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The sheep skeleton that won't rot


In June, I wrote about searching a deserted farm where I found a sheep's body that had got stuck in a fence. Because it wasn't rotted down I left it for a bit. But every time we've checked it's still the same !

Normally when a body rots the bones fall apart. This sheep's body is still all stuck together by the bits of flesh that held the bones together.

The picture on the left is what it looked like in June, and the picture on the right is what it looks like now.

Because it wasn't rotting by itself, I decided to move it to the grass where there might be more bugs to eat the flesh. I put on rubber gloves, then I realised I had to cut the head off to move it.

First of all I cut the jaws off. All the incisors were still there and there was flesh at the front of the jaws holding them together.

Then I used a penknife to cut between the skull and the atlas, which is the first bone on the spine. It's tricky because the atlas wraps round the bottom of the skull. Inside the spine there was still flesh from the spinal column.

This is what the head looked like when I cut it off. There was still skin on the top of the skull and the skull looked all dirty.

After the head was cut off, I could pick up the whole body all in one go, including the pelvis and the back legs. This is the weirdest skeleton I have ever seen !

I moved the skull and the body and the front legs round onto the grass where hopefully it will rot a bit better and there are more bugs.

The saddest thing was this sheep had at least one baby in her tummy. It's really quite sad. In the picture from June you can see one lamb body behind the sheep. When I searched where the sheep had been we found some lamb bones, like a rib, this shoulder blade and a leg bone, but I didn't find a skull.

I hope the bugs will get to work so I can have a really great skeleton.

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SiBarber said...

I'm surprised the corpse wasn't predated upon by foxes or carrion birds etc which would have pulled the bones apart. I wonder if something put them off?

Jake said...

Hi Si,

I think it's because no foxes knew where it was because it was hidden beside a wall inside an old farm courtyard. There are lots of buzzards and red kites near that farm, but they might not have spotted it as well.

I've found sheep skeletons before on moors, and they get pulled apart very quickly by foxes and its very difficult to collect all the bones.

This skeleton was on concrete as well, so bugs wouldn't have come close to it.

Unknown said...

Hi Jake,
I love your blog, but I 'm not sure about the too scary for girls part, as I'm a girl ;) I live in Texas where coyotes are a problem, and we lost several sheep this years. A few weeks ago my nephews and I collected the bones of several skeletons, and we'd like to put them together. Do you have any suggestions for reconstruction?

Thanks, and keep up the good work!

Jake said...

Hi Lori,

Putting a whole skeleton together is really really tricky. Some bits are easy like the spine (I have a deer spine on the wall in my bedroom) and the pelvis and femurs, but other bits like the ribs are difficult. That's because the ribs are only attached to the spine with tissue, and the bit down the center of the chest rots away. The shoulder blades are the same. That's why this sheep skeleton was so weird !

Then when you have finished, you have to have a way to make the skeleton stand up and that's hard too, and it takes up a lot of room.

The legs should be easy though. You'd need to do wire at the knee and drill holes in the bone, but you could glue the toes together.

Does that help ?


Anonymous said...

ilove your web site! i live in
st.thomas. i love skulls and skeletons. and being a girl my other family members think its gross. i only have 3 raccoon skulls and one rabbit skull. also a raccon skeleton. i need to meet you in person some day. i just found out about your site today. i also have one question.i dont know how to put the rabbit and raccoon skeleton together.i realy need a profectionals help. and i reay want to get them together.if i find a raccoon skull or skeleton do you want it? i am hoping you type me back. .thanx. from:emmy.

Jake said...

Hi Emmy,

It's brilliant to hear from other bone collectors all around the world, and it sounds like you have a cool collection.

There are some bits that are easy to put together and some that are difficult. You can put a wire down the spine and put the head on the end and that is easy. Some legs are easy too. A collector in Scotland sent me a rabbit leg he'd glued together and it must have taken ages.

The difficult bits would be the ribs, because the bit the sternum often gets lost because it's not really bone. The pelvis can be tricky too.

I don't have a raccoon skull, so it would amazing to have one if you had one spare. I could even swap you one for an animal from Scotland !

Anonymous said...

i would love that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
it would pe awsome!! my mum was happy to hear this.i could try to take one off the busy roads, i see at least ten raccoons on the road.
i can scoop one up and i willlet it decay.but i am suprised you can find this many skeletons. but a abandond farm sounds like the proper place to go skeleton searching.it may take a while for the raccoon to decay since i should wrap it up so no critters would tear it apart. all i need is to find a net.if you want the skeleton too i will give that to you to.
i think this is now my fav site. i love this place!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
By: emmy

Jake said...

Hi Emmy,

If you are rotting down a body, you can wrap it in marquise netting or muslin if the body is small to keep the bones together. For big animals like foxes I use wire mesh.

It depends what time of year it is but here in Scotland it takes about three months for a body to rot down to bones. In winter I think it takes longer because all the maggots get killed by the cold.

I am really glad you like my blog !

Anonymous said...

in spring my dad will take me raccoon searching in spring when they are out and about. i am glad you told me what kind of netting to use. i am so happy to swap!!!!!!! i think i want a deer or sheep.i cant belive we are going to mail skulls to each other its funny to me. you rock! i am spreading the word of your site.
some people already know about you.and do you look at these comments every day? or do people help u.


Jake said...

Hi Emmy,

I try to answer all comments and emails the same day but sometimes I have other things on and it takes a few days.

Let me know if you find anything cool !

Anonymous said...

i will try to look for some today.
but we have a lot of snow.
so i dont think i will find much.
and i will tell you if i find enything.
see ya!!

D said...

I'll guess she was lambing and the lamb wouldn't come. Maybe that's why there's no lamb skull, if it was out a bit and something took the head while it was fresh. A stuck lamb can kill the mother and lamb both, and she maybe went in that funny bit of fence corner while she was having trouble.

Do you think she got stuck and died from that?

Jake said...

@D: I think it probably got stuck and died that way. The skull would be in small bits and so I missed them like on this unborn red deer baby.

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