CSI: Mather Field, Episode 1
It all started a couple of weeks ago on an otherwise typical Splash field trip. If I recall, the Splash Guides were leading a wonderful class of fourth-grade nature detectives through the vernal pool grasslands. The fourth-grade students had been studying our Splash Vernal Pool science curriculum in their classroom and were now at Mather Field enjoying their field trip experience.
One of the observant students was first to discover the crime scene. Scattered on the ground at the group’s feet were several medium-sized bones and bone fragments. There were no traces of flesh on any of the bones and they appeared to be somewhat old and weathered, perhaps bleached by a long summer in the direct sunlight. The students realized it was time for some serious detective work so they sat down on the ground to analyze the evidence at the scene.
Two of the bones were the left and right jawbones from the lower mandible of a small carnivore. There also was a portion of the corresponding top of the carnivore’s jaw from the front of its skull. The front part of the skull looked as though it had been separated from the rest of the skull by a crushing force. The canine teeth and the carnassial teeth were still intact. The upper canines were positioned extremely close to the tiny front incisors, indicating that the animal had a very short snout. One of students said it looked liked her pet cat’s teeth. She was right! These bones were from a domestic cat skull!
In addition to the cat skull and jaw fragments, there also were two other bones that appeared to be fragments of leg bones, 2 ½-inches to 3-inches long and just shy of ½-inch wide. One of students excitedly noticed that they were hollow! Wait a minute! Cats don’t have hollow bones! The students proposed that the leg bones came from a bird. It must have been a pretty large bird with sturdy legs to have those measurements. They were way too big for a Western Meadowlark or Red-winged Blackbird, yet too small to be from the Wild Turkeys that roam the area. Perhaps a Ring-necked Pheasant!
As we continued the investigation of the crime scene, searching for additional clues, one of the students noticed a well-worn, very narrow, trail through the grassland. It appeared to lead about two hundred yards in a rather straight line to a thicket of trees and brambles.
Another student yelled to the group that she had found some scat (poop) near that narrow trail. Nothing attracts a group of fourth-grade nature detectives faster than a pile of scat! They gathered around to inspect the excrement and noticed it looked a bit like dog poop; however, it contained lots of hair and bone fragments and had a distinctive twist toward one end.
The analysis of the clues generated so many questions. Who was/were the victim(s) of this ghastly act? Who was the perpetrator? Why were the bones left where they were? Was the trail the getaway route of the perpetrator? And why do fourth graders get so excited about scat?
Stay tuned for the rest of the story… next time on CSI Mather Field!