Why is it so hard to find online mouse skulls?
January 8, 2009 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Where can I buy mouse skulls online?

In the interest of experimenting with found-art reliquary construction, I thought I'd buy some mouse skulls. To my shock, I couldn't find any for sale, and eventually bought a muskrat skull on ebay*.

I eventually discovered Skulls Unlimited from a previous askMe, but they charge fifteen bucks plus shipping.

I guess I assumed that, since they are considered vermin and are regularly exterminated, someone in this crazy world would be selling mouse skull five for a dollar. Preferably someone like Sarina Brewer, who uses and sells donated carcasses and roadkill only.

So, in short, anyone have any suggestions for cheap, ethical memento mori?

*Upon payment, I noticed that they also sold skins and traps, making me feel a bit as though I'd commissioned this animal's death. Boo.
posted by Squid Voltaire to Science & Nature (25 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I don't know offhand of any places selling mouse skulls. However, owl pellets are surprisingly easy to obtain. This place sells them starting at 99 cents and claims that most pellets contain at least one skull. May not be quite as perfect as a professionally-cleaned skull, but the price seems right and there will be extra bones besides. Ethical, too, since the owl would be eating the mice (or voles or what have you) anyway.
posted by fermion at 10:21 AM on January 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Carolina Biological Supply will sell you preserved mice at $2.95 each. But you have to get the skull out yourself.

While mice are in abundance, it does take more than 20 cents worth of time and resources to produce a cleaned skull.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 11:06 AM on January 8, 2009

The Bone Room, in Berkeley CA will probably have what you need.
posted by TDIpod at 11:41 AM on January 8, 2009

$15 plus shipping seems a fair price for a cleaned mouse skull.

Sigh..If I had a penny for every time I said that.
posted by applemeat at 11:44 AM on January 8, 2009 [9 favorites]

2nding owl pellets. they're not as gross as they sound (it's really just a wad of fur with bones inside it). pick it apart with some tweezers and you will find all sorts of bones.
posted by gnutron at 11:46 AM on January 8, 2009

No grosser than picking through your cat's dried up hairball.
posted by applemeat at 11:48 AM on January 8, 2009

Why is it so hard to find online mouse skulls?

Owlz has internet.

Seriously, should one assume that the skull promised in every pellet is a mouse skull? I thought they ate all kinds of critters.

If owls are eating them all and putting them in pellets, the answer is in a song:

Where have all the mouse skulls gone?
Long time passing . . .

posted by Clyde Mnestra at 12:07 PM on January 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

I found five mouse skulls in an owl pellet once! (Must've been rough on the owl.) They were actually in pretty good condition. And they were free! And owl pellets really aren't that gross to take apart, even without tweezers. (Actually it's pretty interesting.) Visit an old barn somewhere and you'll probably find some. Enjoy!
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 12:23 PM on January 8, 2009

Seriously, should one assume that the skull promised in every pellet is a mouse skull? I thought they ate all kinds of critters.

Probably not--I think a lot of them are voles, actually--but I didn't get the impression that Squid Voltaire was all that fussy about species. It might be worth asking around at different owl-pellet vendors, to see if owl pellets from a particular owl species or geographic region are more likely to contain mice than voles/shrews.

If having a specific species is a priority, then it might be better to buy the expensive pre-cleaned skulls, or perhaps make a project of cleaning some oneself in some convenient well-ventilated outdoor area. Frozen feeder mice are about $1.50 from places like PetCo, and there are a lot of how-tos on the Net about cleaning skulls and skeletons. It can be fun, if you like that sort of thing (we cleaned roadkilled bird skeletons in my high school biology class) but the smell is pretty horrible. Not a project for the squeamish.
posted by fermion at 12:54 PM on January 8, 2009

Fifthing owl pellets. Also, you could always make your own mouse skull.
posted by oulipian at 3:56 AM on January 9, 2009

theres an animal feed warehouse near me, im pretty sure that along with frozen chicks, they also have frozen mice (designed to be thawed out and fed to snakes etc...), im sure you could process your frozen mice into skeletons with some ease.

long aside, as a child on holiday i once found some rotting sheep skulls in a bin in the peak district - of course i thought these were awesome - so took them back to my parents, who kindly boiled them for ages and allowed me to present them to my school as research objects. i dont think my school was too happy about it - but we've still got one hanging on the wall somewhere as a memento.
posted by dnc at 4:04 AM on January 9, 2009

Best answer: Since it seems like you would like to display these skulls, I'm going to recommend you not go with the owl pellets.

The skulls that can possibly be found in owl pellets are not going to hold a candle to the quality of a professionally cleaned version. The skulls will most likely not be white, but instead dark brown or black. They'll probably be cracked or broken and more likely than not have broken or missing teeth.

At $0.99 instead of $10, though, I suppose you'll be getting your money's worth. Just make sure that wherever you get them from they've been properly sterilized, not that it makes sifting through a mostly dried up ball of fur and bones any less unpleasant.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 7:19 AM on January 9, 2009

Response by poster: Hey, thanks everyone, that's really fantastic! I will certainly give owl pellets a try. I see what you mean, CitrusFreak, but that might well be ok for my purposes.

Also, I probably need to be less squeamish about DIY flaying. It's the age-old story, everyone wants the skull of a mouse, nobody wants to strip the fur.

Incidentally, in an askMe full of awesome, one thing especially stands out, from mbd1mbd1's link--it isn't just that they sell dead, preserved mice over the internet. It's that they are available in pails!
posted by Squid Voltaire at 8:25 AM on January 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

Some people really have some skills with skulls, apparently.
posted by namewithhe1d at 2:44 PM on January 9, 2009

I always bought my skulls at Maxilla & Mandible, although I never tried to buy a mouse skull because I had plenty from the aforementioned owl pellets.
posted by snofoam at 2:59 PM on January 9, 2009

The Bone Room has skulls of animals I've never heard of! Well, the only one I've never heard of was the Hyrax.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:11 PM on January 9, 2009

I would stress the impact of cleaning your own skull. After my bf and I found a raccoon skull in the woods we thought we would easily clean it up, it had some hair and a small amount of dried flesh still on it, anyway, my bf does some research online and determines that enzyme detergent will do the trick and heads down to the hardware store to say these exact words "do you have enzyme detergent?" the store assistant asks "what are you using it for?" He replies "to boil the flesh off a skull" Without a blink or a follow up question they directed him to the correct isle and materials for his project.
So, long story short, the enzymes cleaned the skull beautifully, but the smell of flesh and hair getting eaten away really did a number on his smell memory. He said he would never do it again, nor can he stand the smell of those HE enzyme washing detergents because they always remind him of the smell.
Gotta say, as I look over at the little sparkling white raccoon skull in my little curiosity cabinet, that skull looks good!
posted by brinkzilla at 6:00 PM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

might i suggest getting an outdoor cat. a good one will surprise you with fresh rodent skeletons on your doorstep 2-3 times a week.
posted by es_de_bah at 10:58 AM on January 10, 2009

A long time ago, I read that you can clean small animal skeletons by putting them in a small, secure box with a few little holes, and putting that beside an active anthill. So if you know someone with mousetraps...it's probably the wrong time of year for that.
posted by dilettante at 3:45 PM on January 10, 2009

The easiest way to take apart an owl pellet is to drop it in a bowl of water. The dusty bits will all sort of dissolve, and the fur can easily be pulled away from the bones inside.
posted by rtha at 7:28 PM on January 10, 2009

Think Geek now sells owl vomit/pellets. Comes with tools to pick apart the pellet, and a bone identification chart. I love me some Think Geek.
posted by xena at 11:05 AM on January 11, 2009

For what it's worth - I once got cast for a weird indie movie in which the script made mention of "mouse earrings". I asked the director where he found taxidermied mice made into earrings, to which he replied "uhh.. I was just gonna use cat toys". Once he actually found out what said toys looked like, he was a bit letdown.

I offered to learn and perform taxidermy on mice and make them into earrings for him, and he seemed pleased with that (and they turned out pretty good if you're into creepy shit).

Anyway, to make such things, I just traveled over to Petco and asked for frozen mice (meant mostly for young snakes and their squeamish owners). They come in a little container, with a rather amusing illustration on it. I think it's like $5 and you usually get around 10 per "bucket". Helluva deal, if you ask me.

To get to the skull :

1. cut down the spine with an x-acto knife (or boxcutter). You may need to put a little extra "oomph" to break that initial layer of skin/fur, but don't push too hard or it'll get quite messy when their stomach opens up on ya.

2. Since you're not trying to taxidermy the little fella, you can just peel all the skin off pretty easily.

3. When you get to the actual skull portion, you'll need to use your x-acto knife to cut the skin away from the fur. It's a little tricky, but since you're not worried about preserving the fur, it shouldn't be too difficult.

4. I'd recommend cleaning the skull by setting it in a bowl of rubbing alcohol overnight. That should clear out most of the yuckies, and a little q-tip and/or disposable toothbrush should be just the ticket to get it nice and shined up.

Good luck!
posted by revmitcz at 12:38 AM on January 12, 2009

In college, I once cleaned a fox skull that my hunter roommate had shot. He had skinned it already, so I flayed it as best I could, then boiled it (in a standard dorm-room hot pot) to get the leftover bits of flesh off. Getting the brains out was a challenge.

The final result was a nice, clean, white skull, but it didn't last very long--boiling had, I guess, removed all the collagen from the bones, so they began flaking almost immediately. Pretty cool while it lasted, in a college dorm-room sort of way.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:44 AM on January 14, 2009

Ok, this is a bit off topic and does not address the question, but it has been awhile since I've been weirded out on the interwebs, so er, thank you... er, sort of.
posted by sammyo at 5:31 AM on January 29, 2009

"I would stress the impact of cleaning your own skull."

You might, but only for about 5-10 seconds, before you became too numb to type.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 5:28 AM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

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