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Newbie Tackles Wolf Skeleton: Maceration

Discussion in 'Skulls and Skeletons' started by Nyds, Aug 9, 2020.

  1. Nyds

    Nyds New Member

    Hello, and thanks for taking the time to read.
    Ill start from the beginning.

    I had been interested in the prospect of taxidermy and articulation for some time.
    A beetle ready wolf skeleton became available for cheap through a reputable IG taxidermist.
    I have done tons of reading, and watched a lot of youtube tutorials. Even purchased the canine bone building book. About half say its stupid to macerate without heat and half say maceration without heat is just fine, but that it takes longer. Since I didn't have a way to heat the tub outside and I don't have an indoor place to macerate, I thought macerating a beetle ready wolf wouldn't be so bad.

    So, fast forward 6 months. Life hit full force, I've been on call security, working ridiculous hours since the pandemic while also trying to maintain my art commission queue. I've only been able to check the tub a handful of times, and oh, have I mentioned the yard is now over grown, spider infested and I have roommates who love to keep the windows open? Half of the people say the smell isnt so bad, and half say its just god awful. I thought, how bad could it be? I stirred the tub and gagged. I have a pretty strong stomach. My roommates... Are going to hate me, haha. I've read and dug a lot, so I thought it would be best to ask questions based on my unique situation.

    TLDR; I have a beetle ready wolf macerating in water for going on six months (involuntarily) in my backyard. I have neighbors ALL around me, and four roommates. I have read up, but thought it best to ask.

    My questions are:

    1. How can I neutralize the smell when I dump? I read that trenches work, but the smell is still bad. Depending on who you ask. But the people I live with will DEFINITELY be angry if it stinks, since it's been hot lately and the windows need to stay open for circulation. I read you can pour bleach or hydrogen peroxide into the soiled water, and then dump it with no negative repercussions or stench. Is that true? For a whole wolf skeleton, not just a skull?
    Should I still dig a trench?

    2. Does it matter if my neighbors have dogs? I would hate to dump the soiled water mixed with bleach or whatever, and have it accidentally seep into their yard and have their dogs lick it.. I don't know if this affects the ground, any plants, wildlife ect and was also curious about that as stated above.

    3. If the skeleton is red or black from sitting out in nasty water for so long, how do I get it out? I have heard bleach , ammonia, peroxide. Which is the best option for a wolf skeleton? Does it matter? The black is much easier to get out. But if it's red, what is the best, least destructive way to un-stain? If nothing else, a red skeleton would look pretty metal.

    4. Is there a way to heat a tub without an extension cord to an outlet? If not, I have no hope to do it properly in my current residence.

    5. when pouring, I will wear gloves of course, but should I wear a layer of clothes over my regular clothes to keep them from stinking? Or a rain poncho? Does it matter? I know Ill have to take an immediate shower. I just don't want to ruin my clothes, I only have PJs and band tees and work clothes but my band tees & PJs are kinda precious to me lol. I don't want them to smell like death but as long as it comes out its fine

    This is my very first project and it was a bit impulsive on my part, I will admit. I saw the beetle ready wolf for a steal and couldn't pass it up.
    I am adventurous and want to stop making EXCUSES for not finishing what I started. Its bumming me out, I WILL make time for this if it kills me. I just need a little guidance.

    Thank you all!
    Patchwork_Coyote likes this.
  2. Kendall

    Kendall Active Member

    If it not too late already I would separate all of the paws and put them in separate bags for maceration (or else you are going to have one heck of a puzzle to put back together). Even better would be put one manus and one pes in a bag for maceration and the other two in the freezer. Then when those two are done use the ones from the freezer for a hands-on reference for reassembly.
    I would dig a hole and pour a portion of the water into it and then cover the hole (you have read not to replace all of the water at the same time correct?). It will stink for a while but the odor will dissipate.
    Good luck with keeping the stink off of you. That just goes with maceration.

  3. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Firstly, you are not macerating anything, you are just soaking bones in water. By now, most of any fat and grease (and the bone marrow in the long bones) will be converted to adipocere which is damn impossible to remove. It is a very stable, inert wax. If you had macerated them properly they would have been clean in 2 weeks. Anyone that told you it was ok to chuck them in water and let them sit was giving you very bad information. Most of those people make excuses for not doing something properly and then tell others to do it the same way to make them feel better and justify their shoddy work. I suppose you can try to make pancakes by mixing the ingredients and pouring it into a cold pan and waiting a year for pancakes to appear but you will starve to death while waiting. In the meantime, you can tell all the people you want what you are doing and it is working but no one will ever get pancakes without following instructions and making the effort to do it right.

    I read you can pour bleach or hydrogen peroxide into the soiled water, and then dump it with no negative repercussions or stench. ... If the skeleton is red or black from sitting out in nasty water for so long, how do I get it out? I have heard bleach , ammonia, peroxide. Etc ..

    I can only suggest, that wherever you are reading this incredibly bad information, whoever is telling you what to do ... just stop. Delete the links and contact info and just stop taking in bad advice.

    Black you can fix. Red, you will not. There are plenty of posts on this site about the black coloration and how to remove it. The red as well but not as many. Red is from a bad bacteria that grows in water that is too cold. It permanently stains the bones. Do not EVER use bleach on bones. You will destroy them and, in time, the calcium will continue to turn to powder and flake away,leaving a crumbling mess. Ammonia does not remove color, it takes out grease. Peroxide is the only thing you should use on bones to whiten them.

    You need power to run a heater. There is no other way. Heating now will do little or nothing as the fats have been converted to adipocere (grave wax) all that white stuff you see in clusters on the bones. Bones are stained from red bacteria/algae. Find another location to do your projects where there is power. At this point, about all you might be able to do is get a propane burner and a container large enough to hold the bones. Get the bones into a pot and several cups of laundry detergent. Heat the water with the burner until hot but below boiling and keep them that way for several hours. Scrub them with a brush several times and then soak in peroxide. Let them dry and that will be about all you can expect.

    If you had done this the right way, they would have been clean and white in two weeks. Your neighbors would not be smelling a stench for 6 months. If you are working close enough to windows for people to smell it, you are close enough to run an extension cord. Dig a hole about 2 feet deep and pour the stinky water in the hole. Let it soak in and put the dirt back in the hole. There won't be anything to smell and no dangerous chemicals to hurt or kill pets. You have to pour off the slurry slowly so you can recover small bones in the bottom. You won't be dumping it so fast as to splash it on you.
    Use the Advanced Search on here and search for maceration skulls, maceration bone or bones, maceration tutorial .. there are many posts on this and a lot have pictures. I have made at least two tutorials specifically geared for singletons at home trying to do this with stuff around the house, the first timers, with photos. Maceration is easy and quick. It takes very little effort from the person trying it. You do, however, have to do it the right way for it to work. It is a defined procedure. Shortcuts are useless and counterproductive.
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2020
    Patchwork_Coyote likes this.
  4. Rausch

    Rausch Well-Known Member

    I’m very curious how many times you are going to keep typing the basically the same post over and over Seawolf! I would have given up long ago!
    Great Skulls likes this.
  5. Great Skulls

    Great Skulls Active Member

    I was thinking the exact same thing!
  6. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Eventually, folks will get the gist of using the Search function for info. Sadly, it isn't as easy to use as the old forum one was. As long as you have folks new to this, believing info put up by people that probably never got their hands dirty doing this, you will have posts like the above from someone trying to salvage something that is probably ruined by bad advice.
  7. trapperrev

    trapperrev Member

    A few years ago I found this forum awhile after I first made a skull cleaning attempt. Sea Wolf and others were very, very, very helpful with me. So was the search forum. I'm just a trapper that has cleaned up stuff for myself and given some away to friends. It'd be nice to clean more and have a market but that's another topic. But I saw this and had a question.

    My first attempt was "cold water maceration", as I'd understood it. I put skulls in a 5 gallon bucket filled with water in the winter... November, I think? They froze solid. I got lucky and the bucket didn't crack. It thawed in the spring, I put more skulls in and late summer I rinsed stuff off. I had assumed that without a heater the process is dormant until the sun heats it enough to get at the least in the 70s, if not 80s, and that there really isn't *cold* water maceration but just a really, really slow process where nothing happens until there's enough heat to colonize enough bacteria to get the job done. No, I'll never do that again. Yes, I had tons of adipocere. An aquarium heater and extension cord is so much simpler and better!
    But here's my question - in southern, warmer states, can a person macerate without an electric heater utilizing the heat of the sun? Wrap a bucket in black plastic and sit in the sun on a hot summer day? I'm not offering this as a suggestion but looking to understand why there are problems with this model. Does it cool at night too much to kill some of the bacteria? Or get too hot depending on the days temperature? I'm assuming that a consistent, controlled temperature is best.

    Also - regarding long bones. Typically the ends need drilled so the marrow and grease can flush out while degreasing with Dawn. If not, eventually the ends and then the length of the bones will yellow as that grease begins to leach to the surface of the bone, correct? If a skeleton set for a long time in water (or not?) and the marrow has been converted into adipocere, is adipocere so stable of a wax that it can remain in the length of the bone without issue? Or will it still yellow eventually?
  8. Kendall

    Kendall Active Member

    Not exactly an example of "cold water maceration" but I recently cleaned this female springbok skull by sealing it in a black bag (not in water) and setting it in the hot sun and within about two weeks it was clean (it had been prepped before placing it in the bag).
    But I have had issues with adipocere when using a less than hot water maceration technique.
  9. trapperrev

    trapperrev Member

    Thanks. What cleaned it, though? Had there been fly eggs on it and it was maggot cleaned or is it a different type of bacterial cleaning?
  10. Kendall

    Kendall Active Member

    No maggots. Just a result of the decomposition process.
  11. trapperrev

    trapperrev Member

    Interesting. That sounds even simpler than hot water maceration, as long as the temperature is hot enough. Is there a downside or concern with it?
    I just did some turtle shells - would they not have fallen apart dry, in a black bag, like the puzzle that's the result of maceration?
  12. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    The black bag can work if you have hot summer temperatures, direct sun and even better a roof or large black surface like asphalt to set the bag on .. or a hot heated room. The flesh rots though I would not call it maceration exactly as it is not in water. The sealed, hot environment causes a rapid explosion of bacteria. Many times, this method is used for several days to loosen horns on cattle and sheep. The horns are knocked off and the skull cleaned by maceration the rest of the way. Letting something sit in water in the summer will not. The water cools at night and takes many hours to absorb energy to become even remotely warm. By then, the day is over and it cools off again. Water has to be heated 24/7 to at least the 80 degree mark for water maceration to work efficiently. Cooler/cold water will generate lactic acid in the flesh which will, in effect, prevent decomposition by pickling it. The downside to the black bag method is, the teeth and any loose small bones will fall out into a soupy gloppy mess of goo. You are going to have to dig through the goo to find all your parts. At least get it all into a bucket with water and start rinsing it away. Not unlike the last stage of water maceration anyway. Black plastic bags are easily ripped into by nighttime critters too. A bucket is more easily secured and somehow seems less attractive to raiders ... except bears.

    As for long bones with marrow. Some of it will be converted to adipocere but not all. Enough to leach into the bones, saturate them with oil and turn them an ugly, mold stained yellow.
  13. trapperrev

    trapperrev Member