Conservation – The Wolverine \\\ ///

My first taste of natural history conservation was when I started work on a wolverine skeleton, which had already been partially cleaned. The skeleton used to be articulated on a stand for display, but now the forelegs have been taken off  for easier storage in a cardboard box.


The Set Up

 Gulo Gulo (Linnaeus,1758),  are mustelids, like badgers  and weasels, they live in the Boreal forests of  North America and Northern Europe, they are incredibly powerful, looking somewhat like little bears.  They are opportunistic feeders, and can take down a large deer if the deer is hampered by deep snow, they will scavenge the kills of other animals  and the females hunt small mammals when they are rearing their kits. If they kill more than they can eat they will cache it and come back later. They mark these caches with the typically mustelid scent glands.

After some digging in filing cabinets and  reading though old reports I found that; ‘as opportunities not unfrequently occur of obtaining objects of interest and value, by purchase  only, the curators have thus secured several highly important specimens’ this was from 1865 and the Wolverine (Glutton)  was one of these specimens.

all the specimens are fine

Emma the conservator at Leeds showed me how to set up the steam cleaner, which gets right into the bone and drives out the deeply engrained dirt, this is currently considered the best method to clean bones.

purple gloves!

Once a good head of steam had built up in the machine, I  donned the kit; lab coat, goggles, ear defenders and, of course gloves. All my senses impaired I sat down and started on a fore limb, it is definitely satisfying to see the dirt blasted off the bone, although I was probably breathing in wolverine dirt.



so clean


Cleaning the feet of the wolverine was quite a fiddly task, but revealed that there was a lot of tendons, and even a toe pad still left on the foot. This is interesting for biologists, but a conservators nightmare as it will attract pests.

hope i look this good at 150

149 yo claw

Working up the foreleg again, I noticed that the scapula has some irregular bone material that suggests that the wolverine had been injured or had an infection and the wound had healed.

ew cancelleous

what happened?

After lunch and a refill of the water chamber I was ready to tackle the ribs and skull. I did the skull first, noting that  the sutures on the nasal bones were visible which also points to it being a younger animal, as in mustelids all the sutures on the skull fuse and are not visible in adult specimens.

aww baby wolverino

note sutures

Once I finished the ribs, which were very fiddly, yet didn’t seem to get much cleaner, I laid the whole skeleton out to dry on top of the freezer.  (this freezer is empty, but the conservator won’t let me fill it with specimens)


If you want to see high res versions of the pictures, let me know in the comments.




So What Does a Natural History Curatorial Trainee Do?

Working in a Museum is about documenting, conserving and sorting, but it is also about interpreting and education, a collection without interpretation is like a closed book, you can see what it is, but the full potential is only reached once the book has been opened and the words set the concepts free into your brain.

From my volunteering at the Natural History Museum I am familiar with documenting and sorting specimens, so I have started a couple of projects one working on the Zooarchaelogical remains we have, and one recording shells from the Hanley Collection.

I am also working on some conservation projects, including a wolverine skeleton and hopefully an aardvark.

However I have relatively little experience with exhibitions, so I am hoping to create tour-trail about New Zealand Birds, to take advantage of our collection. I will also be creating an exhibition at the Bexley Wing at St James’s University Hospital.

In the summer I will be taking the museum to the children for CBBC Live at Leeds and later in the year I will be speaking at Café Scientifique and assisting with school workshops.

In between all this I shall be going on placements at other museums around the country. Firstly I’ll be at the Natural history Museum in London, but I shall also be visiting York, Liverpool, Manchester to extend my experience and learn some more specialist techniques, such as Botany and Herbarium care at Liverpool and specimen preparation at Manchester.

I shall also be going on all sorts of courses, such as Fluid Preservation, Zooarchaeology and the Biology of Animal Mummies.

To add to the experience and for some opportunistic networking I shall be attended the NatsCA/ SPNHC joint conference and the Museums Association Conference.

I’m sure more projects will turn in the mean time, but I shall be working hard on this lot for the next few months.