Love, Laughter, and Life

Adventures With a Book Lover


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Throwback Thursday: Jimmy Hoffa

scan rat jimmy

Circa 1983-1984

Meet Jimmy Hoffa.

Not THE Jimmy Hoffa, but my own skin-less, flesh-less version.

One quarter during my junior year of college at Western Washington University, I had the BEST science course! I loved that class. We determined our own grades by the project choices and number of selections we made on a preset list of assignments. Since I was always aiming for top grades, I made high marks my goal.

The final choice (between getting an A or a B) was removing the flesh from a small rodent to expose the skeleton. Actually, there was a second choice, but I don’t remember what it was. I spent many intense moments in consideration as I walked to and fro across campus. Choice A or B? I just had to do that final project to push myself to an A.

As I was wavering on how to get a rodent (rat or mouse) and how I was ever going to ‘kill’ it in order to dissect the flesh/skin/fur from its’ skeleton, I practically stepped on a rat. I was racing to class, when BAM, there was a barely moving rat lying on the pavement right outside my dorm! It was up against Old Edens, a gorgeous brick, ivy-covered behemoth of a building. I think the poor thing fell off and brained itself. Barely breathing or moving. Four feet in the grave.

Should I or shouldn’t I??? Choice A? I had to choose A when the opportunity presented itself. Nearly late, I raced to my room, grabbed a plastic bag, ‘rescued’ the rodent from the cement, put it in the dorm freezer, and headed to class. I really don’t think it was going to come around, so slowly freezing to death seemed pretty humane to me.

Now I was in possession of a full-sized dead frozen rat-sicle. In. The. Dorm. Freezer. (Don’t tell anyone, I’m sure there were regulations against it.) Time to earn that A.

How to Make a Rat Skeleton Display

1. Borrow science tools and remove as much of the ‘not bones’ parts as possible. This was a bit tricky with the tail and tiny toes, not to mention the dull scapel.

2. Attach rat skeleton (in my case, Jimmy Hoffa) to a piece of balsam wood to hold it in one position. I used straight pins.

3. Take rat skeleton to a flesh-eating insect colony. I also had the choice of boiling off the flesh, but ew. If frozen rat in the freezer in my dorm was bad, the smell of cooking rat would have been much worse! Besides, the tiny bones would have fallen apart or dissolved.

4. Let rat skeleton spend a minimum of one month in the insect colony.

Research Tip: I have no idea which type of insects Jimmy really visited, but best guess is a colony of dermestid beetles. Which, according to this post, can pick a skeleton clean in one day. No idea why Jimmy had to stay away from home for a month.

5. So, Jimmy went on a little trip to the flesh-eating insect container. There Jimmy spent a month of so while hundreds, or thousands, of little bugs combed his bones, picking off and eating leftover bits my scapel refused to move. He was almost perfectly clean when I picked him up from the vacation in Bug-Land. After writing an eye-witness account of his travels, I presented Jimmy and his journal to my professor.

Ta-da! I was awarded an A for my work in the science course. And I got to keep Jimmy. Where he lived in a ziplock bag for years until I couldn’t think of anything else to do with him and tossed him out. Poor Jimmy.

There you have it! Should you want to de-flesh a rodent skeleton, just find a colony of those flesh-eating bugs.

What crazy projects did you complete during your educational years?