A deer with an arrow stuck in its head was spotted this month in the back yard of a woman in New Jersey. She posted this disturbing photo on Facebook along with the comment, “He’s not in distress.” Susan Darrah, who discovered the animal, noted that the deer was traveling with four other animals and appeared to be eating just fine.
Clearly, an arrow through the head is not a healthy long-term adornment. Darrah called the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, which sent rangers to stake out Darrah’s back yard. They were able to catch the deer (nicknamed Little Steve Martin), tranquilize it, remove the arrow and release the animal.
As long as an arrow or similar object doesn’t hit major arteries or organs and deadly infection doesn’t set in, many such wounds are survivable. Last month, a young bull moose was photographed in Alaska with an arrow stuck in its face. A duck in St. Petersburg, Fla., is said to have survived several months after being impaled with an arrow last year.
Even humans have survived similar incidents. The most famous of these tales is probably that of Phineas Gage.
While helping build a railroad in Vermont in 1848, a 43-inch-long metal rod was driven up through his left cheek and out his skull. “Despite his injuries he remained conscious and only a few minutes later was sitting in an ox cart writing in his work book,” neuroscientists Kieran O’Driscoll and John Paul Leach noted in their description of the incident 150 years later.
Gage suffered “a virulent infection that rendered [him] semiconscious for a month,” they wrote. “His condition was so poor that a coffin had been prepared.”
Gage lost vision in his left eye, had facial weakness on his left side and suffered a radical change in his personality such that his friends said he was “no longer Gage.” Still, from 1851 until his death in 1860, he was able to work as a coach driver.
Gage’s survival and his preserved skull offered important contributions to early neurology. Impaled animals have also contributed to science: In particular, one provided a key clue to bird migration.
The white stork scientifically known as Ciconia ciconia can be found throughout much of Europe during warm months. But in the winter, these birds disappear, a phenomenon that perplexed Europeans for centuries. Aristotle thought that white storks, swallows, kites and doves might hibernate in winter, perhaps at the bottom of the sea. A 1703 pamphlet put forth the idea that the birds flew to the moon in the winter.
The storks fly somewhere, but not as far as the moon. They go to Africa. But the first sign of this didn’t come until May 21, 1822. The writers Joshua Foer and Dylan Thuras explain in Atlas Obscura, an online compendium of “the world’s hidden wonders”:
“A white stork, shot on the Bothmer Estate near Mecklenburg [Germany], was discovered with [a 31-inch-long] Central African spear embedded in its neck. The stork had flown the entire migratory journey from its equatorial wintering grounds in this impaled state.”
More than two dozen of these impaled storks have been documented since then, and they even have their own name in German: the pfeilstorch, or arrow stork.