Defleshing a badger head: a pictorial guide

March 28, 2016

There’s no sense in decapitating a badger if you’re not going to make good use of the severed head. So here’s what I did with mine. First, a reminder of the state it was in after yesterday’s adventures:

2016-03-27 17.37.31

Ideally, I would have liked to skin the head — it would have made subsequent stages easier and less messy. But as I noted last time, badgers have very tough skin, and it was hard to do anything with it. I feared that the force necessary would at best damage the underlying bone, and at worse give me a nasty cut.

So I satisfied myself with trimming away the flesh collar, leaving the head-and-anterior-neck segment a little shorter, and of a suitable size to go into the saucepan:

2016-03-27 17.45.19


2016-03-27 17.48.11

Then it was a simple matter of filling with hot water …

2016-03-27 17.48.57

… then bringing it all up to a simmer, and giving it a couple of hours while I played some Skyrim and watched an episode of Elementary. Once I’d drained the water off, here’s the result of the first simmer:

2016-03-27 20.22.53

As you can see (you may need to click through to make it out properly), that tough skin has contracted so hard that it’s pulled away from the skull at the top, exposing part of the distinctive midline crest.

Anyone, with the skin now softened it was relatively easy (though disgusting) to peel it off. Once all the rest of the superficial soft-tissue was gone, the massive massive muscles that attached to the midline crest were apparent.

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I broke these off:

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You can see one of them in the last photo. It really is a substantial piece of equipment: and you can see as well that the muscle mass going through the zygomatic arches is substantial.

You may also notice that at this stage, I’ve left the nose intact. That’s because I didn’t want to risk damaging the delicate nasal turbinates by pulling the soft-tissue away too roughly. Instead, I left it on for the second simmer:

2016-03-27 21.47.59

As you can see, it came out from that with the meat much more cooked, and so easier to remove:

2016-03-28 14.00.25

In my previous adventures preparing mammal skulls, I’ve found that one of the most satisfying moments is when the mandible (lower jaw) comes away from the cranium. You really feel that you’re making progress then, and it becomes much easier to reach some of the tricker areas of soft-tissue. That doesn’t happen with badgers: they jaws are permanently articulated, with cylindrical articular condyles wrapped in incomplete bone-tunnels. (I hope I can show you this properly one preparation is complete.)

Anyway, I was able to do a much better job of removing the meat this time: only scraps are left, and I was also at this point able to remove and begin cleaning the first few cervical vertebrae. I have the atlas, axis and damaged third. (I discarded the last of these, since it’s not complete.) Here’s the state of it at this point:

2016-03-28 14.09.34

And that skull in right lateral view, hopefully dispelling any remaining misconceptions you may have had about badgers being cute:

2016-03-28 14.09.49

As you can see, there were still plenty of scraps of hard-to-remove flesh clinging on, especially around the jaws and the base of the cranium. So it was time for simmer number three. I will spare you yet more photos of my saucepan, and instead skip straight to the skull as it appeared after this phase, and after I’d remove more of the flesh. Much nicer:

2016-03-28 16.11.01

You may be wondering, what is the best way to clean the teeth of a dead and partially prepared badger skull? Sometimes the obvious answer is the right one, and this is one of those occasions. A toothbrush is the tool of choice, and it works wonders with the base of the cranium, too. (Warning: do not allow the toothbrush to re-enter civilian society after this experience.)

Here we have the skull with the mandible open:

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Do not get bitten by a badger.

Skull in dorsal view:

2016-03-28 16.10.49

(I will prepare nicer, scientific-quality photographs in orthogonal views once preparation is complete — as I have done for other skulls.)

One of the many things that’s impressed me about this badger is how very much meat there was on its skull. I kept it, or most of it, and now you have the privilege of seeing the skull and its soft-tissue together:

2016-03-28 16.13.19

This is dramatically different from how we think of heads, or at least of how I do. I think this is because when we hear “skull”, we’ve been conditioned by years of Scooby Doo and Indiana Jones to think “human skull”. And I think that human heads much more closely match the profile of their skulls than those of badgers do theirs.

Of course this is just another way of saying that there is a lot more muscle on a badger skull, which is another way of saying that this is a seriously powerful animal. I know I keep making this point, but I think it’s a point well worth making. The world has had quite enough of this kind of thing (from here):


And its time that we all started to give badgers the credit they deserve. They are basically small bears with misleadingly endearing facial coloration.

(BTW., when I say that I kept the meat, I mean that I kept it until I’d taken that photo. Then I threw it away. I’ve not kept it permanently, I’m not a sicko. No, I’m not.)

I leave you with one of the less successful old music-hall jokes:

  • First man: I say, I say I say! What’s the best way to remove the brain from a dead and partially cooked badger skull?
  • Second man: Actually, there is no good way. The best I’ve found is to shove a chopstick through the foramen magnum, swirl it around to break up the tissue, then shake the bits out and repeatedly rinse.
  • First man: That’s disgusting.
  • Second man: I never said it wasn’t.

Here is the residue, in our sink:

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Fiona, if you’re reading this: I promise I will have this all nicely cleaned up before you return from your parents’ house with the boys.

(Did I mention that Fiona had taken the boys to her parents’ house? It’s not because of the dead badger. It’s just coincidence. I think.)



14 Responses to “Defleshing a badger head: a pictorial guide”

  1. From the few animal heads I’ve had the pleasure of defleshing, I found that the best way to get brains (and sinus tissue) out is with a high-powered water pic. The one that I–at one point during my life but afterwards never again–used was from the grocery store. Turn that sucker on high, stick it in and watch the brains ooze out.

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    I don’t think we have those in the UK.

    What are their legitimate uses in the USA? (Apart from killing home intruders, obviously.)

  3. He’s talking about water flossers.

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    Those don’t exist over here. The concept is completely new to me.

  5. The theory is similar to using a high-pressure hose to get the brains out of, say, an elephant skull. The water pic (or water flosser or dental water pick) is just a much smaller hose.

  6. Mike Taylor Says:

    Yep. I do much the same just by running water through the skull, from nares to foramen magnum. Problem is, I’m worried about the respiratory turbinates.

  7. Allen Hazen Says:

    Thanks, very much! And I look forward to more photos. I have a (store-bought) skull of an American badger, and now I can compare it to a European badger!
    (In a fully prepared and dried skull, the mandible can, with a little manipulation to find the exact proper angle, be detached from the skull: the “tube” isn’t complete enough to prevent this. But it does require finding the correct angle, and I wouldn’t want to try it if there were any flesh left in that area!)

  8. The turbinates should not detach just for having run water through.

  9. Tom Johnson Says:

    The skull is lovely. Some years ago – well, I guess it was around 25 now – I decided to obtain some roadkill for the bones. I found an opossum, the most common roadkill in central California, and I went the uninformed burial route, enclosing the carcass in mesh, and exhuming it some time later. I related my experience to Mary Odano, a notable preparator at LACM, who gave me a look of disgust, and said, “Oh, no, you lose too much! All you need is a sharp knife and a strong stomach!” I knew she was (in her sweet way) calling me a sissy, but had to agree. Since then I’ve acquired some nice skulls of North American mammals – this time on ebay, missing the edification of dissecting the musculature along the way, but also missing icky part. Anyway, lovely badger!

    Tom Johnson, Loveland, Colorado

  10. Mike Taylor Says:

    I think Odano misled you: all you need, in her approach, is a sharp knife, a strong stomach, and a great deal of expertise. I’ve now prepped a good few skulls, but I’d never go at one with just mechanical tools for fear of damaging the bones. (That goes double for bird skulls, which are much harder to handle than mammal skulls.)

    eBay is fine, but I think there is a sense of achievement in prepping your own skull — whether by dissection, burial, simmering, or the hard unpaid work of invertebrates.

  11. […] to wait till I’ve got the fox’s skull out of its head. So here are the two I have now: the badger (left) and the cat […]

  12. “I’ve now prepped a good few skulls, but I’d never go at one with just mechanical tools for fear of damaging the bones.”

    Hi Mike,

    You’re really overestimating your strength. When you’re working with a scalpel, it is very easy to be gentle. Scalpels and scalpel blades are very cheap to order through eBay. There’s so much skin, fat and bone on most mammals, that I don’t think you need to sweat it and there’s no better way to learn than by practice. :)

  13. Mike Taylor Says:

    Your last point is an excellent one, Pilot Data. If only I had the time to become experienced.

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