and flies never got to work on it (I presume because it was decomposing during the middle of winter). And there we have it, mummified fox. I enjoy showing it to people, though not everyone likes it as much as I do. Freaks.

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How did it get to be like this? It died, in its sleep, in a stable on top of a thick pile of straw. Its teeth look like those of a young animal, so I don't think it was old age that killed it. Maybe it was sick, or poisoned.

Perhaps it starved to death because it couldn't find its, ahem, stable diet? (Sorry, I couldn't resist...)

Who do you think you're fooling? That's obviously a chupacabra carcass. You must be part of the Great Conspiracy(tm) to discredit cryptobiologists! The truth is out there.

I need to print and save this entry to show to all my wierd friends who think my growing collection of dead animals and birds is strange!

By Mary Blanchard (not verified) on 26 Nov 2008 #permalink

I think everyone seriously interested in animals collects dead animals, or bits of dead animals. Over the years I've built up a reasonably good collection of bones, teeth, antlers and carcasses, most of which are used 'academically' (in teaching and research) and not just kept for fun.

Darren, I would like to add that you are lucky indeed if you have both the space to keep such a collection and, perhaps more importantly, Mrs Naish doesn't object to it. My wife would quickly veto any suggestion to store a dead fox anywhere in our apartment...

> My wife would quickly veto any suggestion to store a dead
> fox anywhere in our apartment...

Reminds me of the thing my late Grandfather's dog, Foxi*, killed in March 2003. The beast was very young, the teeth had not yet broken through, wich made identification problematic, to say the least. It looked canid, and vaguely like *Speothos* (I have seen the carcass). It was already as big as a full-grown domestic cat at this young age, so it probably wasn't a fox. Perhaps it was a golden jackal, although they were not supposed to be present in central Germany as early as 1993 (they are now). Whatever it was, my mother decided to keep this abomination out of her freezer, and somehow managed to get rid of the carcass in a quick and efficient way, much to the chagrin of my (then) teenage brother, who was immensly proud about the fact that "his" dog had killed a "monster". Adolescent boasts aside, I think we should have shown the carcass to a museum, but I was sick at the time, and not able to interfere.

*his real name, as given to him by the breeder, was Gregor.
My grandfather, however, held an old grudge against the
Catholic church going back to the Spanish Civil War, and
decided that his dog should not be known by the name of a
pope. For some time, the dog had no name at all. As it was
officially a Wire-haired Fox Terrier (although way too
large at 50 cm at the withers and a weight of 16kg), we
called him Foxi, and the name stuck.

The museum I work at has a shipyard annex, and apparently a family a possums took shelter in there and were mummified. There is an adult and three juveniles. Pretty sick looking and very similar to your fox.

> in March 2003

Oops, this should be March 1993.

perhaps more importantly, Mrs Naish doesn't object to it

I suspect if Darren's missus was the sort to object to such things she'd never have agreed to become his missus in the first place. I mean, does anyone here think Darren would or could conceal his interest in these things for more than a couple of minutes?

By Mike from Ottawa (not verified) on 26 Nov 2008 #permalink

"I think everyone seriously interested in animals collects dead animals, or bits of dead animals."

If I give you my phone number, will call my house and explain this to my wife? She'd listen to you, but not to me.

Johannes:

It looked canid, and vaguely like *Speothos* (I have seen the carcass). It was already as big as a full-grown domestic cat at this young age, so it probably wasn't a fox. Perhaps it was a golden jackal, although they were not supposed to be present in central Germany as early as 1993

Could it have been a raccoon dog Nyctereutes procyonoides (in which case, it really was a canid)? Stragglers of this species are known from Germany since the 1960'ies. And the 'Marderhund' is a timid animal, which is easily killed by domestic dogs.

Norman? Is that you, Norman? Who is that girl, Norman?

Don't worry. I, too, have bodies stacked like cord-wood in my garage. I have to go bathe mother now.

Also, I'm totally on board with the chupacabra carcass! And since you have the first confirmed carcass (hey, two anonymous people on the Internet have confirmed it! What more do you need? Credentials?), you get to name it after yourself: Goatsuckus naishius.

HJ

Mike from Ottawa:

I suspect if Darren's missus was the sort to object to such things she'd never have agreed to become his missus in the first place.

There can be other reasons for objecting. Dust allergy for example, as in my wife's case.

That, and those hideous dermestid beetles that any dead animal collection inevitably will attract.

> Could it have been a raccoon dog Nyctereutes procyonoides
>(...)?

Datian,

this might be a possibility. However, the racoon dog mates in March, the pups are born from April to June, and weigh about 100g at birth. It would be highly unusual to find one already as large as a cat in March.

>> Could it have been a raccoon dog Nyctereutes procyonoides
>>(...)?

>Datian,
>
>this might be a possibility. However, the racoon dog mates >in March, the pups are born from April to June, and weigh >about 100g at birth. It would be highly unusual to find one >already as large as a cat in March

That is not to mention that the racoon dog doesnt occur in the UK :)

Im certain I wouldnt get away with a dead fox in the house!

"...That, and those hideous dermestid beetles that any dead animal collection inevitably will attract."

Then there are those of us who raise dermestids to help us clean our findings, or who have had the peculiar distinction of having a salvage permit to pick up roadkill.

As someone who's last three girlfriends have, at one point or another, offered gifts of roadkill, I can say that potential significant others CAN adapt to someone who's interested in the architectural perfection and precision offered by osseous objects!

Neil:

That is not to mention that the racoon dog doesnt occur in the UK :)

Indeed it doesn't but I the incident Johannes was describing took place in Germany...

"I think everyone seriously interested in animals collects dead animals, or bits of dead animals."

In Europe, maybe. Those of us just here in the US just twiddle our thumbs wishing we could, as it's illegal to own so much as a contour feather without a permit.

By Weatherfac (not verified) on 26 Nov 2008 #permalink

I took photos of a fallow deer by the side of the road, last week. (Nagging thoughts of bovine TB prevented me actually taking it home) I got lovingly branded a 'psycho' by a friend's significant other, for my troubles.

"I took photos of a fallow deer by the side of the road, last week...I got lovingly branded a 'psycho' by a friend's significant other, for my troubles."

Meh. Just tell them it could have been a lot, lot worse...

it's illegal to own so much as a contour feather without a permit.

But... but... but... what next? I mean, will they take away your guns?!? Big government! Black helicopters! HELP!!!1!

That's really not something I'd have expected from the USA of all places. I know Italy has retained the fascist law according to which all fossils are state property and you can't even collect foraminifera without a permit, but the USA?!?

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 26 Nov 2008 #permalink

Dartian: But dermestid beetles are interesting, particularly if (resolutely getting back on topic!) you nip off two of their legs.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 26 Nov 2008 #permalink

I have an orangutan hair, a preserved Draco, a crocodile hand, leatherized, a leather cane toad, which I de-stuffed and cut up, a collection of feathers, a whole array of preserved insects, crab, and scorpions, and emu eggshells.

My mother once discovered a bird skeleton stuck in a tree with only it's 2 primaries still attached, but it was disposed of, I didnt get to see it.

By Tim Morris (not verified) on 26 Nov 2008 #permalink

A favorite photograph of my grad school days was a black and white print by one of the American photographers of the Edward Weston school -- of three mummified coyotes in the desert, grinning just like your fox. A zoologist friend of mine has several mummified chameleons decorating his bedroom door. I don't know where he got them, but I saw them for sale at the bazaar in Marrakech, where the vendors have an amusing sales pitch about their viagra-like qualities.

Nathan:

But dermestid beetles are interesting

Interesting they may be, but I hold a personal grudge against them. When I was a kid, they ruined my first (and thus far, last) insect collection. That's one of the reasons why I never became an entomologist.

particularly if (resolutely getting back on topic!) you nip off two of their legs.

Yeah, but I don't mind the adults, it's the larvae that I loathe.

>Dartian: ndeed it doesn't but I the incident Johannes was >describing took place in Germany...

Woops - that'll teach me to not read EVERY post!

Sometimes it's the masculine significant other who objects to the collection. With no scientific excuse at all, over the years I've collected two very nice porcupine skulls, a beaver skull, a ram skull, a perfect crow skull, a deer skull, the skull of a large seal, the skull of, I think, a small bug-eyed dog, and a very large moose skull complete with huge antlers. Alas, SO insists the moose remain outdoors. I had for years a perfect Great Blue Heron skull, but the dog got hold of it one day and crunched it.

All the really neat skulls I've found have been in those dry sandy/rocky areas back of beaches.

But dermestid beetles are interesting, particularly if (resolutely getting back on topic!) you nip off two of their legs.

Please explain.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 27 Nov 2008 #permalink

I guess I'm lucky that my family is ok with having dead animals in my room. Back in Puerto Rico I still have an Antillean ghost-faced bat (Mormoops blainvillii), a skull of a Greater bulldog bat (Noctilio leporinus), a domestic goat (all but the cranium), cat skull, bulldog skull, pekingese dog skull, some mixed breed dog skulls, a couple of cat skulls, a complete mongoose (Herpestes javanicus), a racoon skull, a couple of horse skulls and several anoles (Anolis spp.). Then somewhere in the backyard lie buried a green heron (Butorides virescens) and a gray kingbird (Tyrannus dominicensis), these last two I buried them in order to latter dig out the skeletons, but I forgot to mark their burial place and now I can't find them....

By Jorge Velez-Juarbe (not verified) on 27 Nov 2008 #permalink

I have a human vertebra (1st lumbar). Does that count?

By Chris Clark (not verified) on 27 Nov 2008 #permalink

I have a human vertebra

Where did you get it?

(Hmmm. Do I actually want to know? ;-) )

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 27 Nov 2008 #permalink

I presume because it was decomposing during the middle of winter

I used to rent a room on a farm and like most farms, large animals that died were taken to a 'bone yard' in a remote part of the property. Carcasses of those that died in the winter would retain their hide largely intact for several years [I have pics!]. Scavengers would eviscerate it from the belly when the weather warmed up. Animals that died in warmer weather would be turned to a jumbled pile of bones only in a matter of weeks [I have more pics!]. [Maggots in numbers are awesome cleaners.] The hide of the winter killed animals would hold the carcass in its original shape - for the most part - for years as well, as with this fox. These observations have always made me wonder about the circumstances of death of dinosaurs that we find with skin impressions. I know that Mesozoic climates were generally warmer than now, but how cold, and for how long, would it have to be to produce a dessicated hide suitable for preservation? If memory serves, dinosaur skin impressions are always attributed to hot dry conditions. It seems that no one has considered/tested the hypothesis of cold dry dessication.

Re bone collecting & permits etc: please don't tell too many people about the cetacean, chelonian, avian, and piscine bits that I have from Provincetown Island, Mass. Great collecting area. Oh crap, now the place is going to be crawling with you/us folks.

@ JuliaM - eww

"In Europe, maybe. Those of us just here in the US just twiddle our thumbs wishing we could, as it's illegal to own so much as a contour feather without a permit."

Well, keeping contour feathers is, as far as I am aware, only illegal if they belong to eagles, condors or the like-unless you are Native American. Other than that...well lets just say it is officially legal to eat roadkill here in Tennessee.

It's gorgeous.

While I have many skulls and bones, my only mummies are two small geckos (which just look like dirty skeletons really).

By Dallas Krentzel (not verified) on 27 Nov 2008 #permalink

Mummified specimens are great if they stay that way, but we have summer wet seasons that can re-start decomp after any length of time. I once found a beautifully mummified Peregrine Falcon stuffed under a water tank, but a couple of summers later (in Sydney, not the tropics where I am now) it began to go soft, lose feathers and (reportedly) smell a bit. How do you keep your fox in the soggy English climate, Darren? - in a pile of hay, a bag with mothballs, or the freezer? Or the linen cupboard?
At the moment I have, in the otherwise-unused fume cupboard, a Little Red Flying Fox picked off a barbed-wire fence, a young rock wallaby that fell down a crevice, broke its leg and got wedged (that one is mostly skinless thanks to maggots), and some turtles that are mostly clean bones. But mostly I just put road-killed stuff in the freezer, until getting round to either tissue-sampling and fixing (every now and then sending off a batch to the Quieensland Museum where I'm an 'honorary consultant') or (especially with less fresh items) skeletonising as comparative specimens to help identify fossil bits. The Glossy Ibis I picked up last summer was beautifully fresh but it's taking up too much room in the freezer - what if I need to store a large python or something? (larger than the 3 m Olive with smashed head that's already there, I mean).

I know that Mesozoic climates were generally warmer than now, but how cold, and for how long, would it have to be to produce a dessicated hide suitable for preservation?

Wouldn't it have to freeze? Because it didn't.

BTW, de-sicc-ated.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 28 Nov 2008 #permalink
But dermestid beetles are interesting, particularly if (resolutely getting back on topic!) you nip off two of their legs.

Please explain.

Hexapod - 2 legs = tetrapod?

"Those of us just here in the US just twiddle our thumbs wishing we could, as it's illegal to own so much as a contour feather without a permit."

What kind of naturalist would be stopped by that? (;-))

Seriously, only non- game protected birds are illegal. Anyone can keep any part of game birds, any parts of mammals & reptiles (unless there are local ordinances against it or they are endangered) and insects. I have all of the above, bones, skins, skulls, feathers, skins... also, a licensed falconer (which I am) can have parts of the birds they keep (except eagles after death, which go to the Federal repository). I stop for roadkill.

I have a wife who is as fascinated as I am by all this, tolerates my many dogs and my falcon in the alcove between kitchen and dining room, and creatures in the freezer.
(I just lent a ten- years frozen falcon to a sculptor friend for her to cast. I knew I kept it around for a reason!)

What else? I have guns too. Just don't ask about the penguins...

Hexapod - 2 legs = tetrapod?

Oh. :-)

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 28 Nov 2008 #permalink

I should add that I used to keep a "dermie" colony that John McLoughlin and I stocked by beating dry cow and horse carcasses at the town dump with our walking sticks. Alas, I gave them up when I feared for my insects, and the dump no longer has a section labeled "Dead Animals". Change comes even to rural New Mexico.

David: This Tetrapod Zoology, not Hexapod Zoology.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 28 Nov 2008 #permalink

Oops, apologies for the repetition... should have checked again before hitting "Post".

By the way, David, if you had a blog I would read it. And post.

@ David MarjanoviÄ

Thanks for the spell-check.

Wouldn't it have to freeze? Because it didn't.

Are you referring to Darren's fox, or to the dinosaurs that left skin impressions [and thus the Mesozoic climates that they lived in]?

Would it have to freeze? I have not tested this myself, nor have I seen it discussed anywhere. My prediction would be that near-freezing temps may suffice. Microbial and insect activity should be suppressed. Plus have sub-freezing temps been ruled out for the Mesozoic [outside of the polar regions]? I don't believe so. The papers that I have read discuss only average temperatures, though my readings on paleoclimates can not be called exhaustive. [Got any good refs on this?]. I think my question still remains untested/unanswered: how cold, and for how long, would it have to be to produce a desiccated hide suitable for preservation?

And just to be clear, I am not offering this as an explanation for all fossil skin impressions. Just a possible alternative worth a look-see.

Now I see why this is my favorite blog.

I can't seem to let go of the skulls I have found, and then friends added to the collection: black bear, cow elk, buck mule deer, wild horse, sea otter, mink, marmot. But they sure are a pain to pack up and move! They are just scattered in the living room here and there.

I regret pitching this really cool scat many years ago. It was a big furry black bear poop with part of the striped pelt of a chipmunk in it. I can't believe I threw away the pride of my scat collection.

My freezer is another thing entirely, but there is some space for food.

When I was younger, I collected bones I found around the neighborhood, from LA to Florida to Idaho (LA is it's own state practically), as well as full dead animals from pigeons to squirrels. The family never caught on to how fascinating it was and I usually only had the bits for an hour or so, then had to wash thouroughly. Now, I collect them without regret and bleach and clean them properly. I desiccated my own turkeys each Thanksgiving, and still have the peices, on top of wierd and odd shell bits from the beaches I've been to. I don't tell other people this, since they look at me funny.

By Jaime A. Headden (not verified) on 28 Nov 2008 #permalink

Since this thread has become a place to compare our dead animal collections, I want to point out that I do have one myself too; it's just that for the sake of marital bliss, and for a lack of space, a line would definitely be drawn at an entire fox carcass.

Here's what I have:

Crania: A few dozen of 'em, including cervids (both with and without antlers), sheep, greater kudu (without horns), canids, mustelids, rodents, lagomorphs, birds...

Other bones/teeth: mostly from domestic cattle and pigs. Also two of my own upper jaw premolars that were removed when I was younger.

Stuffed animals: squirrel, hedgehog, bat, goshawk, terrapin.

Skins: badger.

'Mummies': fish only, including pipefish, sea horses and a remora.

Fossils: regrettably few, only a trilobite and a couple of shark teeth.

Plus some invertebrates (mollusc shells, corals, echinoderms) and a few odds and ends (e.g., a porcupine Hystrix quill and the 'saw' of a sawfish Pristis).

By the way, David, if you had a blog

I would really love to have a 50-hour day. There's my thesis (a French thesis -- limited to 3 years, I kid thee not), the bureaucracy for that thesis, the side project to the thesis (which will probably be included in the thesis, but still), Spec (check out the updates page... if you find it's worth bothering), and the blogs I read. Oh, and my occasional contributions to Wikipedia which I'd like to be a lot less occasional. I also ought to contribute to palaeos.org...

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 29 Nov 2008 #permalink

I meant that freeze-drying is probably necessary if a dinosaur that's lying around is supposed not to get scavenged and if the weather is not supposed to be hot.

Plus have sub-freezing temps been ruled out for the Mesozoic [outside of the polar regions]? I don't believe so.

Of course they have been: the vegetation and various animals show that it never got seriously cold in the latitudes where "mummified" dinosaurs have been found. I don't have any references handy, though.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 29 Nov 2008 #permalink

What's really disturbing about the mummified fox is the way that Darren holds it in his lap and absentmindedly scratches its nape while sipping absinthe and chanting under his breath. Also, he insists that all visitors refer to the mummified fox as Colonel Humphrey, avoid eye-socket-contact, and "try not to piss him off."

"perhaps more importantly, Mrs Naish doesn't object to it
I suspect if Darren's missus was the sort to object to such things she'd never have agreed to become his missus in the first place."

I've had the good fortune to have dinner with Darren and Toni a number of times. I remember one occasion when Mrs N went rummaging in the freezer; out came the frozen bat, chaffinch and sparrow...

At one point I asked Toni how she puts up with it. She sighed and said "when we went on our first date he was memorising the latin names of the whales. I kind of knew what I was in for."

People like this make life interesting.

Darre, if I may formulate a little request... My wife and I haven recently wondered about yawning. The 2 tetrapod species we know best (humans and cats) yawn (cometimes together). But what about the others? Is it a mammalian thing? I'd love to read something about this obscure point of physiology...

By Christophe Thill (not verified) on 01 Dec 2008 #permalink

I think its simply beautiful.

Its more beautiful than that thylacine mummy.

Can we have an article on Raccoon Dogs one day, Darren? They are funky animals.

All vertebrates yawn. It happens when you're tired and need more oxygen than you're getting.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 01 Dec 2008 #permalink

Hmmm. Whales actually shouldn't yawn, given the explanation I mentioned. No idea if they do.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 04 Dec 2008 #permalink

About whales and yawning-- a while back I saw a You-tube video of belugas or dolphins blowing bubbles (incl. "smoke-ring" bubbles) and playing with them. The bubbles at least appeared to emerge from the mouth, not the blow-hole. Suggesting that at least some smallish Odontocetes CAN, facultatively, breathe through the mouth. So I suppose it's not completely out of the question that they MIGHT yawn when they need extra oxygen under some circumstances.

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 04 Dec 2008 #permalink

My personal collection consits of a lot of different things. I have some dozen insects I found dead (bettles, butterflies and some other ones), as well as some exotic athropods which are mainly from flea markets. One of them is a really monstrous goliath beelte. I have also a monstrous centipede which I found dead at a petshot and asked if I could get it. There are also three scorpions from Tunesia, several shells of invertebrates (including a very big and a small nautilus shell, two ostrich eggs, some other small eggs, a stuffed common puffin which was from a flea-market at Denmark, a medium-sized shark jaw, a lot of feathers, a lizard and three slow-worms preserved in alcohol (all found dead, including the nearly record breaking slow-worm specimen), a goldfish which did not survive a winter in the garden pond, also preserved in alcohol, a piece of a european crayfish as well as parts of some crabs, antlers of a roe-deer and fallow deer (not self-found), as well as some other small things. During the last ten years or so I couldn´t find any interesting skulls or bones.

Oh, 2-3 weeks ago my friend find a mummyfied mouse in her paper documents archive. She drope the mouse to her balcony. And because she afraid of it she and ask me to put it to trash basket. But I have made a snapshot. Do you need it? I could upload it here.