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March 23, 2010
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This has been posted as a Deviation.  If you'd like to favorite it, please click here: fossilfeather.deviantart.com/a…


I've been asked multiple times how I go about cleaning and preserving the skulls that I find so I've decided to put together a sort of FAQ/how-to regarding this subject.  Please keep in mind that there is more than one "right" way to achieve things in the realm of taxidermy.  This is just the way I do my skulls/bones.  :)


You will need:

Plastic bag for picking up your treasure
A good sized flower pot
An ant hill (if possible)
Disposable plastic gloves
Nice sized metal pot kept solely for boiling skulls/bones
Plastic container for soaking the skull/bones in
Hydrogen peroxide 3%-7%
Small pokey thing for helping remove brain bits and other yuck
Super glue, tacky glue, or Elmer's glue for putting the teeth back in


Hokay.  While out hiking, I've come across many different skulls/bones of animals in various stages of decomposition.  The best ones are when nature has already done most of the work for you and it's already pretty clean.  One of the drawbacks of finding them like this though is that there is a high chance that some of the teeth will have gone missing due to its bouncing around the great outdoors for some time.  

When I find a critter that still has juicy bits attached to the skull/bones, I take it home and place it beneath an overturned flower pot situated strategically near an ant hill.  I then stack several large heavy bricks/rocks on the flower pot to keep scavenging animals from stealing my smelly treasure away from me.  The ant hill is valued because the ants will help the flesh removing process go quicker.  If you can't find an anthill, don't fret.  There will still be other bugs that will help out with this, it just might take a little while longer.

Once you are happy with the amount of flesh that has been eaten away from your bones, collect the bones (wear your plastic gloves!) into your metal boiling pot and boil them for 20-40 minutes.  Yes, I am aware that boiling is not good for bones and teeth but I like to be a hundred percent sure that any disease, parasite, or bacteria that these remains could be harboring is not passed onto me by my handling them.  So I boil them.  Once the water has reached the boiling point, start the countdown and make sure there is always enough water in the pot to cover the skull/bones.  A good 30-35 minutes of boiling for a medium sized skull (ie, raccoon, badger, fox) should ensure that even the threat of potential rabies virus is completely nullified.  :)

When boiling, please keep in mind that very young or very small animal skulls/bones are highly likely to come apart.  I do not boil my bird skulls for as long as I boil something like a raccoon skull for this reason.  Other little things like voles and mice can be very tricky too.  I had to completely (and painstakingly) reconstruct a vole skull that I boiled that came apart.  Vole teeth are super small.  :O

Which leads me to another point.  Even if boiling a larger, older animal, you are still most likely going to have all or most of its teeth fall out on you.  Be very careful to keep track of all these teeth during the cleaning process.  You will get to play puzzle later and glue them all back into their rightful places in the skull and jaw.

Once the boiling is done, I take my hot pot of water and boiled bones out to the back porch and drain the water while being very careful to not pour any of the teeth out with the water.  Once most of the water is out and the bones have cooled a little, I reach in and collect them all from the pot to place them in a plastic holding container of water.  Make sure this water is room temperature or, better yet, slightly warm, NOT COLD.  The big temperature change is hard on the bones and teeth and could lead to premature cracking.  Leave them to soak in this water for three days.  They might start getting smelly if you leave them in the plain water for much longer.

After three days, pour out the water out from your plastic holding container (making sure you keep expert track of all those teeth!).  Sometimes I rinse everything here but it is not necessary to do so before pouring in the hydrogen peroxide.  Just make sure you've gotten most if not all the water out.  You can use the same plastic container for this.  I use the bottom half of old milk jugs that have had the top cut off or other small plastic containers that I've fished out of our recycle bin, the key is using the right size container for your project so that you don't waste hydrogen peroxide.

The hydrogen peroxide helps to further disinfect the skull/bones and whitens them considerably.  If you want to try to retain some of that natural bone color, leave them to soak in the hydrogen peroxide for only about three days.  If you want them whiter, I recommend leaving them for 1-2 weeks depending on how dirty the bone was when you started out.  Be sure the hydrogen peroxide completely covers your project so the whitening job is even.  Do not use bleach for this as it is very damaging to the bone.

Once your bones have had their nice whitening soak, carefully rinse them all off with water and lay them out to dry.  I use paper towels for this, just be sure not to leave it in an area where a curious pet might come up and get into them.  Sometimes I even speed up the process by paper toweling each individual bone.  I actually recommend this since it allows you to really make sure that all the dirt and leftover cartilage are properly removed before the drying process is complete.

Do you still have all the teeth?  Once everything is dry (or sometimes before, depending on how impatient you are :D), you can start playing around with the teeth and finding out which ones fit where.  While you can do this before everything is completely dried, I only recommend gluing things once it really is thoroughly dry and once you are completely sure you know where each tooth goes.  Also, an advantage to using tacky glue or Elmer's glue rather than super glue is that if you mess up, it just takes some hot water to loosen up the teeth enough to pull out and correct your error.

At this point you should now have a nice clean skull or set of bones (or both!) that you can be proud of, learn from, and show off for years to come.  A couple basic tips for skull care is to keep them out of direct/harsh sunlight and to always wash your hands before handling them since the oils from your skin can leech into the bone and discolor it after awhile.

If there's anything I might have missed or if you have additional questions about anything, just ask.  :)
Add a Comment:
 
:iconsoccerstrider01:
SoccerStrider01 Featured By Owner Oct 21, 2014
Hello, i have recently found the top half of a relatively small skull. There seems to be no flesh left, only dirt and the tiniest bit of mold (?) All i have at the moment is rubbing alcohol, and i was wondering if it would be ok to clean it. Also is it ok to modge podge it afterward? Sorry if im rambling -_-'
Reply
:iconoliviamarrese:
oliviamarrese Featured By Owner Jul 25, 2013
Hey just curious, what would happen if i were to try and preserve a small skull in 91% rubbing alcohol ? will it deteriorate like in water? 
Reply
:iconrobsesseddd:
robsesseddd Featured By Owner Mar 14, 2013
does wrapping animal bones in moist leaves, newspapers or plastic bags help to let it last longer?
Reply
:iconpelts4u:
pelts4u Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2013
I will be buying a coyote skull soon. Can I use rubbing alcohol instead of hydrogen peroxide? If not, is there a good place to buy some?
Reply
:iconlittle-ms-spooky:
Little-Ms-Spooky Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
I have skull that smells awful and has some white stuff on it, would this work for my problem?
Reply
:iconbananasnail:
BananaSnail Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2012
I found a very old bone that appears to be from the spinal cord of cattle.
It is completely dried out, with tiny holes here and there.
Should I just go ahead with preserving/cleaning it or is it already too late for that?
Reply
:iconfrilled-aten:
Frilled-Aten Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Do you know if I should use peroxide on my small snake bones?


Thank you!
Reply
:iconfossilfeather:
FossilFeather Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2012
Peroxide would be perfectly safe for small bones. It is effective and gentle. You shouldn't have to leave them in the peroxide for more than a week or two. Probably closer to one week. :)
Reply
:iconfrilled-aten:
Frilled-Aten Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you!
I will go ahead and soak them <3
Reply
:iconstrongbear:
StrongBear Featured By Owner Jun 30, 2011
I have just resantly found what I think is a robin,,old long dead no eyes,, very wet from resant storms. There is very little flesh left but some feathers left, bad quality. How do I clean such a small head( about half the size of my fist) that is so old?
Reply
:iconfossilfeather:
FossilFeather Featured By Owner Oct 4, 2011
Try my bone cleaning tutorial here: [link] :)
Reply
:iconstrongbear:
StrongBear Featured By Owner Oct 4, 2011
Thanks for the link.
Reply
:iconthekerrtheory:
thekerrtheory Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2010
I may be a little late but I had a huge question. Last night my dog brought home a dead baby rabbit with almost not visible damages to the pelt. I decided that I didn't want the little guy to go to waste. I want ahead and skinned it to the best of my ability, granted it was my first time. Anyway, I was wondering what's the best way going about cleaning the skull? Right now it's a complete head and I've stored it in the freezer. If there is anyway to clean it please inform me, I'd much appreciate it. If not, I'll just dispose of the head. Thanks. :)
Reply
:iconfossilfeather:
FossilFeather Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2010
I have a skull preservation tutorial here: [link] :)
Reply
:iconmirroreyesserval:
mirroreyesserval Featured By Owner Apr 29, 2010   Digital Artist
Thank you so much for posting this! Now that I have my own place I really need to get back into scavenging.

I was kinda scared to try and degrease my mountain lion skull since I got it in a trade and don't know how it was cleaned the first time. But it could use it so badly and the dawn method sound gentle enough. :p
Reply
:iconservaline:
Servaline Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2010
Hnng thanks for this <3 I don't plan on actually taxi-fying my own skull any time soon (not until I get my own house/car lmao) but this tutorial puts things in perspective for me and makes the process seem less intense and time-consuming than with the other tutorials I've read :3

Also, I have this fox skull I got from a taxidermist a few months ago that seems to have these grease-like stains on it that appear damp. Mostly on the higher dentary and around the sides of the skull. Any way to get rid of these? :O
Reply
:iconfossilfeather:
FossilFeather Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2010
Soak it in a bucket of hot water with some Dawn dish soap. Change out the water each day and replace it with fresh hot water and soap and that should help remove the grease from it. :)
Reply
:iconservaline:
Servaline Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2010
Yeah, I read this on another tutorial ^^ The only problem is I don't think they have Dawn in Australia :S
Reply
:iconfossilfeather:
FossilFeather Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2010
Ooh... >_o Well, do you have any other "super grease cutting!" type of dish soaps? :?
Reply
:iconservaline:
Servaline Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2010
I'm not sure. I'll check next time we go shopping ^_^
Reply
:icongrygon:
grygon Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
sounds like it needs to be degreased. i'll be putting up Part 2 of my cleaning bones tutorial here soon if you want to read that, it deals with degreasing.
Reply
:iconservaline:
Servaline Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2010
Suhweet :3
Reply
:icongrygon:
grygon Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
Reply
:iconservaline:
Servaline Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2010
Oh! Thankyou :D

One thing though- do they sell Dawn in Australia? :O
Reply
:icongrygon:
grygon Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
you are in Australia?

looks like Dawn just ships to USA and CA:
[link]

but any dish soap should work, I think. PM me what you have available there, we'll figure out what brand you should use by comparing the ingredients lol.
Reply
:iconhawthornhare:
HawthornHare Featured By Owner Mar 24, 2010
Someone advised me just to put the carcass into a tub or bucket of water & wait. Takes longer, but theres no damage.
I've done that with the badger, is that okay?

Also! I found a roadkill fox last night :aww: I'm beginig skinning today =D
Reply
:iconfossilfeather:
FossilFeather Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010
I've heard that method too and I'd think it's okay just so long as you don't mind the smell! How did that badger skin turn out anyway? :)

Yay, a fox! I'd love to find one of those in good enough condition to skin. :love:
Reply
:iconhawthornhare:
HawthornHare Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2010
EEk, the foxy rotted before I could do much (I was too caught up in the new puppy). I did a rough skinning, without paws or face, because they were the only non green bits :blush: I'll appease the taxidermy Gods next time! In fact, they granted me a greenfinch on my doorstep when I returned from picking the puppy up ;)

Muesli the badger just needs oiling, & then he's good for my bedroom :aww:

While I was skinning the fox, the Samoyed was knawing on a bone beside me, it was like a wierd version of when you're a kid, & your mom gives you a bit of pastry when she's baking, so you canpretend you are too :XD: "Heres something for you to practice on while mummy plays with bigger dead stuff" :rofl:

I'm a bit annoyed with Rittel's, actually. They're not the best for labelling things. What is the clear bottle in the tanning kit?
Reply
:iconfossilfeather:
FossilFeather Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2010
The green bits even out if you take them through the tanning process with the rest of the pelt. You just have to be careful since they can be delicate. :)

Yay for random birdies!! I look forward to seeing that and Muesli. :love:

Aww, cute! Your pup has a "for dogs" bone right and not one from the fox though, right? ^^;

Yeeeaaaahhh... I noticed that about my Rittel's bottles too. They had really basic labels at least. If you can describe the things in your kit and tell me what was what, I might be able to help you figure out what that is. Both my Rittel's degreasing solution and Saftee acid is both clearish. :hmm:
Reply
:iconhawthornhare:
HawthornHare Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2010
I can't wait to mount the two little birds I have in the freezer, I just hope they don't end up looking creepy in my bedroom ^^; I had a really wierd dream a few nights ago, where I'd mounted loads of squirrels, & posed them climbing all over my bedroom walls... It was so wierd, there was like 30 of them? o.O

Oh yes!! She had a cowbone or something like that which I got from a pet shop. Eww, a fox bone would be gross! I was almost OCD with keeping her away from the fox, especially because it's a canine I thought it could pass some disease or parasite onto her. & on a shallow ote, her eating it would be foul =P

I bought the Rittel's EZ-100. It had a bottle of oil, a bag of unlabelled white powder I took to be Saftee Acid, & a clear unlabelled bottle. I somehow think it might have been missing something else, like a degreaser or something :shrug:
Reply
:iconfossilfeather:
FossilFeather Featured By Owner Nov 18, 2010
Lol, I've seen my share of creepy taxidermy squirrels. :XD: I'd hate to have them all over my bedroom walls. >_o

Yeah, I'm all overprotective about my dog when he's curious about one of my unprocessed dead things. They are off limits.

Is this what your kit looked like: [link] ? And not all animals need to be degreased so it wouldn't be too surprising if they didn't include it. Mainly it's just the really oily ones like bears, raccoons, beavers, and I've heard that badgers are pretty greasy too. However, I like running all my pelts except for the very tiny ones through the degreasing solution since it also seems to double as a deodorizer.
Reply
:iconhawthornhare:
HawthornHare Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2011
Oh god, I'm the same! My dog keeps unearthing this dead rat in my garden & coming into my bed stinking & dirty Dx It's awful- my bed is my happy place!! I don't mean that as an innuendo, I just love snoozing :heart:

No, my kit was different! The bottles weren't the same as in that picture & they didn't have labels :/ It's okay though I bought a new tanning thing from Holland another Iriush taxidermist told me about. You should look at her stuff, you'd love it! She does some of the best taxidermy I've ever seen & lots of celtic swirls & spirals :iconillahie:

It's just one bottle that you put coats of onto your skin. I'm defrosting a rabbit to try it on today, I'll let you know how it goes.
Reply
:iconcosmicspider:
cosmicspider Featured By Owner Mar 24, 2010
Thank you so much for this! Really handy! Someone already suggested it, but could you make this an actual deviation, so we can fave it and come back to it more easily?
Reply
:iconfossilfeather:
FossilFeather Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2010
Sure! I just posted it as a deviation. :)
Reply
:iconepinequeen:
EpineQueen Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2010
Thanks for this - I always wondered how one went about whitening bones.
Reply
:iconringtailwolf:
RingTailWolf Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2010
no idea how helpful this was. XD
thank you for taking the time. :)
Reply
:iconshadowskiss:
ShadowsKiss Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2010   Digital Artist
When I got my dog head, I just bleached it, then soaked it in soap-water for a while - about 2 or 3 weeks. Then I used a dull knife and toothbrush for the rest. Instead of super glue, I used welders glue. Mostly because it's the only strong glue i have, and also because it doesn't dry as fast so if I mess up I can still adjust something.

Luckily it was already decomposed, so all that was left was tanned hide and fur from sitting out in the sun so long. That was easy enough to just tear off and throw away

however, for future reference, do you have any special way os removing the gums from the jaws and teeth? Theres still some on there thats just hardened into a solid now o_o but damn it's hard to get off
Reply
:iconfossilfeather:
FossilFeather Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2010
After its long soak in hydrogen peroxide, I usually pull all the teeth out of the skull and jaw and wipe them off individually with a paper towel. I also wipe off the jaws where gum remnants will still be. A toothpick is handy for getting into the small areas. :nod:
Reply
:icongrygon:
grygon Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
for future reference, bleach destroys bone. in a few months or a year you'll have a nice crumbly skull there. :(

right now you can macerate the gums off and then seal it to hopefully stop the bleach damage.
Reply
:iconshadowskiss:
ShadowsKiss Featured By Owner Mar 24, 2010   Digital Artist
The bleach didn't do any damage to mine o_o I've had it almost two years now. I only soaked it in bleach for a day to kill off the bacteria and help loosen everything for the soap-water. I didn't have access to a way of boiling it. Found it on my moms farm and she refused to let me bring it in, and it was during fall do it wasn't warm enough outside. But I'll definitely keep that in mind now that I have my own place where I could boil it :D

Also - does alcohol damage bone? I was thinking that is another way of quickly sanitizing it, but I don't know how bone would react to it
Reply
:icongrygon:
grygon Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
[link]

you should also avoid boiling, the heat of boiling is too hot and can cause damage as well.

alcohol is fine, but i don't know of anyone at all who uses it/ read my tutorial up there (link), then ask questions. i try to go in depth of nearly all the choices you got. surely one will work for you. part 2 here in a day or so.
Reply
:iconcosmicspider:
cosmicspider Featured By Owner Mar 24, 2010
Yeah, my dad took my snapping turtle skull without telling me and "decided to clean it for you!" with bleach and now it's absolutely ruined :(
Reply
:icongrygon:
grygon Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
oh damn, i am so sorry. :(
Reply
:iconwolfforce58205:
WolfForce58205 Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2010
This is wonderful and very helpful!! Not to be a pain, but I was wondering if you could submit this as a literary deviation? This way it could be faved and such....You don't have to, lol, I just wish I could fave journals sometimes ^^;
Reply
:iconfossilfeather:
FossilFeather Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2010
How about a literary deviation posting trade off? I'll post this as a deviation and you post yours? :D
Reply
:iconwolfforce58205:
WolfForce58205 Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2010
Haha, sounds good to me!
Reply
:icongrygon:
grygon Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
I've put up a similar FAQ/tutorial in my gallery and am typing up part 2 to upload in a few days. Though I have to say- elmer's works fine for teeth. It's easy to fix mistakes with elmers (just some hot water), where if you make a mistake with crazy glue you are stuck soaking the entire thing for days in acetone to try and fix it. I've been there, I know, I learned the hard way. ;)
Reply
:iconfossilfeather:
FossilFeather Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2010
Thank you for the great suggestion. I have updated the journal. :)
Reply
:iconzippo4k:
Zippo4k Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2010
I would assume animals like voles and shrews to be things not to have peroxide used on, or to have it dabbed on delicately with cotton swabs and then washed off with water soaked into cotton swabs (again).
Reply
:iconfossilfeather:
FossilFeather Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2010
I've actually bypassed the boiling and just went for the hydrogen peroxide with one or two of my exceptionally small skulls.
Reply
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