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The Happy Meal

Posted: October 13, 2016

McDonald’s may have given it a name in 1979 but an American food icon packaged in a fun and portable container has been around for much longer.
Click for larger image

Click for larger image

It was an AWESOME Saturday when my grandmother instructed my aunt to load me in the car and take me to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal.  It didn’t happen very often.  My aunt, in her late teens, had no desire to cart her 8-year-old niece around on a Saturday.  

We would drive across town, wheel up to the golden arches, and I’d collect my box of fun – a cheeseburger and fries.  Does it get any better?  It sure does!  There was a cool toy too!  Box of fun indeed.  

So what does this have to do with our little head-toting coyote?  

White-tailed deer are a food icon in the wildlife world - on the menu of an exhausting list of species.  Deer (whitetails, blacktails, and mule) are the most wide ranging members of the cervid family. The only place in North America they are not found is the Arctic Circle. Of the three deer species, whitetails are king.

They exclusively inhabit the entire eastern U.S., from the Atlantic west to the Rocky Mountains.  And even have a taste for the Caribbean, extending south through Central America and into South America.  With this sort of coverage, deer are the burger of the predator world well known to carnivores on 2 continents. 

It appears that Wile E. has gotten himself a portable “box” of food fun too.  But where is he going?  Can’t he just dine in?  

Ever have a dog that carries food AWAY from the dish?  What’s the use?  They just have to go back and get more.  And a bowl full of kibble is not conveniently packaged.  Where’s the fun!

Well, the root of the behavior is not based in fun at all.  It is a remnant of pack behavior.  If you’re low canine on the totem pole, it’s best to take your meal and run.  That way you don’t have to fight or compete with the lead dog or more dominant members of the pack.  

Consuming large meals very rapidly is another leftover from the pack (pun intended) and an adaptation to scavenging.  Eat fast and get out…or take it with you!  The “take-out” option is almost always the safest.

A picture is worth a 1,000 words, but there are many more that are missing from this one.  While the packaging is “fun,” is this coyote taking his meal on the road to avoid a real threat or is he just playing it safe?  Did he have to do the leg work to obtain this snack or was it his lucky day stumbling across this tasty and easy to carry meal?

If you ask me, this is not the freshest looking Happy Meal.  The “packaging” looks a bit worn and maybe coming apart at the seams.  My guess is this was a fantastic find by our medium-sized canid friend.  The fact that is was portable was surely a big plus for him. 

How this deer lost its head is anyone’s guess.  Remember the white-tailed deer is “what’s for dinner” for coyotes, bears, bobcats, fishers, foxes, and humans (and maybe mice ;) just to name a few.  Oh and let’s not forget the internal beasties-parasites, viruses, and bacteria-that can take down a deer without leaving a mark.  It’s just a day in the life of our favorite Happy Meal…I mean a prey species.

-Jeannine Fleegle
Biologist
PGC Deer and Elk Section

 

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