Flattened Fauna

By Ken Aiken - the Gear Guy on

This is a book about animals that, like the Wicked Witch of the East in The Wizard of Oz, are not just merely dead but really most sincerely dead. These are animals in which even flies have lost interest.” So begins the introduction to one of the most unusual wildlife guides ever written.

The many Rorschach-like, black ink illustrations provide key clues to identifying creatures that, unlike the fabled chicken, failed to make it to the other side of the road. “The toad’s tendency to flatten itself against the ground when threatened or afraid produces a uniform road pattern. The illustration is drawn from an actual specimen (male). Females are somewhat larger.” “This illustration was drawn from and dead road runner, and is included to show something of the serenity achieved by a few road animals. The frantic pace of constant food seeking has slowed considerable here. Regardless of traffic speed, the bird is clearly at rest.”

Flattened Fauna is not politically incorrect nor is it a frivolous book. This is a legitimate guidebook based upon years of research by the author who teaches biology at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. It has statistics: “Various historical estimates place the density of flattened animals at from 0.429 to 4.10 animals per mile of prime highway habitat.” History: “A reliable 1897 report from North Dakota gives evidence of at least one large snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) flattened under the steel-rimmed wheels of several loaded wagons.” And, of course environmental: “Road carrion is among the major reasons why flesh-eating animals become part of the flattened fauna. Ground squirrels nibble on bats, opossums on ground squirrels, and skunks on opossums, providing a fine two-dimensional example of the balance of nature.

The various chapters identify numerous species and habits of reptiles, amphibians, birds, and small mammals. Unlike other guidebooks that focus on habitats where animals live, Roger Knutson takes a different perspective: the habitat where they died. He’s not the first to do so, but his humor—and he is very, very funny– raises this study out of the dusty bins of academia to make this little book (5 x 8 inches and 80 pages) one that you’ll read from cover to cover.

Loud pipes may claim to save lives, but they definitely limit the amount of healthy wildlife a rider will see even in the most remote wilderness areas. Flattened Fauna therefore becomes the only valid wildlife guide that should be tucked into your saddlebags.

FLATTENED FAUNA: A Field Guide to Common Animals of Roads, Streets, and Highways by Roger M. Knutson, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA, 1987  ISBN 0-89815-186-4   $9.95