The Small Scavenger Guild of Massachusetts

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James Pokines
Corey Pollock


The role of small scavengers (typically birds and small mammals) of large vertebrate remains in terrestrial environments is an under-researched aspect of forensic taphonomy. The present research examined the role of small scavengers in a wooded environment in Massachusetts. A sample of fresh, mostly defleshed pig (Sus scrofa) femora was placed in heavy mesh wire cages that restricted access by the largest scavengers but allowed full access by smaller scavengers. The bones were monitored with game cameras for a four-month period from 8 June through 7 October 2016, and bones were replaced frequently. A minimum of 8 bird and 10 mammalian taxa were detected scavenging the remains, including multiple Passerines, turkey vulture (Cathartes aura), mustelids, raccoon (Procyon lotor), Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana), and rodents including eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) and chipmunk (Tamias striatus). Gnawing damage to bone was accrued by fisher (Martes pennanti), but the remaining scavengers only consumed adhering soft tissue. The small scavenger guild in this region is diverse and has a high potential for involvement in the scavenging of human skeletal remains in exposed terrestrial environments.

KEYWORDS: forensic anthropology, forensic taphonomy, scavenger guild, scavenging, bone gnawing, Massachusetts

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