08 July 2020

What should you do with 300 dead bodies?

The photo shows the aftermath of lightning strikes in Norway in 2016.
In August 2016, a park ranger stumbled upon 323 dead wild tundra reindeer in Norway’s remote Hardangervidda plateau. They had been killed in a freak lightning event. But instead of removing the carcasses, the park decided to leave them where they were, allowing nature to take its course – and scientists to study this island of decomposition and how it might change the arctic tundra ecosystem. 
Over the years scientists observed the bloated, fly-infested bodies turn into dry skeletons. The latest paper, published by the Royal Society in June, looked at the creation of a “landscape of fear”, as top predators such as wolverines, golden eagles and arctic foxes took advantage of the carrion... 
Scavenger birds such as ravens, crows and eagles visited the highest density of carcasses in 2017 and then were nearly absent in 2018. The reverse was true of rodents (such as root vole, lemming, bank vole and field vole), which were absent from the site in 2017 and then were everywhere in 2018... 
Another discovery was that non-scavenger birds such as the meadow pipit, northern wheatear, common reed bunting, bluethroat and lapland bunting all fed on the “bloom” of arthropods, such as blowfly, that developed on the carrion... 
It is now widely accepted that leaving dead wood in forests benefits many species, but leaving carcasses is still taboo. This, along with concerns about the spread of disease, means there has historically been little research on how carrion returns nutrients to ecosystems. Frank says: “We’ve been focusing on animals when they’re alive, where they go, and where are they moving. I don’t know if it’s something about mortality, culturally, from the western perspective, that we’re a little bit averse to. I think people are now kind of warming up to cold bodies, at least in wildlife research. Everything is connected, and circular.”
More at the link.


  1. Well that's very mannerly among the scavengers: "After you" "No, after you, Sir" Decomposition reminded me of Peter Greenaway's 1985 film A Zed & Two Noughts scored by Michael Nyman: one scene has time lapse of various carcasses, including an apple, getting reduced to component parts [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TBNvlyjTQg 2 mins]. To go further, keywords include whalefall and body farm.

  2. i did my own study with a dead raccoon that i found under a spruce tree. i left it there. it took about two months to go to 'nothing', eaten up by flies and carpets of maggots.


    1. The University of Wisconsin Arboretum has an area I found in the woods, off the main hiking trails, that has been designated as a sort of necropolis, where students can monitor the processes. Carcasses are covered with a wire mesh to prevent carnivores from carrying off the entire specimen.

    2. Carpets of Maggots would be the greatest metal band name ever.

    3. THAT is spooky! the 'i found' part, that is!


    4. Not spooky - just nature. You need to get out more.

  3. The typical action for dead livestock around here is to bury it, where it takes years to decompose, probably polluting the water table as it goes.
    I have left many various carcasses, up to cow size, in the most remote part of my small ranch. They first become the world's biggest bird feeder and they can smell pretty bad for a week or so (a down wind place is best).
    Other critters join in and and the spot where all have ended up is bare, waiting for the next one.


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