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Anatomy is Everywhere

Whether you're in town or country, a hike around our neighbors can unveil scores of species of mammals and birds every day. In our backyards, back pastures, and the backcountry, there is a wealth of fauna to appreciate with an eye towards anatomical features.

Consider this (very) short list:

Cooper's Hawk

Great Horned Owl

Turkey Vulture

Cordilleran Flycatcher

Tree Swallow



Chipping Sparrow

Lewis Woodpecker


Golden Mantled Squirrel

Mule Deer



Black bear

The birds may be either prey animals or predators. Among the predators, you will notice large and forward facing eyes. Raptor eyes are known to have third eyelids to protect the eyes during flight, while killing prey, and while feeding young. Those eyes also are particularly keen at depth perception, which allows raptors to focus well on moving targets while flying.

Beaks often tell the story when it comes to a bird's main source of food. Raptors have curved beaks which are best for ripping and tearing. Sparrows have good beaks for collecting and crushing seeds. Swallows, swifts, flycatchers, and night hawks have wide mouths and slim beaks, best for catching insects.

And we haven’t even considered the vast range of beak anatomy in water birds. Consider, if you will, the long, knife-like weapon that is a heron’s beak (best for feeding on small fish, reptiles, and even rodents) and the flat, wide serrated beak of the dabbling ducks which eat plants and small invertebrates.

And what about our fellow mammals?

Skulls reveal myriad hints of a specific mammal’s life. Compare, for instance, the bobcat and the coyote. Both are common predators here in Colorado, however, which one excels with its sense of smell? One look at the skulls will show you that the coyote has long nasal passages which relate proportionately to its excellent sense of smell. (The bear also has a great nose, which we can infer from its similarly long snout.) Meanwhile, the bobcat has a short face, with proportionally short nasal passages and an unimpressive sense of smell. Both the coyote and bobcat have keen hearing as one can deduce from their large auditory bullae, which house the internal ear structures.

Teeth tell stories, too. Carnivores have massive shearing teeth (In the human mouth, we call them canines.) while herbivores have long rows of flat molars for grinding seed, grass, and other vegetation.

One can often tell which skull is a predator or prey animal by the location of its eyes.




That is, animals with eyes facing toward the front have binocular vision which helps them with focus and judging distances. Animals with eyes toward the sides of the skulls have better field of view than predators, allowing them to better detect a threat from as much as a 330 degree perspective.

Of course, you can also appreciate skull anatomy in our domestic animals and fellow humans.

Can you find a two- or four-legged friend with front-facing eyes, a relatively poor sense of smell, and teeth best made for eating omnivorously? We think you can! If not, look in the mirror.







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