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Maceration of a mountain lion skull cougar TUTORIAL

Discussion in 'Skulls and Skeletons' started by Sea Wolf, Apr 6, 2013.

  1. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Not that we need another tutorial on this procedure but I have a nice specimen and figured to take pictures. Pictures will be updates as I go along. Procedure can be used for just about any sort of animal or bone providing you have a container hat you can fit it into. This set up is just for a single specimen, or a few different ones done together. It is not recommended to mix different skulls of the same species due to mixing up similar teeth and even lower jaws.

    Acquire your specimen. The fresher the better.

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    Take the skull and trim most of the flesh from it. Remove the eyes and brain. Cut gently against the bone so you don't leave the final piece covered in knife cuts. The more flesh you remove by hand, the faster the process will go. If it is in such a state that you do not want to touch it, you can use the entire head as is but it will take a little longer to be clean.

    The above skull, roughed out and ready for the next step.

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    The most common container is a covered 5 gallon pail with lid. Most animals in general will fit in this. Various sizes of trash cans will also work for larger specimens. Sometimes you might have to get creative too. The idea is to submerge the skull in a quantity of water that is kept warm. Just fresh water. Nothing else is added. The water needs to be kept continually heated to at least 80 degrees F. 90 degrees F will work just as well. Getting the water beyond 100 can alter the way the bacteria work and after a point, the bacteria that you want to decompose the flesh won't survive and you start cooking the skull instead. For a 5 gallon pail, a simple fish tank aquarium heater will work. Purchase a submersible heater, not the type that sits on the containers edge. Larger projects and quantities do well using bucket heaters as well as hot water heater elements connected to thermostats. For now, this post will aim for the single project, backyard folks.

    Set up the bucket and fill with water. Set in the specimen and the heater (unplugged). Let the heater sit in the water for about 15 min and then plug it in. Especially if cold water was used. If it is cold outside, you need to somehow insulate the container to keep it at a steady optimum temperature. Wrapping with an insulation will work as long as it is secured from the weather and elements. For now, I will use this smaller trash can. Inside is a quilt that I have rolled to set the bucket down into so it is wrapped in the quilt and there is some extra that I can use to also cover the top.

    Quilt, bucket and trash can.

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    Set bucket down inside the rolled up quilt. Extra folded under the bottom of the bucket insulates it there and there is more to fold down over the top.

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    Set in the heater, put on the lid and fold the extra on top down over the bucket. There is a crack/split/cut in the bucket lid to allow it to fit over the wire to the heater. This allows the bucket lid to be put on a little tighter.

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    Set this whole assembly in a protected area so it doesn't get knocked over. Cover to keep out rain and other investigative noses. In 4 or 5 days I will check this. Cost of materials? Quilt (free) old cast off moving quilt from a furniture company. Many things can be gotten for free for insulation. Either old blankets, short pieces of house insulation from job sites, even bubblewrap can be used.

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    Bucket, a few dollars at Home Depot or a paint store but many times also free if you look around for one. Trash can .. I have several around the house. Most have things in them other than trash. You can use a galvanized metal can for this as long as it is only used as the second container. Do not macerate in any type of metal container unless it is stainless steel.

    After 3 days at 80 degrees, things start to happen rapidly. Occasionally you will get the below. One that floats. This is due to gas buildup from the multiplying bacteria. This is also where it starts to smell. If you debrained the skull, simply roll it over with a stick and let the built up gas escape. If you did not, chances are you will have to let it be as the brain tissue blocking the foramen magnum will prevent the release of any trapped gas.

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    Five days later, this is what you have. I have not rinsed the skull off in any way at this point. Only poured off the water. If you do not trim the skull and leave it completely intact, you will have a lot more flesh to degrade and will probably have to pour off about half of the water and refill about 4 days into the process. Stir up the bucket when you do this to get some of the material up off the bottom. Pour gently and slowly so that you do not lose any teeth which are settled onto the bottom. Always remember to unplug your heaters first before you do anything with the bucket. #1 cause of a broken heater is too great a temperature change.

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    I have not rinsed anything with the hose. This is just as it appears in the bottom of the bucket as I poured off the water.

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    What I did for now was to refill with warm water and let it sit for another day or so. I could scrub this up and clean it now but it is raining, cold and raw outside and it's not condusive to working outside. In another day or so when it's nicer outside I will pull it again and give it a scrub. Most of the teeth are still seated and haven't fallen out. By now, at least the front teeth have loosened and fallen out and in another day or two I expect them to. Maceration will remove all flesh from even the most hidden areas, including tooth sockets. Areas that beetles do not get to.


    Skull sat for another few days and I pulled it and rinsed it off. It was very clean so it went straight into a heated degreasing solution. 115 degrees, 4 1/2 gallons of water and 1/4 cup of Dawn. I changed it out in a week and left it to sit for another week. At the end of two weeks I gave it a quick soak in peroxide. There are areas that you can see that have grave wax or adipocere deposits. These do occur with maceration. Some of the grease is converted to a wax and deposited on the bone. You can see the areas as a bright white deposit.

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    In this case, the upper incisors never fell out. Unusual but convenient. The lower jaw also did not separate into two halves. This was apparently a much older adult and the joint between the two halves is still secure, though I am being careful not to dislodge it. The white waxy areas will be scrubbed off with stiff bristled brushes and straight Dawn. A clear rinse will remove the particles. The skull will now dry for a while so I can check for grease. You can also see that the delicate nasal turbinates have not been damaged. Check hardware stores for small, stiff bristled brushes. Old toothbrushes also come in handy for this chore and do the job quite well


    Skull is finally finished and sealed with paraloid. It sat for a couple of weeks drying and I spotted some grease showing. It was then soaked in straight ammonia for a few weeks and then rinsed well in a couple of changes of hot water and allowed to dry completely.

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    Last edited: Aug 10, 2018
  2. RICKP

    RICKP Let'er Buck

    Re: Maceration of a mountain lion skull

    **
     

  3. michael69

    michael69 Active Member

    Re: Maceration of a mountain lion skull

    You should have been a teacher...
     
  4. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Re: Maceration of a mountain lion skull

    The stuff I have, I bring into classrooms. So, in a way .. I am. :) Folks are always asking for how to's. Figured that I would do a simple one.
     
  5. michael69

    michael69 Active Member

    Re: Maceration of a mountain lion skull

    Your doing a good job...
     
  6. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Re: Maceration of a mountain lion skull

    Added another step
     
  7. TheSeaWench

    TheSeaWench New Member

    90
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    CR
    Re: Maceration of a mountain lion skull

    Thank you.
     
  8. michael69

    michael69 Active Member

    Re: Maceration of a mountain lion skull

    looking good
     
  9. Re: Maceration of a mountain lion skull

    Sea wolf as always a very easy to follow step by step for the beginners.
    Nicely done.
    Mike
     
  10. Re: Maceration of a mountain lion skull

    thanks this is the thing a beginner needs.answered a lot of my questions.please keep it up.
     
  11. Zombiegirl

    Zombiegirl Member

    386
    3
    Re: Maceration of a mountain lion skull

    Excellent post!!! Thank you :) I have a male badger that I want to articulate and am trying to decide between trying this way or just breaking down and investing in a small colony of beetles...I still have de-fleshing and whatnot to do with him.
     
  12. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Re: Maceration of a mountain lion skull

    One thing that beetles will do is leave some of the ligaments intact which will help to hold parts of the skeleton together. Places like the feet, where there are a number of small bones. You might want to consider doing both.
     
  13. fogbound

    fogbound Member

    Re: Maceration of a mountain lion skull

    As always, clear and articulate. Thanks!!
     
  14. roly

    roly New Member

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    Re: Maceration of a mountain lion skull

    Great post, perfect for a beginner like me

    I have so many questons, but I will read for awhile first.
     
  15. saddlehorse_98

    saddlehorse_98 Member

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    Re: Maceration of a mountain lion skull

    X2 thanks for posting this.
     
  16. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Re: Maceration of a mountain lion skull

    Updated.
     
  17. Zombiegirl

    Zombiegirl Member

    386
    3
    Re: Maceration of a mountain lion skull

    When you say "stiff bristled brushes", could you please give me a description of one? I don't want to get the wrong brush!! I don't have any old toothbrushes lying around. I really enjoy this thread, excellent step by step for us newbies!! ;D
     
  18. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Re: Maceration of a mountain lion skull

    New toothbrushes work just fine too. Medium or hard bristles. Adult size and kids smaller ones. Hardware stores often have an assortment of scrubbing type brushes. Stay with plastic bristles. You can even find narrow round ones that work well for cleaning tight areas and inside small holes. Ask for small bottle brushes and tube cleaning brushes. A store that sells supplies for beer and wine making would have these too.
     
  19. Re: Maceration of a mountain lion skull

    I used beetles for years and finally got so over loaded with elk I decided to give it a try when the maggots made the floor move in my shop :) HANDS DOWN maceration is a faster and nicer product for BEAR, COUGAR, PIG and ELK. Everything else I bug. JUST MY OPINION. If Sea Wolf had bugged that cougar head and went through a normal degreasing process it would have taken WEEKS and lots of soap to even get it to the state it is in the last pic. Great Product, Cuts time in half and you can do multiple skulls at once. I had 12 Elk skulls macerated and degreaesed in the time it would have taken me to do 4 elk heads. Serious
     
  20. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Re: Maceration of a mountain lion skull

    Finally added the finished skull pictures.