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How to identify mammal skulls
Spring is a good time to look for mammal skulls. The end of winter is a peak period of mortality for many species and when most foxes and badgers die on the road.
Skulls can be found in roadside ditches, on open hills, on spoil heaps outside badger setts – in fact, virtually anywhere.
To keep a collection in good condition you should lightly boil them with a dash of sodium perborate, which will act as a bleach.
SKULLS TO LOOK OUT FOR:
- Skull easily recognised by row of sharp teeth that are all rather similar.
- Remains of spines are often found with the skull.
- Rodents have one pair of incisors in the upper and lower jaw, and then a gap before the flat, grinding cheek teeth.
- Squirrel skulls are easily told from rats by the broader snout.
- The small mustelids have similar, long flat skulls.
- They increase in size from weasel (the skull can pass through a wedding ring), stoat, mink, polecat, pine marten and otter (the last of these is about 10cm long).
- Males are larger than females; there is considerable overlap in size between species.
- Rabbits and hares are easily distinguished from rodents by a second pair of small upper incisors behind a larger pair.
- Hare skull slightly larger with much wider nasal passages.
- Carnivores have large, obvious canines, and the rear teeth have a number of small, sharp points or cusps.
- Adult badgers have relatively short canines, a crest along the top of the skull and the lower jaw cannot be detached; badgers less than a year old have no crest and the lower jaw is not attached to the skull.
- Foxes can be identified by their slender, sharp canines and long, narrow snout.
- Cats have a very short snout and typically only three or four teeth behind the canines.
- Deer skulls have no upper incisors; the cheek teeth are all very similar and designed for grinding.
- Male deer skulls are easily recognised by antlers; if antlers are not present, the short, upwardly directed pedicel is cut flat and points backward. With sheep, the horn boss, or boney growth, is pointed and tapered and curves backward and downward.
- Male Chinese water deer have large canine tusks but no antlers; the muntjac is the only species where males have both tusks and antlers.
- Red and sika deer have small rounded canines in the upper jaw.
- Female Chinese water deer and muntjac are told by their small size; red and sika by their large dimensions. Female fallow and large roe deer can be confused with female sheep.
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