By Amber Middleton
I love the show Dirty Jobs, hosted by Mike Rowe on the Discovery Channel. Many of the people Mike features on his show are entrepreneurs who became successful by simply doing a job no one else wanted. Jay Villemarette is one of these industrious fellows. Villemarette owns Skulls Unlimited International and cleans skeletons—mostly animal and human skulls—for a living. According to its website, Skulls Unlimited sells osteological specimens to the educational, medical, and research communities.
We pretty much have an exclusive niche,” says Villemarette, whose staff also does articulation, or full-skeleton assembly. “There aren’t many people who do this kind of work.”
That’s not surprising — cleaning skulls is not for the faint of heart. Each skull takes four to six weeks to process using a procedure that includes millions of dermestid beetles. The beetles eat the tissue off the bones, then the skulls are chemically whitened and degreased before going to the finishing tables “where we hand remove anything that got missed by the beetles,” Villemarette says. “That’s where any teeth that are loose get glued in. We just make sure they look good.”
Villemarette’s career path began when he found a dog’s skull in the woods at age seven. Later, after finding a cat skull, he began studying the similarities. He soon became a self-proclaimed skull junkie, finding, cleaning, and selling animal skulls throughout high school. As an adult, he found himself out of work with a family to feed, and decided to turn his hobby into a business. Many have said that Villemarette created a market where a market didn’t previously exist, but he disagrees. “The market existed, just nobody capitalized on it.”