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Tutorial cleaning bones PART 1

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By grygon   |   
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So you have a raw skull or bone.  This means the bone or skull still has flesh/meat on it.  There are several ways to get it clean.  Some of which I may forget to mention even.

STEP 1: getting the bones free of flesh

Choices: water, bugs, range cleaning, and sweating

-   -   -


MACERATION or SIMMERING-

Macerating means soaking them in water.  Put the raw bones in warm water, you can use the summer sun, a heat lamp, a fish tank heater, etc. to keep the water warm.  Change half the water every 3 to 5 days until no more flesh and meat is attached.  I've also had luck in not changing the water at all.  You want to keep some bacteria and give them room to keep multiplying.    You do NOT need to add any other cleaner to this mixture, the bacteria of rotting meat and guts is enough.

Some are tough and may take longer.  The first animal I did took 4 days of range cleaning and 4 days of maceration to strip of flesh.  The first goose and pheasant and chicken I did took a month or so.  One mummified cat I did took about a month just to
loosen the hard flesh.

If macerating several skulls it would help to put them in baggies inside the same bucket, so you can keep the many teeth separate (teeth usually fall out of the skull during macerating) to their own skull.

Skinning and gutting before macerating helps keep the smell down, but it also takes longer for it to work.  All the bacteria in the gut help breed bacteria during macerating.  The animals that I have done whole (fur, feathers, guts, everything) had a much shorter macerating period than the animals that I stripped.  I am thinking of reaching a happy medium next time- skin it and deflesh most of it, but throw the guts and organ in the bucket with the bones.  We will see how this goes summer 2010.


Simmering means just that- a soft simmer, not a boil.  The hotter the water, the faster it will strip the bones of flesh but you should never boil the bones as this weakens them.  
Simmering is fine.  Keep an eye on them and pull out all the bones as they become clean of flesh.  You should note that many people will tell you that simmering will make degreasing (the next step) that much harder as the extreme heat from simmering can "cook" the grease right into the skull.

A note on boiling- boiling will weaken the bone and cook the grease right into the bone according to many opinions on taxidermy.net.  Boiling is ill advised!  I have also heard of people boiling with bleach.  Never ever use bleach as bleach will decalcify bone (weaken it) and within months it will be chalky and falling apart.



-   -   -   

BUGS-

some collectors use flesh eating bugs called demestid beetles, and keep colonies in their homes.  For skulls that are broken or weak this method is gentle and easier than soaking in water for a few reasons: water gets in cracks and takes them apart, but with beetles if you watch the bugs carefully you can pull the skull out before these breaks in the skull are lodged open by them.

I hear these bugs are easy to care for but you should still put in some research before deciding.  Sure, they eat flesh but do they eat the organs and guts?  Do they eat wet flesh or dry jerkied flesh?  The answers are they do not like much moisture and dried.  Do they need light or darkness?  They prefer the dark.  These are the type of questions you will need to get answered if you decide to try these lovely bugs out.

I have never tried bugs in captivity myself, but I have done a lot of reading on them from taxidermy.net.


-   -   -

RANGE CLEANING-

This is the simplest form of Step 1 if you have the means to do it.  You just put the corpse outside for rodents and bugs (flies, maggots, dermestids, other beetles, spiders... ANY bug that wants a piece of your corpse) to eat the flesh off of.  If you're lucky you will also have wild dermestids pay you a visit.  The ideal invitation for some wild dermestids is an opaque bucket or tub, that way it will be nice and dark under there.

I lay the body, usually skinned and gutted but also sometimes whole, on the ground and then place a bucket or tub over it with some bricks on top of the bucket.  Then I check on it every few days.  



-   -   -

SWEATING-

This method I discovered by accident during the late winter/early spring of 2010 when I put 5 coyotes outside under black trash bags.  I thought the trash bags would just contain them and the smell for a short time until I had time to start cutting them up for maceration.  By the time I did get out to them I found that they were moist and pliable and the fur was falling right out.  I expected them to be hard and the fur stuck.

What happened was the dark bags invited beetles.  The warmth from the black bags attracted early flies.  The moisture from recent rain and snow plus the heat from the black bags bred heated moisture.  So they were already swarming with maggots and had
been decaying for a few months thanks to this method.  Hacking them into pieces and stripping them of that pesky fur that gets in the way during maceration was therefore a piece of cake by early spring.

Sweating is also used when you have a horned animal like a goat and you have to get the horn sheath off before cleaning it.  If you leave the horn sheaths on they are just that much harder to clean.




NEXT: DEGREASING THE BONES
© 2010 - 2020 grygon
Now on my website!  www.bonejeweler.com/?p=78 #vultureculture

Finally getting around to publishing my tutorial. Anyone have anything major I should add here?

PART TWO: grygon.deviantart.com/art/Tuto…
Comments105
anonymous's avatar
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jaimepotato's avatar
jaimepotatoStudent Digital Artist
im REAL CURIOUS - i found this through A Literal Scientific Article on bone preparation. did you know some scientist in nigeria put your deviantart page in a scientific study
grygon's avatar
grygonHobbyist General Artist

I did not... can I see the site you found me on please?

jaimepotato's avatar
jaimepotatoStudent Digital Artist
citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/…

That's a link straight to the PDF of the study, I'm afraid I didn't find it through a specific website (just by looking around on google scholar for references for a school project.)
It was just so wild seeing a fav.me link in the references section of a scientific article LOL
grygon's avatar
grygonHobbyist General Artist

Dang, this is wild! Thank you for letting me know! :)

clwcats's avatar
i have an owl sitting in salt at the moment. what should my next steps be to preserve it, or mummify it?
Korwynze's avatar
KorwynzeHobbyist Digital Artist
Would i be able to macerate in cold water?
I have no way of keeping the water heated and it has to stand outside because my fanily would kill me if i put it in the shed. 
Would i need to protect it from, for example, martens and whatnot?
Faithcarroll's avatar
do I place the stripped bones inside of a ziploc bag and then into the water? or simply place them in the water uncovered? I am just getting into this, so I have many simply questions, hah.
TaraItsasecret's avatar
TaraItsasecretHobbyist Digital Artist
Into the water, uncovered
MightyKaytor's avatar
MightyKaytorStudent Artisan Crafter
Previously I had only dealt with easy cleans like long dead skulls and small birds, but my brother gifted me with a frozen sheep's head. I buried it for a couple (summer) months and then dug it up, hosed it off, and threw it in a bucket of warm water (no enzymes) to mascerate in my shed.

I think I was a little hasty though, because it seems there are still lots of gobs of soft tissue coming out and my recent check showed that the jaw had turned black (not that the colour is a problem, but is the bone ruined/contaminated? the water is super cloudy too, even when I empty it out and add fresh water. Did my impatience ruin things?
grygon's avatar
grygonHobbyist General Artist
Go to step 2 and 3 now.  :)
Camioneto's avatar
I found a horse skull the other day I brought home to macerate, it was almost clean but I put some dish washer in the bucket because I read that it help degreasing it a bit while macerating. Did I messed it up? D:
grygon's avatar
grygonHobbyist General Artist
First macerate until it is free of flesh.  Go to tutorial part 2 for degreasing.  :)  Takes months to do this step.
Camioneto's avatar
Thanks for the reply, but I already checked the bucket (smelled near it as it's only covered with a plastic bag and a lot of tape) and it does smell like it's has already started to rot. In fact, the first day I accidentally oppened it a lot of the remains of the flesh (it was really small ammount) where already soft and I could remove almost all of it, leaving only the pieces that where more close to the bone. I think it will be fine by next friday. Also, I had already read the rest of your tutorials :D. By the way, it's not necessary to whiten the skull, right?
grygon's avatar
grygonHobbyist General Artist
not necessary to whiten, but you do need to degrease for a long time.
Camioneto's avatar
Stupid novice question: what happens if I don't degrease? Not that I'm not going to, I'm just curious about it s:
grygon's avatar
grygonHobbyist General Artist
it will look ugly and brown and stained and will feel gross and will leach grease on whatever you put it on.
Camioneto's avatar
Urgh, I don't want my horse skull to be greasy at all DX. Thanks for your advice ^^
grygon's avatar
grygonHobbyist General Artist
no problem!
SilentAddiction23's avatar
SilentAddiction23Hobbyist General Artist
I found a mouse (at least I'm pretty sure it's a mouse) mostly decomposed in a glass bottle. It had apparently fallen in and couldn't get out. After reading your tutorial I decided to bury most of the bottle at an angle, but leave the mouth above ground. Do you think this will work to get the skeleton clean via bugs? I've never done anything like this before, I mostly just pick up skulls right off the ground after they've been there for years.
grygon's avatar
grygonHobbyist General Artist
It might!  I've never tried anything like this.  Is the mouse mummified?  Honestly, if it's mummified, I'd seal the jar and display it as is!
SilentAddiction23's avatar
SilentAddiction23Hobbyist General Artist
Nah, it wasn't mummified that I could tell, just decomposing with a couple maggots and a weird bug I hadn't seen before in it. I'll let you know how it turns out then?
grygon's avatar
grygonHobbyist General Artist
yeah let me know how it goes!
SilentAddiction23's avatar
SilentAddiction23Hobbyist General Artist
Hey, It's been quite some time. A little over a year. I'm the person who found a dead mouse and stuffed it in a bottle outside to let it decompose naturally so that I could collect the bones later. My update is simply that this wasn't a good idea with mouse bones. Between the small rocks and grass that had gotten into the bottle, along with my poor placement of the bottle, it didn't turn out well. If I could do it over I think I'd put it in a darker, moister place. Somewhere with more soft dirt than gravel and sand where it was suggested that I place it. I didn't have many bugs clean the bones where it was either.
A good majority of the bones besides the skull and a few leg bones had gone missing. I had added a second mouse into the bottle at some point and it disappeared entirely. I'm wondering if the bottle was messed with at this point. Oh well, I'll have to try again because I still think this method would work. I just need a better location and a bigger creature.
grygon's avatar
grygonHobbyist General Artist
If you're still insisting on using a jar, find some wild bugs and put them in there.  :)
anonymous's avatar
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