The other day I found a little mouse skull resting at the base of an oak tree. As I cradled the lightweight, delicate curve in my open palm--the white bone nearly transparent, thin enough for light to pass through--I marveled at both the strength and fragility of that most vital of structures. Though as a symbol it was long ago hijacked by pirates and Poe, I have always liked skulls. During my work as a wildlife field biologist, I have often come across skulls and bones in the woods. (Okay, I've also hacked and sawed skulls and bones off of the rest of their respective skeleton bodies for various data collection purposes. You can read about the joys of Bone Boiling elk legs in Yellowstone in my essay featured in the anthology from Solas House/Traveler's Tales Press, A Mile in Her Boots.) But I digress.
When I worked on the Yellowstone Wolf Project, if we located a dead wolf, we would often collect the animal's skull to add to the project's extensive collection of wolf skulls.
Among other things, these skulls are studied and measured by Dr. Blair Van Valkenburgh of UCLA. She is a vertebrate paleobiologist who focuses on the evolution of form, function, and ecology in organisms, both living and extinct. Her work is one example of what skulls can teach us about how and why large carnivores have evolved over centuries to better fit into, shape, and adapt to their environments.
Check out this amazing collection of high-res three-dimensional Bird Skulls, like this sweet, sweet shoebill stork skull. These birds look like living dinosaurs. And they love nothing more than to stalk and eat the lungfish. With a name like lungfish, you can assume the beast ain't going to be pretty. If you're really and truly interested in shoebills, Peep This Nat Geo video. Although their attempt at kid wit falls a bit short, the footage is cool.
Anyway, back to skulls...
Just in time for the holidays, I bring you skull-related gift ideas for your dramatic, scientific, or gothic friends and families. No pirates. No skateboards. No Urban Outfitters.
Stephanie Metz creates incredible felted skulls and other beautiful and creepy oddities.
And Moon Raven Designs makes gorgeous casts and replicas of various skulls, bones, talons, and teeth. Daniel once gave me the life-sized hummingbird skull, which I often happily wear around my neck. Here is their little brown bat: