Since taking up bicycling, I've become knowledgeable — though by no means expert — in quite a few fields. Among these are bicycle parts and maintenance, physical fitness and conditioning, highway design, fabrics, aerodynamics, weather prediction (quite easy in the Pacific NW) and road kill.
One of the unexpected low points of riding a bicycle along rural roads is witnessing the carnage of the wild kingdom. I've seen many species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians. But this little fella was a first for me. Can anyone identify it?
An estimated 1 million vertebrates are killed on the road by motor vehicles every day. At that rate, it's no surprise that we bicyclists would see a lot of them.
Although I haven't done any statistical analysis, the possum is the most frequent road kill that I see up here in Washington state, followed closely by the raccoon. In the suburbs it's squirrels.
Down in Texas, some days I would see more dead deer in the roadside ditches than anything else. One spring morning I counted four on a single ride.
Previously, in central California, ground squirrels were the most frequent dead-in-the-road animals I saw. They burrowed along the roadside and thought nothing of darting across. I was lucky to never have tangled with one, although I talked with bicyclists who suffered nasty falls in squirrel collisions.
The Appalachian Mountains in eastern Kentucky had to be the worst place for road kill. Skunk seemed to be the most frequent fatality, and my friend and I nearly gagged on the odor of the rotting carcasses as we struggled over those mountains on hot summer days of our cross-country bicycle tour.
The most bizarre road-kill scene was a stretch of highway in Kansas where we passed dozens of squashed box turtles.
In spite of all that, I've never seen anything like this critter pictured above. I spotted him as I was pedaling up a hill just east of Lake Washington (I never would have stopped if I were going downhill).
I had been thinking about a recent story in the Seattle Times about a woman who takes road kill to the Burke Museum at UW when I saw it and wondered what it might be.
It had been raining, so its fur was matted down. You can see it next to the fog line at the side of the road, so I guess it's about six inches long. Its tail had a black tip.
If you know what this is, please leave a comment below.
It's what's for dinner
By the way, bicyclists peddling along at 10 to 15 mph are in a perfect position to spot fresh road kill for dinner. Here's a story about some people who don't let fresh road kill go to waste: “How to cook and eat road kill.”.