Scientists Spot Grisly First Among Deer

They're seen scavenging on human remains for the first time
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 8, 2017 7:39 AM CDT
Updated May 13, 2017 5:25 PM CDT
Scientists Spot Grisly First Among Deer
Deer have been spotted scavenging on human remains for the first time.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

When scientists dropped a human carcass in the woods to study its decomposition, they expected the usual suspects such as vultures and raccoons to show up to speed things along. Their cameras, however, also picked up an unexpected visitor: a deer. In fact, it's the first time a deer has been documented scavenging on human bones, reports National Geographic. It actually happened on two separate occasions during the experiment at the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility in San Marcos, Texas, a locale perhaps better known as a "body farm." Researchers published their findings in Journal of Forensic Sciences, and they could help crime investigators down the road. Among other things, they found that the deer leave marks on the bones that are "distinct" from other creatures.

Specifically, the deer damage the ends of bones, "where the zigzag motions of their jaws leave behind a 'stripped, forked pattern in the bone,'" notes Popular Science, citing the authors. The thinking is that the deer would scavenge dry human bones that have been in the woods for months, perhaps trying to get minerals from them in scarce winter months. In the experiment, the deer were spotted in January dining on bones placed there in July. Deer are generally considered to be plant-munchers, but they have been spotted eating the remains of fish, rabbits, and birds on rare occasions. Now, another creature can be added to that list. (Humans can get revenge at Arby's, at least when venison is in supply.)

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