Friday, February 04, 2005

Natural History (Dead Stuff)

After the storms on Wednesday, my brother and I went beach combing at Williamstown. He has a skull collection, and was hoping to find something more to add it. I looked for interesting objects that I could use in a sculpture or jewellery, like driftwood and shells.

There were lots of washed up blue jelly fish. I rescued beached sea slugs and a couple of shrimp that were still alive.

There were two dead rabbits near the beach. Not clear how they died. The first one had one hind leg ripped off and bits of entrail poking out. We found the limb nearby. No blood but maybe that was washed away by the heavy rain. The second rabbit was bigger with a little blood on one nostril so maybe it had some kind of head trauma. It was near the car park.

Amongst the flotsam and jetsam across the beach, were about six dead comorants. No idea why there were so many dead birds of the one species. Perhaps they were juvvies who didn’t know a storm until it hit them, and got washed up afterwards.

So my brother got two new skulls for his collection. It’s not as gory or morbid as it sounds. Sure, you can’t be a squeamish type to collect this sort of thing. Skeletons and skulls are beautiful in their structure and form. We like to approach it from a layman’s scientific point of view. I like attempting to figure out how the animal died by examining the body. It’s more of a post mortem prod than autopsy (I wanted to be a vet once upon a time).

It’s very interesting to makes comparisons between species of bird, to observe to difference between a fox skull and a cat skull (much longer and more intricate nasal cavity in fox), the fusion lines and eye sockets can be compared between a cat and a brush tail possum which have similar sized heads and eyes. Placental versus marsupial, canine versus feline, parrot versus finch.

Answers to some of your possible questions (yes I know, adding this means some people may not comment):

No, we do not, nor ever will, kill anything to obtain these skulls.

Yes we avoid pulling things apart when it’s a fresh corpse. Although we only want the head, most of the time it’s just too much bother to pull/cut it off plus it could get damaged in the process.

Yes we have brought dead bodies home in plastic bags but that isn’t how it started. The first skulls were found in our backyard (birds and a rat) and under the house (semi-mummified cat).

Yes, we’ve seen and smelt animals in the process of decomposition that made us grimace about how disgusting it was. Which is why we try to be as patient as possible with the earthworms and bugs who process the bodies/heads. Recently we were lucky enough to get a small population of the type of beetles used by museums to clean up a corpse. A bird had died in our backyard so we were able to introduce these naturally occurring bugs to some extra material. We avoid touching any of it with our bare hands, until it’s thoroughly cleaned/washed.

No, our parents don’t have a problem with this. They respect that we have enquiring minds. In fact my mother is the one who spotted the fox on a morning walk

No, we would never process the skull of an animal we knew when it was alive / a pet / a failed rescue.


Mel said...

Umm...great.... I WAS just about to eat dinner y'know...;)

Lady Meerkat said...

Hmmm. Maybe I should rename this post to something less artful, but in consideration of others like yourself. Sorry about that.