Janesville49.9°

Bare bones: Business of skulls drives couple buggy

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Stacy Vogel
December 10, 2007
— Derek and Jodi Casper keep hundreds of thousands of employees working for food in a garage in their backyard.

It’s not the kind of food you’d want though, unless you happen to like gnawing raw flesh off of animal skulls.


The Fulton Township couple use colonies of Dermestid beetles from Africa to clean animal heads for their business, Skull Crafters Taxidermy. The business is now in its busiest season as it prepares skulls for hunters after the gun deer hunting season.


Jodi handles most of the business end, while Derek handles the beetles. The bugs clean skulls of all species and sizes, from mice to moose.


“We’ve done everything from alligators to wolves,” Derek said. “I think we’ve done just about every animal in North America.”


Their most common orders are for white-tail deer and black bear skulls, he said.


Animal skulls are a growing alternative to mounted animal heads because they’re so much cheaper, Jodi said. A white-tail deer skull costs $90—less if you skin the head yourself—with an additional $50 for a plaque. Mounting the same deer head, on the other hand, could run anywhere from $450 to $600.


“They don’t take as much room either,” Jodi said. “People are running out of room on their walls.”


Derek started cleaning skulls with beetles about seven years ago as part of his full-service taxidermy shop. But the skull-cleaning side soon grew so large that he gave up the rest of the business to focus on that, he said.


Most taxidermists boil skulls to clean them, but that can damage the skulls by cracking teeth and breaking off delicate bones, Derek said. It also gives skulls a yellowish tint.


Skull Crafters chemically degreases and whitens the skull after the beetles finish their work, leaving even the finest bones intact, he said.


“They turn out so beautiful,” said Ryan Ellifson, a Department of Natural Resources warden in Jefferson County. Ellifson stopped by the Casper home Thursday to pick up beaver, muskrat, bobcat and badger skulls that he will use in educational programs for children.


“I don’t have to worry about them falling apart,” Ellifson said. “It’s museum-quality work.”


Handling the beetles is not as easy as it looks. They prefer to work in pitch darkness in 90-degree heat.


“That’s kind of a big cost around here,” Jodi said.


Still, the Caspers have found their investment worth it. Their orders have doubled every year for the past three years, and they hope to expand the garage where they house the beetles next year. This year, they will clean more than 1,000 skulls.


Plus, the job is fun, Derek said.


“You don’t hear of a lot of people who raise bugs for a living,” he said.


INFORMATION
For details about Skull Crafters Taxidermy and Dermestid beetles, visit www.skullcrafters.com.

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