Osteophagia and bone modifications by giraffe and other large ungulates

Ungulates often gnaw on animal bones, antlers, horns, and ivory in order to maintain certain nutritional requirements. The resulting modifications to bones and other skeletal elements have been variously described and reported, but are largely absent from most taphonomic reference works. Previous accounts of such gnawing behaviors have been restricted to smaller ungulates. Here we provide detailed description of large ungulates gnawing on bones from similarly sized animals, namely giraffe, camel, and cattle, from Africa, Australia, and North America. Large ungulates will often select fresh bones for gnawing, but will also target dry and weathered bones. Surface modifications are variable, ranging from tooth depressions, punctures, and grooves, to scooping out damage, polishing, and splintering. Similar features are prevalent in carnivore- and porcupine-gnawed bone assemblages, but the effects of large ungulate gnawing can be readily distinguished from those taphonomic agents. Ungulate gnawing may also vary in relation to body size, in that smaller ungulates impact skeletal elements differently than larger ungulates.

Last Updated
January 27, 2021
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