An old bone or just a stick?

Hello! This may be a dumb question, but is there a somewhat-accurate way of telling whether something is animal bone or just a very bone-looking stick? This especially happens to me in areas with direct exposure to sunlight where everything becomes sun bleached. If anyone has any tips on this, I’d really appreciate it!


Look for features like joints or articulation points or those kinds of anatomical details that plants don’t have. There are so many different kinds of bones (shapes), it’s hard to give a more specific thing to look for.


If you can see an inside sturcture of it, bones of all kinds will look differently from a stick, especially if bone has pores in it, also weight and how they’re felt on touch are different.


The pores were a big thing I was wondering about! I think I found a small hollow bone, and it has many small pores on the surface, which is the main reason I did not think it was a stick. But it looked so much like the surrounding sticks (but they didn’t have pores) so I couldn’t be sure.

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Definitely hard to have a specific identifier for bones! I seem to have a knack for finding them in random spots, and it can be really hard to sort through what is bone and what is debris, especially with a notch on a stick looking a lot like a joint sometimes! Maybe this is a sign for me to invest in some new reading glasses lol

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I agree with the above. It tends to be larger bones that are lying about (it’s hard to find bird ribs!). If you are using film, just take a picture. If digital, take a photo and then break the bone to look inside. Then take another picture or two. Sticks tend to not be hollow or have a ‘spongy’ interior. I’m not well experience with bones, however.

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Funnily enough I actually found 4 bird ribs yesterday! Still very hard to find though, but knowing sticks are not usually hollow is very helpful. I try not to break bones but I will definitely keep this in mind.

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Ah! I think this would be a nice place to show off my find of a “dinosaur bone” sticking out of the limestone … the “joint” area is about 20 cm wide … I admit that for a fraction of a second I really had been totally flabberghasted …


not usually hollow, but many are.

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Small hollow bones usually belong to birds as they need lighter bone structures.


If you can make a dent in it with your fingernail, it’s wood. Bone also has an extremely distinctive smell, so scraping some shavings off and carefully smelling them will immediately tell you if it’s bone.


I agree with a lot of the above tips, like looking for joint articulation and the feel when touched. That feel I think is the easiest way to tell, even with the most damaged bone bits. Bones are built of mostly calcium and collagen, different from the main building blocks of plants. They have a very different hand feel than plant matter. Whenever I find something that I’m trying to find out is bone or plant, the first thing I do is pick it up and try and gently bend it. If it has a sort of fibrous flexibility, it’s plant. People sometimes think wood and bone are similar textures, but bone is much harder (trying sawing bone with a saw for wood… very frustrating endeavor). The more you feel bone, the easier you should be able to distinguish the sort of smooth calcium feel from even hard plant matter and wood, which is more fibrous. Since they have such different building blocks, I don’t think breaking them should really be necessary. The hardest to distinguish bones would be already broken fragments I feel, so if you’re unsure you can just leave them whole, upload them here, and us bone IDers can figure it out.

While sometimes true, I’ve seen this logic lead to a lot of mis-IDs. Mammal bones are only solid as a living structure, as they aren’t literally solid bone, but filled with bone marrow (where as bird bones are filled with air). However, when the mammal dies and starts decomposing, the marrow can break down too, leaving them empty.


Thank you for the in-depth explanation! I feel like with time I’ve gotten better at picking out bones from plant material, but sometimes those very old broken bones just stump me. Feeling them with my hands is usually what helps me make my decision along with using my camera lens to get a closer look. I’m so grateful for all of you bone-IDers on here, bones have definitely become the most exciting thing I can find when I’m out and about in nature :)


Welcome to the Forum - always lots to discuss!

Yes, it is a tree. What we see here is the eroded base of the stem that got stuck in a crevice during a storm.

… disappointing. :wink:

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Hi I was walking on a beach in the Otway’s, Victoria a few years ago and kicked what looked like a bone amongst the rocks. When it fell on to the rocks it didn’t sound right so I picked it up. It was shaped like a bone and had the structure that you see in bones was evident. But it was heavy and felt cold and I thought if it is a bone it should feel warm and it should have been lighter in weight. I took it home and coincidentally a friend who works as a palaeontologist dropped in. I showed him and he took it back to his work. I was told later that it was a whale’s bone and was 3000000 years old.


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