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Cleaning the badger's skeleton


Last week I wrote about the road kill badger (I've named it Emily) that I had to collect right after the storm. I prefer to leave bodies for a long time until there is no soft tissue left, but I had to collect this one before it had fully decomposed because the spot I'd picked for it had been disturbed.

I cleaned the bones over four days. I've written about cleaning bones before (and wrote a big guide to it here) but I used slightly different methods for this one. This is how I did it !

When I collected the bones, I'd put them into three main groups. The spine, ribs and upper legs boneI put in one bag, and they had no soft tissue on them. The lower legs and paws had lots of soft tissue and still were connected at the ankles or wrists, so I put each paw in a different rubber glove to keep them together. The skull was broken into lots of different and small pieces, so that was in the third batch.

The bones were mostly dark brown and a bit oily, so the best method I thought of was to simmer them in biological washing powder in a slow cooker (my S6 cooker broke, twice). This is how I did it:

Cleaning the first batch of bones

The smell of biological washing powder is really bad so I had to do it when my mum was at work over night. This is the first batch (spine, ribs, upper legs) before being washed:

I simmered them for a couple of hours in the biological washing powder, then changed the water and added new powder just before I went to bed. A HUGE amount of dirt comes off with each wash, and you have to filter it when you tip it out so not to lose small bones. Before it dries it still looks quite dirty, but it goes to white after about 12 hours of drying at room temperature. With biological washing powder you have to rinse really really well in water afterwards:

Leaving them to dry is just as important as the cleaning. I spread them out on a tray on kitchen roll, then change the kitchen roll after the first few hours. Don't put them near direct heat, just at room temperature. When they seem dry, leave them some more: I let the air get at them for about three days in total. Thin bones like the ribs and scapulas dry first, the ends of the legs bones are last to dry.

Cleaning the skull

The skull was a different kind of problem because it was in 29 different pieces. This was the second batch I did. I used the same method of simmering overnight, and changing the water after the first few hours.

This is AFTER the skull had been cleaned overnight, and it still looks quite dirty:

But this is it after it starts to dry just a few hours later:

Cleaning the paws

The problem with cleaning the paws is how to keep the bones together but cook the flesh off. One option would be to do them on different nights, but we only had one night left when mum was away, so I used plastic gloves and put a foot in each one. I added in one of four different coins (1p, 5p, 10p, 20p) into the glove to show which paw it was.

These were all the paws simmering together for a few hours. Each glove had water and biological washing powder inside, and was tied so the bones couldn't come out.

The first couple of hours loosened up the flesh enough to pull the main leg bones off, and separate out the phlanges and claws:

Simmering the claws for much longer might create problems because they are just made of of soft keratine (the same as fingernails) so I stored those separately, each finger of the glove being a different paw:

Then each set of bones and each coin went back in a new glove with new water, new biological washing powder:

The lower leg bones went back in the main bit of the slow cooker, and the whole lot were left overnight to cook:

These were the paw, lower leg and skull bones after the first cleaning :

This was a few hours later after they dried:

The final skeleton

This is how all the bones look laid out:

The skull was really badly smashed. Badger skulls are thick and strong, so something hit this hard. When I found the body the skull looked intact, though:

You can see how hard it was hit by this thin bit of bone inside the nose cavity was bent to one side:

One of the shoulder blades were fractured. It was the only broken bone apart from the skull.

I found four claw bones after I had cleaned the rest. This shows the difference that an overnight simmer in warm water and biological washing powder does !

The claws on the front paws are MASSIVE. Badgers are badass.

The whole skeleton is now boxed up, and my project for Christmas is I'm going to see if I can reconstruct the skull and articulate the whole skeleton in the same way that I did Vulpy last year !

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Ric said...

This is yet another very impressive post, Jake with top tips on paw bone cleaning and sorting. Hope you and your family have a really great Christmas and good luck with the articulation!

Jo said...

Magnificent work, Jake. Well done for getting such a complete skeleton. Have a very happy Christmas!

Jake said...

You must be a very cynical person. This was the exact truth, just as I wrote it on 1st April.

Jake said...

Thank you ! Have a nice Christmas too !

Jake said...

Thanks !

HaggisHater said...

Neeps and Tatties are Turnips and Potatoes, so unless its "Canines and Bone Growths" are made of these food items, I believe you are mistaken in the labeling of your fictional "Haggis" skull.

Jake said...

Firstly, I don't know why you think it's fictional. As I said, I found it on the Maydupp estate, and haggis are considered one of the greatest Maydupp animals. Also, other animals also have vestigal neeps or tatties on their skulls, the gruffalo for example which I wrote about a year after I posted my haggis: http://www.jakes-bones.com/2013/04/my-common-european-gruffalo-skull.html

HaggisHater said...

What a joke.

Jake said...

Not at all. We Scots take our haggis and gruffalos VERY seriously.

Psydrache said...

This was an awesome post! I'm very impressed how you know the right order of the rips. Could you write a tutorial about that one time?
It seems a car hit the skull very hard - ouch. Whit a good glue it should be not that hard to put the skull thogether.
Have a nice christmas time!

Jake said...

Thanks ! I'm planning to write a post about rearticulating it and I'll try to put something in about the ribs then.

Christine Sutcliffe said...

Oh wow, that's turned out beautifully! I hope you can get her articulated eventually, although I don't envy you all those foutery paw bones!
I found two deer skulls beside my grandpa's house over the last few weeks so I'll be looking through your archives and at the cleaning guides when I get a chance. :D

Sarah R said...

This is awesome! Congrats on such a complete skeleton and on having an iron enough stomach to dig through badger soup for those little bones. Man, those are some big claws...
I have some friends to help me clean things that still have bits of tendons on them, like on those paws... Dermestid beetles. Awesome little bugs. They happily eat all the dried stuff and leave it nice and clean for me, and they're tiny so they can do detail work. I have them cleaning off a tiny lizard, and they've left it perfectly intact!
When I had some possum bones but no hurry to clean them, I spread them out and left then in the sun. Worked great! It's not something you can do with small things, though.

Jake said...

I've used dermestid beetles before ! http://www.jakes-bones.com/2011/02/how-dermestid-beetles-help-rot-down.html

Mori said...

This is amazing! I can't believe how the photo of the dead badger on your other post shows it looking practically undamaged except for a little blood, but in fact its incredibly tough badger skull was broken so badly. I've found road kill animals that looked perfectly intact before, but it just goes to show that you don't know what could have happened internally.

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