A week ago today, Kieran and I spent several rainy hours exploring Mt. Hamilton in San Jose. Because of the wet, windy weather, we had the whole place to ourselves. Under an enormous, dead oak tree we found dozens of tiny rodent bones — skulls, mandibles and limb bones, too. After collecting them, we stumbled upon the titanic thigh bone of a long-dead cow. Searching the tall grass around the area, we quickly found most of the other bones of the cow’s skeleton, except its skull, which some passing hikers may have carried off, years ago. The bones were so old that they’d begun to break down. One shank of the cow even had a tiny green shoot and leaves growing out of it.

Being a good scientist, Kieran compared the tiny femur of the mouse (1″ long) to the massive cow femur (15″ long). Despite their enormous difference in size, the structures of the bones were quite similar.

Packing home forty or fifty pounds of bones wasn’t at all easy. Good thing we didn’t get pulled over while the trunk of our car was full of bones! Now our collection of bones is bigger than ever.

Muddy trail

We saw no other people all day.

Silhouetted oaks

Silhouettes of huge oaks in the park.

Tiny mouse bones

We suspect that owls or hawks roost in the dead tree, since we found so many rodent bones.

Pile of bones

In the tall grass we eventually found nearly all the bones of a long-dead cow, except the skull and some of the ribs. We did find two ribs and many vertebrae.


Even the vertebrae were enormous.

Trunk full of bones

Big bones in the boot of our car.


At home, we compared two femora.

Mouse femur

A close up of the tiny mouse femur.

Cow shank

The cow’s shank, or shin bone.

Cow shank plant

A tiny plant growing from one end of the cow’s shank.

Mouse skulls and bones

Kieran organized the mouse bones beside his bed.

Mouse bones arranged

Mouse skulls, mandibles, leg bones, and even two tiny vertebrae still articulated.

In his bed

You’re not a true osteologist unless you sleep with your collection in your bed!

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