Skull Cleaning: How To Prepare A Deer Skull For Dermestid Beetles

Skull cleaning with dermestid beetles is one of the few ways to preserve the soon-to-be deer skull trophies. Many taxidermists and hunters prefer this choice because of its efficient skull cleaning. In most cases, dermestid beetles consume the flesh thoroughly and leave no tissue behind, making the procedure more efficient than its alternatives. In addition, it doesn’t need harsh chemicals that could affect the skull quality due to tanning and pose health risks to the one who prepares it. 

Suppose you’re planning to clean a deer skull anytime soon. In that case, you may need to know the step-to-step procedure on how to do so. For that purpose, here’s a guide to help you get started. Continue reading to learn more.

1. Remove the Deer Cape

Preparing a deer skull for dermestid beetles typically begins with removing the cape. For this purpose, you may go directly to a skull cleaning company, such as, or do it your way.

If you choose the DIY way, you need to select and use a sharp knife for the process. You can begin by incising from the deer’s forehead towards the lower jaw. Another option is to start with the skull’s base and slice the cape toward the antlers or forehead.

After completely removing the cape, remove the remaining furry portions using a sharp knife. You may slice deeply in cutting the incision to get rid of the thicker parts of the meat and fat. You may cut the tissues connecting the upper and lower jaws to pave the way for a more manageable jaw removal or separation.

2. Keep The Skull Fresh

Some taxidermists work on their deer skull after some days of waiting for the skull’s flesh to decay. While this has been a traditional option, keeping the skull fresh has been the preferred option today because it prevents the entire head from stinking. It also prevents the dermestid beetle’s container from catching the foul odor.

To keep the deer skull fresh, you may consider placing them in a freezer. Since you’re just starting to learn your taxidermy skills, you need to keep the head in a cool, dry container to make time for the preparation. However, you need to ensure that you thaw the skull after some days to avoid its slow decay, as bacteria still thrive even if the head is frozen.

3. Remove The Major Parts OF The Skull

The significant parts of the deer skull refer to the eyes, brain, tongue, and thick muscles outside and within the skull. Removing these muscles and portions doesn’t only speed the skull cleaning but also avoids stinking. In removing these parts, you may need tweezers and a stiff-bristled brush to clean and remove the organs.

After removing the flesh and organs in the exterior portions, you may use a tweezer to pluck the tissues in the crevices. You may also use a scalpel or a sharp knife to slice through the ligaments that connect the soft and hard bones to ensure a more thorough dermestid beetle cleaning.

4. Clean The Skull Again

Cleaning the deer skull for the second time can help ensure that the process will be effective and exhaustive. In this case, you may need to check the antlers, crevices, nasal bones, and hollowed portions for residual flesh. The larger the game skull is, the more extensive the cleaning process will be. If you notice signs of decay, remove the affected parts.

5. Dry The Skull Just Long Enough

Drying the skull doesn’t mean fully desiccating the skull. Drying in this procedure refers to getting rid of the blood and fluids that may trigger the reeking of the flesh. For this purpose, you may need to hang the skull for several hours to dry out the remaining meat.

You may also air-dry the skull if the room temperature is already high. You may also use a dry towel to remove the remaining moisture. If you no longer feel the wetness on the different parts of the skull, you can start placing the deer skull inside the beetles’ container.

6. Soak The Skull If Necessary

If the head becomes too dry and the colony is too dehydrated to consume, you may consider soaking the skull in water overnight. However, this may require you to go over the entire process again. Because of this, you may need to monitor the aeration to avoid over-drying closely.

7. Place The Skull In The Dermestid Beetle’s Container

Before setting up the skull in the container, you may consider first the dermestid beetle colony you have. If the population is foot-thick or more from the tank’s bottom, you can place the skull anywhere inside the tank as the beetle’s population is plenty enough.

On the other hand, if the dermestid beetles are just enough for one or two animal heads, you may need to prepare a recessed area to position the skull. Remember that the skull cleaning may require an average of 300 adult dermestid beetles for each head for thorough tissue removal and bone cleaning.

In addition, the more dermestid beetles, the shorter and more detailed the process will be. Generally, the beetle-cleaned deer skull will be ready for its final touches after a few days. To produce a top-notch trophy, you may need to periodically check and turn the skull within the bedding of beetles. You may also check the crevices for the dry carcasses of beetles that may have died in the process.

Wrapping Up

Preparing a deer skull for dermestid beetles can be challenging, especially if it’s your first time doing it. Fortunately, there are tips and tricks you may rely on. You may refer to this article for insights to help you during the cleaning process as a starting point. This may also provide some hacks to speed up the skull cleaning and solve the usual problems that taxidermists meet.

But for more ideas, it’s recommended to ask seasoned taxidermists and hunters about their best practices in using dermestid beetles. You may also subscribe to hunting and taxidermy blogs to know the recent trends in this method.

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