Skulls are beautiful, coming in many shapes and sizes. It can be fun to collect both rare and common skulls, but how does one start a collection?
Collecting skulls can be a rewarding hobby.
In addition to skulls, you can collect other animal bones.
It can be easier to find dead animals if you live in a more rural area, but you can still collect skulls if you live in a densly populated area. Below is a list of where to find skulls and skeletons. Be sure to always wear rubber gloves (those disposable ones work well) when handling a dead animal.
Now that you have found some bones, you will need to make sure that they are cleaned and dissinfected before you bring them in your house. This needs to be done carefully to avoid damaging the bones. Here is a list of bone cleaning methods:
This is a good way to clean off flesh from skulls and skeletons, especially larger ones. If you choose this method for an entire skeleton, especilly if you want to articulate it later, wrap the animal in wire mesh or a similar material to keep everything together. Bury the animal deep, and mark where you left it with a brick or similar. Small animals (rat sized and smaller) only need around a month before they are mostly bones, and larger animals can take anywhere from a month or two or more before they can be dug back up.
I have never tried this method, where you soak the animal in cold water, allowing bacteria to eat at the flesh, but I have heard that it has an extremely unpleasent smell. It might work better with really small animals. Edit: I tried this with a rabbit skull and it seemed to work ok. It takes a long time to clean skulls this way, but it also helps degrease them. Larger animals, and animals with more flesh on them will take longer.
Not recommended if you have next-door neighbors. Leave the bones on the ground outside far away from where anyone can smell them. A variety of smaller creatures and scavenger animals will clean the flesh for you. Keep in mind that animals may also damage your bones or take pieces away with them.
Once you have removed the flesh from the bones, you will still often find that it has smaller pieces of flesh still attached to it. Depending on which method you chose, and for how long, the skull/bones may still have an unpleasent smell. This is easy to fix: rinsing the bones with clean water and scrubbing them with an old toothbrush will get rid of a lot of remaining tissue.
For fattier animals, degreasing is usually a necessary step in cleaning their bones. you will know your bones need some form of degreasing if they show these signs:
Most bones I have had to work with did not need to be degreased, so I don't have much experience in degreasing. Edit: I have had to work with a few greasy bones, and have learned a few things. There are a few methods I will cover.
From looking at other websites, the clear Dawn dish soap (not the blue kind, it can stain bones) is a good one to use. Fill a container with hot water and dish soap (enough to make the water sudsy) and place the bones in the water. It is recommended that you keep the container of water warm with a tank heater. I have also used a small amount of regular blue Dawn, and it hasn't stained anything when I rinse the bones off right after.
Not reccomended, there are easier methods. Edit: I haven't had much experience with using ammonia, but after talking to a fellow naturalsit and bone enthusiast, I have learned that ammonia is nasty, but is one of the best ways to degrease skulls. Museums will usually use ammonia.
Find an old pot or saucepan that you don't mind putting gross bones in. Boil water and put the boiling water and greasy bones in the pot. This doesn't have to be on the stovetop or over heat, you can do this outside, especially since boiling greasy bones doesn't smell great. As it simmers, you will probably see blobs of oil rising to the surface. This oil is what was making the bones transluscent and unpleasent. Never boil bones, only simmer them, and with simmering, some people have noticed damage even with simmering, especially when going over 90 degrees F. Genarally, ammonia is a safer bet.
The last step of cleaning yor bones is to disinfect and "bleach" them. Never use actual bleach on bones. Bleach will make bones chalky and brittle. Instead, I recommend hydrogen peroxide. You can find this at most supermarkets and drugstores. Hydrogen peroxide is a disinfectant, and will also lighten the color of bones a bit. Stores usually sell hydrogen peroxide at about 3% hydrogen peroxide. It is diluted since a higher percentage of hydrogen peroxide is often used in the making of bombs. However, for cleaning bones, 3% hydrogen peroxide works very well. Simply find a container large enough to hold bones, and place your skull/bones in the container. Then, fill the container with hydrogen peroxide until the bones are entirely covered. You will know whether the bones are really gross because hydrogen peroxide fizzes when it makes contact with dirty bones. Depending on the size of your bones, you will want to leave them in the hydrogen peroxide for a day or longer.
Once your bones are clean, you can really display them however you want. I think that skulls look really good in shadow boxes, especially in boxes with a black back-ground. If you want to store them, plasic storage bins work well, and entire small rodent of bird skeletons can be kept in a mint tin. Skulls look really nice all together displayed on a shelf.
Most of the time, it's okay to keep a found skull. However, there are some things to keep in mind: