Union resident puts beetles to work in Skull taxidermy
UNION — Longtime Union resident Adina Ferguson is some entrepreneur. She started her business just a few months ago, and already she employs hundreds of workers.
It isn’t hard being in charge of so large a work force. There’s no payroll to speak of. All Ferguson does is make sure her employees have optimal working and living conditions, and plenty to eat.
Ferguson, a lady who loves science, nature and wildlife, is in the rather esoteric business of skull taxidermy. It’s the process of cleaning, degreasing, bleaching and mounting for display the skulls of animals hunters have taken in the great outdoors.“I’ve been tanning hides and I’ve had a lot of fun with that,” she said. “A friend I trap with suggested I start doing this, and it sounded like a good idea.”
It took a little research to get going, but Ferguson didn’t mind. She likes to read. It didn’t take her long to find out about the naturally smart critter known as the dermestid beetle.
“According to the books, a colony will only grow to its demand for food. They’ll quit multiplying if there’s not enough food for them to survive,” she said.
Humans have long called on dermestids to clean bones, mainly because they do the best, most thorough job.
The bugs, which feed on dry animal or plant matter, are widely employed to clean specimens for museums of natural history. They also are used in forensic laboratories.
Some people clean skulls by boiling them, but taxidermists agree that beetles are the better way to go. With boiling, melted fat penetrates the bone, often resulting in a greasy yellow specimen.
Commonly called “carpet beetles,” dermestids are native to most areas — in other words, a person can find them just about anywhere.
But they don’t answer “help wanted” ads. Ferguson found that the best way to get a colony going is to order a starter kit online.
“When I first got my beetles, they were so tiny in their containers I could hardly see them,” she recalled.
Ferguson knew she’d have to build a special home for her workers. Out in her shop, she took an old upright refrigerator, laid it on its back, installed a fan and exhaust system, and sealed up any cracks that might offer the beetles an escape.
She has created the perfect working environment, and the bugs are very comfortable there.
“In order for them to be active, the temperature’s got to be around 80 degrees and the humidity 60 percent,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson said it takes her colony about a day to clean a skull.
After the beetles have accomplished the mission, she degreases the piece using a chemical cleaner. Then she whitens it more with a peroxide solution. As a special service, she can color the skull in a camo pattern.
“As long as I don’t have too much to do and the skull isn’t real greasy, I can get it back to the customer in about four days,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson’s parents, Roger and Debbie Clark, recently opened the Spoiled Mule Trading Co. on Main Street in Union.
The store deals in a wide variety of merchandise, including guns and outdoor gear. It’s the perfect venue for Ferguson’s skull taxidermy business, which she calls Skull Haven.
She said skull taxidermy is a good way to go for people who have a trophy they’d like to show, but can’t afford a traditional mount.
“Most of my customers are hunters. They bring me deer, elk, bear and cougar heads. It’s been a lot of bear and cougar recently, because of the spring season,” she said.
Reach Ferguson at 805-8410, or at the Spotted Mule Trading Co., 910-0189.