For the very first time, scientists have photographed a deer gnawing human remains.
The deer was documented by a motion-sensitive camera at the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility at Texas State University, a 10-hectare (26 acres) “body farm” where forensic scientists study how human bodies decompose in the wild. Although a big part of this is seeing how wild animals interact with the body, they were not expecting a white-tailed deer to come to the table.
This is “the first known photographic evidence of deer gnawing human remains,” the researchers explained in their study, recently published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences. They witnessed at least one deer scavenging and then “holding the bone in its mouth like a cigar” on two separate occasions during January 2015. The body had been decomposing for 182 days and had already been scavenged by vultures that removed much of the soft tissue. So by this point, it’s likely to deer was chewing the dry bone.
Research has previously shown that deer occasionally gnaw on the bones of other (non-human) animals as it provides them with phosphorus, calcium, sodium, and other minerals their diet can’t provide during the depths of winter. On top of that, deer are also known to eat meat occasionally and scavenge on live small mammals or birds, despite being widely regarded as herbivores.
This unprecedented phenomenon is also insightful to the researchers in terms of forensic science, not just animal behavior. They recovered the chewed bones and analyzed the distinctive markings left by the deer for future reference. They noted that now we can recognize it, it’s important for forensic experts to consider deer scavenging when analyzing weathered bones in death investigations.