How do animal bones decompose? © Getty Images

How do animal bones decompose?

Bones do decay, just at a slower rate than other organic material. Depending on the conditions, this process usually takes a few years.

Asked by: Ned Ludgate, by email

Advertisement

Bones are largely a fibrous matrix of collagen fibres, impregnated with calcium phosphate. In warm, damp environments, bacteria and fungi will attack the collagen protein and the skeleton will crumble over the course of a few years. Calcium phosphate isn’t attacked by micro-organisms, but it reacts readily with acid, so bones decompose fastest in well aerated, peaty soils.


Advertisement

Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.