It's time for the second TV Tropes Halloween Avatar Contest, theme: cute monsters! Details and voting here.
Whenever a show features or references a desert, savannah or other barren land, odds are good that a bovine cranium will be involved to set the mood.
Often accompanied by cacti
Compare Ribcage Ridge
, a sister trope.
Anime and Manga
- The opening scene of GUN×SWORD has Van looking down at an animal skull in the desert and questioning why the creature isn't still alive for him to eat.
Film — Animated
- Shows up in many Georgia O'Keefe paintings.
- The owl mariachi band from Rango stood on one of these while singing about Rango's journey.
- On An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, Tiger runs into a buffalo skeleton that seems to come to life when he's not looking. Turns out it's being manipulated by native mice, who then capture Tiger.
- The Lion King: As Simba returns to the Pridelands, he finds it riddled with wildebeest skeletons to show how Scar's rule has ruined the land. At the end, as Simba returns to power, there's a brief shot of a skull being washed away by the rain, to symbolize the end of the old regime.
- Cars featured a variation of this: since all animals in their world are also vehicles, in the desert surrounding Radiator Springs, there appear to be rusted-up car parts lying among the rocks and cacti.
- Fantasia - the 'Rite of Spring' segment shows the last of the dinosaurs shuffling into the desert dust - after which the camera pans to and closes in on the skull of the mighty T-Rex.
- In Animal Crossing, this shows up as a furniture item in the "American West/frontier" set. Sometimes animals who are cows have them in their homes...
- In EarthBound, you can actually have a conversation with a cattle skeleton in the Dusty Dunes Desert. It, of course, claims otherwise.
- Appears multiple times throughout the Fallout series, natch. It's not always a cow skull, though...
- The original Starcraft had all sorts of bones and skulls in the randomly-generated desert terrain tiles.
- Cave Story's Sand Zone is full of bones... including animated ones.
- The standard Clonk desert scenarios contain, along with cacti, animal skulls as decoration.
- Eets uses this as decoration for desert-themed levels.
- These can be found in the desert levels of the Game Boy Advance Fire Emblem games. Rare items can be dug up in the nearby sands.
- There's a giant wraid skull on Tatooine in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Click it at your own risk - it summons a World Boss.
- There's plenty of skeletic remains for you to explore in the Western Desert from Avalon Code. In a particular area, you find what appears to be the skeleton of a dragon, as well as the skeleton of the knight who failed to slay said dragon and the skeleton of the princess devoured by said dragon.
- Coyote Ville has one in Ed, who can converse and interact with the rest of the cast.