Scanning Microscopy


Concentrations of small fossil mammals are frequently encountered in Cenozoic deposits, but the causes for such accumulations have seldom been determined. In many cases the tooth, jaw, and limb fragments appear to be well-preserved under light microscopy, and it is difficult to differentiate damage due to predator digestion from breakage and abrasion due to physical agents. In order to find more specific evidence of predator digestion, we used a scanning electron microscope (SEM) to examine the surface microstructure of bones and teeth consumed by Bubo virginianus (great horned owl) and Canis latrans (coyote), which prey upon similar species. Effects of digestion were found on all the digested bones and teeth examined. The effects on bone include distinctive sets of pits and fissures, dissolution, and physical polishing. The pits and fissures are apparently caused by solution that commences in canals beneath the surf ace of the bone. The most conspicuous effects on teeth are island-like pillars of dentin surrounded by deep solution fissures. The effects of digestion by coyote and owl are fundamentally the same but differ in degree of development. Bone digested by the owl shows a greater degree of polishing and rounding of edges but has less extensive fissuring. Wide variation in the degree of surface damage occurs in bones digested by the coyote, even within a single fecal pellet.

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