Boiling bones: neither fun nor profitable

I have here the head of a dove, feathers removed but otherwise intact. I would like to get the skull out of this head, clean and dry and with as little fanfare as possible. So I’ve been boiling this damn dove head for hours - 6 yesterday, 4 so far today - assuming that eventually all the soft bits will boil down and fall apart and I can just pick the skull out of the pot. So far, no visible changes to the texture of the squishy bits. How much longer do I do this? And this is a teeny little bird head. When I eventually graduate to larger animal heads, how much boiling are we talking about? Anyone have any experience?

put it outside in a small cage and secure it so that it cannot be carried away by larger animals. After a few weeks, you will have just the skull. Boiling at that point should be effective.

Also, aren’t you supposed to boil bones in vinegar? Don’t remember the reason. If so, that will stink so bad you won’t be able to live in the same general vicinity without a respirator or gas mask.

If you are in an apartment complex or something, see about getting some carrion beetles to do the job - although for a dove you might need something smaller.

That’s if you want to soften the bones, not just if you want to recover and preserve them.

On TV they always use maggots or those flesh-eating beetles. If you’re boiling the head, I think you’re just making dove head soup (which could be delicious).

warning: pdf

http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/natresources/az1144.pdf

ETA: first result when googling: how to remove flesh from bone

Interestingly enough, another SDMB thread is the number 5 result…

Yeah, you’re better off letting ants do the work for you. Bonus points if you set up a time-lapse video camera as they clean and pick.

Put some meat tenderizer that contains Papain into the water. You may have some in your kitchen cupboard. It will disolve the meat and make it fall away from the bone. It is used industrially to separate meat from bone.

It is made from papaya.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papain

He used acids to get this job done. He tried other things first that did not work, much like you so you have that in common. Maybe research what he did, but remember, he was a pro. Don’t endanger yourself.

Here are a couple of articles about a guy from San Francisco who collects skulls and other bones. As he has about 7,000, I think he could be considered an expert. The second article mentions that he simply buries the specimen and then waits a few months.

Ants is the way to go. If you want them to do it really fast dig the box - or cage as dzero suggests - containing the skull into an anthill. No time-lapse video in that case, of course.

You boil bones with a little vinegar when you’re making soup or stock, and you do it in order to leach the calcium from the bones.

If I wanted a skull or bones cleaned, I’d find a nice anthill.

You can also boil them in a dilute solution of bleach. Basically, let them simmer for a day or two in water with household bleach. I’d do it outside though.

Just to clarify, the dove is dead, right?

It’s head has been boiled for 10+ hours, it’s brain boiled to mush. While I am no expert, and it is certainly possible that it is on an internet message board asking for clarification of an obvious point, I’d still hazard a guess that it is dead.

Are you suggesting that the dove is posting to this thread trying to figure out how to boil the flesh from it’s own skull?

No no … 'es … resting!

You know, the OP does say, “I have the head of a dove.”

I’ll check with my crazy wife. While driving our daughter to camp in Maine she came across the skeleton of a (baby) moose by the side of the road, loaded it into the trunk of the rental car, then eventually put it in a box and sent it home to California. Here she boiled all the bones (while I was at work, thankfully) and donated to a science center. It seemed to go well, but the moose had been dead for a while.

While not profitable, she seemed to think it was fun.

I don’t like to boil bones as it can damage some bones (and crack teeth which doesn’t apply in this case) so I choose to macerate (not masticate) when I clean skulls. When I worked for the taxidermy studio, we used beetles.

I usually scramble the brain with a stick before dropping it in the water and let it sit with some Dawn added to help degrease. It helps to have an understanding husband and a room that your animals can’t get into otherwise amusing adventures ensue. Nothing like having your dog drop a severed rabbit head onto your grandmothers lap during a nice dinner.

You can get some product from taxidermy sites to whiten up the skulls once they’re clean. I don’t recommend bleach as that can also damage the bone.

I hope to start a beetle colony in my new place but it may take a while to get my husband to come around to that idea…

Someone gave me a turtle shell they found, thinking I could preserve it. Knowing nothing about it, I figured if I just left it outside in the sun, the fleshy bits would eventually rot off and I’d be left with the shell. But the shell started to degrade too. Made me wonder what those Native Americans are doing to make those fancy turtle shell rattles.