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Newb - Yote degreasing tips. UPDATED with story and photos!

Discussion in 'Skulls and Skeletons' started by Raphite01, Jul 15, 2013.

  1. Raphite01

    Raphite01 New Member

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    Scroll down for story and photos.
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    Hello, I'm working on my first-ever skeleton, and am looking for a little guidance before I move into degreasing. I've searched up and read quite a lot of old posts on the topic, but want to make sure I'm not missing anything particularly relevant to my project.

    My skeleton is a roadkill coyote, which I skinned out (oh god that was horrible) and left in a mesh crate in the woods for about three weeks. The flies etc tore through it far quicker than I was expecting, and I brought home a bag of the disarticulated bones yesterday. There's little or no soft tissue or cartilage left. The bones are quite brown, but I haven't washed them yet so it may just be loose material.

    My goal is to have the bones retain a "natural" color, but not be so greasy that they'll smell. I don't even know if smell is a concern, since this is m first one. My work space is extremely limited, so I don't think I'll be able to set up a long-term heated soak. So, I'm thinking a relatively short acetone soak is the way I should go. Any thoughts on this? Would a week or so in acetone be enough to keep the bones from having a rotting grease smell? Again, I don't care if the bones are still brownish afterwards. Any major safety concerns with leaving a plastic bucket of acetone in the corner of my tiny laundry shed for a few days?
     
  2. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Re: Newb - Degreasing tips

    After only three weeks on the ground I would say that you still have to macerate them for at least a week. There will still be marrow and other bits in the larger bones. I would drill into the ends to allow water and bacteria a way in to get at the hollows inside. As for a week in acetone .. no. The bones you have are too large and contain too much grease for that. An acetone soak takes months with larger bones, not a week. You would do much better to get a heater going to get your water up to 115 and soak the bones in heated water with Dawn detergent added. A week or two in this with maybe one change should get the rest of the oils out that your previous week in warm water did not remove with bacteria.

    Without peroxide your bones will most likely stay a dark brown. They are mineral stained now from the dirt and leaves that they were sitting on as well as other causes.
     

  3. Raphite01

    Raphite01 New Member

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    Re: Newb - Degreasing tips

    Many thanks for the reply.

    Conditions were pretty ideal for the decay process, with short rains almost every evening and temperatures in the high 80s during the day (southern Louisiana). I didn't think about the marrow, though. The skull was pretty busted up by the vehicle strike that killed it, so at least I know the brain is gone.
     
  4. Raphite01

    Raphite01 New Member

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    Re: Newb - Degreasing tips

    I drilled the long bones, and decided to macerate it for a few days to let any marrow break down and to get a head start on degreasing.

    So, what's the drawback to slow-boiling with Dawn to degrease? I understand that boiling to deflesh can set the grease in deeper, but boiling with Dawn to degease seems like it would have the same mechanism as a long soak in hot Dawn-water, but would go faster. Does it risk damaging the bone?
     
  5. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Re: Newb - Degreasing tips

    Bringing bones to boiling temps breaks them down. Ever looked at chicken bones that have been cooking in soup all day? Even at a low "simmer" they still degrade badly and disintegrate. You are not making soup, you want to gently get the grease and oils out without damaging the specimen.

    Faster in this hobby is not better. It's an evil little word whispering in the back of your head. Slap it good and make it go away. Take your time with things and you will get a nice "WOW" factor in the end. Something like an adult cow or buffalo skull might be able to well stand a simmer in detergent without mishap. Most folks are trying things like a deer or smaller animals. Or bear. The problem is the temps are too touchy and too easy to get things too hot. Some chemicals work nicely at lower temperatures but then react aggressively when heated too high. Simmering is just too easy to screw up. The "set it and forget it" option works much better in the long run.
     
  6. ossuaria

    ossuaria Ossuaria Jewelry

    Re: Newb - Degreasing tips

    I'm fairly new to degreasing myself, so I'm not going to give you any revolutionary tips here, but I will say this: always take Sea Wolf's advice. The man knows his stuff - even if he doesn't tell you what you want to hear. I, too, am having a very hard time with wanting fast results, but I am discovering that patience does work. If worse comes to worse - see if you can stash your bucket o' bones in acetone over at someone else's house or put it behind something in your yard/garage so you don't see it. Helps to resist the urge to check on the bones every 12 minutes (which I totally did when I started). I haven't invested yet in a heated tank setup, but plan to do so next month. Best of luck to you, dahling! Post picks when you're done!
     
  7. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Re: Newb - Degreasing tips

    LOL. Every 12 minutes? Really? :) Try doing a bear. They can sometimes take 5 to 6 months to degrease. Hogs .. sometimes longer. The best thing you can do is get the heat to 115 degrees. 120 works better for deer and tallow fat type animals. Once the fats are softened, the detergent can break it up and get it into solution.

    Smear your hands with butter, lanolin or lard. Rub it in good. Use some detergent and cold water to wash it off. Try again and use hot water. That is what the difference is. :)
     
  8. Raphite01

    Raphite01 New Member

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    Re: Newb - Degreasing tips

    Well, since this whole story is probably pretty funny from the perspective of all you vets, I'll go ahead and post some pictures now.

    The more-or-less full background is that I've been interested in skeletons ever since I first saw pictures of dinosaur skeletal diagrams in books as a kid, but just never had a good opportunity to pursue the interest. I'm now 33, and several days a week I commute between two cities in southern Louisiana for my job, and of course saw much awesome roadkill go completely to waste. I started researching skeleton-prep techniques and toyed with the idea of trying to start a dermestid colony, but couldn't figure out where to keep it since I live in a rented double in the city, with only a small shared backyard. Full maceration at home was also out because of the space and smell.

    So, I decided to see if I could take advantage of wild decomposers. I finally got around to building a mesh-walled crate, with the intention of leaving it in a densely wooded area of a local park. I widened a series of larger holes along the bottom, hoping it would let in bugs and keep out scavengers. It took a few weekends of exploring through briar and brush, but I found a good location where I didn't think anyone would find it. I chained it to a tree, and was really excited about finding some good roadkill for my first project.

    Amazingly, I saw a quasi-fresh dead coyote on my very next commute. I left work early, relocated the coyote, and was happy to see that it wasn't actually a dog. Here it is after I pulled it off of the highway shoulder and into some tall grass.

    [​IMG]

    There were tons of cars on the highway, but luckily no cops came by before I managed to work it into a large plastic bag, haul it down the road to my car (the thing had to weigh 40lb), and hoist it in. The bag was all smeared with blood at this point, and when I lifted it into the car the ends of the dislocated femurs tibias tore through the bag. Great. Some time ago my pickup got rear-ended and totaled, and I chose to replace it with a more gas-efficient RAV4. Totally enclosed. During the 1-hour sweltering drive back home, I was pretty freaking sure I had made a horrible mistake.

    I'll fast-forward through me trying and mostly failiing to skin this thing in my mosquito-filled backyard with a dull camp knife while engulfed in huge snarl of flies, but ultimately I ended up with a hacked-up roadkill coyote in my crate. Mission (kind of) accomplished.

    [​IMG]

    I had no idea whether the remaining skin on the lower limbs and tail would decay, or whether scavengers would bust up my crate and drag it away, but at this point I just didn't care. I carried out an empty, bloody, stinking plastic bag past several-other park-goers, probably looking extremely guilty and exactly as though I had just dumped a body. I went home and showered for hours.

    A couple days later I went out to check on it. It was not covered in wild dermestids as I hoped, but rather the crate was absolutely full, FULL, of flies. Apparently they found their way in through my holes at the bottom, reproduced, and couldn't find their way back out. The carcass was much more eaten up than I expected, with most of the bones completely visible already. A blanket of dead flies covered the bottom, and clots of maggots still worked in certain areas. Next time I'll leave a spacer under the lid so they can escape.

    [​IMG]

    A few days later, there were fewer flies inside and no masses of maggots, but the flesh was still being reduced, including the areas of hide. Weather was pretty much ideal, with constant high temperatures and a rain shower almost every afternoon.

    [​IMG]

    After two or three weeks, all activity in the crate had ceased, all the bones were completely bare, and so I brought them home. Even the unskinned tail had completely disappeared from around the small caudals, leaving only a line of loose fur. It took me an hour crouched over the crate to find all the small bones amid the piles of dead flies. I went home and ate rice and black beans, which to my dismay looked remarkably like bone fragments among dead flies.

    I stuck them in a bucket to macerate for a few days, just to make sure everything was gone. I also drilled out the ends of the long limb bones to give the marrow a chance to decay (thanks Sea Wolf!), though a couple of them were already broken from the vehicle strike that killed it. It was clear at this point that the skull was completely shattered, but I figured I'd have fun piecing it back together. Yesterday I went through everything and gave it a quick scrub with Dawn, mostly just to wash out any remaining fly bodies and to get a better idea of what I had.

    [​IMG]

    Poor resolution in the photo, and it doesn't picture another handful of small pieces still in the bucket, plus a couple more vertebrae and toe bones. You can see the shattered skull, shattered scapulae, broken hips, and some broken limb bones. Some ribs and vertebrae are also damaged. The poor thing must have gotten completely run over by whatever hit it.

    My wife came home while I was working on it, thought it was pretty cool, and didn't seem to have any problem with the smell. They smelled like a sink drain up close, but it didn't seem very strong. However, this morning she emphatically changed her mind after spending some time outside and coming back in, so I got in a bit of trouble today. It didn't help that she had a nightmare about something bad happening to our dog, and woke up to a dining table still covered in coyote bones. I came home from work a little early and stashed the bones, aired out the house, and replaced the bones on the table with some fresh roses and candles. She seemed in a forgiving mood when she got home from work.

    In the meantime, I've stuck the bones in a bucket with water, ammonia, and Dawn. I hacked an Aqueon aquarium heater like Sea Wolf described in another thread, and tomorrow I'll be putting insulation on a bucket so I keep the temp high enough. Hopefully by the time they're degreased and whitened my wife will have come back around to thinking that this is a cool project once again, and won't mind an articulated coyote in the house.

    So anyway, a heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who has provided information here, I love reading through the archives. I'm having a lot of fun with my semi-disastrous first project, but I hope you enjoyed reading about these first steps, and I am looking forward to many more projects in the future. More photos to come!
     
  9. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Re: Newb - Degreasing tips

    Raphite, I bet the roses helped a lot. :) Good storytelling too. Hope that batch of bones looks much improved in a few of weeks. Check the water in a week and you will probably want to change it out for a fresh mix as it gets the oils and dirt out.
     
  10. Raphite01

    Raphite01 New Member

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    Re: Newb - Degreasing tips. UPDATED with story and photos!

    I'm now aiming for a whiter look than I was envisioning when I wrote the first post, but I won't mind if I can't get them perfect. It lay soaking in blood on asphalt for a couple days, and then three weeks buried in fly bodies. The discoloration will come with a good story.

    I was really embarrassed about my total failure to skin out the limbs of this thing, even though it ended up not mattering. I use my camp knife to split wood, and it was far too dull to deal with the hide. I had forgotten to sharpen it before bringing home my first carcass, and was worried I'd run out of daylight if I spent much time trying to do it that evening. Just one more thing to add to my long list of lessons learned!

    I think I'm missing some of the lumbar dorsals, though I'm not sure when they could have gone missing. No big deal.
     
  11. Re: Newb - Degreasing tips. UPDATED with story and photos!

    Ya, 12 minutes is really crazy. :) When I first started out I thought degreasing for a day in cold water would be sufficient. Lol.
    Once you get a setup that heats to 115-120 you will not believe how much grease some skulls can have.
    Right now I have 8 bear skulls degreasing and you change the water and even after a couple weeks the water is cloudy the next day.

    Raphite- if the bones are not mineral stained it is always possible (for the most part) to get any skull or bone pure white with time degreasing and alternating with peroxide. It sounds as if they will have a good deal of blood stains and you will have to whiten and go back to degreasing several times to get them out. As I commented another time grease is relatively easy to get out with time- blood stains on the other hand are a pain. Of course if you don't care that much you don't have to get them completley white.

    I would also try and find a local trapper nearby to get your skeletons from- they won't smell and will not be all busted up either. And they will already be skinned. Most trappers just throw away the skulls and skeletons so you could probably get them for free or very cheap.

    Good luck and have fun putting that skull back together. ;D
     
  12. Re: Newb - Degreasing tips. UPDATED with story and photos!

    Just wanted to comment that according to Seawolf's profile, Seawolf is not "The Man [that] knows his stuff" but actually "The Women [that] knows her stuff" and should be listened to. :D
     
  13. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Re: Newb - Degreasing tips. UPDATED with story and photos!

    Not a problem. Lots of folks make the same mistake. I don't correct them as the info would be the same either way. ... I'm also very lucky to have a boyfriend that doesn't mind dead stuff in the fridge. [​IMG]
     
  14. Re: Newb - Degreasing tips. UPDATED with story and photos!

    Here is a hint for any future endeavors: invest in an x-acto knife. They cut through skin quickly and are really sharp. they could save your nose someday. I always have one around for when my relatives legally harvest roadkill in season.

    Happy degreasing!
     
  15. Re: Newb - Degreasing tips. UPDATED with story and photos!

    Along the lines of this post, I have been looking at the claims of some processors wondering how they deliver skulls as fast as they can. One claims their average delivery time for deer and bear is 30 days. I can see that for deer, but degreasing average for bears in 30 days? Is this really possible? Would acetone degreasing make this possible?
    Another is stating they can deliver in days rather than months.
     
  16. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Re: Newb - Degreasing tips. UPDATED with story and photos!

    I use acetone for problem skulls and the answer is NO! You can simmer a skull clean and whiten it. It might look ok . or even actually pretty good initially. But that grease in there will soon come to the surface and it will turn a sickly yellow and actually grow mold in some cases as well as attract dirt and dust and soon become something you want to hide away. If you are curious about someones work you can always ask to see pictures or some actual skulls. But, even then, the pictures that they send to you might not even really be their own stuff.
     
  17. Raphite01

    Raphite01 New Member

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    Re: Newb - Degreasing tips. UPDATED with story and photos!

    On Sunday I lined a Home Depot bucket with a couple inches of bubblewrap on all sides. After slowly cranking up the temperature, it seems I can keep it at 115ish without igniting any fires. Right now it's been in there for about 48 hours, and about 36 hours at max temp. It has about half a cup of Dawn, and maybe a quart of ammonia.

    The water is still clear, without much sign of grease coming out. Anything I should tweak?

    [​IMG]
     
  18. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Re: Newb - Degreasing tips. UPDATED with story and photos!

    Nope. You may not actually see the grease as it will be emulsified in the water. Let it sit for a week and then give it a look.
     
  19. Raphite01

    Raphite01 New Member

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    Re: Newb - Degreasing tips. UPDATED with story and photos!

    So, the coyote sat in the degreasing bucket for awhile (~3 weeks), with a couple of water changes. I then let it sit in some 3% hydrogen peroxide for a couple days. Here are a few of the bones after drying.

    Are the yellowish areas grease spots, or just discoloration that needs more whitening?

    [​IMG]
     
  20. Re: Newb - Degreasing tips. UPDATED with story and photos!

    grease