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Discussion in 'Skulls and Skeletons' started by bone-o, Mar 19, 2013.
Why are bacula bought, sold and collected? What is their aesthetic or biological significance?
Some consider them Good luck pieces, Biologically they are an interesting piece of anatomy a human doesn't have and a VERY good way to ID species in a skeletal specimen with no skull.
And they are fun to freak people out with...
For tooth picks.
I use ones from bears and have made wind chimes with them. Great conversation piece. Also incorporated them in dream catchers
I think they are scientifically interesting because they are free to evolutionarily drift and therefore they have much greater diversity in form than most other bones. A femur needs to be shaped the way it is or else it doesn't work. However, with a baculum, we know there are a ton of forms that do the job - we see them in nature - and as long the lock matches the key it will work. Thus, you can get two species that are very similar with very different bacular shape. My favorite example of this is the common vs. crab-eating raccoon. The two species look almost identical and are in the same genus. There are pretty subtle differences in the teeth. However, their bacula are VERY different. The common raccoon has that classic S-shape that we all know and love. The crab-eating raccoon's baculum is really obviously very straight. Much straighter than any common raccoon's. No reason why this should be other than that it CAN be. Just drifted in that direction randomly. That's why it is so easy to tell species apart based in their bacula.
What Great Skull? said, plus a collection of them does not take up much room ;D
A collection of walrus bacula would take up a shocking amount of room!
As a follow-up to Great Skulls' comment, I would say that not only are bacula free to evolutionarily drift, but that there is selective pressure for diversity of form. Differences in the size and shape of bacula may prevent successful mating by closely related species with overlapping ranges. The lock and key analogy is a good one.
A good example can be seen in the bacula of Southern and Northern Flying Squirrels. They have overlapping ranges, but their bacula are distinctive and probably help to prevent inter-species mating:
a. and b. are two different views of a baculum of a Northern Flying Squirrel; c. Southern Flying Squirrel.
Another good example is in the three North American species of weasels:
c. Short-tailed Weasel. d. Long-tailed Weasel. e. Least Weasel
Some of the most phantasmagorical bacula are found in the many species of ground squirrels:
The images above may be found in Bacula of North American Mammals by William Henry Burt. 1960. Ann Arbor, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan. The entire book is available in PDF format online.
Mammalogists aren't the only ones fascinated with the private parts of their subjects. Entomologists routinely collect and preserve the genitalia of insects. In many cases it's the only way to identify insects to the species level.
I too was wondering this very thing! Thanks for the clarification...I know what kind of toothpicks will be on the table at my future in-laws come next Thanksgiving hahaha...I have a pile of Martin in the freezer :
Haha; I bet the inlaws would love that!
I have started saving the skulls and the baculum of animals that I skin. Are the baculum (baculae? Baculums?) very greasy? It does not seem like it, and it almost seems like I could just use acetone to degrease them alone.
Baculum is singular, bacula plural. Some of them can be greasy, so a soak in acetone would help.