The Cal Poly Vertebrate Lab* processes wildlife specimens for research and outreach purposes. Most of the specimens we received are roadkill that have been collected and donated to the lab by Cal Poly students or community members. The specimen in the video is a badger,Taxidea taxus, that was collected at the Pismo Preserve by The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County staff Dylan Theobald. It had likely been deceased for at least a few days and had already started to decompose. Following collection, the badger specimen was frozen to prevent further decay.

The first thing we do at the lab is examine the specimen and determine what is the most useful way to process it given the condition of the specimen. As the badger was already starting to decay, we decided to just keep the skull and a paw. Our lab uses a Dermestid beetle colony to clean skulls. Dermestes maculatus is a flesh eating beetle commonly used for skull cleaning. The colonies are fairly easy to care for and can fully clean a skull in just a few weeks.

To prepare the badger head for the colony, we froze it for one week to kill any harmful parasites or diseases, removed the skin as the beetles won’t eat the skin, and removed some of the excess tissue. We also took a tissue sample to conduct DNA testing. The video shows how the beetles find the skull and begin consuming it. By the end of the video, all the flesh has been eaten off of the skull. This video was recorded over 9 days.

When the skull is removed from the dermestid colony, it must be put in a freezer for at least one week to kill any beetles or larvae remaining on the skull. After that, the skull goes through a degreasing process which involves soaking it in soapy water and switching the water every few days for about a week. After that, the process is complete and the skull is ready to be added to our museum collection or used for outreach!This badger will become part of the specimen collection used for The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County’s outdoor education program, Learning Among the Oaks. We hope you will find this video interesting and informative and look forward to sharing more videos of our lab procedures in the future!

Click on the video below to see time-lapse video of the process (Caution for the squeamish -Includes graphic images).

Emma Witkin, EMT

Biological Sciences,

Cal Poly Class of 2021

*Directed by John D. Perrine, PhD

Professor / Curator of Mammals and Birds

Biological Sciences Department

California Polytechnic State University

San Luis Obispo, CA