February – Dissecting road kill

This weasel was caught by a cat, after which it was brought in for research.
This weasel was caught by a cat, after which it was brought in for research.

Dissecting road kill

I have been dissecting Mustelid traffic victims since 2006. It all started when I wanted to do voluntary work as a student for the Dutch Pine marten working group. I just moved to Wageningen and heard that there were possibilities to help with research on road kill. Soon I assisted Hugh Jansman and Sim Broekhuizen with their sections on pine martens. When I heard there were possibilities to help Jasja Dekker with sections on polecats, I started helping him as well, and by 2013 I took over the organisation of these sections. We study pine martens, stone martens, polecats, weasels and sometimes badgers, stoats and American mink. This month I organized the sections for the last time, as I don’t have that much spare time any more as I am in the last year of my PhD.

A young pine marten female which was found as a road kill near Deventer
A young pine marten female which was found as a road kill near Deventer

The traffic victims we study are mostly brought in by volunteers who find them on the road. We always start with measuring the total length of the animal, and it’s weight. After that we use the wear of the teeth as a measure of ageing the animals and we check for clear signs of trauma on the outside. Recently, another external feature was added, and nowadays, I also check the animals for ectoparasites, about which I wrote a short post last year.

A male polecat which was parasitized heavily by Ixodes hexagonus ticks.
A male polecat which was parasitized heavily by Ixodes hexagonus ticks.

After checking the animals from the outside, we cut them open to check and measure all kinds of things. We check for fat underneath the skin and around the kidneys, and weigh the fat stored in the mesentery to get an idea of the condition of the animal. We check for signs of reproduction, and we check for anomalies that could indicate the cause of death in case the animal was not found on a road. Doing this has taught me a lot about the biology of Mustelids, and it is a great way to get a close up look at these wonderful animals.

The author of a book on stone martens (Sim Broekhuizen) dissecting one of his favourite study animals.
The author of a book on stone martens (Sim Broekhuizen) dissecting one of his favourite study animals (a stone marten).
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