Preserve Your Own Animal Skull

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About: 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 to very often. I am very interested in philosophy and I consider myself a modern...

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

You'll need:

A jar (or other receptacle that is relative to the size of your skull)
Forceps
A good razor blade
Scissors
Gloves (or in my case, plastic bags)
Your specimen (duh!)
Bleach
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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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    76 Discussions

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    crisflitz

    4 months ago

    I have a dead bird in good condition. How do I start? ie what is the best way to remove its feathers?

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    VišnjaS2

    Question 4 months ago on Introduction

    Hello! Thanks for the detailed instructions. About 4-5 years ago I had found a dead stray cat in my garden and buried it in the forest nearby. I just had the crazy idea of digging up the cat and putting the skeleton back together for display in my home :D
    Does anyone know if that would even be possible after all these years the corpse has spent in relatively humid soil? I'm not sure what state I should expect the bones to be in..
    Thanks a lot!

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    ToniI7

    Question 10 months ago on Step 5

    Hey there - thanks for the post. Just wanted to ask, I've found a dead, pretty frozen skunk. I am getting ready to remove its head, but do you recommend I then bury it? Its dead of winter, so I'm not sure leaving it under a tree will dry it out as you have... I've read elsewhere I should possibly bury it for a couple months - but I was hoping to do this a little sooner than a couple months! Don't think it is older than 2 days at most. Than for the process below - step 6, what do you mean by vulnerable areas? You mean around the eyes, etc?

    Thanks!!!!

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    theeJuicebox

    1 year ago

    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?

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    TeresaM7

    2 years ago

    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. :)

    2 replies
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    DawnS49TeresaM7

    Reply 1 year ago

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

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    TeresaM7DawnS49

    Reply 1 year ago

    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!

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    DawnS49

    1 year ago

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

    help?

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

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    Oldbear

    2 years ago

    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.

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    0zzy

    2 years ago

    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

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    sockmonkeylover

    2 years ago

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

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    btrlatethnnvr5

    2 years ago

    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!

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    DonCenzo

    2 years ago

    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!

    1 reply
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    TbgelflingDonCenzo

    Reply 2 years ago

    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!

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    EricS100

    2 years ago

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

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    kudzu63

    2 years ago

    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.