Friday, March 12, 2021

Cycles of Nature ~ The Badger and the Beetles


The Cal Poly Vertebrate Lab* processes wildlife specimens for research and outreach purposes. Most of the specimens we received are roadkill that have been collected and donated to the lab by Cal Poly students or community members. The specimen in the video is a badger,Taxidea taxus, that was collected at the Pismo Preserve by The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County staff Dylan Theobald. It had likely been deceased for at least a few days and had already started to decompose. Following collection, the badger specimen was frozen to prevent further decay.

The first thing we do at the lab is examine the specimen and determine what is the most useful way to process it given the condition of the specimen. As the badger was already starting to decay, we decided to just keep the skull and a paw. Our lab uses a Dermestid beetle colony to clean skulls. Dermestes maculatus is a flesh eating beetle commonly used for skull cleaning. The colonies are fairly easy to care for and can fully clean a skull in just a few weeks.

To prepare the badger head for the colony, we froze it for one week to kill any harmful parasites or diseases, removed the skin as the beetles won’t eat the skin, and removed some of the excess tissue. We also took a tissue sample to conduct DNA testing. The video shows how the beetles find the skull and begin consuming it. By the end of the video, all the flesh has been eaten off of the skull. This video was recorded over 9 days.

When the skull is removed from the dermestid colony, it must be put in a freezer for at least one week to kill any beetles or larvae remaining on the skull. After that, the skull goes through a degreasing process which involves soaking it in soapy water and switching the water every few days for about a week. After that, the process is complete and the skull is ready to be added to our museum collection or used for outreach! This badger will become part of the specimen collection used for The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County's outdoor education program, Learning Among the Oaks. We hope you will find this video interesting and informative and look forward to sharing more videos of our lab procedures in the future!

Click on the video below to see time-lapse video of the process (Caution for the squeamish -Includes graphic images).

Emma Witkin, EMT

Biological Sciences,

Cal Poly Class of 2021

*Directed by John D. Perrine, PhD

Professor / Curator of Mammals and Birds

Biological Sciences Department

California Polytechnic State University

San Luis Obispo, CA


Thursday, February 18, 2021

Friday, December 11, 2020

Ocean View School Oak Ambassador Natalie teaching on Vamonos Trail


What is that mossy stuff hanging from the oaks? Natalie shares the story of lace lichen with her cousin while hiking in Vamonos Canyon at the Pismo Preserve. Did you know that California has a State Lichen? Yep! This mossy stuff isn't moss and it is honored as the State Lichen of California. Pretty interesting that it is not one but two organisms (up to three for lichens in general) living symbiotically

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Nature close to home

 Thanks to volunteer Bill K. for sharing these photos from his Arroyo Grande critter camera.

A fawn asking, "Where's mom?" 

A deer checking out the camera up close

A finch showing off for the camera

Monday, November 2, 2020

Who left that scat?


Pismo Preserve Ranger CJ found this scat on a trail at the Pismo Preserve. Notice that it is not at all hidden. Maybe this animal wanted to make a statement? What else do you notice? Tapered ends, twisted tubular shape, presence of hair and size. Any guesses? Maybe a coyote?

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Ladybugs know when it's time to snuggle


Vineyard School Oak Ambassador alumnus Tristan discovered these ladybugs snuggling up for the winter ahead. Even though our winters are mild, ladybugs still know when it's time to snuggle. As the supply of their favorite foods, like aphids, drops off in the fall, it's time to rest. Warming days will awaken them and signal that it's time to mate, eat and produce more ladybugs. See

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Red-winged blackbird choir sings good night

LATO docent ~ nature photographer Mike Klatt shared these observations and photos: 

"The last couple of evenings a bit after sunset, large numbers of red-winged blackbirds have been flying to roost for the night in the Italian cypresses in our backyard.  We're not sure where they are coming from, but we do see them in a large valley oak tree that's about 50 yards away from the Italian cypresses before they fly to the cypresses.  The sound is truly beautiful.  It's like a choir of red-winged blackbirds all singing good night to each other.  There must be at least 100 or more of them."