In this dissertation, the author discusses remotely captured digital video and still photography data on the primary scavengers of human corpses; presents primary feeding behaviors as well as detailed conclusions about the feeding habits of vertebrate scavengers, although the focus of the study was the northern raccoon (Procyon lotor); and attributes bone and soft tissue modifications to corpses to specific scavengers.
This study used unattended photography, specifically digital video and still photography, in conjunction with heat-and-motion sensors to obtain mostly nocturnal records of scavengers that modified human remains that decayed at the outdoor research facility in Tennessee. Because of these recordings and diurnal field documentation, much of the bone and soft tissue modifications were attributed to specific scavengers. The primary scavengers of corpses were identified as the northern raccoon (Procyon lotor), Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana), brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), and white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus); and the primary scavenger of skeletal remains was the eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Among these species, the raccoon was the dominant scavenger and is the focus of the dissertation. The raccoons at the facility demonstrated four primary feeding behaviors at human remains: scavenging soft tissue; foraging in body cavities for late instar maggots en masse; foraging for individual prepupae as they migrated away from the corpse; and foraging for prepupae and puparia, and other insects, burrowed beneath ground litter and in the soil. These behaviors were largely sequential and depended on the conditions under which the corpse decayed. The raccoons’ feeding sites often appeared atypical of mammalian carnivore due to placing a forepaw or forelimb deep inside the wound opened by chewing a hole through the skin, to extract tissue. Fresher bodies were more extensively scavenged, and raccoons modified corpses through flesh decomposition, especially by chewing fingers and toes. The author suggests this information will be of use to forensic anthropologists in the field and in the lab.