May 30th, 2008

The Strange Mystery of the Groovy Teeth. Sounds like a Scooby Doo Episode, but it actually started with a pile of bones Fred & Chrissy found on an Earth Day cleanup, high above the Mississippi River. After our session they showed the bones to us and we were all mystified. There were large rib bones, fairly large vertebrae (1/2 to 3/4" or so), weird parallelogram shaped thin bones with muscle attachment points on one side, and no skulls, tails, fur, or feathers except a few of these things that looked a lot like shed turtle skutes.
Then there was the peculiar bone above, with the grooved molars (we guessed, they LOOKED like teeth) and some little toadstool-like molar-looking cap teeth nearby them, with one actually growing out of the SIDE of the other tooth. (!) Also, the space between the teeth was not normal, large gaps with no sign of other teeth having ever been there. And what seemed like ancient molars alongside little buds.

On the flip side of what we were calling the "jaw" bone, the structure was amazing. It was a "girder-like" construction re-enforcing thin bone material. In one place you could actually look up thru the tooth and out the other side. Some parts looked almost transparent. The other thing was that the bones were so CLEAN. No dirt, fur, mineralization, tissue, nothing. Almost like they had been cleaned in acid... Then a bell went off in my head. Could it be an Eagle barf? Eagles and other raptors cannot digest the bones in the live prey they eat whole or nearly whole, and regurgitate a "pellet" containing the bones, claws, fur, and feathers every 12 to 24 hours. Still, this would have to have been a gargantuan eagle to eat stuff this big. These bones were large. And there seemed to be types that didn't match up. Maybe it sat in a tree and barfed separate meals in relatively the same spot or something, which was fairly probable. I researched, and asked everyone I could and came up empty. Some doubted they were even really teeth in the bone, maybe just bone spurs or the like. I looked for animals having a thin bone structure, birds coming to mind first, but that didn't fit with everything else. Rabbits have thin bones as something like 8% of their total weight is in the skeleton, so they can jump with ease. They have a similar separated molar array, with huge incisors in the front, but the jaw bone didn't look anything like this one. I read and learned a lot about osteology, but things just didn't all fit together cozy enough. The grooved teeth usually belonged to a herbivore, to grind up plants for easier digestion. Mammals just don't have that type of bone structure. I tried searching using different starting points. Nada.
Finally I had some work time at Springbrook coming up, so I brought my bone in and asked the Nature Center Director, Siah St. Clair if he had ever seen anything like this. Immediately his face registered, and then scowled. "I know I have seen this before, I know I went down the same path you are going before by myself . It was starting to drive me crazy and I had to find out what it was. Then one day a guy came in with a bone that looked very similar to yours and mine. I've got it in my desk here somewhere - begins rummaging, weird animal taxidermy parts flying every direction - I don't know - it's here somewhere. All I remember is I was very surprised when he told me what it was. Let's see, herbivore, big teeth, strange jaw shape... I remember, try fish! Try fish!" So I went back to looking at old teeth pictures on the Internet and finally one popped up that looked VERY familiar:

Left side: Common Carp. Without a doubt. Carp actually DO have teeth to grind up plants, they are for the most part herbivores, but not religiously. They use their respiratory muscles to create a grinding motion in the pharynx, wear the "jawbone" is. An expert can tell their age and size by the teeth. All I know is it had to be a monster with a backbone like a badger.
I'm bringing them to the dentist next time and telling him they fell out on the way over.