This past Friday, Myles Bakke led the Arb Naturalists and members of Dan O’Brien’s “Writing the Great Plains” class on a sort of murder mystery tour of the Arb. In the prairie near the flood-plain forest we found the femur (hip ball and socket joint) and lower leg bones of a deer. It was most likely hit by a car, and then stumbled into the Arb. But that was not the end of the story. The approximate age of the deer could be determined; Myles held up the femur bone and lifted the rounded cap off, demonstrating that this had been a young deer because the bone had not been fully fused. Yet there was still more to be discovered: the cap of the back leg was covered in jagged bone growths caused by a broken leg that never fully healed. Unfortunately, it appeared that the deer had been limping around for several months before being hit. At this point, Myles said he wished there were wolves or larger predators in the arb- although “nothing out here dies with a quilt tucked up under its chin”, at least a wolf would take out a sick or injured animal. Although it was a sad sight, it was fascinating to realize how much could be determined by the deer’s bones, which until recently had been covered by plants and snow.
Another mystery was uncovered near the big burr oak along the opposite edge of the prairie. Beneath the edge of a long limb, Miles pointed out a flat, wide bone, that almost resembled a turtle shell. It was part of a carp skeleton which suggested that the bird that ate it must have been fairly large. The estimate about the predator’s size was further corroborated by a funny-looking hooked bone: the wishbone of a duck! Based on the size of this prey, and the fact that it perched far away from the trunk, Miles suspected that it was the favorite perch of a Bald Eagle! So next time you’re headed into the Arb, keep your eye on those burr oaks! And, if you’re feeling adventurous, or ready to uncover some mysteries, maybe take a meander through some of the burned areas.
-Jasmine Cutter (and Emma Rapperport), '13 Cole Student Naturalists