preserving skulls

Submitted by Remi on 09/10/2002. ( )

I was wondering if anyone out there could help me with preserving a few skulls I've collected. First I wanted to know what the best way to remove flesh from the bone would be? Once cleaned what is the best way to protect the bone, is there a finish I can use? Thanks in advance for any information.


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Simmer n Bugs

This response submitted by Raven on 09/10/2002. ( )

The way we do it at our shop for museums etc is to simmer the skulls (or any bone that will fit int eh stock pot) in water. Just water. Make sure to not boil it tho - this drastically weakens teeth and the sutures where skull plates meet. No need for borax etc as the heat does everything you need. It kills the germs / bacteria etc, and sweats out oils.

You can also employ the use of bugs of various sorts. Best are deremestid beetle larvae. I have used (quite successfully) ants and fly larvae (maggots) as well. For ants just find a colony and place the skull on top of it. For dermestids and maggots the easiest way is to leave the skull outside. I have a tank set up in one of my studios with deremstids in it - but the odour is something that isnt for everyone. Make a box frame and cover it with 1/4" hardware cloh. place teh skull inside then stape the last piee of hardware cloth in place. This allows bugs and weather in - ut critters cant walk off with your bones. If it is a meaty skull and you live in a bear proned area - I suggest a cage made of 3"16 steel bar welded into frame of 1" spacing in addition to the hardware cloth.

Yet another product available is Tergazyme - this is a pwder added to water that allows you to clean the skulls by use of enzymes. I am currently doing a harbour porpoise this way.

If you like the look of a bleached skull (personally I hate it - looks entirely too fake and bad horror film like) you may wish to put it in a mild peroxide solution (no stronger than 3% as found in drugstores). Even this I would cut with water to dilute it. You can also put the bones out in the sun (again - cage them so critters dont get a free snack of calcium - mice etc will chew it to shreds in no time!) Depending on the strength of the sun in your area this time of year it can take from 3 days to 3 weeks to bleach nicely.

When you have finally reached this point (this process being 'perperation')it is time for 'preservation'. The best products for this sort of work are generally solvent based adhesives. I recommend the tradename Vinac. Butvar works well also. Carbowax is another alternative. For information on these products and their use - please see the previous post "Prehistoric Skull".

If you acquire the bookelt "Novelty Taxidermy" in the "Serious Sportsman Taxidermy for Beginners" series it has other techniques.

If all else fails let me know and I can do them for you - including molding and casting replicas. I can also blacksmith and weld metal display cradles for your pieces if you like. I suggest you try these things for yourself tho and offer my services as a last resort for a quality mount if you find things aren't going your way =) I've done everything from a field mouse to an 85 ft fin whale. These techniques are tried and true - hehe =)

Oh ya...

This response submitted by Raven on 09/10/2002. ( )

a couple more things;

simmer the bone for a lil bit - just til the meat changes colour kinda - then use a stiff bristled brush - possibly even brass bristles to scrub some meat off, then re-immerse. You can also pick at meat with a knife or metal pick etc.

Don't simmer it too much - this will promote minerals to become completely leached out and having a cooked bone which can break into shards. Just enough simmering to loosen the meat.

Forum sites

This response submitted by The Taxidermologist on 09/10/2002. ( )

There is a club on yahoo which has an archive of hundreds of postings on various means of preparation of skeletal matter, at:
If you join this club, with contact with one of the founders, you may also have access to another site with additional information of skulls and skeletons at:
Between these two sites there are over 5000 postings dealing with osteology and the pursuit of this field.

You may also search the archives on this site by typing skull or skeleton in the opening forum page. There is also a wealth of information dealing with skeleton prep.

There are much better means of preparing skeletons than boiling, but most of us started out with this method. The last time I used it to clean a skull though was over 25 years ago.

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