What is taxidermy?
Taxidermy began in England in the early 19th Century. It is the art of preserving a deceased animal’s skin and mounting it on to a structure or form in a way that was true to it’s living state.
The word ‘taxidermy’ itself is derivative of greek words: Taxis means to “to move”, and “derma” means “skin” (the dermis). The word taxidermy translates to “arrangement of skin”.
What are taxidermy animals stuffed with?
Taxidermy animals aren’t really ‘stuffed’ with anything.
Traditionally, after the animal is skinned and measurements are taken from the carcass, a sturdy structure is made to replicate the carcass which is constructed out of bound woodwool and wire. After the skin has been treated, it is then mounted on to this structure and is sewn up.
In some cases, the skull is used, especially in smaller mammals, but for larger mammals, typically rabbit sized and upwards, a carved replica of the head/skull or a cast is necessary.
These days, commercial taxidermy forms made from foam are available for most animals, but I still prefer to make my own forms because I have more freedom with the poses and I know they will be an accurate fit for the skin.
Are the eyes real?
All eyes in taxidermy mounts are either made from glass or acrylic. If real eyes were used, they would simply rot, perish and go a bit…errr…gross.
Why doesn’t the skin rot?
Once the deceased animal has been skinned, the hide (skin) goes through several processes in order to correctly preserve it so it lasts a life time and beyond.
For smaller mammals (typically squirrel sized and smaller), dry preservation methods are used. After the skin has been thoroughly washed, degreased and soaked in an alcohol solution to remove all traces of bacteria, a salt based powder called borax is thoroughly rubbed into the skin which dries it out and removes all moisture.
For animals with thicker skin, a tanning method is applied. After skinning, the hide is salted for up to 48 hours to remove all of the moisture from the skin. It’s then placed in what’s called a ‘pickle’ after rehydration, which dissolves the non-structural proteins of the skin and makes to possible for tannins to attach to the structural proteins of the skin.
After pickling, the hide is then ‘shaved’ which means to remove all of the fatty tissues, ready for the tanning solution. The tanning solution chemically altars the skin and makes it into a permanent leather.
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