Collecting animal skulls

Posted: Friday 14 November 2014
by Kate Bradbury

I seem to have developed an interest in bones. Not for purposes of enriching the soil or anything to do with biodynamic growing practices; I just like them.

I seem to have developed an interest in bones. Not for purposes of enriching the soil or anything to do with biodynamic growing practices; I just like them. So I’ve started a collection.

It was bound to happen, I suppose. At first I was fascinated by bees, then butterflies, moths and other insects. Before I knew it I was devising ways to attract dung beetles and rat tailed maggots to my garden, and now I want to decorate it with skulls. It’s a natural progression of sorts.

My collection currently consists of the skulls of two sheep, a badger and a wood pigeon. Also I have the partial skeleton of a turtle and the hip bone of a rabbit. The skulls are my favourite. Fellow blogger Richard Jones has a horse’s head decorating one of his flower beds. I’m quite envious.

The sheep skulls I found while on a cycling holiday along the South Downs a couple of years ago. They had been dead a long time and required nothing more than a good wash. I had been keeping them in the garden where they made the perfect resting place for snails, but my recent badger skull find has prompted me to clean them up and make more of them. The badger, who I named Brock, is far too beautiful to become a snail house in the garden – this has pride of place in my home.

I found Brock a few weeks ago in Cornwall. Probably road kill, s/he had been dead for only a few weeks and required a little more cleaning than the sheep skulls I had found previously. Cleaning it up would be a challenge but I wanted to see if I could stomach it. (Although I wouldn’t recommend taking skulls from dead animals on the side of the road when on holiday with your mother.)

All the information I needed was on the website of Jake, a 12-year old bone enthusiast who has published his own book on the subject. He has more than 100 skulls decorating his bedroom. According to him I needed only hydrogen peroxide and a plastic bucket for my task. Easy.

Cleaning the skull of an animal wasn’t easy, of course. It was a bit gruesome and upsetting at times, and a huge part of me felt guilty at having taken part of a dead animal as some sort of trophy – it didn’t feel very respectful. But I balanced my guilt with enthusiasm for wanting to learn more about this animal and, in a way I am celebrating its life. As my interest in natural history increases I’m learning more about the world around me. It doesn’t feel too different to growing flowers for bumblebees.

Brock, cleaned and polished, has pride of place in my kitchen, where he will soon be joined by the wood pigeon (currently enjoying a peroxide bleach). But I’m on the look out for more skulls to add to my collection. A grey squirrel would be nice, or a rat (I’m in central London so can’t set my sights too high).

When in Argentina last year I visited the marine mammal research centre at Estancia Harberton in Tierra del Fuego. There they exhibit the skeletons of all sorts of sea creatures from penguins and seals to whales and dolphins. To exhibit a whole skeleton would be a fantastic achievement; to find the bones of a whale – amazing.

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Talkback: Collecting animal skulls
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stokes49er 20/11/2014 at 20:28

Hi Kate
I have never been a bone collector but your blog takes me back to my child hood. As a nipper my brothers and I used to build many a camp beneath the bushes in the fields around our home. We would clear tunnels and brush away the fallen thorns until we found a clearing. We also found quite a few skulls. Birds, mice etc. and we would hang these up around the camp. Happy days.


tom9760 20/11/2014 at 20:37

i have skulls of various animals screwed to my garden fence,not only a talking point at family bbqs but are great for insects to over winter in

Stagbeetle 20/11/2014 at 20:44

My dad found a dead deer in the forest once, so he covered it up and would check on it at times and once it had got done to the skull, he took it home and cleaned it up and it was put in the garden on display and was a talking point.

We use to collect skulls and fossils from the beach when we were kids.

fidgetbones 20/11/2014 at 21:18

Not far off the beach.....


Sperm whale skull


 visibility poor. As we approached it, it was quite amazing.Difficult to get all in one photo, even on wide angle. Diver for scale is about 6ft.

kate_bradbury 02/12/2014 at 12:59

Thanks for your lovely comments…

@fidgetbones Amazing sperm whale skull!!!!!! Where was this? Thanks for posting…

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