Thursday, May 4, 2017

Saga of the Dead Bear

A couple of days before New Year’s Day our oldest granddaughter, her husband, their dog and I were walking in a wooded area when one of us (guess which one) found a dead bear partially covered with snow. This was an opportunity too good to pass up, so I decided to return and put up a camera trap to get photos of the scavengers that would come for a meal. 

I’ve spent all of my professional life and most of my recreational time in forest and field or on the water – well over 50 years now. This is only the second time I’ve found a dead bear in the woods; the first being in 2008 and that was only some of the bones and pieces of hide. This time it was an entire, intact bear of less than 100 pounds.

There were no obvious wounds on the bear, just a small patch of hair missing from one hip. The bear’s body was more than ¾ mile from the nearest road; perhaps the bear was hit by a vehicle and traveled that far before succumbing to its injuries.

To those who are squeamish – DO NOT READ FURTHER!

Every few weeks since putting the camera trap in place on January 3 I’ve checked on the photos it’s acquired. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until mid-February that the first animal appeared in a photo – and that was a flying squirrel on an adjacent tree

Then a cottontail rabbit passed on by

Next came a dog that grabbed the bear by the nose and tugged, moving the carcass a bit –

Then there was a white-footed mouse on the dead bear –

A mink briefly checked the remains

For a while a flying squirrel made nightly visits to eat from the bear’s lips and nose –

Raccoons swarmed the carcass, but apparently did not feed
On April 2 an opossum managed to get through the hide and spent 34 minutes feeding on the bear carcass –

So did a stripped skunk

The ‘possum returned repeatedly to have its nightly meal –

As the weather warmed the flies and carrion beetles arrived, attracted by the increasingly pungent aroma of the dead bear –

And still the ‘possum came, successive photos also showed the swarm of fly larvae (maggots) as they fed on the bear carcass –

As much as I anticipated seeing photos of a bear, coyote, bobcat, raven, crow or vulture feeding on the remains, none appeared. Why hadn't the typical scavengers of dead animals come to this abundant source of protein?

When  I went to check the camera’s memory card and change the batteries in late April – the bear was GONE!

Glancing around, I didn’t see the remains, so I checked the card in hopes of determining what happened to the bear. There were over 400 photos, most were of the opossum feeding; those photos also showed the progress of maggots working on the carcass. 

A coyote had finally appeared on April 17, but only in one photo. The coyote returned on the 19th – when it dragged the bear carcass away, as scavenging predators often do.

Looking more closely, I found a drag trail in the fallen leaves and located the carcass 150 feet away behind an old root mound. The idea of moving the remains back to the camera briefly crossed my mind, but it was such a gooey mess there was no way I was going to do that. Instead I moved the camera to a tree near the carcass’ new location. 

In addition to the photos of the mammals, there were photos of a hermit thrush that visited the carcass’s original location several times over the course of three days after the coyote had dragged it off – perhaps it was gleaning maggots that had been left behind when the coyote moved the carcass.

The camera trap will remain in its new location until there’s no evidence of further activity – Stand by.


Out To Pasture said...

Gosh, and I thought flying squirrels were strict vegetarians. Obviously not! What an assortment of scavengers! Another very interesting post, Woody.

The Furry Gnome said...

What an interesting set of pictures!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Wow! What a fascinating sequence! I certainly share your questioning why no carrion eaters discovered this carcass until so late in the year.

Tammie Lee said...

Super interesting. I have never found a dead bear.
A neighbor hunted a deer on their property in the fall. It was already below freezing which most of our winter was. Super cold winter here. Lots of crows, dogs, fox, not sure who else as I did not have a camera on it. But I could see the tracks in the snow. Amazing how they worked on that frozen meat all winter.

eileeninmd said...

What a cool post. I wonder why the bear died? Great photos! Enjoy your week ahead!

Buckhunter said...

Yes l am also surprised the squirrel eating the carcase.