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Three girls, a dead raccoon, and a crockpot (poweredbyosteons.org)
346 points by fanf2 on Mar 4, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 55 comments

My wife did this as a PhD student in Animal Science, along with a fellow grad student. Only her skeleton was that of a draft horse — she mainly wanted the skull. It took place on the hill in back of the lab building and used a fire, an enormous cauldron, and a canoe paddle.

I can only imagine what undergrads wandering by thought. But we still have the horse skull in a tupperware in the basement.

She teaches comparative animal anatomy now. For a few years she kept a colony of flesh-eating beetles in her lab for cleaning skeletons. They were delivered by FedEx — yes, you can order flesh-eating beetles online. Unfortunately the box had a puncture, and beetles were coming out. The FedEx guy who delivered it sprinted into her office, threw the box on the desk and sprinted out again without stopping to ask for a signature. I wonder why...

It would have been too tempting to sing this:


I wonder if you could use an anthill for this work. Put the carcass in a cage of some sort so it doesn't get scattered and put the cage near an anthill. Come back a month later and the cage should have nothing but bones.

I'm not an expert, I but I don't recall ants being used for the cleaning of bones. That's usually the job of beetles or fly maggots.

In any case, I found this post [1] about the various ways to clean animal bones. Interesting reading.

[1] http://www.jakes-bones.com/p/how-to-clean-animal-bones.html

I was eating lunch with some co-workers around the time of the Boston marathon bombing a few years ago. One of the people didn't know what a pressure cooker was, and they were showing one on whatever news channel was playing.

Another co-worker piped up with, "When I was in 5th grade my mom used a pressure cooker to clean the bones of a dead sheep I found"

Intrigued, I had him finish the story. They lived in a farm area and there was a small sheep that had been hit by a car. He took it home, and they followed a similar process to clean the bones and he used some wire to put the skeleton back together for a school science project.

I do wonder, with the ridiculous popularity of the InstantPot, when we'll see a post somewhere about how to use it to macerate a dead animal. It'd be perfect for it!

We do this all the time. When they mentioned a slow cooker I was thinking have they not heard of a pressure cooker? I read in an InstantPot ad that you can get fall-off-the-bone meat, from frozen, in less than an hour and I thought man that’s the tool for de-fleshing the bones of small vertebrates right there

Just FYI, crock pots are slow cookers and don't keep the contents under pressure.

I might be missing something, but a pressure cooker is a completely different thing to a crock pot isn’t it?

Well there are dual cookers that can do both.

But anyway, in the article a crock-pot is used, while bluedino mentions a pressure cooker, so I was just clarifying that a crock-pot is not a pressure cooker. But maybe I only added confusion. :-(

You are right. I cannot seem to figure out how he went into the topic of crockpots from the other comment. Unless some of them look alike and he was just trying to make people aware of not mixing them up?

I have a pressure cooker, but I only ever use it in the crock pot/slow cooker mode. I guess the two are quite similar, except for the lid.

They aren't at all. There are some electric devices that can do both. A regular, old school pressure cooker is in essence a simple pot with a lid that gets affixed and has a vent to regulate pressure. It goes on your stove top just like any other pot.

And something I recently learned is that a slow cooker should never go on the stove...it melts

This is a great story. My wife and I did similar sorts of projects when we were home schooling our kids (my favorite was the trip to Yellowstone for a geology/chemistry/geography/ecology/biology quinfecta :-)

It doesn't mention, but implies something I found important. That is that as a parent I had to invest my own time in equal to theirs in their learning. It lead to push back at work when I would insist on being home so that we could all have dinner as a family and then work on family projects in the evening, but for me it was rewarded by kids that were engaged and thoughtful and willing to dig into questions deeply.

I have no idea if that would work for anyone else of course.

Love doing projects like this, I like the project presented above, I think we'll try it with the next old hen to kick the bucket.

We find the hardest part of homeschooling so far is that a lot of the infrastructure for homeschooling is christian. There might be a market for a startup that caters to scientific-minded people who home-school. It seems to be a growing trend.

Oooh, if you have a chicken, you can mummify it. (Have to take off the feathers first.) Just stick it in a giant plastic bag with loads of salt. Change the salt out when it gets gooey. In a few weeks, you'll have a mummy!

I am thinking of home schooling my daughter with my wife. For one my daughter is autistic and special needs programs in Texas are fairly ok to bad. Two because the curriculum is so brain draining and well my daughter simply would refused to participate in some thing like that. I just am afraid of the socialization with other kids. How did you get around that?

The social question comes up, generally first or second[1], when people find out that my wife and I chose the homeschooling route. We live in the Bay area, which is pretty urban, and there is a pretty vibrant homeschooling community.

One of the activities my kids participated in was the Riekes Nature Studies program. Once a week a group of about 20 similarly aged students would spend all day (9AM to 3PM) at Huddart Park (a wooded nature park near Woodside) and study different aspects of the park. They would count bird populations, identify tracks, identify plants and their properties, relationships between water and plants and animals, Etc. They also did camp trips to nearby places, once as far as Death Valley. All the while teaching camaraderie, respect, and how to socialize with your peers. We also did a 'science roundabout' with 6 other families home schooling where all of the kids would go to one of the parents houses for a half day of science curriculum. We had a Doctor, a couple of engineers, a couple of Chemists, and a biologist I believe. Two days a week. each day one of the parents would host the group, so while the group met twice a week each parent saw them once every three weeks. That was a good amount of time to work up a concept/lab for the next group session. They also participated in a bunch of other activities as group, whether it was Church related or softball or scouts.

What they didn't have to deal with is bullies in middle school and uninterested adult supervision. Or being traumatized by kids that were attempting to establish dominance through social stratification. When one of those negative patterns surfaced in one of the kids in our cohort it was pretty clear pretty quickly that either they could learn to be an adult about this stuff or not participate. That is really effective on 10 and 11 year olds who are trying to figure this stuff out.

[1] In my area the other question that competes with this one is "Can my kid get into a good university if they have been home schooled?" and the answer is yes, and sometimes more easily if they have a lot of activities and projects.

[2] http://www.riekes.org/nature/

Insightful post. Particularly your comments on the 'activities resume' kids can use to get into top universities. Kids can build these resumes to show a manifestation of early leadership skills. Leadership is important and means the difference between whether someone can keep themselves employed if they have other limited job prospects. One note on bullying: while bullying can be counter- productive it can teach kids resilience, self- reliance, alliance building, courage, communication and problem- solving. As sick as it sounds, at some point in life as kids age they may or will encounter bullies so a homeschool curriculum (HSC) that teaches kids to deal with bullying can add value to the HSC curriculum and strengthen the kid. Unfortunately, all societies have some type of bullies. Bullying is best faced squarely and dealt with to minimize it impacts or shut it down. Just a thought.

I will go ahead and challenge this- not that you can't be right, or even aren't right in the case of your kids (who I am sure you do a great job of taking care of- this isn't meant to insult you personally), but as someone who was homeschooled and had a very different experience, it's worth having a cautionary point of view- if for no other reason than to illustrate how NOT to homeschool.

First, OP is specifically asking about their child, who is autistic. While I would generally suggest that the average person is incapable of providing an education equal to that provided by a whole school full of teachers, it's often the case that if one child requires more attention than the rest of class, they might benefit more from additional attention and 1-on-1 teaching than they might from having more skilled teachers without additional time to spend. So it is a reasonable suggestion.

I'll start at the end, with the question: can you get into a good university? Sure. I didn't really apply to a lot of universities but I did get a full ride at the best engineering school in the state. It hinged more or less entirely on my GPA and standardized test scores. There's probably a whole book you could write on how poor these criteria are, but that's tangential to my point.

I was homeschooled through high school. In general, it was a negative experience. Primarily, I would say, it was because I didn't socialize much. That's not to say that I didn't have bs activities that my parents came up with, I did. We were a part of the local home school group, I took classes with a group of other home schoolers at what I pejoratively referred to as "homeschooler public school." I even managed to join a sports team for a tiny christian school that couldn't get enough players for a full team (I did enjoy that). I think that probably my parents would have said that I had all the social interaction that I ever needed. But actually I spent days or weeks completely alone. I had essentially two friends, that I saw every few weeks. In high school I basically taught myself all of my classes, then studied and took the tests. It sounds like you're doing things a lot better than that. But this isn't meant to be a critique of you(I don't know enough about what you're doing to even attempt that, even if I wanted to), it's supposed to be a cautionary tale.

I don't know if my experience was "average," but taken from my acquaintances (all home schooled) my results were actually better than average. Many had no outside contact for even longer periods of time, and lived in more isolated areas. Most did very little after high school and then joined the family business. I suppose it's likely that this is a difference between rural Missouri and SF.

>What they didn't have to deal with is bullies in middle school and uninterested adult supervision.

I my experience, that's not really a plus, it's just another overextension of supervision which has become so common these days. The world doesn't stop functioning the same way just because you don't experience it. You just wind up with kids that don't know how to deal with that sort of thing- or worse, try bullying themselves when they think they can get away with it. I personally witnessed this on multiple occasions at ostensibly supervised events where the adults were on the other side of a room or we had gone out back.

My parents were very strict and I was virtually never away from them until after I got a job, but that didn't stop me and my five siblings from breaking rules, instead we worked out systems to help us break our parents rules with no or minimal repercussions. We would have whole fake storylines of what we were doing going on that we would switch to if we got caught and post sentries. The sentries would frequently have codewords so that they didn't get caught helping others disobey. My point, so tangentially made, is that kids sometimes need a chance to interact with others without omnipotent but less than omniscient judges interfering.

In summary, what I am attempting to say is that homeschooling certainly can work well but from my (admittedly quite limited) sampling rarely does. That's not to say you shouldn't do it- just make sure that you want to, and that you're ready to spend the time to do it right.

Thank you sharing your experience. It reinforces my appreciation of how such things are never "one size fits all" and that in every distribution there will be examples on both sides of the median.

I particularly resonate with this sentiment; "... just make sure that you want to, and that you're ready to spend the time to do it right."

Not the OP, but I was homeschooled. I was in a local homeschool co-op that taught classes that we're better in a group setting. Had a lot of friends there. Was also programmer for a FIRST robotics team, where I met my now wife. I never struggled to socialize as a kid. Homeschooled for my entire education.

This is really cool on many different levels ! Those kids seem to have fun :).

Plus, it's somehow satisfying that the story is being told on a old-fashion (what am I writing) blog. I strongly believe it wouldn't have been as structured, as accessible if it had been told through instagram or facebook (too much noise, not enough authenticity (this is the media guy in me talking).

The gallery works, the text works... there is no noise on the page.

Ha, thanks! (I'm the author of the post.) It's funny, I don't post to my personal blog much anymore - started it in 2007 on Blogger, and so it's definitely old-school. (Plus, I have a column at Forbes, so I tend to post most of my writing there.)

You are one awesome mom! (See my other post on this page for a description of my wife and my experience raising our kids.) Thanks for sharing the story :)

Thanks for doing such a wonderful project with your kids, and writing it up so well! I just emailed this post a a bunch of friends who have kids, in the hopes that they'll be inspired :)

I would love to see Forbes print an adaption of this work. Encouraging STEM is really important, so thanks for the great idea!

I agree 100% with your "old-fashioned blog" comment! The ability to incorporate photos and text together, in a sensible layout, with a URL that is permanent/human-readable (at least relative to social media URLs), and on a site that doesn't require log-in and doesn't throw 10,000 other distractions at you simultaneously––it's really frustrating that that's going away.

I am hoping it is not that blogs are going away, just that the growth of social media is dramatically outpacing it.

I don't have any data but I wonder if the amount of independent blogs is quietly and slowly growing. Maybe it is just my wishful thinking-they really are a great internet medium.

> she really wanted to macerate a bat, to see how its wing looked on the inside. But that's not gonna happen because of the risk of rabies.

Err, depending on your location (in the US), there is a risk of raccoons carrying rabies as well. It's generally isolated to the east coast, but worth noting.


This is amazing! This is the sort of thing that makes me want to have kids––the opportunity to turn whatever life throws at you into an awesome DIY science projects. (Though, I guess I could do it without kids, too––but imagine how cool it would be to be a kid growing up in this kind of household!)

As a parent of four kids, I'd encourage you to decide to have kids based on some other criteria - you can do this project without the presence of kids.

However ... taking your comment in the spirit in which I'm guessing it was intended, my wife and I have had a lot of fun helping the kids try almost anything they were interested in. There's simply no reason to limit a child's curiosity (and I'd argue that many of us here are those whose childhood curiosity survived somewhat intact). Kids interests can change weekly and we just let that happen. We did usually require that they finish a project once they started it.

One example is that I was digging fence-posts and commented to my wife that, under the top-soil of what was once our farmette, there was a layer of clay. Of course my daughter pictured the type of clay that artists use (and a pottery wheel) but did you know that, with the right amount of water added, you can mold Pennsylvania (US) clay just fine. And you can do a reasonable job of firing it on a patio grill (don't try glazing it).

I was brought up helping my dad around the house and we also extended this to our kids ... if we didn't know how to do something we learned it together. And so now our kids (the two who are adults and out-of-the-house) will do much of their own maintenance. My daughter's first car is a '71 Super Beetle in which she completely restored the interior. I helped her weld new cooling manifolds which was the only exterior/mechanical problem with the car.

Finally, there are lots of kids that don't have parents (and plenty that have absentee parents. Here in the US you can volunteer with Big Brothers / Big Sisters and "borrow" a kid for a limited amount of time. Volunteering is also a great way to help the next generation of "makers" grow in their craft!

When I was a kid in the 80s, my dad started something called "Family Home Evening." We'd get together and my brother and I would ask questions like "where does lightning come from?" or "does coke rot your teeth?" We'd look up info in our Encyclopedia Brittanica (ha!), and often do experiments (like putting my dad's extracted wisdom teeth in coke). So, yeah, I couldn't help but do the same with my own girls!

When my oldest two (now 26 and 24) were in high-school we often had 2-4 extra kids at our dinner table each evening (we purposely bought a big table). We had a lot of comments about how "interesting" our dinner conversations were compared to their own houses. And there was lots of laughter too. It turns out that high school is also a good age to teach your kids the difference between debate and argument.

The other thing we did was optimize our house so our kids and their friends would want to hang out here. It's much easier to keep an eye on them when they're not off somewhere else (thinking back, there were a lot of times my parents didn't know where I was). A few of their friends could be problematic but by treating most of them as adults, they tried to live up to it.

I had a fair amount of exposure to this kind of thing solely because I grew up in the 70's. Families didn't spread as much geographically. So, I got lots of great experiences with aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, sharing things they knew, etc. Also, there was more freedom for me to interact with strangers. No cell phones, etc, so my parents couldn't really manage me real closely. Big potential downsides, of course.

The kid in me thinks that this is amazing and I wish I'd have been able to do something similar -- but current me thinks about how I could never use that crockpot for food again.

I forgot to put in the following story:

As I was leaving my lab, carrying the crockpot, my department chair saw me: "Ooh, what delicious thing are you making?"

Me: "Uhhhh, Cecilia and I are going to deflesh a raccoon this weekend."

Him: "Ew. Now I'm not hungry anymore."

> I could never use that crockpot for food again.

They actually mentioned that the crockpot in question was brought home from a lab, and it was used specifically for cleaning biogoo from bones.

But otherwise, I totally agree on the ick factor. I'm a little surprised that a crockpot with detergent, and then hydrogen peroxide, is all it takes to sufficiently disinfect dead critter stuff.

(Then again, I toss raw meat in a crock pot and then shove it directly into my mouth, so I don't know why I'm surprised.)

Disinfecting things isn't as hard as some might think. Sewage processing, for example, is pretty low-tech. By the time your toilet water makes it to the plant, most of the poop has dissolved. They run the liquid through a metal strainer to get most of the non-organics out (condoms, tampons, etc). Then the sewage is pumped into settling ponds where most of the solids settle to the bottom and they aerate it so that the bacteria can do their thing and digest it further. They move the liquid through a succession of ponds and tanks until it's basically clear and everything has settled out. To disinfect it, they either run it through a mesh of UV light tubes or add bleach (less ideal). After that's done, you could basically drink the water but they typically dump it into a stream.

> but they typically dump it into a stream

And then the next city downstream gets that water and drinks it anyway.

Depending on where you live (i.e. near a large river) reducing water usage doesn't really make much environmental difference, as long as you dump it in the sewer: The water gets reused many many times on its way to the ocean.

Yeah, unless you live in an area that gets a chunk of its water from an fossil aquifer.

Sewage treatment is really hard and a costly thing to do, it might be low tech but it is still hard to disinfect water once you have polluted it with water flushing toilets. Grey water is another thing completely but that is off topic here.

Farm food is way way less disease filled than wild food, so your last note makes sense.

I throw wild game in the crockpot and eat the heck out of it.

I’m under the impression that that crockpot is only used for this purpose:

>She put all the bones into the crockpot that I brought home from my lab as well (which we keep for the express purpose of defleshing stuff that, well, still has squishy/hairy bits on it):

Ah! I must have missed that!

I feel much better now.

Useful tips and a nice skeleton!

There's also a great guide to cleaning bones from animals (in various states of decay) on the blog Jake's Bones that I've referred to a couple of times: http://www.jakes-bones.com/p/how-to-clean-animal-bones.html

I'm glad the girls' natural curiosity was supported and enjoyed.

When I was little we would bring in little things we'd found out back (frogs, mice, birds etc) and my mum was always happy to say, "lets open them up and see how they work". For the frog we used some vodka in a margarine pot but after that she kept some ether in the fridge (also useful when castrating the cat).

She was pretty happy when I sent her a photo of her grandson, scalpel in hand, dissecting a dead bird he had claimed from the cat. Unfortunately the only book he had was on human anatomy but we were able to find gross parallels and gross differences and that was pretty educational too.

Bleach works too. Found a small decayed deer carcass by the side of the road years ago and soaked the skull in water and bleach then hung it up on my porch. Hydrogen peroxide sounds more environmentally friendly.

Bleach is great but needs to be watched more carefully. It can destroy bone. H2O2 is slower but less finicky.

This is really cool!

When I was a kid, I read a book about Eugenia Clark (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenie_Clark) who defleshed a dead animal she found as a kid. I found a dead bird and tried to do the same using an old coffee tin over our camp stove in the garage. My parents were nonplused (my dad was a biologist too, but he studied plants so I don't think he was into defleshing dead animals...) and that was the end of my biology experiments.

I'm glad to know to actually do this. Maybe someday my daughter and I can do the project.

If any of y'all liked the idea of this project for your kids but not the roadkill aspect, "Make Your Own Dinosaur Out of Chicken Bones" http://www.levins.com/bonebooks.shtml ... is a fun project. And instead of just macerating, you get to make soup!

NB: as I recall, it takes 2 chickens, some tools, and a lot of patience

In Singapore, a school buried a racing pigeon found dead for seven months and later dug it up. They posted about it at [1]

[1] http://www.besgroup.org/2017/10/24/skeleton-racing-homer-pig...

There's an owl living above an abandoned silo on a relative's property. It's always fun to see how interested kids are in looking through the bones at the bottom. Though in this case there are too may different types of bones to attempt to make a full skeleton.

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