The Identification

The Museum’s taxidermist, Steve Massam, has been encouraging Dale’s interest in natural history for several years and, was intrigued when he heard of the find.

“On first sight I could see that we were looking at the skull and jaw of a Canid (dog, wolf, fox) rather than that of a seal or cat, and when conferring with Emma Edwards regarding their blacked state concluded that the bones are in a mineralized (semi-fossilized) condition and of some considerable age.”

Ancient oceanic fossils are not uncommon in the Islands, but these bones could prove to be the first more recent signs of mineralization. The acidic nature of the peat removes the calcium from bones making them fragile and lightweight, but Dale found the remains in an sedimentary sandy/muddy site and it may have been this that allowed the mineralization to occur.

Steve compared the find with photographs of a known Warrah skull and found them to be remarkably similar. He sought the assistance of the veterinary department and they concluded that, although not impossible, it was highly unlikely that the remains were those of a dog.

The Museum¬†had arranged for Steve to take the bones to the Natural History Museum’s curator of mammals Louise Tomsett for formal identification when he went on UK holiday in June:

alt“I returned a few weeks later. Louise had compared Dale’s find with South American Canids and concluded none were comparable. Louise then went on to explain that she had compared the find to domestic dogs and found only one, the greyhound, showing any similarities... However there were a number of slight differences that don’t quite match, and in particular what many would see as a minute difference, but significant enough to put Dale’s find apart from the greyhound and that was one of the lower molars has a straight edge to one of the cusps that positively identified the tooth (and therefore the lower jaw) as belonging to a Warrah!”

There were no positive identifying points setting Dale’s skull aside from the greyhound skull, but as the skull and the jaw were found in close proximity and appear to go together, there is every possibility that the two are from the same specimen.

Pictured right - the Evans Warrah skull (centre) between two other known Warrah skulls held by the Natural History Museum London. Photograph: L. Tomsett NHM.

Top of Steve’s list of theories explaining the discovery of what might be four warrah at the same site is that this was an “earth” (the home and breeding site of fox-like canids):

“Although a Warrah was a different animal to the European red fox they may well have shared similar habits, and so referring to the traits of the red fox I can surmise how there came to be four Warrahs and signs of prey species in the location.”

Foxes usually select the site for their earth in a dry bank where other animals such as rabbits have burrowed, and enlarge the existing holes, and Steve thinks that warrah may have enlarged magellanic penguin burrows. Some reports refer to the warrah as being a pack animal, so it is possible that this site could have consisted of a single earth, or a number of burrows to accommodate an extended family.

Warrah were predatory carnivores that would have preyed on penguins, geese, ducks, small waders, songbirds and fish - there are even reports of them taking seals. It is also believed that they would also have scavenged along the shores, taking anything that should happen to wash up dead and, says Steve, like other foxes/wolves, they would also have eaten berries and other vegetation, so diddle-dee and teaberries could also have formed part of their diet.

Prey would have been taken back to the earth for the cubs and young, hence the evidence of skeletal material of these prey species.

Steve believes that this site would most likely have been used over a succession of breeding seasons for many years and which could explain the remains of four Warrahs being found in the same location, a result of natural fatalities over a period of time. Dale has also found what looks to be the tip of a tooth that would have been erupting in a young animal’s jaw, a further indication of family life, and finally, the collection of tiny fragments of bone and squid beaks could prove to be evidence of faeces (droppings).

Category: The Evans Warrah

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F.I. Museum & National Trust
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To promote awareness and appreciation of the history and heritage of the Falkland Islands and to protect and preserve this history for future generations.