Vacation bones

I wasn’t sure if I’d be lucky enough to find any bones in Arizona on the trip I took in March, but somehow, I was!

Since there had been a lot of rain and snow in Arizona prior to my visit, there was still a lot of evidence of running water and flooding, especially in the valley near where my parents live. The water damage had been so extensive that many of the affected dirt roads had already been graded, resulting in places where dry riverbed seemed to be interrupted by the road itself.

It was in one of these places where something near the road caught my eye, and I called out for my mom to pull over.

Turns out, it was the mummified remains of an animal!

After quickly deciding it was too small to be a coyote, we figured it must be a fox of some kind, given the dentition. Arizona is home to the red fox, the gray fox, and the kit fox, and since the red fox mainly lives in the northern part of the state, there’s a good chance that these bones belong to either a gray or kit fox.

I collected the skull and pelvis, and, in my excitement, almost missed a second fox that I stumbled upon in that same riverbed, right on the other side of the road!

As strange as it was to find the remains of two foxes so close to each other (apparently swept away and drowned when the valley was flooded with rainwater), the second fox was even stranger. There was virtually no skin or fur left on the second set of bones, with the notable exception of the feet: claws, pads, and fur had all been left intact, even on a leg that seemed to have been ripped from the fox’s body. Otherwise, the bones were mostly stripped of tissue and hair.

Based on the fur color and length of the legs, I’m thinking that these may be kit foxes, but it’s still anyone’s guess at this point.

Unfortunately, the top of the second fox’s skull had been crushed and couldn’t be saved, but I still ended up with a complete skull and a pelvis from the first set of remains, which made me very happy!

The bones weren’t especially nasty, but the skull was heavy when I picked it up, and there were lots of beetles in and around it, so I triple-bagged everything and threw it in a maceration bath as soon as we got home. I let the fox soak for a couple of days before burying it at my parents’ place so it could decompose on its own… this specimen was still way too gross to try to mail back home (as I’d done with these deer bones I found last year).

Just before I buried everything, I had the thought to line the bottom of the hole with some chicken wire; I’m hoping this will make it easier to lift the bones out of the earth without losing anything when I eventually dig this up.

Ideally, I would’ve macerated this fox instead of burying it, but I wasn’t sure when I’d be in Arizona next and if it would do any harm to let the bones soak for months without changing the water. I didn’t want to risk damaging such a nice skull, so I decided that burial was the safest method. I’ve never cleaned bones this way before, and I’m not even sure what kind of results I’ll get by burying them in such an arid climate, but here’s hoping they turn out all right!


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