Skeletons – The Story is in the Bones

Understanding Animals through Anatomy


Tell the age of a skeleton?
Tell the difference between a domestic dog and a coyote or a wolf?
Tell whether an animal relied primarily on the sense of sight, smell or hearing from just looking at the skull?

Scroll to bottom of the page for answers!

Members of our community were treated to an introduction in osteology and the story of the lives of animals that is recorded in their bones.

An animal’s bones tell us vast amounts of information about that animal’s life: its skills, behavior, diseases, diet, whether it was predator or prey. Pathology provides information about any deviation from a healthy, normal condition, e.g. if the animal had broken limbs which healed while it was still alive.

Dr. Sue Ware, forensic paleontologist and Research Associate with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, presented “Skeleton Crew: Learning About Animal Bones and What They Do” at the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience on May 12, 2018.

Beginning with a mystery skull hidden in a pillowcase, participants felt the delicate skulls for tiny details which might help them identify the animal – were the teeth sharp or dull, how long was the snout, how big was the skull, was their a ridge on the top of the skull (sagittal crest). More common animals such as a coyote, wolf, gorilla, and house cat were easier to identify than the anteater and pronghorn. Through this exercise, students tuned their senses. Sue then taught easy identification techniques, such as noticing that members of the mustelid family (badgers, wolverines, weasels) have a post orbital constriction next to a triangular shaped back-of-the-skull.

Following a Power Point walking students through the function of various bones in the body and instruction on how to read these bones, time for the final exam arrived: sheets were removed revealing a jumble of bones on six different tables. Each group worked together to reassemble the mix of vertebrae, ribs, limb bones, phalanges, and the odd bones including the sternum and scapulas, and in the process students unveiled a big horn sheep, coyote, bobcat, pronghorn, cougar and wolf.

Sue’s ability to interweave detailed information about anatomy with stories and fascinating facts made for an easy-learning experience. Laughter accompanied note-taking.

Sue is also a paleopathologist at the George C. Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries (now known as the Tar Pit Museum) in Los Angeles, and a contributor to the Wolfe Recovery Project at Yellowstone National Park. She studies the osteology, diseases, causes of death, and general health of the wolves by analyzing their carcasses for pathology and its impact on the life and behavior of individual wolves and pack dynamics since their reintroduction in 1995-1996.

Sue also works with the Heritage and Research Center in Gardiner, Montana, where the results of her research and the skulls are housed.

Fremont Stones ‘n Bones sponsored this class, and would like to thank the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience for generously providing a perfect setting and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science Zoology Department for allowing access to the specimens in its collections.


Tell the age of a skeleton? Answer:  Certain sutures (those zig zag lines between the various plates of the skull) close (fuse) at certain stages in life.
Tell the difference between a domestic dog and a coyote or a wolf? Answer: The angle from the forehead to the snout is much steeper on a domestic dog.
Tell whether an animal relied primarily on the sense of sight, smell or hearing from just looking at the skull? Answer: Check out the size of the eye orbits, the length of the snout and the complexity of turbinates within, and the auditory bullae on the underside of the skull. A more developed sense structure indicates more reliance on that skill.

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