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“Inside Look” at Animals’ Skeletons

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“Inside Look” at Animals’ Skeletons
October 13, 2020

Black cats, pumpkins, ghosts… skulls and skeletons. They’re all symbols of the Halloween season. We asked Northwest Trek’s Head Veterinarian, Dr. Allison Case, to give us an “inside” look at a few of the wildlife park’s animals and their not-so-spooky skeletons. Dr. Case regularly takes radiographs or X-rays of the animals to check on their health and care for them.

Tolmie the Porcupine

x-ray of a porcupine
The black area in the upper chest shows the porcupine’s lungs

There’s a lot more under the prickly surface of a porcupine’s quills that you can see in an X-ray.

“During a routine wellness exam, I’ll look at the animal’s joints, shape of the heart, liver and intestines and zoom in on multiple areas, including the skull,” said Dr. Case.

The black area in the upper chest shows the porcupine’s lungs and the black area lower in the X-ray is just gas.

Debunking the myth:

Q: Will porcupines shoot their quills at me?

A: No, quills need to make contact with something before they come loose from the porcupine. Porcupines do not attack unless they feel threatened.

Huckleberry the Grizzly Bear

x-ray of grizzly bear foot
Grizzly bear feet aren’t much different than human feet!

A grizzly bear’s foot is wide and long with sharp claws, but if you look at this X-ray you’ll see that its feet aren’t much different than a human foot!

“They actually have the same bones in their feet as people, even the same soft tissue,” said Dr. Case. “They are a little more flat footed than a human, but they still have a bit of an arch.”

If you look at the bottom of the foot, you’ll see the toughness of Huckleberry’s footpad, designed for a lifetime of walking barefoot (or bear-foot, get it?).

Debunking the myth:

Q: If I’m hiking or camping in bear country, will I be attacked?

A: No, bear attacks are extremely rare. Most bears will retreat before you are even aware of their presence. It’s still important to know what to do if you do encounter a bear and how to avoid attracting them

Tala the Wolf

During Tala the gray wolf’s most recent full physical exam, Dr. Case checked her blood work, cleaned her teeth (she got mint

gray-wolf x-ray
Dr. Case checks Tala’s teeth during a recent check-up

polish!), trimmed her nails, cleaned her ears and gave her vaccines, amongst other things including full body survey radiographs.

“Tala is a very healthy wolf,” said Dr. Case. “These radiographs help me see the roots of her teeth and I can reference them in the future to see if anything has changed in her mouth.”

Debunking the myth:

Q: Are wolves dangerous to humans?

A: No, there are only a few cases where wolves have attacked humans in the last 100 years in North America. 

Ash the Great Horned Owl

x-ray of great horned owl
X-rays highlight just how big an owl’s eyes are

Owls are perceived as wise animals, in part because of their big eyes.

“X-rays really highlight the unique shape and size of an owl’s eyes,” said Dr. Case.

During a full checkup exam, Dr. Case also trims both the talons and the beak and gives Ash the Great Horned Owl a vaccine for West Nile virus.

Debunking the myth:

Q: Owls have exceptional eyesight, so if I eat their eggs, will I gain better vision?

A: No. Eating the eyes or eggs of an owl won’t make your vision any better.

Tundra the Snowy Owl

snowy owl x-ray
You can see the fine feathers of the snowy owl on this X-ray

In this X-ray, you can see the snowy owl’s fine feathers.

“The dense portion in the middle of her body contains her heart and liver,” said Dr. Case. “The black sections are all air sacs. You can see how much information can be gained from these radiographs.”

Debunking the myth:

Q: Do owls hoot to ward off evil?

A: No, owls hoot to communicate with other owls.