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The retrieving and cleaning of bones from roadkill


From our own Honeythorn:


1. Before you start

What body parts are you looking to retrieve from the animal?

You need to ask yourself this question before you collect it. No good scraping up anything flat, it will be of no use to you. Skull shattered? did you want the skull? If not, what else can you collect from the animal?

How long do you estimate it to have been there?

If you only want bones, this doesn't really matter. But if you want skin/fur/paws/tails/wings/feet/whole heads , then you must not try to preserve anything over a day dead. It will have begun to decay and the smell will linger even after drying. The fresher the better


2 - Scrape it up.


For those of you who are able to drive, I would reccomend that you keep plastic sheeting in your car.


For those like myself, who are not able to drive
, I personally always keep a few plastic grocery bags in every handbag I use on a regular basis , and also my workbag. You simply never know when you'll find something dead, and thus you will always have a bag or two handy.

Disposable gloves may be needed in the case of larger animals.

To pick up a small-ish body - It's exactly like scooping a dogshit. Put your hand in the grocery bag ( turn the bag inside out and make sure it has no holes or rips ) , pick up the body, and turn the bag the right way. This way you can retrieve the body quickly and cleanly, without touching it barehanded.

For larger animals - This will require the plastic sheeting and gloves . The best way would be to roll the animal onto the first third of the sheet, and then roll it up in the plastic before hoisting it into your car.


Things to watch out for


Bodily fluids and excreta - Blood, guts and shit basically. Make sure your plastic bag or sheet has no holes or rips !!! The body may be gassy or bloated depending on how decayed it is. Bloated bodies have been known to explode when moved, you are forewarned !

Smells - This will depend on how long the body has been there, and the level of stench in older bodies will be affected by heat and cold. The hotter it is, the smellier it will be.

Traffic - If the thing is in the middle of a busy road, LEAVE IT THERE. No matter how desirable it may be, no dead animal is worth getting mowed down for, and you may be arrested for obstructing traffic and distracting drivers. If you really must have the thing, return in the small hours of the night, when roads are quieter and usually safer, and retrieve the body as quickly and safely as you are able. Be aware that it's condition may be worse than when you first saw it, as people may have driven over it even more during the elapsed time.

Police officers - To my knowledge it's not illegal to pick up roadkill. It saves the local road cleaners a job if nothing else. But if you are unsure, check with your local authorities beforehand. They will probably think you are insane.


3. Interrment

Burial - I have an area of my garden where I bury my bodies, those with limited or no garden space should find buckets or large plastic storage tubs ( the deep lidded sort you put old crap in and stick in the attic ) to be a cheap and easy option. I dig a hole about 8-10 inches deep. For a bucket, put it close to the bottom about 1/3 of the way from the base.

Soil . The type of soil you have may affect the speed of decay. Very sandy/salty coastal soil or boggy peat rich soil, may slow down the decay of the body. Human bodies have been found on/near beaches and peat bogs, effectively preserved by the type of earth they are buried in ( some are over 2000 years old, such as the Lindow bodies ) If you have such an unsuitable soil, then buy yourself a cheap bag of potting soil or compost to put in your buckets.

Additions and helpers - Got ants nests? Use them ! Bury your body close to the nest, the ants should help with stripping the flesh away. You could also try purchasing some fishing maggots, chuck them onto your body, and cover with a few inches of soil. If you do choose to do that, don't bury the body quite so far down as the maggots will become flies in a few weeks and will need to escape.

I also pour a couple of jugfulls of warm water over the site of burial after a few weeks. Nothing speeds up decay like moisture and heat.


4. How long to wait?

For anything rabbit sized downwards, 4-6 months should be enough to take most of the flesh off. Weather and time of year may cause this time to change in either direction. In summer ( and also warm summer rainstorms ) the heat will speed it up, winter will freeze the body and slow it down.

I usually check on the body after a couple of months to see how it's doing.

Larger animals will take a year or more depending on what/how big they are. It would be a good idea to skin, gut and remove as much flesh as possible from larger animals to help speed the process up. I cannot advise on the best way to do this, as I have never done it. But information should be easily googled, or if you know anyone with experience, ask them to tell you or do it for you if they will.

( Skinning and gutting can of course be done with smaller animals too, I mean to try this at some point of mother allows it )

5. Dig it up

Ok so you've waited your time, now to dig up your body. I use a small Plastic narrow trowell for this, as always, wear glovs. Dig carefully, no jabbing or hacking at the dirt, you could damage your bones.

It helps to try and remember how far down you laid the body, and in what position - take a photo at the time of burial if needs be, so you know what should be where when you shovel it up.

Buckets could be tipped out onto a large plastic sheet if you don't want to dig. You can re-use the dirt and simply put it back in the bucket ready for the next visitor.


Condition - Are there remnants of flesh left on the bones? Some brains left in the skull? No problem, there is a way to remove remaining bits of flesh.


7. Maceration


Ok so now you have your dug up bones, but any further flesh remnants need to be removed. This can be done with maceration. I use the cold water style. This is literally a bucket of water. Chuck your bones in, and leave the bucket for a week , preferably in a warm spot out of direct sunlight. Change the water each week. It should take about 1 month , though more of course of there is a fair bit of flesh remaining when you dig up the bones.


After all flesh is gone and skulls are empty, don your disposable gloves once more, and take the bones out of the bucket. I initially dry mine on kitchen paper.


NOTE - You can macerate a body from the getgo instead of burying it. I have never done this myself at home as mother will not allow me to do so. The water does become quite smelly. You should skin, gut and deflesh as much of the animal as you can before submerging it in water. This is better suited to fresh bodies, not decaying ones .

I did however do a water maceration by accident, when a blackbird fell into a waterbutt down the allotments and drowned ( my brother found it floating ) . I left it in there and placed fine mesh under the submerged body to catch any bones as the flesh rotted away. The process took well over a month ( close to 2 and a half ) as I didn't remove or touch the body, and of course the guts and all the flesh had to decay ( had I removed and gutted it, this would have been quicker )




8 . Further drying


After drying with kitchen paper, the bones will still not be quite dry on the inside where you cannot reach. To dry the insides, I bury the bones in salt, in a carboard box ( I use a shoebox ) Use enough salt to cover the bones by about half a centimeter. I use basic table salt for this. It's cheap and it works.


I leave the bones in the salt for a couple of weeks. After this, they are ready for use





The drying of wings, feet, heads,tails, paws ect.



Remember, the animal MUST be one day dead or less.

Remove wings by cutting where the wing joins the body. I use a craft knife and wire cutters for this. I pluck the feathers around the site of the cuting beforehand to make this easier.

For whole bird tails, breasts or sections of skin with feathers attached ( that you wish to remain attached ) , you need to remove the piece of skin that the feathers are attached to. Inspect the feathers around the area to see where they join, then pluck and cut slightlyabove that area. A sharp craft knife should be fine for this. Remove as much fat and flesh from the underside of the cut skin as you are able. This will help speed up the drying process ( less flesh to dry ).

Heads, Tails and Paws. You may need the wire cutters to get through any bones. Slice through the skin and muscles first with a knife. For heads, carefully cut as close to the skull as you can where the neck joins it.


Drying -

Again, I use salt and a shoebox. You will need more than for bones, you really need to cover the parts. I do know that in the US Cornmeal is also popular as a drying agent for this sort of work, so feel free to try that. I have no idea if it can be found in the UK though I shall have a looksie. I would personally use a mixture of both.

1 month should be enough time for lean parts such as skin sections, tails, legs/paws and small wings to have dried. 2 months is best for large wings and heads.

Check the parts . If they are still flexible, squishy in the slightest ect, put the back and leave for another month.

A very very faint meaty smell is normal in dried parts. But if you pick up any whiff of rot or decay, bin the part at once, it cannot be saved ( and it means the body was older than you thought it was and had started to decay ) .

Use an old toothbrush or small paintbrush to brush off encrusted salt or cornmeal.


Your parts should now be ready for use :)


It's a long process, but worth it and has always worked for me well enough so far. Hopefully I've explained it all clearly and as thoroughl as I can. I don't think I left anything out.....


81 Comments

I would suggest an epoxy or polyurethane satin floor finish. They will seal the bone and create a strong transparent non-reactive finish.
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CelticGypsy
Dec 15 2012 06:24 AM

Vit E is ideal for skin but bone becomes brittle through mineral loss. That is accelerated in Hydrogen Peroxide due to the porous nature of bone (don't ever use in the mouth regardless of what the bottle says btw, it ruins teeth for the same reason). I know that bone used to be preserved using bees wax but that will turn them brown. I have read about sealants that are designed for bone preservation on the www, but they would most likely be chemical compounds made in a lab. Still I believe there pretty easy to get. Maybe someone else has specifics on that. Or even some recipes for making them???



Don't know about oil CelticGypsy, but it may make the bones start to decay and go soft. If I find something on this I'll post it here.

ETA: thought about this more. I am pretty sure it would make the bones soft and rot, because the hydrogen peroxide basically de-fats and dries out the bone and marrow. The dryness of the bone is what helps to preserve it. One might use a oil free varnish to soak the bones in to give it hardness, but I would have to check this out.



Thanks for weighing in on this, from what I did with my Crow, I could only save feathers and the feet, with the feet I placed in salt, and then used the Vitamin E oil on the skin attached, and that really worked well, just offering up what I've done. You've all seen my post on the Owl, I have feathers and her talons they are in salt, and since I had such success with Vitamin E oil, I would use that also. I've buried her in to collect bones later. I'm waiting for a prompting as to what to do with the feet of both birds. I may just bring out my pendulum for this .

Thank you for your insight, I very much appreciate it.

Regards,
Gypsy
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I would suggest an epoxy or polyurethane satin floor finish. They will seal the bone and create a strong transparent non-reactive finish.


I was thinking, since some of your references require the use of chemicals, would you please provide appropriate text or website references, so that those of us who are not familiar with the use of these agents can take the necessary precautions. While this is not a teaching website, we still want to protect our members and, in this case, the general public.
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Autumn Moon
Dec 15 2012 02:58 PM

Thanks for weighing in on this, from what I did with my Crow, I could only save feathers and the feet, with the feet I placed in salt, and then used the Vitamin E oil on the skin attached, and that really worked well, just offering up what I've done. You've all seen my post on the Owl, I have feathers and her talons they are in salt, and since I had such success with Vitamin E oil, I would use that also. I've buried her in to collect bones later. I'm waiting for a prompting as to what to do with the feet of both birds. I may just bring out my pendulum for this .

Thank you for your insight, I very much appreciate it.

Regards,
Gypsy


Regarding feet, once dried in salt, the skin becomes like leather, but if exposed to moisture, they will rot very quickly. So CleticGypsy, your idea of Vit E oil was great because it is like oiling leather to preserve it and make it pliable. The bone inside the leather like encasing skin would stay okay because they are protected by the moisture barrier now leather skin.

I know you didn't direct this at me Jevne, but I thought this might be applicable - http://www.biopaints...s-hard-varnish/
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In regard to the post asking for references that is why I suggested the human resources who are familiar with the proper protocols for lab work. These are chemicals that should be treated with respect and with the requisite level of knowledge.

Some web resources on the different methodologies for skeletal preparation are:
http://www.envarch.n...davis-payne.pdf
http://dasnetgroup.c.../July/13-17.pdf
http://www.scielo.cl...v30n2/art11.pdf
http://www.doeni.gov...factsheet10.pdf
http://www.hidetanni...llCleaning.html
http://www.alnmag.co...rolysis-process

Better resources are the following academic papers but they are fairly technical and will have to be accessed through a large library or academic institution:

Adams, J. M. 1980. Osteological preparation techniques II. Guild of Taxidermists no. 5.

Adams, J. M. 1986. Articulating a badger skeleton. Guild of Taxidermists no. 15:12-23.

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Anonymous. 1931. How to make skeletons. Turtox Service Leaflet no. 9. 2 pp.

Anonymous. 1962. A method for skeleton preparation. Carolina Biological Supply Co., Burlington, North Carolina. 19 pp.

Anonymous. 1983. The preparation of osteological specimens. Guild of Taxidermists no. 11.

Applegarth, J. S. 1977. How to prepare an articulated snake skeleton. Colorado Herpetologist, 3(1):6-10.

Banta, B. H. 1961. The use of clothes moth larvae (Lepidoptera: Tineidae) to prepare osteological specimens, with an annotated bibliography on the use of other arthropods for vertebrate skeletal preparation. Wasmann Journal of Biology (London), 19:265-268.

Barlett, L. M. 1961. Dermestids killed when feeding on skeletons of birds killed by organic insecticides. Wilson Bulletin, 73(2):207.

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Bolin, R. L. 1935. A method of preparing skeletons of small vertebrates. Science, 82(2132):446.

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Borrell, A. E. 1938. Cleaning small collections of skulls and skeletons with dermestid beetles. Journal of Mammalogy, 19:102-103.

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Coleman, E. J., and J. R. Zbijewska. 1968. Defleshing of skulls by beetles. Turtox News, 46(7):204-205.

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Why thank you, RedDragon, but you really did not have to go to all that trouble.

http://www.taxidermy...=128177.40;wap2
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:clap:
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I make many types of native crafts from birds and the traditional way of doing this is very simple and usually gives great results.

Take some wire and extend the the wing fully and wire into the position you want. Feet are the same so if you want a claw to hold a stone you wire it around the stone. Wings and feet usually don't have much fleshy parts so that's all that's required then place it in a shoe box half filled with cornmeal place the parts in the box then fully cover with several inches of cornmeal making sure the parts are fully surrounded by cornmeal. Then place it in a cool dry place for a month checking from time to time for smell of decay there should be none. At the end of the month your parts should be fully dried and stiff in the position you put them in remove all wiring and there you have it. Use a stiff paint brush to remove excess paintbrush over a garbage.

Forgive me if someone else has suggested this but for preserving bones a simple way is to mix 1/2 Elmer's or white glue and half water mix thoroughly then apply with a paint brush its simple and cheap and doesn't require lots of chemicals.
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I make many types of native crafts from birds and the traditional way of doing this is very simple and usually gives great results.

Take some wire and extend the the wing fully and wire into the position you want. Feet are the same so if you want a claw to hold a stone you wire it around the stone. Wings and feet usually don't have much fleshy parts so that's all that's required then place it in a shoe box half filled with cornmeal place the parts in the box then fully cover with several inches of cornmeal making sure the parts are fully surrounded by cornmeal. Then place it in a cool dry place for a month checking from time to time for smell of decay there should be none. At the end of the month your parts should be fully dried and stiff in the position you put them in remove all wiring and there you have it. Use a stiff paint brush to remove excess paintbrush over a garbage.

Forgive me if someone else has suggested this but for preserving bones a simple way is to mix 1/2 Elmer's or white glue and half water mix thoroughly then apply with a paint brush its simple and cheap and doesn't require lots of chemicals.


Now that sounds easy enough to try. Thanks! +1
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Excellent article. That's all I can say. I do need to start carrying around a bag, gloves and meat scissors in my back box (as I drive a scooter) I think the scissors are needed to chop off what I need roadside as I can just picture trying to stuff a badger corpse in the back box and having to let it flop half out as I drive home just for it then to fall out. XD

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Skull Bones are interesting - especially the human kind! Most of these are inherited - you just don't go and raid someone's grave! In our tradition if you are lucky enough to 'own' one, they are trated like you had a Goddess/God or Spirit from the other-world before you. Some people use them for divination, some people use them to cast a curse on soeone else - thereby escaping from the affects of the curse. Some are used in healing, and some are used as a drinking vessel (Buddhist Monks use them this way - in fact, most of the bones of a Buddhist Monk who has died and was revered in life, can sometimesxbecome 'useful' in death. For instance they can make a kind of flute or trumpet from the Thigh bone of a monk (so the legend about the end of the world is signalled by someone blowing a tune on the thigh-bone of Buddha is based on fact)!

 

I use claws, Teeth, and some odd-shaped seed-vessels on plants for various things - such as a kind of reed that grows in China forms a seed pod shaped like a Horned God's Head, about two to three inches from horn-tip to Horn-tip, and two inches deep. It is useful for affect in ritual and it lends itself to whatecver I'm doing psychically.foxman

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Skull Bones are interesting - especially the human kind! Most of these are inherited - you just don't go and raid someone's grave! 

 

 

Why get messy digging up a grave when you can just buy one from The Bone Room (as many members here have) lol... 

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WHAT!!!.................throwing the shovel away.Well im keeping the vertebra
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Autumn Moon
Jan 24 2014 03:40 AM

Why get messy digging up a grave when you can just buy one from The Bone Room (as many members here have) lol... 

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The bone room is neat, but I think the law prohibits Canadians from purchasing any human bones. But, even if we could, I don't think I would want some person's head sitting in my house - a person of whom I know nothing, and may not want to know. Quite a few years ago, I was in a private museum. There was a human skull there among all the antique clutter. The skull looked like it had been hit with a pointed weapon of some sort in the left frontal area. There was no information about it. I picked it up and was immediately sorry I had done so. I got such a sick feeling from it, and I was physically sick for a few days after.

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I actually looked into this, we Canadians can buy human bones if you are in med school, a doctor or a nurse. If you know anyone in these professions, you could always ask them to get it for you. Mind you in some cases the company selling the bones will ask for proof of what the bones are required for. Also you will pay a pretty penny for them. Maybe grave robbing is the way to go if you want it bad enough after all.

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Great info! This will be really useful come the end of August. I have a baby fox I'll be digging up and it's the first time I've ever tried anything like this. Found the poor thing laying dead outside in the backyard of my parent's house, so it was a good opportunity to give something like this a try. It's been buried for over 3 months now but with how cold it's been, I'm thinking I'll have to wait till the end of summer for it to have fully decomposed. I would like to at least be able to get it done during the summer break though... Can't wait! I've always been really drawn to foxes so I'm overly excited about having a fox skull lol.
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Thank you, Aloe! I was thinking the same thing.  :thumbsup:

 

Certain states here (in the US) prohibit the buying and/or shipping of human bones across their borders (but not possession of?)...I want to say Tennessee may be one of them. Maybe RavenFlyer will remember, (or another member with a better memory than mine). Either way, there's a thread where this was mentioned. I suck at adding links but I want to say it was titled "human mala beads", in case anyone was considering searching for that thread and/or for making purchases from The Bone Room. Very cool website, BTW. 

 

 

I like Athena's method too. Cornmeal? I didn't realize it was such an effective desiccant! I have different types of salt around but I like the idea of the cornmeal. Does this work for larger creatures as well? Bird wings and feet don't have a lot of flesh to them, not the little ones my kitty brings me, anyway. The bury and wait method isn't always feasible, either, due to my dogs. Anyway, she brings us baby snakes in the summer. Could I dry them in cornmeal, maybe in the attic (hottest and driest spot in the house) rather than bury?  

 

Edit to say that for my purposes, I need the snake intact but shriveled up. If I'm lucky enough for another, it would be dissected and the bones harvested for something entirely different.   

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Thank you, Aloe! I was thinking the same thing.  :thumbsup:
 
Certain states here (in the US) prohibit the buying and/or shipping of human bones across their borders (but not possession of?)...I want to say Tennessee may be one of them. Maybe RavenFlyer will remember, (or another member with a better memory than mine). Either way, there's a thread where this was mentioned. I suck at adding links but I want to say it was titled "human mala beads", in case anyone was considering searching for that thread and/or for making purchases from The Bone Room. Very cool website, BTW. 
 
 


Yes Tennessee is a state that you can possess human remains and bones but can not have them shipped in. Here is a link to a FAQ of a shop that sells human bones explaining some of the laws

http://realhumanskul...kulls.html#2681
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Thanks RF

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This seems a good a thread as any to ask -

 

Are dried, cleaned bones easily damaged by heat? I want to put a lit tea light on a skull and let the tea light burn down. I don't feel as if that would harm the skull, but I thought it couldn't hurt to ask.

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Autumn Moon
Mar 07 2014 02:54 AM

Yes they are. It dries them out and makes them brittle. After a while they start to fall apart. 

 

You could a non-oil based sealing coat on them, which would help it not to dry out (oil would make the bone soft, fungus would start, and good bye bone).

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Yes they are. It dries them out and makes them brittle. After a while they start to fall apart. 

 

You could a non-oil based sealing coat on them, which would help it not to dry out (oil would make the bone soft, fungus would start, and good bye bone).

Thank you!

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Autumn Moon
Mar 07 2014 03:02 AM

You're welcome.

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For dermestid beetles, check your local university. Feed them meal worms until they're older then chuck the skull in (clean bigger stuff off), check daily.

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Autumn Moon
Mar 07 2014 02:08 PM

I like to bury it where it won't be scavenged by animals, and forget about it. Bacteria and many other critters will do the job. Then it's hydrogen peroxide time. That way, not much smelly, and is a good way to handle larger skulls. One could speed it up by first taking as much of the flesh off as you can, but I don't like doing that sort of thing.

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