Who Done It


Here are the skulls of two large mammals native to North America.

Photo by Dennis Deck

Try to name the two species. [ View Answer ]


You may have had some difficulty with the preceeding picture. The angle was selected to highlight the similarities of the two skulls. However, you probably identified them both as carnivores from the fangs. Now look at the skull on the left from a different angle.

Photo by Dennis Deck

Note that the dentation clearly indicates a meat-only diet. The canines, about 2.5 inches long, are well developed for grabbing prey. The upper and lower molars, called carnassial teeth, are specially adapted for shearing tissue much like scissors. A massive bundle of muscle connects the lower jaw giving this animal a tremendous biting force of about 1,500 pounds per square inch, far greater than close relatives in the family. These muscle bundles also give this fellow a broad face in a frontal view. The overall robust appearance of the skull should suggest Gray Wolf.

This closeup of the lower jaw shows the carnassial teeth very clearly.

Now look back at the skull on the right of the first photo. If I had a side shot you would see that the jaw consists mostly of grinding molars (much like our own) more indicative of an omnivore. If you guessed Black Bear you get a gold star.

These skulls were on display in the classroom at WolfHaven International, a wolf refuge in Tenino near Olympia, Washington.

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