A catastrophic kill of ice-trapped coots: Time-averaged versus scavenger-specific disarticulation patterns

J. S. Oliver, Russell W. Graham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


More than 300 coots (Fulica americana) became frozen in Spring Lake, Tazewell County, Illinois, on December 1, 1985. This catastrophic event permitted 8 weeks of taphonomic observations, which showed that ice forms a stable substrate which permits terrestrial taphonomic processes to be imprinted on lacustrine deposits. Bird and mammal scavengers attacked coot carcasses in different manners, resulting in distinct disarticulation sequences. Bird scavengers preferentially fed on the head, neck, and breast-wing complex, causing early disarticulation of bones in these areas, late loss of hindlimb joints, and minimal bone damage. In contrast, mammal scavengers concentrated their attention on the hindlimb and tail region, resulting in bone breakage and early disarticulation of these body parts, but late disarticulation of the breast-wing complex. These data demonstrate that scavenger-specific feeding behaviors significantly influence disarticulation patterns early in assemblage formation, while anatomy may exert increasingly greater influence on disarticulation patterns as carasses become less attractive to scavengers. Finally, because taphonomic processes change in intensity and type through time, bone frequency and modification patterns will vary according to the time at which the patterns are arrested by burial. Thus, bone frequency and modification patterns should provide an index to the relative importance of specific biotic agents and of anatomy in fossil disarticulation patterns as well as an estimate of the time between death and burial.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)229-244
Number of pages16
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1994

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Palaeontology


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