Alaska Fur ID Project

What is this website, and how do I use it?

In a nutshell, use these clues and tools to build your case.

The best way to use this resource is to check the INDEX for the animal or animal grouping you are examining, and click on it.  Each one is a separate blog posting, and your comments and observations are most welcome!

Alaska Native artifacts often feature mammal fur, and its identification in our museum collection has been haphazard.  Correct identification can inform cultural attribution, cultural meaning, trade relationships, historical period, methods of manufacture, and authenticity of artifacts.   If a pelt is reasonably complete and the geographic location pinpointed, identification can be quite simple.  But those factors do not always occur with museum artifacts.  In the past, conservators grappling with fur identification had to rely on outside experts or use a reference set for comparative analysis.   The advances of digital imaging and internet technology allow us to make a reference set of images available to the public free of charge, along with analysis and observations.  The goal is for a person with a microscope to make an identification in an afternoon:  “….and after lunch, let’s identify that fur!”   While our focus is to better understand technical aspects of Native artifacts, is also hoped that this project might prove useful to our allies in other professions such as zooarchaeology, biology and forensics.  Our review of the literature on fur ID suggests there are several “tools in the toolbox” but many references have not fully exploited all the tools, choosing to focus on only a few.  We have a blog posting for each animal, with various data gathered for each tool, and a variety of images.  Below is an explanation of what information we are gathering for each animal:

Length: Measured in millimeters.  We try to indicate how each source was measuring.  Some use a maximum length which is usually the longest guard hairs on the center back near the shoulders (dorsal hairs.)  Some use an average instead.  We measure these directly off the pelt with the hair in place, putting a metal rule at the skin and seeing how far the tip reaches.

Diameter Range: Measurement in microns at the widest part of the hair.  “Range” means measurements taken at the widest part of each hair, NOT the various widths along the shaft of a single hair.

Medulla: The central area of the hair.  Sometimes the medulla is variable along the length of the hair.  There is usually a primary medullary classification: Absent,  Continuous, Interrupted, Fragmented.  See glossary for specifics.  SEM images can see much more, but for our purposes we are looking for a pattern or certain unambiguous features.

Medullary Index: Ratio of the width of the medulla to the diameter of the hair at the point of greatest hair width.  Since the medulla is always smaller than the overall hair, it will be a number less than one.  This one is a useful number because our findings correlate well with the literature.

Color: Large clumps of pigment granules and air spaces scattered throughout the cortex.  An individual hair may be banded (change drastically in a short distance along the shaft), like stripes) and the colors and order of the banding can be diagnostic.  Also, the pigmentation of the hair might show special features, such as a clumping of pigment particles near the medulla as opposed to evenly distributed throughout the cortex.  Dyed fur will show pigment in the cuticle, when usually that is unpigmented.  For the overall color of the animal, see “Macro Qualities”

Scales:  We tend to be verbose on this one, since the standard references use many non-standardized terms.  The images will be especially helpful here.  The shape at the edges of the scales (margins) can be diagnostic, as can their spacing, since some are very close together while others are spaced far apart.  Some hairs will have one kind of scale close to the skin, and a completely different kind of scale near the tip.

Macro Qualities: The way the fur appears to the naked eye, including information about the pelt.

Cultures: An incomplete listing of how Alaskans have used the fur of the animal.  We are adding to this as we go along.

Notes: Extra information that doesn’t fit in other categories.

Troubleshooting: How to differentiate the hair on this animal from other similar animals.  This is where we might determine that a cross section or a scale casting is worth your while.

Range: General idea of where the animal is found.

Names: Nomenclature is ever-evolving, but we follow the 2008 Alaska Department of Fish and Game scientific names whenever possible.  Old names are given to help interpret the older literature.

WHAT ANIMALS DID WE CHOOSE?

We selected about 50 mammals whose fur is thought to be seen on artifacts in the collection of the Alaska State Museum.  A few are not really “Alaskan” such as cow or dog, but the fur is seen on artifacts made in Alaska.  Certain ones, like marmot and flying squirrel, might not actually be used at all, but the creature is similar to other animals that are used.  Shrews, moles, mice, bats and the like were NOT included in this study because they are generally not used to make artifacts.  The hairs of those tiny mammals happen to be much more difficult to identify using the techniques we are employing.  Here are the animals in this project:

ORDER ARTIODACTYLA (the even-toed ungulates)

Family Cervidae (the cervids)

Caribou/ Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus)

Moose (Alces alces)

Roosevelt Elk/ Olympic Elk (Cervus Canadensis Roosevelt)

Sitka Black-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis)

Family Bovidae (the bovids)

American Bison ( Bison bison)

Calf/ Cattle (Bos Taurus)

Dall Sheep (Ovis dalli dalli)

Mountain Goat (Oreamnos americanus)

Muskox (Ovibos moschatus)

 

ORDER CARNIVORA (the carnivores)

Family Canidae (the canids)

Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus)

Coyote (Canis latrans incolatus)

Dog (Canis lupus familiaris)

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

Wolf (Canis lupus)

Family Felidae  (the felines)

Lynx (Lynx Canadensis) no bobcat

Family Mustelidae (the mustelids)

Fisher (Martes pennati)

Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis)

American Marten (Martes americana)

Mink (Neovison vison)

River Otter (Londra canadensis)

Sable (Martes zibellina)

Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris)

Short-tailed Weasel (Mustela erminea) “stoat” “ermine”

Wolverine (Gulo gulo)

Family Ursidae (the ursids)

Black Bear (Ursus americanus)

Brown Bear (Ursus arctos)

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)

Suborder/superfamily Pinnipedia (the pinnipeds)

Family Otarvidae (the otarvids)

Northern Fur Seal (Callorhinus ursinus)

Steller Sea Lion (Eumetopias jubatus)

Family Phocidae (the phocids=earless seals)

Bearded Seal (Erignathus barbatus)

Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina)

Ribbon Seal (Phoca fasciata)

Ringed Seal (Phoca hispidia)

Spotted Seal (Phoca largha)

ORDER LAGOMORPHA (the lagomorphs)

Alaskan Hare/ Tundra Hare (Lepus othus)

Collared Pika (Ochotona collaris)

Snowshoe Hare/ Varying Hare (Lepus americanus) no arctic hare

ORDER RODENTIA (the rodents)

Alaska Marmot (Marmota broweri)

Arctic Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus parryii)

Beaver (Castor canadensis)

Hoary Marmot (Marmota caligata)

Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus)

Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus yukonensis)

Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum)

Raccoon (Procyon lotor)

Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

Woodchuck (Marmota monax)

BEARS

Under construction May 2011

BEARS

ORDER CARNIVORA (the carnivores)

Family Ursidae (the ursids)

Black Bear (Ursus americanus)

Brown Bear (Ursus arctos)

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)

LENGTH: Guard hairs tend to be long, maximum length of the hair more than 60mm, often up to 100 mm.  One black bear sample was 290mm, and a polar bear sample was 170mm.  Individual hairs are much longer than otters. (Mayer 1952). 

WIDTH: Ranges from 60-260 microns for black and brown bears, usually not over 200 microns for polar bears.

MEDULLA:  Telltale narrow medulla.  Narrower medulla than other carnivores at only about a quarter of the width. (Mayer 1952).  Simple amorphous medulla (Dove and Peurach 2002)

MEDULLARY INDEX:  As low as 0.1 for the brown bear, 0.2 – 0.3 common for brown and black bears, black bears up to 0.4.  Polar bears measured around 0.35

SCALE: Guard hairs have large individual scales with moderately spaced margins between them, only a few across.  Most samples seem to show smooth-edged scales near the base and torn-paper scales near the tip. In contrast to the black and brown bears which appear to have petal shaped bases, gradually becoming more closely spaced with torn-paper scales, polar bears have a more continuous scale pattern along the hair. The scales at the base are blocky and horizontal — like interlocking fingers — rapidly developping closer margins towards the tip. More comparative study of bear cuticular scales is needed to seek further conclusions.

UNDERFUR:  Scale pattern is usually diamond petal shapes, which may be a useful clue.  Underfur medulla can show a lot of variation in all the bears, from uniserial ladder to interrupted to absent, even in the same sample.  Medulla does tend to be very narrow, though.  Some black bear underfur hairs have been measured over 30mm long, which seems rare for brown bears.

COLOR: Bears are not banded.  Need to double check the glacier bears, but grizzled look comes from individual hairs of different colors. Black bears show a huge range of coloration, from black and brown to gray and even white.  Brown bears can also show a wide range.  Polar bears are always white or yellowish.

SUMMARY: No banding, long hairs, narrow medulla, scale pattern on guard hairs seems to be smooth-edged at base and raggedy-edged near tip.  Underfur petal-shaped scales.  Black bear and brown bear can be hard to distinguish, although it seems that black bear guard hair scales may have wider and smoother margins in contrast to the brown bear.

Comparative images of guard hair scale casts below:

 

RODENTS and HARES

Under construction May 2011

RODENTS AND HARES

Collared Pika, Snowshoe Hare, and Alaskan Hare are not rodents, but are small prey animals and are grouped here for convenience. 

ORDER RODENTIA (the rodents)

Alaska Marmot (Marmota broweri)

Arctic Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus parryii)

Beaver (Castor canadensis)

Hoary Marmot (Marmota caligata)

Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus)

Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus yukonensis)

Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum)

Raccoon (Proycon lotor)

Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

Woodchuck (Marmota monax)

LENGTH: Length of guard hairs for the rodents is not especially useful except for the squirrels (Arctic Ground, Northern Flying and Red) who have shorter guard hairs than the other rodents observed, with a length not exceeding 30mm except on the tail where it might reach 35mm on the arctic ground squirrel and 45 mm on the red squirrel.  Rodent hairs longer than an inch are rare according to Brown (1942)

WIDTH: Maximum width of the guard hair is not a useful clue because of wide and overlapping variation.  Exception may be porcupines and perhaps beavers who are the only rodents with width measured over 100 microns on some samples.  Rodent guard hair does not usually feature the overall shield shape seen on weasels, where the guard hair has a long narrow stalk and then a broad paddle shape near the tip.  Marmots and muskrats can have a wide pigmented shield-like section and then a thinner, less-pigmented area leading to the base.

MEDULLA: Usually have a prominent compound medulla (Mayer 1952)  Between the marmots, it seems the Alaska marmot has a long tapering tip without a medulla, while the Hoary has a more abrupt taper with the medulla extending almost to the end. Medulla of rodents is often heavily pigmented and has a dark or mottled dark-light look with features difficult to distinguish.  A tire-tread shaped medulla with bumpy edges and fingers of cortex extending into the medulla is found on the muskrat and squirrel guard hairs (although on the squirrels you need to look in the lighter-colored bands.)

MEDULLARY INDEX: Medullary index in the rodents tends to be 0.6 to 0.9, and a narrower medulla might be a useful clue for the beaver and the raccoon, whose medullas are in the 0.3 to 0.4 range.

SCALE: The typical cuticle scale pattern on rodent guard hairs tends to have large puzzle-piece like ovals near the base, which can form diagonals going in different directions and are only two or three scales across in microscopic view.  These scale margins gradually become more irregular and jagged with serrated edges, usually becoming closer and closer together near the tip.  This is distinguished from the weasels, which have a region of pointy diamond petal shaped scales between the smooth puzzle pieces of the base and the closely spaced jagged-edged scales near the tip.  The scale pattern is not especially useful in determining which rodent you have, although it seems the porcupine may have no change in the scale pattern along the length of the shaft, with raggedy edged scales remaining widely spaced for the whole length?  The muskrat seems to have less jaggedness to the margins, often forming scalloped shaped instead which may be a clue.  This more gently scalloped edge also appears a bit on the red squirrel scale pattern. 

UNDERFUR: Underfur length under 15mm suggests either muskrat or one of the squirrels.  Marmot underfur tends to be long, over 50mm.  Underfur width is under 20 microns for the squirrels, the beaver and the muskrat.  Lack of medulla in the underfur is unusual among the Alaskan rodents studied.  It can happen in the muskrat, raccoon and the Arctic ground squirrel, and perhaps occasionally in red squirrel.  On the other hand, a complicated medulla in the underfur may help ID porcupine, who has a wide medulla with lots of pigment, although beware: the porcupine underfur may have a very long tapering tip with no medulla.  Underfur of squirrels also may have a distinct brownish tip after a seemingly colorless shaft for most of its length.  Squirrels may also have intermediate sized hairs with long narrow interrupted or uniserial ladder medulla near the base until the shield where the medulla looks like tire tread.  Distinguishing among the squirrels: Arctic ground squirrel underfur has no medulla.  Northern flying squirrel is gray in color?  To distinguish squirrel from muskrat, observe the underfur.  Often, muskrat underfur has a gray appearance to the naked eye with a hint of cool lavender purple.  Under magnification, the muskrat underfur often has no medulla, or a few fibers will have an interrupted medulla.  The underfur is also an important clue for raccoon.  In some samples there is no medulla, and in others the medulla is very interrupted if it appears at all.  The scale pattern of the raccoon underfur has a prominent spiky pinecone look as well.

COLOR:  Beaver guard hair often has a golden yellow (almost glowing) appearance to the cortex, and the medulla may be interrupted.   Unfortunately, the guard hair is sometimes plucked or sheared from beaver fur when used on artifacts, garments and the like.  Banding is common in rodents.  Raccoon has distinctly banded guard hair, white near the base, then a brown band, and then a light tip.  Porcupine, marmot, woodchuck and Arctic ground squirrel are also banded.

SUMMARY:  Rodents have considerable variation and overlap in many features and a combination of clues is needed for secure identification.

ORDER LAGOMORPHA (the lagomorphs)

Alaskan Hare/ Tundra Hare (Lepus othus)

Collared Pika (Ochotona collaris)

Snowshoe Hare/ Varying Hare (Lepus americanus)

LENGTH: All have maximum lengths in the 30-50mm range.

WIDTH: Pika is narrower, with a maximum of 55 microns while the hares are often twice that width, around 75-100 microns.

MEDULLA: Medulla in hares has a very distinct rectangular ladder like cell pattern that resembles kernels on a corn cob.  This is diagnostic for rabbits and hares.  Pika medulla is more zipper-like.  There may be more rows across the medulla on the Snowshoe hare, but we need more samples to know for certain.

MEDULLARY INDEX: All are in the 0.8 range.

SCALE: The scale pattern on the hares is similar: on the long narrower section of the shaft near the base, there are very long V-shaped pointy petals whose sides are not straight but wavy, giving a sort of elongated flame-like look.  Some of these are nested in each other like chevrons.  Pika scale is distinct, with comb-like margins on the scales, looking like crowns with long blunt tines.

UNDERFUR: There is not enough variation in the underfur of pikas and hares to make useful distinctions.

COLOR: Not especially helpful

SUMMARY: The corncob look of the medulla and extreme diagonal chevrons of the scale on the guard hairs are a slam-dunk combination for hares, although distinguishing between Snowshow and Alaska is tricky.  We need more sample to pin that down, since our Alaska hare sample was probably not from the longest densest fur of the animal.

Images upcoming

MARINE MAMMALS

Under construction May 2011

MARINE MAMMALS

Suborder/superfamily Pinnipedia (the pinnipeds)

Family Otarvidae (the otarvids)

Northern Fur Seal (Callorhinus ursinus)

Steller Sea Lion (Eumetopias jubatus)

Family Phocidae (the phocids=earless seals)

Bearded Seal (Erignathus barbatus)

Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina)

Ribbon Seal (Phoca fasciata)

Ringed Seal (Phoca hispida)

Spotted Seal (Phoca largha)

LENGTH: Sea lion and fur seal guard hairs have lengths up to 20mm, while the true seals are rarely over 10mm long.

WIDTH:  Sea lion and fur seal have variation in width along the shaft but no shield.  Both have a range of around 160-190 microns wide.  The true seals have a wide range of widths, and a larger sample is needed to detect overall patterns.  Guard hair width can range from 110 to 230 microns.

MEDULLA: There is a significant difference between Family Otarvidae (“eared” seals like sea lion, Northern fur seal) who have a medulla, and the family Phocidae (“earless”) which have no

Medulla in the guard hair.  Sea lion medulla is very narrow.  The medulla is clumpy with very irregular margins, more sparse near the base and becoming more solid and tire-tread looking towards the tip.  Northern Fur Seal guard hair varies along the length of the shaft, and one hair can show two distinct regions of medulla.  Closer to the base, the medulla takes up at least half the width of the hair and has a lumpy intestine-like quality.  There is a transition area where the shaft begins to broaden where this kind of medulla peters out and there is almost no medulla at all, and then there is another distinct area of clumped medulla cells extending to the tip.

MEDULLARY INDEX: Sea lion MI is around 0.2-0.3, while fur seal is around 0.5

SCALE: For the Northern fur seal, the scale pattern on the narrow stalk near the base is distinctly snake-skin like with diamond petal shapes, but on the wider areas the scale pattern becomes closely spaced with rough edges.  The rest of the seals are very similar with a scale pattern that is closely spaced with rough edges but may show smoother edges towards the ends.  It is difficult to get a good scale cast from the marine mammals, but putting them under a coverslip with no mounting medium works well, and often limiting the amount of light transmitted can show the scale pattern well, particularly as there is no medulla for the true seals.

UNDERFUR: Northern fur seal has very dense underfur, while sea lion has very sparse short underfur.  Fur seal underfur has scales that look like long pointed petals, while sea lion and other seals all have stacked crown shaped underfur scales.  Fur seal underfur can be dyed, and in those cases the color will extend into the scales.  Bearded seal might have more underfur than other hair seals who tend to have “flat fur”, but more examination is needed.

COLOR: Sea lion cortex has a very yellow-orange look.  Northern fur seal is pale near the base, and brown in the wider areas.  The rest of the seals are very similar, although a larger sample size may reveal clues in distribution of pigment granules.  Underfurs all can have pigment in them.  Dyed fur can be recognized by coloration in the scales, which is unnatural.

SUMMARY: The intestine-looking narrow medulla is diagnostic for sea lion and fur seal, which can then be distinguished from each other by the density of the underfur. Sea lions have very sparse underfur, while the Northern fur seal are prized for the density and lushness of theirs.

The true (Phocid) seals are distinguished from other mammals by the lack of medulla in the guard hair, short overall length, and flattened cross section which appears under magnification as somewhat ribbon-like and able to bend, kink, and turn unlike most other hairs examined.  Tips of the hairs are often frayed.  Differentiating between the Phocid seals under the microscope is difficult, with length and width measurements on guard hairs and underfur being in similar ranges for all the true seals in Alaska.  Scale patterns and similar, and none have medullas.  Ribbon and ringed seals often have distinct pelt markings.  The bearded seal fur may be special in that individual guard hairs tend to be widely spaced and the underfur curlier and denser than other seals, giving a less “smooth” flat fur look, but more investigation is needed to confirm this observation

The following animals are rarely seen in Alaskan waters, perhaps only a few sightings (MacDonald and Cook 2009), and have therefore not been included:  Guadelupe Fur Seal (Arctocephalus townsendi), California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus), Hooded Seal aka “crested seal” or “bladdernose seal” (Cystophora cristata), Northern Elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) Harp seal aka “Greenland seal” or “saddle-backed seal” (pagophilus groenlandicus).  The controversial cute young white seals or “whitecoats” used in the fur industry were usually harp seals.

Many baby “ice seals” are born with a wooly white coat known as “lanugo” which is essentially a fetal fur and is shed soon after birth.  Harbor seals are not ice seals and don’t have that fur.  We have some samples of baby seal fur at the Alaska State Museum, but I have been unable to pinpoint which seal species they are.  Harbor seals only have white lanugo in utero.  By the time they are born they are darker.  Sometimes lanugo can be seen in clumps on the beach as part of the afterbirth picked over by seabirds.  Lanugo may be mistaken for polar bear underfur on artifacts, but is distinct because seal fur has no medulla.

Images Upcoming

HOOFED MAMMALS

Under construction May 2011

HOOFED MAMMALS

ORDER ARTIODACTYLA (the even-toed ungulates)

Family Cervidae (the cervids)

Caribou/ Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus)

Moose (Alces alces)

Roosevelt Elk/ Olympic Elk (Cervus Canadensis Roosevelt)

Sitka Black-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis)

Family Bovidae (the bovids)

American Bison ( Bison bison)

Calf/ Cattle (Bos Taurus)

Dall Sheep (Ovis dalli dalli)

Mountain Goat (Oreamnos americanus)

Muskox (Ovibos moschatus)

LENGTH: The guard hairs are usually quite large, usually over 200 microns and sometimes up to 500 microns.  However, leg hair of animals is sometimes used, and can be much shorter.  Guard hairs of hoofed animals can sometimes be quite wavy or crimped-looking in the macro view.  Long hairs are seen on the bell or fur under the neck of moose (up to 160mm), caribou (up to 120mm) and elk (up to 110mm).  Mountain goat and bison can reach 150mm, but the longest hairs are from the muskox, with lengths up to 350mm measured.

WIDTH: Hicks (1977) suggests guard hairs for artiodactyla in the 300 microns range, although among Alaskan samples taken only moose, elk and Sitka black-tailed deer were measured that large.  The moose consistently will have the widest guard hairs, possibly over 500 microns.  Anything over 400 microns wide is most likely moose.  Elk were measured up to 400 microns, and Sitka Black Tailed Deer have guard hairs reaching 380 microns wide.  Caribou hairs rarely exceed 275 microns wide, and all the bovids are narrower than 250.  Mayer (1952) reports that the family cervidae will have a maximum width of 305 microns with tip possibly having pigment granules for the last 3-4mm and family bovidae will have maximum  width 107 microns and with tip possibly having pigment granules for only the last 2mm.

MEDULLA: Most of the cervids have a honeycomb medulla.  Caribou medulla cells seem to have a distinctive “cuspy” appearance.  The cells seem to push against each other and create defined ridges, and the resulting appearance is a little like a faceted gemstone.  All the other honeycombed medullas have a much more rounded appearance and don’t seem cusp-like in appearance. 

MEDULLARY INDEX: Usually not measured on animals with a honeycomb medulla as the medulla is so wide.

SCALE: Most of the cervids have fish-scale looking cuticle layer, although sometimes the edges are smooth and sometimes they are more jagged and there is not enough sample at this time to indicate if this information gives a useful diagnostic pattern.

UNDERFUR:  Most hoofed animals have no medulla in their underfur, and a moderate amount of pigment.  Elk and muskox have some intermediate sized hairs, and their presence is especially helpful in distinguishing the elk.  Mountain goat is the only hoofed animal with a consistent uniserial ladder medulla.  Dall sheep have an interrupted medulla.  Moose underfur will be pigmented brown consistently and the medulla is interrupted or absent.  Sitka black tailed deer have a rare but notable interrupted medulla that should be represented in most samples.  All the underfur of the hoofed animals has scales like stacked crowns

COLOR:  White fur typical of Dall sheep or mountain goat.  To distinguish between them, look at the underfur.  Banding occurs on the Sitka Black-Tailed Deer, elk, and moose.  Caribou will not have stark white and black fur the way cow does.

SUMMARY: This order has the only animals with a honeycomb or bubble-pack looking medulla of polygonal cells with very little cortex present.  Having a lack of cortex and a thin cuticle leads to brittleness.  This honeycomb medulla look can be mistaken for a scale pattern, but the scale pattern when observed from a scale cast usually looks like wide blunt fish scales.  If you see a honeycomb medulla, the Alaskan mammal will usually be a deer-like animal from the Cervid family, but the Dall Sheep also has this kind of medulla and it is a bovid.  To confirm Dall Sheep, look at the underfur.  It will be totally unpigmented and have an easy-to-see interrupted medulla.  Porcupines may sometimes be mistaken for having a honeycomb medulla….look for some visible cortex, banding, and scale pattern differences.

In distinguishing the hoofed animals that do not have a honeycomb medulla, length and medulla appearance are useful.  Bison and Muskox both have long guard hairs, but the bison has a rather narrow shaft for a hoofed animal (under 100 microns).   It is also easier to see a splotchy dark-and-light pattern in the muskox medulla while the bison medulla is very dark.  Muskox medulla in the guard hair may also be off-center, and gets very narrow and disappears as it approaches the tip.  Underfur of muskox may have interrupted medulla, an intermediate sized hair, and variation in whether or not they are pigmented.  The bison underfur is uniformly pigmented with light brown and has no medulla.

Cow and horse may sometimes be used in Alaska, and have a lot of variation.  A single sample of cow or horse might have a very dark medulla in one hair and none in the hair next to it.  Underfur is generally not present, and the guard hairs are very short with the exception of mane and tail hairs. Moore et al (1974) say cow and horse may be distinguished by the wide unbroken medulla in the base of horse hair.  Caribou fur does not come very white or very black as seen in cow fur, often seen on parka piecework.  

Images upcoming

CANINES and FELINES

Under construction May 2011

CANINES AND FELINES

ORDER CARNIVORA (the carnivores)

Family Canidae (the canids)

Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus)

Coyote (Canis latrans incolatus)

Dog (Canis lupus familiaris)

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

Wolf (Canis lupus)

LENGTH: Coyote, dog, and wolf had a lot of variability in guard hair length (up to 120-150mm), but the arctic fox and red fox seemed to have a maximum length around 80 or 85mm.

WIDTH: Maximum width of guard hair is usually less than 200 microns.  If it is greater than 200 microns, the maximum length of the shaft is less than 15mm according to Mayer (1952)  In our research, coyote, dog and wolf might be up to 228 microns.

MEDULLA: Canids almost always have a medulla, exceptions perhaps being the one paw pad hair on a wolf we sampled and some individual dog hairs in a larger sample of hairs that did have a medulla in other hairs from that sample.  Often the medulla is too dark to show any features.  The edges of the medulla where it meets the cortex are usually smooth without a lot of features such as lumps or finger-like shapes, as we see in some rodents and weasels.   The cells in fox medulla, both red and arctic, are often visible.  Fox medulla seems to be distinguished by an undulating S-shape that makes its way between the cells of the medulla, which often look like alternating stacked wedge-shaped or teardrop-shaped cells one or two across, but sometimes up to three across the width of the medulla.

MEDULLARY INDEX: Generally 0.45 to 0.74, medullary index of the guard hair is not very useful to distinguish between the canines.  However, the medullary index of the underfur may be a clue.  It is rarely less than 0.4 except on dog and coyote when underfur medulla tends to be quite narrow.

SCALE: The typical canid scale pattern on the guard hair seems to change along the length of the shaft in a predictable pattern: long pointy petal shapes near the base, then becoming fatter petals with smooth edges and then changing to mosaic tile shaped scales with wavy edges in the mid-shaft region with scale margins gradually getting a torn-paper edge and becoming ever closer together near the tip.  Intermediate hairs, such as the ones on the arctic fox, can show a pointy-petal shaped scale pattern for the entire length.  Raccoon fur, which might look like a canid hair, lacks the petal-shaped scales at the base.  Kennedy (1982) seems to think that the scale pattern near the base is chevron-like on wolves and coyotes, coronal on red foxes, and dentate on domestic dogs. 

COLOR: Banding is important on canid hair and may be the distinguishing feature between coyote and wolf.  Both have a dark tip followed by a white band.  In the coyote, that band ought to be less than 15mm long.  In the wolf, the white band can be up to 36mm. 

UNDERFUR: Foxes tend to have shorter underfur than wolves and coyotes, in the 15-50mm range.  Coyotes are in the 35-50mm range, and underfur longer than 50 may suggest wolf.  Common uniserial ladder medulla and stacked crown scales of the underfur don’t help differentiate between the canids, but narrower medulla on dog and coyote might?

SUMMARY: You ought to be able to nail down fox versus other canids, and use banding to distinguish coyote from wolf.  But distinguishing dog from coyote or wolf may be tricky.  Kennedy’s 1982 paper on the guard hairs of Alberta canids claims that wolf and coyote are hard to distinguish.  Many published references seem to have an over-reliance on banding to distinguish dog hair.  More study of bear scale patterns are needed, but might be similar to canid with smooth scale margins at base and rougher ones near tip.  Bears and canids have close taxonomic relationships in other ways as well.

Family Felidae  (the felines)

Lynx (Lynx Canadensis)

LENGTH: Guard hairs tend to be long, often over 50mm

WIDTH: Huge variation in reported width, up to 184 microns, but closer to 100 is more typical.

MEDULLA: The bulbous cells in the medulla at max shaft diameter are supposedly most diagnostic but not always easy to see.  They also occur in red fox, but are smaller there.  (Mayer 1952) Adorjan and Kolenosky (1969) provide comparative data about other cats.  Ought to be able to see balls of pigment in medulla in some areas.

MEDULLARY INDEX: Fairly wide medulla, index 0.63 – 0.87

SCALE: Scales change along the length of the hair, with base end scales 2-3 across with smooth edges and widely spaced. No diamond petal shapes like we see in canids.  Towards the distal end of the fiber the scales are more irregular, closer spaced and have rougher margins.

UNDERFUR: Typical wide uniserial ladder and stacked crowns.  Usually in the 20-40mm range.  Pale.

COLOR: Banding often seen on lynx, but can be variable.  ASM samples indicated the middle band is lighter with darker base and tip bands.  Differs from canids and raccoons by a much weaker development of the second dark band according to Mayer (1952)

SUMMARY: Look for long guard hair, banding, wide medulla in guard hairs and underfur.

 

Comparative photos of guard hair scale casts below:

WEASELS

Under construction May 2011

WEASELS

ORDER CARNIVORA (the carnivores)

Family Mustelidae (the mustelids)

Fisher (Martes pennati)

Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis)

American Marten (Martes americana)

Mink (Neovison vison)

River Otter (Londra canadensis)

Sable (Martes zibellina)

Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris)

Short-tailed Weasel (Mustela erminea)

Wolverine (Gulo gulo)

LENGTH: Most of the weasel guard hair is under 60mm maximum length, except for wolverine which is usually over 70mm and samples measured up to 140mm on the flanks of the animal.  Length may help distinguish least weasel (under 10mm) from short-tailed weasel (15-30mm).  It also may aid in distinguishing mink (up to 30mm) from marten and fisher who can often reach 60mm.  Tail hairs are often longer than any of the body hairs.

WIDTH: Weasel guard hairs often broaden toward the tip into a wide shield.  This means the hair begins narrowly at the base like a stalk, stays narrow for a considerable distance, and then suddenly broadens out into a much wider area before tapering at the tip.  This gives the hair a paddle shape from base to tip.  All the mustelids in Alaska have this feature, and most of the other mammals do not, with possible exception of marmot and muskrat.  The shield width can be helpful in distinguishing between the otters.  A sea otter has a shield less than twice as wide as the stalk, but the river otter shield is typically 3X as wide as its stalk.  On the wolverine, the stalk is rather short but the shield goes on for a great distance, as the wolverine typically has very long guard hairs.  Maximum width of the shield for all the weasels is in the 150-200mm range, with only the wolverine measured wider in our samples.

MEDULLA: Generally not a lot of pigment between cells in the medulla (Brown 1942)  The medulla of the weasel shows closely packed dark cells in the stalk, often taking the shape of bubbly letterforms like H,M,V,Y,X and so on.  Sometimes this is referred to in the literature as “fingers of cortex” extending into the medulla.  In the shield section, the individual cells are dark and closely packed, some cells look dark and some light, but there are usually distinct outlines around each cell, unlike in the canids where pigment masses between the cells tend to obscure the individual cells.  Typical weasel medulla is scalloped along the edge, while canids tend to be smoother.  Both sea otter and river otter have fragmentary or interrupted medullas in the stalk of the guard hair.  Other weasels don’t tend to have an interrupted medulla? 

MEDULLARY INDEX:  The index of each weasel tends to have some variation, with the typical range between 0.45 and 0.8.  Only in the smallest weasels does the medullary index go above 0.8 (least weasel, ermine and sable).  The medulla of the sea otter is very narrow, with an index of less than 0.3 as diagnostic among weasels and smaller than the river otter whose MI is closer to 0.5.

SCALE: Weasels have a distinct scale pattern, beginning at the base with smooth-edged wide squat scales that are often shaped a little bit like puzzle pieces.  This pattern lasts only briefly before becoming a distinctive diamond petal shape with very visible individual long pointed scales, rather like snake skin.  These long pointy petal-shaped scales do not appear on rodent guard hair.  This pattern lasts the entire stalk but changes abruptly again at the shield into closely packed wide scales with ragged serrated or jagged edges that extend until the tip.  The underfur of the weasels always has long sharp petal shapes, while canids and rodents usually have more stacked crown-shaped underfur scales (exceptions: Arctic fox and raccoon).

UNDERFUR:  Almost all weasels have uniserial ladder medulla and a scale pattern with long pointed petals for most of the length but a few stacked crowns at tip and base.  Otters are unlike the other weasels in having no medulla in the underfur, and the long pointy petal shaped scales extend all the way to the tip.  The wolverine’s underfur may also have no medulla, but there are usually a few intermediate fur samples present with interrupted or fragmentary medullas.

COLOR:  (Moore et al 1974) says unbanded hairs are characteristic of Mustelidae except for badgers (no badgers native to Alaska.)  In rare cases, the banding includes a lighter section next to the skin instead of the prominent dark band seen in canids and raccoons.  Generally, mink are lighter brown in color than marten, and marten are a deeper chocolate color with a distinct orange throat patch.  Fishers are larger than mink and marten, and their coloration tends to be darker.

SUMMARY:  Short Tailed Weasel and Least Weasel may be difficult to distinguish, although the guard hair is a significant clue.  The longest least weasel guard hair rarely exceeds 10mm, while short tailed weasel guard hair is usually over 10mm, especially on the tail where it may be 50mm.  The prominent black tip on the tail is also indicative of short tailed weasel, since the least weasel usually only has a few black hairs at the tip of the tail.  If the back feet are present, the toes of the least weasel’s outstretched feet are only as long as the tail, but tail is much longer than feet on the short-tailed weasel.

Mink, martin and fisher can be difficult to distinguish.  Overall fur color can be helpful, and if the head is present, marten have more prominent ears than mink or fisher.  In our only sample of fisher, it seemed that the tip of the guard hair may be so darkly pigmented that the medulla can no longer be observed.  This did not happen in any of our mink or marten samples.  One mink sample had an absent or fragmentary medulla in the stalk region.  The underfur of the fisher and marten (15-25mm) seems longer than the underfur of the mink (less than 15mm) and this may be a clue.  Generally, guard hairs on the mink will not exceed 25mm, perhaps extending to 30mm on the tail.  If the length of the guard hairs is longer than 30mm, marten or fisher is more likely.  Tail hairs on the marten can be up to 90mm.  Marten and fisher are difficult to distinguish, but fisher are rare in Alaska.

Images Upcoming

SEA LION, STELLAR

Under Construction May 2011

STELLER SEA LION

Eumetopias jubatus

GUARD HAIR

Length: 20mm (Mayer 1952), 12-20 mm (ASM #1)

Diameter Range: 190 microns  (Mayer 1952), 155-195 microns (ASM #1).

Medullary Index: 0.22 (ASM #1)

Medulla:  Present but fragmentary and occupies less than half the width of the shaft (Mayer 1952). Medulla appears fragmentary, occurring in small clusters that take on organic shapes, some of which resemble small circles and half moons, while others are less defined. Many of these clusters do not touch one another and they are air-filled (ASM #1).

Color: There is a yellow orange cast to the hair and some of the fibers show small brown dashes of pigmentation.  These resemble beard stubble, or long dashes. (ASM#1).

Scales: Irregular with smooth margins near base, irregular closely spaced rough margins in middle, close-spaced rough edges and more evenly-spaced almost parallel edges near tip.  Tips tend to be frayed.

UNDERFUR

Length: 2-5mm (ASM #1)

Diameter Range: 25 microns

Medullary Index: N/A

Medulla: Appear to have no medulla

Color: has a slightly yellowish cast to it.

Scales: Stacked crowns

Macro Qualities: No spots on ASM pelt.  6.1 – 10.5 feet long.  Not much undercoat.  Males are buff colored with red-brown coloration on their undersides, while females tend to be brown all over (Forsyth 1999). 45” long at birth.  Body length for adults 9-11 feet (ADF&G 2008).  Females 7 feet long and up to 600lbs, males 9 feet long and average 1500lbs up to 2400 lbs.  (NPS 2010).

Cultures: For example: Aleut, Alutiiq, Central Yup’ik (ADF&G 2008).  Skin dehaired and tanned for armor Emmons (1991) The Tlingit Indians University of Washington Press, Seattle. p.175

Notes: ASM #1 is a full pelt in the ASM education collection.  Sometimes California Sea Lions are also seen, but between 1974 and 2004 sightings were very rare.  Are they moving north slowly?

Troubleshooting:  Otariid seal guard hair has a medulla, while Phocid seal guard hair does not.  Can look similar to otters in that the medulla is narrow, but in otters it gets wider at the tip end, otter hair has a shield and seal hair does not.  (Mayer 1952)  Underfur is stacked crowns and not the elongated petal shapes seen in fur seal and otters.

Range:  Aleutian Islands, central Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska, and southeasten Alaska (ADF&G 2008) Aleutian islands, coastal areas of Southern Alaska and the southeast. (Forsyth 1999)

Names: Suborder/superfamily Pinnipedia (the pinnipeds)  Family Otarvidae (the otarvids)  qawax (Aleut), wiinaq (Alutiiq) uginaq or sometimes apakcuk (Central Yup’ik.)  Russian word translates as “Sea wolf” (ADF&G 2008) “seevichie” in Aleut and “sivuch” by Russians (NPS 2010)

  

BEAR, BLACK

Under construction May 2011

BLACK BEAR

Ursus americanus

GUARD HAIR

Length: max 80mm (Mayer 1952), up to 100mm (Tumlison 1983), max 108mm (Hicks 1977), 100-110 mane hairs (Adorjan and Kolenosky 1969), 108mm max (Moore et al 1974), 90-100 mm up to 120mm near belly (ASM #1), 55-65mm (ASM #2), 45-70 (ASM #3), 80-290mm (ASM #4), 90-100mm (ASM #6), 60-70mm (ASM #7)

Diameter Range: 100-260 microns (Brown 1942) 100 microns (Mayer 1952). 100-107.5 (ASM #1) 62.5 microns (ASM #3)  75 microns (ASM #7) 153 microns max (Hicks 1977, same as black bear he says) 

Medullary Index: 0.27 (Brown 1942), 0.32 (ASM #1), 0.24 (ASM#3) 0.4 (ASM #7)

Medulla: fragmentary in basal region (Brown 1942). 30-35 microns (ASM #1). 15 microns (ASM #3). 30 microns (ASM #7) ASM samples show a medulla that is continuous and largely air filled with rounded stacked single cells that span the width of the medulla that are barely visible. In general it is difficult to make out much of the details of the medulla, though viewing in polarized light can be helpful.

Color: Brown pigmentation throughout the cortex, getting lighter closer to the cuticle.

Scales: From a cast made with Duco: The scales appear as wide individual shingles that overlap. Each of the overlapping scales has a unique outline, looking similar to torn paper edges placed on top of one another with multiple jagged  points per scale. There appears to be one or two scales per width (ASM samples) Scales have rough margins, spaced more widely at base and closer near the tip.  Scales 1-3 across width of hair as seen under the microscope (Adorjan and Kolenosky images, 1969).  In one sample, the scale edges looked smooth near the base.

UNDERFUR

Length: 45-50mm (Adorjan and Kolenosky 1969), 20-30mm (ASM #1), 5-15mm (ASM #2), 5-10mm (ASM #3), 10-12mm (ASM #4), 85-90mm (ASM #6 could that be right?? Specimen is a glacier bear), 50-60mm (ASM #7)

Diameter Range: 44-108 microns (Brown 1942). 37.5-42.5 (ASM #3)

Medullary Index: 0.20 ave (Brown 1942). 0.30-0.26 (ASM #3)

Medulla:  10 microns wide on ASM#3 in the form of a uniserial ladder with air filled spaces between the square and disk shaped cells.  Some samples show interrupted medulla, others none at all.

Color: Pigment in cortex but not medulla (Brown 1942). Red-brown pigment is in the medulla and the cortex (ASM #3).

Scales: Mostly diamond-petal shaped like a snakeskin, but can also be stacked crown shaped.

Macro Qualities: 3.9-4.9 feet long (Forsyth 1999) 60” long nose to tail, 29” high at the shoulder.  Color can range from jet black to almost white.  (ADF&G 2008)  Brown or cinnamon colored bears are sometimes seen in Southcentral Alaska and the mainland, blue glacier bears are found in the Yakutat area, and most of the bears in southeast Alaska are black, perhaps with a white patch on the chest. Blue bear or Glacier bear is a smoky blue or blue-grey rare recessive coloration most often found in the Yakutat area (Rearden 1981)  Glacier bear rug I-B-255 is 65” long nose to tail.  Fur is a mix of creams and grays, no banding.  Darker paws and head, slightly reddish toes.  Guard hairs are mostly white and black, and underfur is mostly brown and white.  (ASM #6) Guard hairs wavy, underfur may appear in large closely matted bunches (Adorjan and Kolenosky 1969)  Kermode are a rare white or pale (but not albino) coloration.

Cultures: For example: European market for the fur on certain ceremonial military hats (shako, busby, bearskin).  Good “serviceability” (Bachrach 1953)  Fur of brown and black bears often used on ornamentation of masks. Emmons (1991) The Tlingit Indians University of Washington Press, Seattle. p.175

Notes: ASM #1 is a pelt from ASM off site storage, ASM #2 is a small pelt (cub?) from ASM off site storage, ASM #3 is from the education collection pelt ring, ASM #4 is Alaska State Archaeologist Dave McMahan’s reference set, ASM #5 is from an old slide in the ASM conservation lab, ASM #6 is from a glacier bear I-B-255 at ASM off site storage, ASM #7 is from the Juneau-Douglas City Museum fur touchboard.

Troubleshooting: Black bear and brown bear hairs can be difficult to distinguish.  Narrower medulla than most other carnivores or the bison.  Hairs are longer than otters and fur seals who also have a narrow medulla like the black bear.  (Mayer 1952)

Range: Mostly interior, southern and southeast panhandle, NOT on the Aleutian Islands (Forsyth 1999)  NOT on the North Slope (Rearden 1981)  Generally in the forested areas of the state.  Not on the Seward Peninsula or Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, or north of the Brooks Range.  Absent from many islands, including Kodiak, Admiralty, Baranof, Chichagof and Kruzof (which are inhabited by brown bears)  (ADF&G 2008)

Names: Family Ursidae (the ursids) One subspecies Kermode is often almost white is known in the British Columbia area of Canada.  Subspecies Cinnamomum is not known in Alaska.  Blue bears or Glacier bears are black bear color phases. 

BEAR, BROWN

Under construction May 2011

BROWN BEAR

Ursus arctos

GUARD HAIR

Length: 60-80mm (Brown 1942), max 70 (Hicks 1977 for grizzly), 90mm (Furskin 2006), 70mm max (Moore et al 1974), 40-48mm (ASM #1), 45-60mm (ASM #2), 110-120mm (ASM #4)

Diameter Range: 100-260 microns (Brown 1942). 100-120 (ASM#2). 87-95 microns (ASM #1) 140 microns (ASM #4) 80-175 microns (Furskin 2006)  153 microns ((Hicks 1977) 148 microns (Moore et al 1974)

Medullary Index: 0.27  Very slender medullary column.  0.2-0.27 (ASM#2). 0.34-0.36 (ASM #2) 0.28 (ASM #4)

Medulla: fragmentary in basal region, but continuous in mid shaft with robust rounded forms (Brown 1942). Medulla is fragmentary in basal (near skin) region and becomes continuous as it progresses along the shaft. The medulla is very narrow, and one cell wide throughout. The cells appear as variously shaped globules and disks with a narrow pocket of air between the cells. This pocket of air appears as a dark circle around each of the cells. The medulla has brown pigment running through it.

Fiber sample from ASM #1 shows a slightly different type of medulla where the cells are of inconsistent shape and size. There appears to be many small bubble-like forms throughout, that are surrounded by thin channels of air that give the medulla the appearance of having many black squiggly lines superimposed over elliptical stacked cells.

Color: Cortex is usually deeply stained by sparse pigments, color mostly due to stain (Brown 1942). Brown throughout the cortex and becoming translucent by the cuticle. Some hairs might look lighter brown on the base end.

Scales: Scales appear to be overlapping shingle-like with margins that are not jagged. Overall the scales appear to be wider than they are tall.  Almost triangular in shape. (ASM #4)  Grizzly bear scale photomicrographs from Moore et al (1974) show scales that are fairly widely spaced with rough edges along the entire length.  It may be that the scales are smooth edged near the base and rough edged near the tip.  More examination needed.

UNDERFUR

Length: ave 30mm curly (Brown 1942) 5-15mm (ASM #1) 10-15mm (ASM #2)

Diameter Range: 44-108 microns (Brown 1942) 15-28 microns (Furskin 2006) 42.5 microns (ASM #2) 60-70mm (ASM #4)

Medullary Index:  0.20  (Brown 1942) 0.11 (ASM #2)

Medulla: Absent in about 40% of the hairs studied by Brown.  When present, usually fragmented (Brown 1942). Narrow and fragmentary medulla (ASM #2)  Furskin 2006 failed to find a medulla in its samples.  Alaska State Museum samples often had a medulla, and medulla in general could show considerable variation.

Color: pigment in the cortex but not the medulla. Brown pigmentation throughout the cortex.

Scales: closely spaced, overlapping with toothy edges, maybe 2-3 scales across the width.  Mostly diamond petal shaped, but also a few stacked crown shapes.

Macro Qualities: 8.5 feet long (Forsyth 1999)  Larger than black bears and featuring a prominent shoulder hump.  Largest bears may be 10 feet tall when standing on hind legs.  Colors can range from dark brown to light blonde.  (ADF&G 2008) Good “serviceability” (Bachrach 1953) Guard hairs are darker near the tip and underfur is wavy and reddish brown (Furskin 2006)

Cultures: For example: Fur of brown and black bears often used on ornamentation of masks. Emmons (1991) The Tlingit Indians University of Washington Press, Seattle. p.175

Notes: ASM # 1 is from the Sheldon Jackson Museum education collection surplus, ASM #2 is from the ASM education collection, ASM #3 is from a reference slide made by Alaska State Archaeologist Dave McMahan, labeled “grizzly”, ASM #4 is from the Juneau-Douglas City Museum touchboard.

Troubleshooting: Black bear and brown bear hairs can be difficult to distinguish.  Narrower medulla than most other carnivores or the bison.  Hairs are longer than otters and fur seals who also have a narrow medulla like the black bear.  (Mayer 1952)

Range: All of Alaska (Forsyth 1999)  All of Alaska except islands south of Frederick Sound in Southeast, west of Unimak on the Aleutian Chain, and the Bering Sea islands. 

Names: Family Ursidae (the ursids) Subspecies Ursus arctos horribilus is also called Grizzly and well-known in Alaska.  Subspecies Ursus arctos middendorffi is also called the Kodiak Brown Bear and is known in Alaska.  Moore et al (1974) calls the Grizzly bear ursus arctos imperator.

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