Introduction: Preserve Your Own Animal Skull

Picture of Preserve Your Own Animal Skull

To all the people who have an interest in the dead who have ever been improperly lumped in with Dahmer, this ones for you. Please know that I love nature and science and my association with death is not disturbing or morbid. If you are not comfortable with death, decide now or don't proceed. Always practice proper hygiene when working with the dead.

If you are genuinely interested in skulls but need some basic knowledge, I recommend buying this book. A Key- Guide To Mammal Skulls and Lower Jaws is an excellent book that will inform you about skulls and identifying them.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

You'll need:

A jar (or other receptacle that is relative to the size of your skull)
A good razor blade
Gloves (or in my case, plastic bags)
Your specimen (duh!)
Face mask (optional but useful)
Crazy glue (if you plan on fixing your skull in a position)
Dish soap
Hydrogen peroxide

Step 2: Acquiring a Specimen

Picture of Acquiring a Specimen

You can find dead animals if you really look hard. PLEASE, DO NOT GO OUT AND KILL AN ANIMAL FOR THIS PROJECT. Road kill or naturally caused deaths work just as well. As long as the head is not damaged, any specimen will do. I first did this with a dead house rat I found. This time, I found a semi-fresh opossum. I think this is a much better specimen to work with.

Step 3: Preparing the Specimen

If your new found critter is recently deceased, you'll have to endure more. If you find a nice piece of dry not-so-beef beef jerky, that's even better. It'll be like tearing into an old piece of leather. If it isn't dry, you can do the procedure as is or let it sit in the bushes for a few weeks. Intense heat and insect feeding will dry your creature to perfection.

Step 4: Dismembering

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My specimen has a body. So, I'm going to have to decapitate it. An axe or any straight edge will do. REMEMBER: The thicker the spine, the harder the chop. Break away from the point of intersection. Leave some vertebrae so you have something to work with. After separating the head from the body, return the unused parts to the earth. Find a bush or some other natural area and leave it there.

Step 5: Pre-Surgery

After dismembering, I decided to leave the head under a tree. A specimen that is too fresh is difficult to dissect and contains marrow which will end up rotting. If you have dermestid beetles, you can be in control of this part of the process. Otherwise, you'll have to wait. Also, a dryer specimen means you reduce the risk of damaging or breaking bones during dissection. When bones are fresh and marrow-filled, they are very rubbery and can break easily. If your specimen is dried correctly, the bones should be dry but strong.

Step 6: The Stripping

After your skull has been dried, make careful incisions along the top of the skull. Start from the nose and slowly slice back to the end of the skull. Split the lower mandible down the middle. After slicing, the flesh should provide you with vulnerable areas. Take your time and stay focused. This procedure can be long but it's well worth the effort.

Step 7: Cleaning

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Take all your bones and put them in your container. If there is still grease on them, fill the container with water and dish washing soap and let the bones sit. Agitate lightly. After the soap, run each bone under water. Your skull may still exhibit a dirty or yellowed appearance.

If your skull contains unreachable tissue, just let your bones sit in indirect sunlight. This should dry them and the insects and bacteria will do the dirty work.

Step 8: Whitening

Picture of Whitening

By now, your bones should be dry and yellow. Take your container and fill it with hydrogen peroxide. A small amount of dishwasher soap doesn't hurt. Use just enough to cover the bones. They can stay in the peroxide without running the risk of damaging. You can also use a teaspoon of bleach and then dilute your mixture with water.

Step 9: Some Assembly Required

Picture of Some Assembly Required

The first piece to be completed might be the lower mandible. Behind each tooth, put a dab of crazy glue. Don't use too much. Crazy glue whitens very conspicuously. Secure the teeth in place and glue both halves together.

Step 10: Preparing the Skull

After your skull has sat in peroxide for a bit, it should be white and mostly tissue-free. Remove it from the jar very gently and place it on a paper towel. Let it dry for an evening. Once it has dried, use crazy glue to secure any loose pieces. Be diligent. You don't want your skull falling apart.

Step 11: Putting It Together

Picture of Putting It Together

After reinforcing your pieces, you can place the mandibles and skull on top of each other. If you want to fix your skull in a position, use crazy glue. However, make sure that everything is properly aligned before applying the glue. There's nothing worse than a crooked skull. If you've done everything correctly, you should have a beautiful discussion piece.


theeJuicebox (author)2017-03-09

what if you found your specimen in an already cleaned and dried state (except maybe a little meat around one eye socket) but its thin and brittle? is there a way to strengthen and/or thicken it up a bit?

rodgerbooth (author)2015-04-18

how would you do this on a much bigger scale i wonder

TeresaM7 (author)rodgerbooth2017-01-26


Moodle2 (author)rodgerbooth2016-05-19

is that a bike made of animal bones?

rodgerbooth (author)Moodle22016-09-09

Yes sorry I just noticed the question

TeresaM7 (author)2016-05-19

Another option - put your specimen in some kind of accessible container - think wire pet cage or the like - and stake it out over an ant nest. The bigger the nest, the better. You want to secure your specimen so other, bigger animals don't drag it off for their own dinner. Tie it to a tree if one is available or drive a tent stake or two into the ground. Wait. The ants will clean the bones quite nicely for you. :)

DawnS49 (author)TeresaM72017-01-25

Do you think they'll eat it if it's dried?

TeresaM7 (author)DawnS492017-01-26

I couldn't say for certain, but it wouldn't hurt to try. Ants are pretty easy to please, unfortunately. Little buggers get into everything!

DawnS49 (author)2017-01-25

I'm trying to do a small rattlesnake skull but I'm worried I will break it...


It's all dried out and the skin is stuck to it rather like a mummy

Oldbear (author)2016-05-23

We have cow/bull skulls in our front flower beds. We have antlers hanging in the backyard. Our neighbour has bull skulls in their front yard. Our friends flower beds are filled with antler sheds. None of us are "death" people.

Keep up with the saving of skulls. I'm a huge fan of the European style mounts - even indoors. Next for me is building copies of the skulls from metal.

0zzy (author)2016-05-21

humm good instuctable but there is a lot easier way of doing this

1st step finding your specimen and remove the head as you did

2nd get your self a plastic tray or bucket and line it with a newspaper then put the head in then just find a safe place in the garden to leave it but do find something to put over the top just to stop the rain water filling the tray

3rd just leave the fly`s and maggots do all the work ie remove all the flesh after a week or 2 you should have a flesh free skull

4th remove all the parts of the skull and rinse off with clean water if you still have some flash on the skull don't worry the next step will strip it all off

5th get yourself a pan about two times biger than your skull fill with clean water about 3/4 full then add a table spoon of bicarbonate of soda and then place the skull in the pan then place the pan on a stove and bring it up to boil then turn down to a gentle simmer for about an hour the bi-carb will strip all the remaining flesh and fat out of the skull. ( note don't let it boil dry )

6th after about an hour remove from heat and rinse with water your skull is now nice and clean and free of any fat and flesh if not repeat the 5th step

I do all of my bones and skulls this way as its the best and easiest way to do them
Oh ps you may want to do the 5th step outside as it dose smell a bit

sockmonkeylover (author)2016-05-20

I've always wanted to try this, we have no shortage of dead possum in the area. Great place to start.

btrlatethnnvr5 (author)2016-05-20

Excellent Instructable! Very detailed and easy to understand. I do have one minor correction: you listed forceps in your materials, but those are hemostats pictured. Again, a tiny inconsistency, but those of us in medical fields notice!

DonCenzo (author)2016-05-20

Very informative ible! Just the thing for a grandfather and his young boy scout grandson to do over summer vacation! Well written and to the point!

As an aside to the politician reference in comments...

I came across an old politician's skull once... It was positively identified by the near complete absence of a cranial vault, and the dual facial facial bones. (If you find a specimen, immediately post mortem, the tongue may still be wagging.) Contrary to the belief of their not having a spine, they actually have one, but it's made of Jello, with dissolves rapidly, leaving a hallmark yellow striped stain. Sadly, roadkill is a growing source of politico-skulls here in Michigan, especially near Flint.

Often confused with spineless attorney remains, politician skulls, are differentiated from lego-skulls by forked tongues. Attorney skulls are much harder to find, as with all sharks, they're entirely made of cartilage, and you can only find them under rocks.

Be sure to wear gloves and an organic vapor respirator if you go looking for political or legal specimens. While not toxic, the strong odor of bull dung is enough to induce severe nausea.

Be safe! Good hunting!

Tbgelfling (author)DonCenzo2016-05-20

Bwhahahahaha! That was truly worth the time you put into it! I've always found skulls that were already skulls....people who know me would have a heart attack to think of me trying to sanitarily do this whole process, but I do know some folks who would find this interesting. I love instructables!

EricS100 (author)2016-05-19

No disrespect, but that possum is not fresh, or even semi-fresh. Otherwise, great write up.

kudzu63 (author)2016-05-19

One thing that you can use that will take almost ALL of the work out it is fire ants. If you live in a place that has fire ants, you can put it in the middle of their bed and cover it with something to keep anything from happening, check it from time to time and they'll do the same work that the beetles will do. It just takes them a bit longer, they are a lot smaller after all. Once they're through, about all you have to do is bleach your bones and assemble. The remove 99% of all the tissue.

ISED8UB (author)2016-05-19

A wire cage is perfect for such a project. I found an old suet bird feeder cage was perfect for the fire ant mounds. A bucket over the mound or a tent stake through the cage will provides a great way to secure bones from scavengers. One note about ants. If your specimen is small I suggest you check on this daily as the ants have been known to destroy completely smaller specimens.
I recently completed a catfish skull which was very challenging. I used a cold water submersion technique that proved very effective. I placed the specimen in a five gallon bucket. Placed a stick across the inside to prevent specimen from floating to top. Added A cup of borax. Filled bucket to top. Put on lid. 1 month later. Opened bucket (that was a pretty nasty task. Do away from house. It stinks). Poured through a strainer. Every bone recovered completely white. Let dry in sun for another week.

namora (author)2016-05-19

I have a small collection of skulls that I have gathered over forty five years. Many of these I have found as bleached remains but a few i have cleaned myself or let nature's undertakers clean them for me. I found the best way to clean them requires patience and a large ceramic flowerpot. Using a ceramic pot is not essential but the weight of the pot will keep out the larger scavengers while allowing the small ones to have at the bounty. Using a cage made up of hardware cloth is a good idea and having a screen under the specimen will help to keep the smaller bones available. I have cleaned several bird skulls and this has worked quite well. I have been using Elmer's Glue to reassemble the cleaned and bleached skulls. Super glue would be faster but I had a tendency to glue the bones to my fingers.

stachkarl (author)2016-05-19

Over 60 years ago, while I was rabbit hunting with my father in Illinois, I found a totally intact cow skull. I thought it was neat, so I lugged it around with me for the rest of the hunt and took it home. I hung the skull in my father's barn and forgot about it, but 20 years or so later my parents came to visit me and my family in Ohio, and my father handed me the skull. I hung under an overhang by our garage door in Ohio for several years and then it move to Mexico with us here it hung for four years in our carport. During the years the skull hung outside in these protected areas, birds frequently built nests on its top. 1991 The skull travelled back to Illinois with us, and it currently hangs inside of our garage and is in as good a condition as the day I found it. The point of this story is to say that Mother Nature and a bit of caring stewardship of her work can also preserve an animal skull quite nicely.

snowrose88 (author)2016-05-19

I liked that someone dared to make a DIY for this :) I've seen my fair share of roadkill and also my cousin hunt foxes (before you guys commend, in Norway some foxes must die each year to keep the population down that is just the way it is) I wanted to use all of the fox so it doesn't just die and go to waste when you can use the fur and also the skull makes neat ornaments. So kudos to you for this tutorial :)

YaizaL (author)2015-12-30

I just found a mummified cat that seems to have died trapped by one leg or the tail under a container. The body was in very bad conditions, but the skull is intact. I have already removed the mummified skin (tough as leather) and I disgust me now xD

Now, it is being disinfected and dispose of the remains of meat and dry skin...

MaryanneP1 (author)YaizaL2016-05-19

I cleaned up a mummified cat a few years ago - it was pretty brutal removing the face - I had nightmares for months afterwards. My kitty skull is all clean and safe, though, now.

ArticAkita (author)2016-05-15

don't know if people still still visit this but if you don't have the results with regular hydrogen peroxide get a hair bleaching kit, its the same as taxidermy grade bleach kits! at beauty salons or Walmart.

Triclaw (author)2014-07-05

may want to put it in wire cage I have had bones and bodies disappear or get nawed on

Mugsy Knuckles (author)Triclaw2014-07-07

Anything small I wrap in window screen before I set it out to be stripped. Then I stake it by an ant hill if at all possible.

I recovered an animal in this manner fully in tact. Good method

justintime1998 (author)2014-07-06

I like how you don't want us to kill an animal for this project yet you use an axe to chop off a road kill opossums head

i do believe there is a difference between killing a live animal and decapitating the head off of a dead animal.

agreed 100%

yes, there's a huge difference.

once it's dead it makes no difference how it's dismembered, provided it's done with some respect.

hannaha0027 (author)2016-02-19

I just found an old deer skull (four points) and nature did all of the work for fleshing it. I just have to cleen out the spider webs and make a display for it!

RritaR (author)2015-12-14

I found what I think is a sheep skull and I want to preserve it for display. I can't really see any flesh left on it but want to make sure. A friend suggested boiling it for 6 hours (wtf) but can I just use the same technique by leaving it in the sun?

nyspidergirl (author)2015-10-07

I have most of a squirrel in the works and cant wait to try the fabric dye!

precious souls (author)2015-08-12

I found all this interesting and helpful just need to put it to practice. Why this useful site came to mind iv been having stray kitten in my garden and had name her so every yr or so Philly comes by but a family friend had done voodoo so to speak that after the first time of her being at the house my family lives at outside my window I was led to look out side and saw a skull and pieces to it.. So I feel guilty if so that another HUMAN would do that

satoko68 (author)2015-01-13

Pretty cool, although I'm not sure I could dismember anything :-) But if I can ever get past my squeamishness, I'm wondering what strength of hydrogen peroxide to use.....3%? 30%? 29%? It's available in more than one concentration, which is why I ask. The 30% would also work MUCH faster, but I'm not sure if it would dissolve any of the bone. Thanks so much!

ScarletBlood160 (author)satoko682015-03-02

I typically use 3% and mix half with water and it works well for me. It's usually done within the next couple days. sometimes overnight for smaller pieces.

vladivastok (author)2014-09-12


usiofedha (author)2014-08-24

This might be time consuming, but an "Ant Hill" is very useful...Just leave the skull there and be patient, then bleach...

lbrewer42 (author)2014-07-17

Coat with Elmer's glue to display the skull outside.

pukes (author)2014-07-14

done :)

a.steidl (author)2014-07-11

Personally, I'm quite wary of using bleach for this work. Last time I did that (used an ox skull) and it pretty much dissolved the bone tissue. Not sure if that was the bleach's fault, but it was enough to convince me to use peroxide instead of bleach.

ArticAkita (author)a.steidl2014-07-13

Bleach should NEVER be used on skulls! the bones are made up of microscopic holes & pockets, the bleach get trapped in them and continuing to eat away at the bone. when I have some bone that needs bleaching I fill a small jar with hydrogen peroxide and set it in a window sill & leave it for a few days and it gets white faster that way or a good ziplock bag freezer perferably.

Triclaw (author)2014-07-05

if you walk along a highway you will be supprised how many bones are there go place to collect but illeagle in the us

a.steidl (author)Triclaw2014-07-11

Illegal to pick up roadkill, or to walk the highways? I'm pretty sure nanny laws exist to protect us from ourselves, in the case of walking on a highway. Surely there's no law against picking up roadkill for non-food purposes.

Triclaw (author)a.steidl2014-07-11

walking the highways , you can pick up roadkill even for food as long as it is reported to the highway patrol(mainly deer)

morgan_flint (author)2014-07-08

What about using NaOH (sodium hydroxide- caustic soda) instead of steps 5 to 7?

I remember doing it with a chicken at school as a natural science homework.

The problem is, if NaOH is too concentrated, it'll eat not only the flesh but also the smaller bones!

Yes, that is exactly the problem. NaOH is unbuffered and is easy to hit too high of a pH, which will damage the bones. I've read boiling in a solution of Dawn dish detergent and sodium carbonate (Na2CO3, washing soda, Sal Soda), checking every 15 minutes, is commonly used. Sodium carbonate is basic enough to saponify fats, but not so aggressive that it'll attack bone tissue (in short time spans).

cfuse (author)DeusXMachina2014-07-09

How about washing powder with enzymes designed to break down organics?

What about meat tenderiser (bromelain, papain)?

There must be a whole bunch of chemicals that can do the hard work without risking the bones.

About This Instructable




Bio: I enjoy most forms of art. I am learning how to woodwork. I enjoy gardening and growing anything. I love fishing but don't get ... More »
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