Collecting Animal Skulls

Hi Folks,

This short note is not just for kids but also adults and though the children will be absolutely fascinated by what I’m going to suggest to you they will need adult supervision. As many of you know that all of my life I’ve been an avid skull collector. Most of the skulls in my collection I’ve found in my travels. Grandfather called a skull, “the ultimate track” meaning that this is the last remaining part of an animals existence on Earth. To me the skull tells a limitless story. Even with the first few skulls and turtle shells I first collected with Grandfather I still go back and study them to this day. And each time I study them more of their secrets are revealed to me. My favorite way to collect a skull is to find it in the forest, the fields, the deserts or jungles because the area where it was found is as important as the skull itself.

Yet, even though much of my collection is from skulls I found in the bush there is still a sizable number of skulls that I had to clean the flesh from. Rick and I had found a road killed opossum and brought it back to camp to clean the skin, ligaments and tissue from the skull. It took us what seemed like forever. We soaked and washed the skull, picked off layer after layer of tissue but still as a finished product it still contained discoloration and hardened tissue particles that we could not get off. Grandfather laughed at our efforts and took us to a place a good distance from camp. There hidden in the bush and protected by a thatch covering he revealed to us a small pit lined with rocks from bottom to top. As we peered into the pit we saw a glob of moving beetles. After observing them for a few moments we realized that the beetles were feeding on a skull. We were amazed. Grandfather laughed and said, “I let the carrion beetles do all the hard work and cleaning.” With that he pulled out of his buckskin pouch a perfect small and delicate lizard skull. He said that he had found the small fence lizard only several days ago and put it in the pit. He told us that it only took them 4 days to clean the skull completely.

Needless to say within a few weeks the carrion beetle pit had expanded to 4 times its size. Rick and I were constantly adding skulls of road kills we had found to the pit and with that our skull collection grew in leaps and bounds. I had found an old aquarium that someone had thrown out and made another carrion beetle colony and placed it in the basement of my house. I didn’t have to do much to maintain it at all. If road kills were running scarce I would toss in scraps of meat that were left over from dinner. Yet Rick and I pushed the colony even further by adding small to medium size road kills. We would then pull out all the bones and rebuild the entire skeleton. It was beyond amazing for what we learned could never be found in books or taught. The whole process had to be experienced.

Now here’s my suggestion. Go to the internet and search “flesh eating beetles” and you will find a number of places that will ship you the live beetles and teach you how to set up the colony. I’ve always used discarded aquariums because they seem to work best and I can get a full view of the beetles at work. However at times I’ve also used galvanized garbage cans or plastic totes. Anything will work as long as it supports the colony. You will be amazed at how fast your skull collection will grow but you will be more amazed at how fast your kids will take to this new hobby. In Medicine & Blessings, Tom