Taxidermy can creep some people out, but it is not anything to be feared. Many consider it an art form while others think of it as more of a science. No matter how you look at it, taxidermy is a mix of many different disciplines, including painting, sewing, sculpting, woodworking, and carpentry.
What Is Taxidermy?
Taxidermy is the art of reproducing lifelike animals and making them into a more permanent display. The word can roughly translate to “movement of the skin.” Taxidermy involves removing the skin from a dead animal, as well as the vertebrae, and then fashioning the animal to reproduce its likeness. In some cases, a taxidermist will even replicate the natural habitat of the animal.
How Does Taxidermy Work?
There are many different methods to preserve an animal depending on which animal you are working with. It helps to have knowledge about anatomy and zoology to make the process easier. Taxidermy is a meticulous process, and you need to have attention to detail, and the process will be personal to the taxidermist.
Every process begins with measuring. Taking accurate measurements of your specimen may need practice at first, and it is important to always measure more than once before you begin cutting.
You will then need to prepare the form, and you may even get pre-made forms. Forms come in different materials and can be made from nylon, twine, clay, resin, or different options. Some are more expensive than others, so this can vary depending on budget.
Skinning is the next step in the process, where the skin is removed from the animal’s body. This can be a tricky step for most people, and you cannot just cut through everything to separate the skin from the body.
It is important not to just tear through the body cavity since blood that seeps through can ruin the skin. Depending on the animal you are working with, some are going to be harder to skin than others. The eyes will also need to be handled with extreme care.
Tanning is the process of preserving the removed skin, and this process uses a range of different chemicals. Common chemicals are alcohol, non-iodized salt, or borax. During this process, it is important to let the skin dry in a dry and cool place, but it should not get so hard that it cannot be molded.
Mounting and stuffing is the final step, and it is an easier part of the process. Sewing is going to be painstaking and requires precision, to not result in an otherwise ruined animal. Finished animals should be artistically mounted. If you do this correctly, not only are you preserving the animal, but also preserving and conserving nature.
How to Taxidermy a Fish
Fish can be some of the hardest animals to taxidermy. The skin loses color once it is dry, so the entire body will need to be recreated with paint. There are different ways to mount a fish, and the kind you are hoping to use will depend on the different mounts.
Skin mounts will work the best for bass or other warm-water fish. If you are using this method, then it should be skinned using a taxidermy scalpel or a very sharp filet knife.
The next step is to remove the eyes so that only the head, tail, and skin are left. Smaller animals like fish are going to be harder to taxidermy in general than larger animals. You may want to have some small dentistry tools as part of the process, to remove as much flesh as possible.
While you can remove smaller debris during the rest of the process, you want to get as much out as possible. This will take patience and precision.
Any remaining muscle and skin that cannot be removed from the head and tail should be preserved with different kinds of formaldehyde and salts. Borax is spread over the skin while it is still wet, so that the fish can dry naturally and slowly and prevent any shrinkage.
The flesh is still going to be stiff after you remove the borax, and you will need to brush off excess borax that is still adhered to the skin. The skin is then stuffed with a filler material, such as packed sawdust. Afterwards, it is stretched over a mold so it can be shaped into the pose that you want.
The fins should be kept wet until you sew the fish shut, then you will need to spread them out and pin them to the cardboard backer to keep them in place while they are drying. The eyes will be the last thing you deal with, and this will not happen until they are completely dried.
Keep in mind the drying the process for the fish can take several weeks. Once it is completely dried, a glass eye is attached to the socket using a pin. Apply a little varnish and some paint, and then the fish is ready to be mounted.
The process is going to be slightly different for cold-water fish, such as trout and salmon, due to the skin. Cold-water fish have greasy and smooth skin, so the stuffing usually shows through. You will instead have to utilize a foam mold. Some people also choose to use artificial heads, attaching them to natural skin to avoid shrinkage and spoiling.
After you have gone through the work of preserving the fish, you still want to take care of your taxidermy, and not ignore your work. Keep your mount in a climate-controlled portion of the home and be sure it is away from direct sunlight. Dampness can mean mildew, and excessive dryness can cause splits or cracks. To keep them realistic looking, keep it clean and dust it periodically.
Get Help from Professionals
While it is possible to do this yourself, you will get better results when your taxidermy a fish with a professional. Choosing the right one is going to be important to make sure you get a nice, finished product. While it is possible that you can save some money going with a cut-rate operation, you should not be surprised if the result is not what you hope for.
When working with a professional, there are some tips to keep your fish ready to go for the best results. Do not let any fish flop around inside the cooler. Wrap your fish in a soaking wet towel and keep the fins smoothed back. You do not want to wrap your fish in newspaper since this can soak up the moisture.
Animal Family Advanced Pet Preservation is a fully staffed and full-time taxidermy studio that has won many blue ribbons for the work we have done. Contact us today for help with preserving your animals.
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