On January 5, 2015, the camera caught a glimpse of a young white-tailed deer standing near the skeleton with a human rib bone in its mouth. Then it happened again on January 13—the camera caught a deer with another rib sticking out of its mouth like a cigar. It’s not clear whether it was the same deer in both cases, but it’s certainly possible first one came back for seconds.
This is the first known evidence of a deer scavenging human bones, and the authors published their findings in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.
The paper describes the signs of deer dining, in case it helps other forensic scientists in investigating suspicious deaths. Based on this case study and the way deer have been known to forage animal carcasses, the authors note that the ungulates tend to seek out dry bones of long-dead animals, and in particular bones with a rectangular cross-section. They cause the most damage on the ends of the bone, where the zigzag motions of their jaws leave behind a “stripped, forked pattern in the bone,” the authors note. Carnivores, by contrast, seek out fresher remains and leave punctures and pits in the bone.
Although it’s likely rare for deer to munch on human remains, being able to recognize the signs of ungulate gnawing may help investigators pinpoint where a body came from and how long it’s been dead—which could help turn a mysteriously mangled crime scene into a solved case.
The deer will one day have their revenge on hunters everywhere.