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Sutures on a White-tailed Deer Skull

White-tailed deer skull

I found this white-tailed deer skull along with other parts of the carcass while exploring off-trail in an area of the woods that was not easy to navigate. I was not surprised that it was in this relative wilderness where a deer had either been taken down, probably by a coyote, or had gone to die a natural death.

Although the skull is damaged, the zig-zag markings on the top are beautifully intact. Similar to

spalting, which is a network of lines marking fungal boundaries in wood, these cranial sutures mark boundaries between bones. When the deer was young, the sutures were fibrous areas that allowed the bones to expand. They also indicate stresses placed on the skull by chewing. In male deer, the largest sutures (the coronal pair that meander horizontally across the top of the skull) indicate the presence of antlers. The smaller wiggly line in the back of the skull is the lambdoid, and the vertical one extended towards the mouth is the sagittal suture.

Revelation in a Piece of Wood

Slice of Spalted Wood
Spalted wood from a sawn tree.

This sliver of maple wood cut from a tree that fell over the Red Rectangle Trail looks like a map of some unfamiliar world so I was surprised to learn that it is exactly that. The squiggly black lines superimposed on the circular growth rings look like meandering rivers. Known as zone lines, they mark territorial boundaries between species of fungi competing for the dead wood. I felt a little sad to learn about this self-serving behavior of micro-organisms. The sadness made me realize that, even though I swear I never thought about it, I had assumed that fungi would share.

For more information on this process known as spalting, visit the Woodland Trust website or meet “Dr. Spalting” herself.