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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dirty Work: Dead Birds, Skulls, and Macerating Flesh

Today a small group of volunteers showed up at the Museum to gut, skin, flense, and macerate birds (flensing is the process of stripping an animal of its skin).  It isn't because Halloween is next Monday; they actually do this every week.

Kimball Garrett, Ornithology Collections Manager, runs this unique volunteer program and supervises all gutting, skinning, and skeletonizing. Dead birds are acquired by the Museum through salvage on a regular basis and this group does the very dirty work of  turning the limp lifeless carcasses into scientifically useful specimens that will live in the Museum's collection.

This Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius ludovicianus, has just been gutted and had the carcass removed. Next it will be stuffed with cotton, mounted on a small wooden dowel, and labeled.  

These are leftover bits and pieces from the Loggerhead Shrike. Kimball and the volunteers call this snarge. The lab's centerpiece is the snarge bucket with the bits and pieces of the various birds prepared that day.  

Bacterial maceration jars!

Not all birds that come into the lab are made into study skins; some are kept for their skeletons. After the majority of the flesh has been removed by the volunteers, the remaining carcass is placed in a jar of water. Naturally occurring bacteria remove the leftover flesh and leave clean bones behind. This process takes a few weeks to a few months and gives the lab a very distinct aroma!

Harpy Eagle skull after bacterial maceration

Thanks to Kimball and his volunteers for letting me take pictures in the lab!

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