Saturday, December 15, 2007

Dem Bones

The wing bones connected to the body bone...the body bone's connect to the other wing bone.

Well I have been letting the creepy crawlies do a little number on the bat that got hung up on Judy's power lines. I'm sure he looked something like this in his/her (haven't done a gender check) heyday. I've set it outside and currently letting the garden critters get some nourishment.


Now this guy has a tag. After awhile when the "yuck" factor is a little less and the worms, beetles and whatever else have done their job and moved on. I'll examine the tag a bit closer. Right now the zoom lens is coming in handy. I suppose I should see if there are any strange laws regarding the use of bat bones, handling bat bones etc. before I mess with it. You never know.

Thanks to everyone who emailed me with suggestions on bone cleaning. Jen Worden posted a nice link to a place in Berkeley called the Bone Room. Judy and I visited here a year ago when we were in the Bay Area. Fun place if you're into bones, bugs and the like. Here's what their site has to say about cleaning bones...thanks Jen

I found a bone, how do I clean it?

For printable maceration instructions (Adobe Acrobat PDF), click here.

First of all, don't boil or bleach bone! Boiling causes fat to soak into the bone, resulting in a greasy, yellowish specimen. Superficial grease can be removed with ammonia and certain industrial solvents, but this is an unpleasant process and cannot remove deep grease which will eventually migrate to the bone surface. Chlorine based bleach irreparably damages the bone itself, resulting in chalky, weak, extremely porous specimens that will turn to bone meal with age.

So, how do you really clean bone?

Maceration - Using bacterial action to clean bone

This is the simplest method of cleaning bone.

  1. Remove any remaining tissue or hide from the bone
  2. Immerse the bone in a container of water.
  3. Leave the container in a warm location where you won't mind the smell.
  4. Periodically pour the greasy, smelly water out (gardens love it!) and replace with fresh water.
  5. When the water runs clear, the bacteria have run their course.
  6. Soak the bone in regular drugstore strength hydrogen peroxide until it reaches the whiteness you prefer. This also sterilizes the bone.
  7. You're done!

Dermestids- our favorite beetle.

If you're going to continue cleaning bones, or are working with very delicate specimens, you may want to start a dermestid colony. Dermestids or museum beetles are a group of small meat-eating beetles whose larvae do a marvelous job of stripping tissue from even the most delicate of bones. This is the method used by professional preperators. Dermestid beetles can be obtained from biological supply houses, local natural history museums or university zoology departments. Once a colony is set up in a warm place, they require minimal maintenance and are capable of stripping entire skulls in a day or two.

Before starting a dermestid colony, there are a few things to keep in mind. For one, these beetles need to be kept inside, as they like slightly warmer than room-temperature environments. Second, they will not eat decaying flesh or tolerate a great deal of moisture. Because of this, specimens must be fresh (freeze specimens if you cannot clean them immediately and thaw before introducing them to the beetles), skinned and de-fleshed as much as possible, and only placed in colonies large enough to clean them quickly. You will likely need to grow the colony to appropriate size before introducing the specimen. As a result, this method is not well-suited to cleaning just one specimen. But if you have many specimens to clean, a healthy dermestid colony is an efficient way to prepare the best bones possible


Jen Crossley said...

OH I had to look didn't I? It will lookd amazing when those bugs are done. Interesting to see what the bat looks when its ready!

kass said...

I'm gonna be glad I am not you when some animal liberationist sees this ;) LOL

jenw said...

Oh man. Look at those incisors! Guess they don't call'em fox bats for nothing. Lucky boy. :)

kris said...

This is interesting. We live about 4 blocks from Lake Michigan and I found a bone washed up on the beach. It was bleached white and clean. Now I know the complete story! thanks.

Cheralyn said...

Hi there Michael,
I'm one of your Sydney students... forget Chrissy I'm counting down to 15th Feb!
When you find a banded flying fox, you can ring Parks & Wildlife with the details of the band etc. It helps with their research.
Not too sure where you are in Sydney at present but I'm on the Northern Beaches and the number here is: 9472 8949.
Wishing you and Judy and family a fab Christmas and New Year... sorry about the weather!
Cherie (Cheralyn)