Natural History Mystery

Of Wolves, Moose and Old Bones

In August 2008, Ohio Historical Society Senior Curator of Natural History Bob Glotzhober found out about an accidental discovery of bones of a rare fossil animal, the extinct stag-moose (Cervalces scotti). A landowner near Chippewa Lake in Medina County was digging clay from a deep hole to line a horse-riding rink. Sixteen-feet deep in lake-deposit clay the backhoe operator brought up a partial skull and a couple of large antler fragments.

Glotzhober got the phone call, and a week later the society was able to hire the excavator to re-open the hole. Society archaeologists Linda Pansing and Bill Pickard worked with Glotzhober to recover a total of 44 bones and bone fragments. In Ohio, only 11 stag-moose finds are known.

What Ate the Stag-Moose?
As they cleaned the bones they noted that most of the leg bones had spiral fractures – the type that can only occur when the bones are still fresh. In addition, several showed large conical tooth grooves from whatever ate the stag-moose. A nearly complete humerus also has a large, circular puncture that appears to have been made by a large, powerful carnivore’s canine tooth. What animal was able to break open and puncture the bones of this stag-moose, which in life probably ran about 1,000 pounds?

With a bit of luck, Glotzhober was able to contact and work out plans for some cooperative work with John and Leah Vucetich of Michigan Technical University in Houghton, Mich. They are carrying on the 50-year long study of wolves and moose in Isle Royale National Park started by Durwood Allen and carried forward by David Mech and Rolf Peterson before the Vucetich team. This past winter they were able to recover 20 wolf-chewed bones from moose kills, clean them and mail them to Glotzhober, who will be comparing their tooth marks and chew patterns with the society’s stag-moose bones.

Zoo Offers Clues
“I’m hoping they’ll collect some more during this summer’s field season and with luck next fall I’ll visit their collection storage that holds more than 3600 bones collected over the years,” Glotzhober says. “I’ve also been working with several staff at the Columbus Zoo, where they offered cow bones with meat to their black bear, grizzly bear and twin 1,000-pound brown bears as well as their cougars. With these as well as some other connections we are still working on, we hope to be able to decipher what large carnivore ate our stag-moose.” Very preliminary study suggests that neither the wolves nor any of the bears are likely to be the perpetrator of the phenomenal crushing, breaking and puncturing visible on these old bones. Stay tuned!

B. Glotzhober, Senior Curator, Natural History

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