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Skull in the Woods

September 12, 2018

It was a beautiful fall day down on the farm. A happy group of hikers (two moms, four boys) returned from a trip to the ice pond excitedly shouting that they’d found a dead animal. The boys were full of gory details. It had its neck ripped open; there were lots of bones—maybe it was a fisher cat. I was intrigued, but doubtful. Firstly, fisher cats are pretty rare. Some years ago, my father told me he’d heard it’s eerie call – half-avian shriek/half-feline yowl. I tracked a recording down online and couldn’t help but wonder what it must have sounded like to the first Europeans to hear it. I am sure it caused those Pilgrims to pray with increased fervor and sense of purpose. Secondly, how would these kids know what a fisher cat looks like? Thirdly, fisher cats are large-ish members of the weasel family. What would be able to dispatch one by ripping it’s neck open? More than likely it was an unfortunate cat or dog that had met up with a coyote. But, as I said, I was intrigued. I posted my “Back in a few” sign and took off at a trot for the woods, shouting thanks to the hikers over my shoulder.


When I got to the ice pond, the sight was even stranger than I had imagined. For one thing, the skull was almost clean, and I was fairly certain it was not a cat or a dog. For another thing, not only did it seem it had been killed by a bite to the neck, buy it seemed to have been torn inside out. The spinal column and rib cage were both fully exposed and the skin was attached to the skull only at the chin. It was as if something had grabbed it by the neck and swung it around until the skin flew off. At this is the part I began feeling a bit like I might be in the midst of a Jurassic Park moment. I detached the head from the carcass and the neck from the spine and carried my prize back to the ox barn in a plastic bag.


Twenty-four hours later I found an old camping cook pot, popped the skull in, and set it to boiling. Those one or two of you who have followed my blog may remember a story I posted many years ago about my grandmother Cornelia, and what a good sport she was. It concerned the time my Uncle Peter found a seal’s head at the beach and how he boiled the skin off it in one of her cooking pots on the stove. Well, now I truly understand what a good sport she was—and, as it turns out, what a good sport my lovely wife Lisa Dee is—because my little skull boiled over on our stove and it. Smelled. Foul.


Lisa Dee simply closed the door to the room she was in and kept on working. I removed the pot from the stove, cleaned up the mess, and attempted to boil something fragrant to cover the stench. (Ed. Note:It did not work.) I then set up a small camping stove in the backyard and continued the boil. After several hours I was able to remove all the skin and most of the ‘gristle’. I soaked it in Chlorox for a half-hour or so, rinsed it, and soaked it in hydrogen peroxide overnight. The next day I rinsed it again and re-assembled the pieces. The skull was so complete the re-assembling consisted of little more than putting about seven teeth back in to their sockets and gluing the others that were loose. I scraped a few last bits of ‘gristle’ off and glued the jaw to the upper skull.


My current theory of the poor critter’s final moments is that it met up with two canids (possibly coyotes, but I guess dogs because the carcass was not consumed) – one grabbed its neck and one grabbed its tail whereupon a vigorous tug-of-war ensued, which our protagonist lost decisively.


The only mystery now is what was the poor creature? I have looked at many skull images online. It certainly could be a fisher cat.  It is not a dog, fox, or coyote (snout too long).  Does not appear to be in the cat family (face too flat).  It is too big for a mink or weasel, though it looks very similar. The view that shows the most definitive differences is the top view. There is a distinctive ridge on the skull and a narrowness between the eye sockets which I did not see in any other images. So, if you have anything to add, please feel free to chime in.

Skull from the woods

“Fisher Cat Skull”?

You never know what an early fall day down at the farm will bring.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Lydia permalink
    September 12, 2018 7:50 pm

    I had heard about the finding of the dead Fisher from Jean. Did you know she found another one in her front yard this past Sunday?

  2. Robert permalink
    September 13, 2018 9:59 am

    Perhaps there’s a local academic who might be willing to opine from a photo?

    • September 13, 2018 6:45 pm

      At this point, i am pretty sure it is a fisher. I saw a photo of a skull elsewhere on the web, and it showed the top of the skull. There is a very distinctive pattern on the top of the skull, which this skull shares, but is not shared by other weasel skulls i have seen.

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