Venture into your backyard or onto the trails of Angle Fly and you will undoubtedly notice evidence of one of nature’s most important processes: the recycling of organic material into simpler forms of matter. This process provides an answer to a question one reader presented to me: Where do all the wild animal bones go?
Everything in nature is linked to everything else in a myriad of ways and bones are no exception. Once they no longer provide structure for their original owner, bones assume an important role as essential nutrients for animals and plants alike. Animals crack open the bones to get at the bone marrow, a rich and fatty energy source. Bones also provide rodents vital salt and calcium. I once heard a persistent gnawing sound and finally located its source in the crotch of a dogwood tree. There, a wary squirrel watched me while chewing on a deer vertebra, not unlike the one in this photograph.
Bodies of animals who die in the clutches of predators may be dragged to a safe spot before being consumed, thus hiding the bones from our view. Some animals crawl into their dens to die, while those who die in the open may be scavenged by other animals, scattering the bones in the process. Beneath the damp leaf litter, bones are further broken down by bacteria and fungi, making valuable nutrients available to the roots of the forest plants.
So if you find a bone or antler in the woods, you can count yourself lucky and then take just a moment to enjoy the beautiful sculpture that is usually hidden within a body.