Why is it more common to find skulls of dead animals standalone rather than skulls and their skeletons?

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Why is it more common to find skulls of dead animals standalone rather than skulls and their skeletons?

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Skulls are big and prominent. Other bones, not so much. After scavengers finish their work scattering an animal’s remains, connective tissues break down quickly, separating bones from each other. Often the skull is the only part left that draws our attention.

Necks are mostly soft tissue. So it’s likely for that to be eaten or to decompose first. That leaves a heavy skull/head dangling on a pretty fragile few vertebrae between it and the torso. Those are easy for scavengers to separate. Skulls by themselves aren’t very easy to chew on. They’re also pretty round so unless they’re resting on a flat surface even in the absence of animals it’s likely to detach and roll away from deteriorating from the environment over time.

Over time other animals in the area will pick away at the dead animal’s body, carrying off the bones (and the meat on them) to eat somewhere else. Then the smaller bits and pieces will then get washed away by rain or blown away by wind. Meanwhile, the skull is bigger/heavier than other bones so they are harder for other animals to carry, less likely to be moved by weather, and more likely to remain recognizably intact.

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It’s the same reason you other bones alone most of the time. Pieces get torn off at different times by different scavengers and then they scurry off somewhere else to chow down.

To add to the scavenging comments – skulls are fundamentally thicker and harder bone than the rest of the body, jaws especially. That’s why we find more of them than anything else.

It’s not always common

But sometimes, birds like vultures like to take their food on the go.

I’ll add to all above comments, that skulls are more readily identified as skeletal remains. There are hundred bones in a vertebrate skeleton. Most people would recognize a skull for what it is, but not a tarsal bone, for example.

Everyone’s pretty much said it, scavangers moving the parts while they have soft tissue, skulls surviving being chewed on more and also being more visible. When scavenging for parts in somewhat putrid corpses (seals) I usually get some ribs out and the rest is still stuck right in there.

Funny story though, back when my father did overland tours of Southern Africa he and some colleagues once put in the effort to find all the now dry and scattered bones of a giraffe and neatly laid them together in the right configuration and it stumped so many tourists that they took down that route for years to come.

In Africa you have **Hyenas** as the ultimate clean up crew. Their incredible jaw strength can crush any bone.

In many parts of Asia you have the **Bearded Vulture**. A species that has learned to crack open skulls and other large bones by dropping them from the air.

In American forests and plains and deserts you have plenty of vultures, and other carrion eaters like coyotes and wolves, but nothing that lives up to the efficiency of the two abovementioned hence while flesh and small bones are cleaned away the biggest bones and the skulls remain.

Also cows and other herbivores will eat old dried up bones when they are Phosphorus deficient (or bored or just plain mad). Skulls would generally be too awkward for them to eat though.

Huh, I’ve found a lot of (mainly sheep) bones in the countryside and beaches, but never a skull.

I guess because they do stick out less than skulls do.