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Biology Zoology

Cleaning bones: mallard skull


It seemed like a good idea at the time. I was at a beach, and among some rocks found a fairly decomposed duck. Basically, a big pile of feathers, mainly no flesh, but sinews and – cough – bits of unidentified biohazard. The skull was delightfully intact, with sinews holding it all nicely in place and (thankfully) brainless. What to do? Clearly, action is needed! I dashed home and picked up some plastic bags and a jar. I filled the jar with water and gently teased the skull in there. Now what??

Mallards – alive

Mallards – alive (CC-Wikimedia)

I know very little about cleaning bones, except that you can use insects. I do not have any flesh-eating maggots around, and my mind drew a blank trying to remember where I last saw an anthill. Boiling, of course, is also a method; but I have enough brains to know that that is not something I want in my kitchen. No matter! I thought. Water will surely do the job (this is called maceration).


mallard skull, soaking in a little hydrogen peroxide

I left it in the storage cupboard… for months. Figured; changing the water now and then would be a good idea, so.. the smell! A hundred putrid devils! F*x!# it stinks to high heavens; it defies description. Considering that the biological material left on it was tiny, the stink was insane. The first time I changed the water outside my door. Let’s just say that is NOT a good idea. So a few months later, I had the brains to bring it to a lake in the forest. I could clean it and change the water without expecting police on the door from neighbours complaining about a dead body. Bits of unidentified lumps of goo floated around. This process I repeated two or three times, and each time the smell subsided slightly, but bloody hell; it truly is a smell that penetrates everything.

Finally, I thought that now or never. I think two years had passed, and I figured that either this time it is ok, or the whole thing will be left in the woods. Magically, it was fine! Imagine my surprise! I rinsed it as well as possible; filled some clean water and took it home. I dashed off to the chemist, got some hydrogen peroxide, and bleached it in a very high dilution. Now it proudly sits on my shelf, with the sheep vertebrate, marten skull and a handful of fish bones.

I am well pleased with the result. But in relation to the effort? Not really. I now have a mental map where to find the closest ant hills. For next time. A squirrel would be nice.

Mallard skull

Mallard skull

Someone with weirder hobbies than mine


“Incuriosity is the oddest and most foolish failing there is”. All-round nerd with a tendency to poke things with a stick to see what happens. Doodler, artist, bookbinder, photographer, illustrator, graphic designer, web developer.

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