Committed to the Museum or just needing to be committed?

May 19, 2008

My husband David and I both work at the Museum.  To look at us, you’d think we were Brad and Janet. It is only after learning of some of our more unusual pursuits that people begin to wonder (or rather worry). Currently I have a little science project going on in the front yard.  A project at least two years in the making.

My parents have a ranch in Buffalo, Texas, home of the Buffalo Stampede. I have two young nephews.  These 2 things in conjunction mean that we spend a lot of time “hiking” while at my parent’s place.  While on one of these adventures, we came across a partially deteriorated skeleton of some type of canid.  Our only clue at this point was the slightly reddish fur attached to the carcass.  As the skeleton seemed to be mostly intact, it seemed like it would make a pretty good teaching specimen after cleaning and mounting.

Upon further inspection, David determined that he would pass on the opportunity. It was just too gross. Now if you know anything about my husband, that is really saying something.

Canid Skull

The skull after being
fished out of the
tub o’ bones.
Note the dentition.

I, however, pressed on.  We found an old trashcan and some trash sacks in the back of my dad’s pickup and, armed with these, we returned to the scene. The worst part was actually grabbing the critter. I picked it up through the trash sack, but there was still a lot of dripping and odor….. eeeewwww.

So, into the trashcan and then doubled bag and then into a cattle lick tub the critter went. It road home in the trunk and was then transferred to the garage, where it proceeded to live for the next year or so.

This past Saturday, we began a long and terrifying process: we decided to clean out the garage. While unearthing the cement slab, I rediscovered the bones in their cheery bright blue tub and decided “today’s the day.” With the neighbor kids bearing witness, I sliced open the bags and was pleasantly surprised to find a dried, mostly articulated, odor free skeleton.  I dumped it into the clean blue bin with some water and some bleach to soak.  Periodically, I would dump and refill the water and add more bleach.  Each time I have dumped the water out, bits of grody come with it – pieces of flesh? tendons? skin? – that hold the skeleton together.  One time I even picked out a towel sized piece of leatherized skin.  Soooo gross.

Bones in Tub

The mystery bones in
the bright blue tub

So, the skeleton isn’t quite as articulated as it once was.  The water and bleach and the spring heat are breaking down the remaining tissues.  On the other hand,  I feel much better about touching this thing knowing it has been soaked in bleach.  It is probably important to note at this point that I have never mounted a skeleton before.  Like most projects that are embarked on at our house, I am sort of jumping right in and figuring it out as I go.  I do have a guide book, however, and so am feeling a little more confident.

My dog Mille for a canid
comparison.  She is
about 55 pounds.
The skull in question is
slightly smaller than hers.

Check back in a month and I’ll give you an update.  I may still be soaking this thing in the front yard, but hopefully I will have moved on to laying it out and identifying the skeleton. You never know, but it is always an adventure.

Authored By Nicole Temple

Nicole has worked for HMNS in some capacity since 1996, whether part-time, full-time or as a volunteer. She taught for seven years in public school, including four years in Fort Bend and a short stint overseas. While she never taught science, she was always the teacher called when someone needed to remove a swarm of bees, catch a snake in the playground, or get the bat off the ceiling of the cafeteria.

One response to “Committed to the Museum or just needing to be committed?”

  1. Kat says:

    Wow! Now that’s some dedication. Ewwww. I like working with the bones when they are quite a bit older. I don’t like the meat! I will check back to see your progress. Let us know when it is demeatified.

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