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Beetles vs. maceration!

Discussion in 'Skulls and Skeletons' started by Amy, Jan 23, 2009.

  1. Amy

    Amy Mammal artist

    It seems to me like dermestid beetles are the preferred way to clean skulls.

    I want opinions on cleaning with maceration vs. dermestid beetles. Other than the stench created by maceration, are there any reason beetles are better?

    I've had a beetle tank for over a year. It's been a constant up and down adventure. Sometimes they eat like crazy, other times they won't eat at all and I'm stuck with a bunch of skulls waiting to be cleaned. I can only put in one skull at a time, so as not to overwhelm them. I have to keep the tank clean, make sure they're at a proper temperature, monitor them, mist them enough but not too much ... and now my colony is infested with mealworms and it looks like I'm going to have to wipe out the whole colony and start over.

    Thats when I started thinking about the possibility of turning my beetle freezer into a "rot box" instead, where I can put in several buckets of water, and skulls. Using the heat lamp I have in there for the beetles, I could easily set it to 100+ degrees in there.

    I don't mind waiting a few weeks for skulls to macerate. Using this freezer, I could easily macerate a dozen at a time.

    But I want to make sure there are not ANY downsides to this. Beetle box vs. maceration box ... what do you think?
  2. Beetles vs. maceration!

    Hi Amy

    I had beetles for about 5 yrs--- when the colony is really hot (numbers are high) they will clean a deer skull in a day or 2-- bear also-- BUT we have some cold weeks up here in N.J.--- was 14below last week and never got above freezing-- trying to keep your colony warm and well fed can be a problem- also, when you remove the skull from the beetles-- some larvae and especially shed skins can be left inside the skull (nasal passages etc) which are quite difficult to get out--

    Not so w/ maceration--- Read Sea Wolf's post regarding maceration-- it takes a lot longer-- the stench can get really potent-- but when you complete a skull-- your bucket, heater etc. can be stored away until you have another skull to clean--

    My wife and I are retired-- and we go away for a week here and a week there-- noone has to look after maceration buckets while we areaway-- no so w/ beetles-- then need to be fed and water made available every so often-- I'm sold on maceration-- my customers know it will take 3-4months to get a deer skull back-- (I have 8 here now-- and only enough room to do 3 at a time) -- they are in no rush

    If you get buckets for maceration-- try to get the extra deep ones so your aquarium heater will be below the top of the bucket--- I'm going to experiment w/ heaters for horse-watering buckets-- they are a little more expensive but one I am looking at is about 1/2in thick and maybe 7-8" in diameter-- totally submersible too---I'll look for the website where you can see the http://www.pet-dog-cat-supply-store.com/

    You will have to look around a bit- the heater is around $51 as I recall-- I'm paying $35 for aquarium heaters---

    Anyway, I hope this helps you in making your decision

  3. I have never worked with beetles, so my opinion is biased. However, based on my experience with maceration, and what I have seen/heard/read of cleaning skulls with bugs, as long as time and odor are not an issue, maceration produces a superior result from less effort. And increasing capacity is as easy as running to Home Depot for more buckets.
  4. The end results are basically the same, Don't let anybody fool you. That would only show that they are not educated very well at cleaning skulls.
  5. Amy

    Amy Mammal artist

    Thanks for the input, guys. I think I am switching to maceration. I checked on my heated bucket today, and my deer skulls are 75% clean! They have only been in there four days. That's nearly as fast as my beetles were cleaning them ... no upkeep involved .. and really, after just a few days, the smell isn't really even THAT bad!
  6. If you are talking about the final results, I would agree. However, I am referring to the amount of effort to obtain a skull free of soft tissue, including within the bone. In other words, comparing a skull freshly removed from the maceration bucket, assuming the process was allowed to progress to completion, compared to a skull freshly removed from the beetles, and taking into account the amount of effort in maintaining a beetle colony. Nobody is trying to fool anybody here. It pays to think before casting aspersions on another person's knowledge or education, especially when you have no idea who you are talking about.
  7. I have done both, and there is one point I wold like to make.... small, delcate skulls. Sorry, rot guys, but you just cant get the undamaged skull of a duck out of the maceration method. I have duck skulls that are so fine and detaled, they would turn to mush and fall apart if soaked too long in even the peroxide solution.

    Another advantage I see with the beetles are the bones that fall apart and teeth lost. Nothing is more of a headache than sifting through nasty sludge for the FINE front teeth of a mink. And have fun putting them back in, IF you find them.... I get all details with my bugs. I dont have to put nose bones back on. Even the ear bones are left in place from deer to mouse. You will lose them right off the bat with maceration. Most people will not care about those fine details, but I clean skulls for schools, and to be able to see the perfect undamaged nose cartlidge of a jackrabbit and the tiny earbones of a bobcat make the diffrence to me.

    RDMARTIN53 Active Member

    So you base your opinion on not experience but "what I have seen/heard/read of cleaning skulls with bugs".

  9. Hey, I said my opinion was biased! But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know a bug can only get into so many places...
  10. RDMARTIN53

    RDMARTIN53 Active Member

    You continue to taste shoe leather on the subject of cleaning with beetles. It is the larve that do most of the cleaning.
  11. RDMARTIN53

    RDMARTIN53 Active Member

    I will clue you...the larve come in more than one size.
  12. Yawn...tell me something I don't know.

    This is a moot discussion anyway...the young lady already made up her mind.
  13. RDMARTIN53

    RDMARTIN53 Active Member

  14. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    I have and use both. Most of my skulls are done with maceration. I do also notice that the macerated skulls degrease a lot faster. Small critters like mink, skunk, marten etc, I set in plastic Zip-Loc bags and then in the bucket. When water is gently run through the bags contents to flush out all the gunk, all the teeth stay in the bag. True, putting them back in can be a pain, but you don't lose any. Even in a bucket, I flush with water several times and I wait a few seconds before carefully pouring off the contents. Do this carefully and you will never lose a tooth. Gravity keeps them on the bottom. You just have to make sure that you fish them all out.

    I do use the bugs for small and fragile specimens. Birds, fish, reptiles all go to the bugs. My bugs are all in a fish tank in the house though. I don't have a bug box full. :)
  15. jonscut

    jonscut New Member

    These are about the tamest responses I've ever seen to this question. I've used both methods and I'm pro beetle but I live in a warm climate area and I don't have to address alot of issues people have with the colder climates. I will say this though when I used to do maceration it seem like I could never get the sink off of my hands and I always wore gloves. I swear the smell penetrated latex gloves.
  16. Wolfwoman

    Wolfwoman $90 for your fur made into trapper hat or mitts!

    Except when I first started and was boiling the heck outta skulls the only method I've used is maceration. Ziplocks for small skulls, butter containers for even smaller ones will take care of everything that might fall out. If you're worried about smell, don't be. Macerate in a covered bucket/tank and change out 1/2 to 3/4s of the water every few days. This actually helps speed the process some because the bacteria isn't chocking itself out - as in the bucket that is left for weeks. Small teeth are recovered at the bottom of the ziplock or small container without too much mess if you change out the water as above.

    This is the least hands on method you can possibly use, they clean themselves when you're not around, you wash them off when you're done, put the teeth back in after you whiten and you're done.
    Tamsin likes this.
  17. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Of course it does. :D

    Watch the episode of Dirty Jobs when they go to Skulls Unlimited. Even the tech there states that the stink goes through rubber gloves.
  18. Amy

    Amy Mammal artist

    What about the smell soaking into the bone/antlers? How do you guys prevent this from happening (or remove the smell) ?
  19. PA

    PA Well-Known Member

    Your survey here is no necessarily indicative of the real world of skull cleaning. People that have become used to using dermestid beetles don't have to argue that it is the best method and easiest to produce superior results - we already know it is the best method. Otherwise every osteological section of every large natural history museum and most medium museums would not use it as the preferred method. If it wasn't superior then Skulls Unlimited wouldn't use that method either. People that have only ever used maceration of course would argue for maceration. They probably couldn't learn how to maintain a clean colony or ever learn how to operate an efficient colony. My colony takes no more time to operate than keeping a goldfish - five minutes a day and cleaning an aquarium surface maybe once a week - like cleaning the goldfish bowl. Every three months or so I'll start a new colony in a fresh aquarium and close down one with a buildup of dermestid waste products.

    The efficiency also can't be compared. Proper maceration also includes removing the brain on large mammals and skinning the head. An experienced preparator can prep a deer head in a half hour, dry it overnight, dump it in the bugs, and a few days later have a cleaned skull ready for degreasing and the peroxide treatment. Total investment of time maybe 1 hour total. There is no pouring of fluids, really BAD stink, and difficulty getting the smell out of the bones.

    The real advantage in cleaning with dermestids is if you EVER do the smaller mammals, juvenile specimens or other vertebrate groups, or cleaning those without linked symphises. Try macerating a mouse, vole or shrew skeleton. Try cleaning an articulated hummingbird skeleton. Try cleaning an articulated copperhead skeleton with all ribs still attached. Proper dermestid maintenance will allow any of these three to take a total of one hour investment of time. Larger snakes might take more time - maybe 4 hours for a large boa constrictor. But then how long would it take to glue back the circa 300 ribs on each side, and the 350 vertebrae, and or glue all the parts of the snake skull that fell into dozens of pieces - or to glue back the teeth with have no sockets to speak of.

    Amy, as I offered before, I'll send you a clean starter colony if you want. But if you are just doing deer skulls why not use the "Michael P" method which is perfectly acceptable for commercial taxidermy.
  20. Wolfwoman

    Wolfwoman $90 for your fur made into trapper hat or mitts!

    And maybe do it with out being haughty and derogatory to those that use other methods?