Skeletons In My Closet
The Fisher Diaries – Part 2
Flesh and Bone With a Side of Fur
Collecting a suitable specimen for this project was the easy part. Figuring out the best method to separate the desired skeleton from the very much undesired carcass and a substantial amount of fur was the next challenge. I consulted with Walter Varcoe about a decomposition box method he had recommended using with smaller specimens. The Bone Builder’s Notebook by Lee Post provided a wealth of information on various bone cleaning methods. Each method has clear advantages and disadvantages which should be considered. I read through them all, paying attention especially to the advantages and disadvantages of each method. I’ll confess, for more than a few minutes I pondered setting up a dermestid beetle colony (I was one of those kids who was fascinated by bugs and lizards). The thought of having to keep them in my house, with the potential for escapees, made me abandon the idea fairly quickly.
I ultimately decided on the decomposition box method. The decomposition box method works great for small animals, which have many small bones that can be really difficult to sort out if they get all mixed up together. It can take a while for the carcass to skeletonize, but I wasn’t in a particularly big rush, and it takes very little effort to set up.
To Skin or Not to Skin? That is the Question
After deciding to use the decomposition box method, the next decision to make was whether or not to skin the carcass. The fisher was quite musky and having been deceased for a few days the decomposition process had already gotten started which pretty much made the decision for me. Little did I know that leaving the fur on actually made the future bone collection process much easier.
The biggest benefit one could get from skinning the carcass would be to be able to dissect and visualize certain anatomical features which are going to disappear, such as the cartilage that helps form the ribcage. This would also be a great opportunity to study the musculature and internal organs if those observations would be beneficial in the future.
Setting the Stage – Decomposition Box Style
There are some particular specifications to keep in mind when setting up a decomposition box. I have done a few of these now and have learned from some of my errors from my initial attempt. The photos included with this post are of one of my boxes that was set up after learning from the mistakes I made with the first box.
- Have a large enough box to lay the animal so that the limbs are not overlapping.
- Make sure the box has a secure lid, to keep out uninvited guests who may want to dine on the contents of the box.
- Drill holes in the bottom of the box for drainage, and have ventilation holes in the side walls but NOT the cover, which will allow insects access to the box, without insect access, there won’t be maggots, this is one instance you want lots of maggots.
- Place some sort of litter in the bottom of the box to absorb excess liquids and keep the specimen out of the drainage.
- On top of the litter place a piece of plastic egg crate and a nondegradable material (I use a section of an old grain bag) that will catch any small bones so they don’t end up getting lost in the litter below, yet allow liquids to pass through.
- Have a secure location to leave the box where it won’t be investigated by larger animals, and the smell won’t bother anyone.
- Pack your patience, depending on the time of the year, ambient temperatures and insect activity, it can take anywhere from a few months to over a year to get a clean skeleton.
- If you check the decomposition box to see how it’s progressing, don’t inhale!
Coming up next…
The next post in this series will discuss collecting and cleaning the bones of the fisher skeleton to prepare them to be rearticulated into a skeletal display.
*I want to include a note about collecting specimens – make sure what you are collecting is legal to collect, there are a LOT of regulations about this, which I don’t want to get into here. Please check with your state Department of Fish & Wildlife for any regulations regarding the collection and possession of the species you wish to collect. Better to be legal than fined!