MY FAVORITE TAXIDERMY SUPPLIES

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Here are some of my favorite supplies (and accompanying tips and tricks) to get really nice-looking specimens. They'll change the way your work turns out! Whether you're a beginner or a veteran taxidermist, give these a whirl. I think you'll be satisfied.

1. I think one of the most important supplies to have in your arsenal is borax. If you're doing a bird taxidermy mount it's a must, but I also use it for small mammal taxidermy as well. Lots of taxidermists swear by tanning their hides but sometimes beginners in taxidermy just want to experiment with other methods. Use it to deter insect activity, slough off fat and fascia, dry the fur of hides, and of course, add to your birds right before mounting so they don't dry out too quickly. Borax can also be used to make slime or for your laundry if you decide taxidermy just isn't your jam!

2. I always use nitrile gloves while doing taxidermy. Vinyl gloves have, in my experience, reacted poorly to some of my preferred taxidermy chemicals, and latex gloves always make my hands smell really disgusting. Plus, the bright color is easy to see when you're skinning around a limb!

3. A good, sharp scalpel with a sturdy handle is a must. From skinning to fleshing and even some of the fine detail work of form-carving, you want a blade that can handle it all. I prefer a #24 scalpel blade, which fits on a #4 handle. The point of the #24 is very sharp and can help you with tasks like skinning around a mouse's eye, but the broad side of the blade is effective on skinning and fleshing much larger animals too.

4. Formalin is a very important chemical when it comes to specimen preservation. Not only can you use it to make wet specimens, you can also inject it into the feet of mammals and birds after mounting to help preserve, dry out, and protect them permanently. Formalin is a buffered formaldehyde solution and should be used and stored very carefully. Please mind the MSDS information.

5. Use a syringe that is large enough to hold a decent amount of liquid, but which is small enough that you can still handle and maneuver it comfortably. I also like to use a 20g veterinary needle (only available on eBay, not Amazon) so as not to leave very large holes in my specimens.

6. When skinning animals I prefer to dissect joints apart rather than cutting them, but at some points it's just necessary to cut through a bone (like inside of a squirrel's foot, or above a mouse's ankle). For these instances, I prefer a specially designed pair of poultry bone scissors. These come with a lifetime warranty which is well worth it. Make sure you push the bone all the way into the blades so the notch holds them in place when you cut.

7. Looking for a shortcut so you don't have to mess with salting, drying, rehydrating, pickling, and more that goes into traditional tanning? I like Chuck Testa's martini tan recipe - a 50/50 mix of denatured alcohol and gum turpentine. Skin your animal, submerge it in the solution, gently shake it every day for a week, and pull it out to wash it with lukewarm water and this soap (best kind!) before you flesh it. The "martini tan" actually alters the proteins in the skin and fascia to make it REALLY easy to peel the two apart. Proceed with borax on the inside and outside before mounting as usual!

8. If you're doing a dry-mounted mammal project, try soaking your entire hide (yes, the fur too!) in isopropyl alcohol before fleshing it. Use borax to rub in the fur and fluff it up again! After about 15 minutes it will look like a whole new animal. I also like to use this alcohol as my permanent storage solutions for fluid-preserved specimens.

9. Crock-pots are great for cleaning bones, but only if you know what you're doing. It's nice to have a dedicated crock-pot for taxidermy to avoid cross-contamination in your kitchen. Always choose one with a multitude of heat settings so you can put it on the lowest heat setting. You should leave your skulls to soak in the crock-pot for only a day or so, gently cooking the meat off the bone on a very low setting with a soapy solution (soap and water) in the pot. Overcooking can lead to greasy skulls.

10. Use this set of wax carving tools to scrape the cooked meat off of your skulls. You can also use these tools for tucking eyelids and lips, manipulating clay, and more.

11. Use a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution to whiten your skulls once you've cleaned any muscular remnants off of them. Check out this blog post for other bone-cleaning tips and tricks!

12. Sewing up tough hides can be a huge pain, but if you use a tri-sided leather needle it pierces right through even the toughest of hides. These needles are SHARP and have three blades on them that can be sharpened. Protect yourself with a thimble and try sewing with artificial sinew when you're working on a squirrel or anything else with a thick skin. There is no photo of these needles, but please trust me - they're a game changer.

13. This brand of chinchilla dust is my favorite way to finish up both birds and mammals before grooming. Your specimens' fur and feathers will be as fluffy as a chinchilla after you give everything a good dip, douse, and shake followed by a nice blow-dry with a regular hair dryer on low or even a blowout from an air compressor.

Good luck and have fun!


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HOW TO SKIN A SKUNK

Hi! Last week I filmed a video tutorial on how to skin a skunk. Here it is:

Instead of starting with a ventral or dorsal cut, you'll want to skin around the vent (aka the anus, aka the butt, aka the "junk") the same way/depth that you would cut for regular skinning. After you go all the way around the vent, you pull the whole thing out and dispose of it far, far away.

Watch the video for information about gloves, how to finish skinning, and what to do if you get a lil' skunk juice on your hands. Spoiler alert: it's NOT tomato juice.

If you find the video useful, consider making a small donation of a dollar or two. Donations are very much appreciated because they allow me to continue to create quality content without ads. If you donate, I'll also troubleshoot and answer your skunk questions (within reason) via email.

Happy skunkin'!

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BEING THE "PARENT" OF AN "INTERNET-FAMOUS" DOG

From the moment I laid eyes on my dog Osiris, I knew he was special. On a cold night in November of 2012, some friends found a tiny worm-filled puppy wandering around a parking lot in Detroit. Because it was the night before Thanksgiving and because my friends already had three dogs of their own, they asked me to step in and foster him until the following Monday. When I got to their house to pick him up, I didn’t even know that he was a puppy because the photo they had sent was so blurry, but from the moment they handed him to me wrapped in a blanket, I fell in love. Yes, I’m aware that this sounds like the ravings of a woman re-telling the story of her home water birth.

For the last nearly five (five! I can’t believe it’s been this long) years, Osiris has been my loyal companion. He only ever ruined one pair of shoes and he’s the sweetest creature to ever grace the planet (maybe I’m biased). When I worked as a wildlife rehabber in Ohio, he waited patiently at my feet in case a squirrel I was feeding dribbled some milk. On the many occasions that I fostered kittens, he’d curl up with them and keep them warm. Because of this, when I adopted my first rat in 2015, I knew he’d be interested. What I wasn’t anticipating was the beautiful and adorable friendship that blossomed between Riff and Osiris.

I started taking videos on my phone and photos on my DSLR because they both moved too fast for still photos on a camera phone. When I began posting the photos on a separate account so as not to annoy the followers on my personal Instagram page (mostly dedicated to taxidermy), a few followers trickled over. Then, the media exposure started - Buzzfeed, Mashable, BarkBox, even the Huffington Post. It was really cool to see how many smiles I brought to complete strangers and it was nice that they appreciated my amateur photography. But of course, like anything that becomes popular, the account also began to gain criticism.

I began receiving comments and private notes about anything and everything that could be nitpicked. At first it seemed benign - people wanting videos or photos of Osiris and Riff doing “different” things than what I was posting. Anyone who has pet rats knows they’re great but not the kind of pets you want to let loose on the floor of your apartment. There’s really only so many angles and activities to be documented in regards to a friendship between a dog and a rat so our feed just stuck to the same theme it had to begin with (it didn't stop the strange requests though). Then people were upset that we only had one rat, but when the opportunity presented itself for us to rescue Milhouse, people were overly concerned about HOW we planned on introducing them and the emotional well-being of the rats and the dog. Seriously, people. He’s great, but he’s a DOG. He was not distraught about suddenly having two rats to hang out with instead of one.

Somehow this all [d]evolved into a craze of negativity. The food I fed to my pets was wrong. The bedding they slept on was wrong. The shape of my dog’s collar was wrong - I'm not even kidding, this was the subject of one message. People started getting into fights with each other in the comments of social media posts with pictures of a dog they had not and would never meet. If some of my taxidermy collection was included in the background of a photo I got accused of animal abuse because somehow, collecting taxidermy older than my parents and hanging it on the wall equates to me hurting my living pets. People started posting about my alleged animal abuse on message boards.

I didn’t want to let a few bad apples ruin the whole bunch, so I blocked/ignored anyone who left really nasty comments and moved on with my life. For the most part people enjoyed our posts — some, enough to repost them. The sad deal with lots of these meme accounts and other pages that repost others’ work is that they rarely take the initiative to credit things properly (but some would comply if you sent a direct message asking for credit). Other page operators made it their mission to be as rude as possible and deny any credit, then ask their friends to visit my page and harass me. Many of the meme pages have sponsorships which means that someone else made money on content that I created, and frankly that really upsets me.

My photos on the Osiris and Friends Instagram page are not exactly fine art. I’m simply someone who loves taking photos of animals and when I knew that my pets were bringing joy to others, it made me want to share their friendship even more. Photographing Osiris, Riff, Milhouse, Maria, Dale, and Pocket over the last few years has been a labor of love. I’m not saying it’s strenuous work or rocket science but it does take a fair amount of time and effort to clean my couch of pet fur for photos, make sure batteries are charged, get my pets to stay in one general area for photos, and then edit and upload everything. It’s something I enjoy doing so I can share my joy with others. I do not get paid for these efforts and again, it’s something I do out of love — so when another entity swoops in and snatches my content to make their own profit, I take issue with that the same way I would take issue with someone republishing text out of an e-book I have written or duplicating my drawings.

Before you leave a holier-than-thou comment, accuse someone of animal abuse, or steal a photo from a pet account and then torment the person you took it from via direct message, or urge your followers to doxx the owner of an Instagram-famous animal (are you really that shitty of a human being that you want to ruin someone’s life over a copyright infringement report??) think about the fact that behind every Instagram pet account is a real live person. We care SO MUCH about our pets and love sharing the joy they bring to our lives with thousands of other people. I could just as easily not maintain an online presence for my pets (it would actually be really easy) but I’ve chosen to share these moments with all of you because I want to bring a little more happiness into a world filled with cruelty and negativity. I can’t think of any good reason that someone would want to put a damper on that.

Enjoy your day and be as nice to others as my dog is. Your spirits will lighten immensely, I promise.

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Mickey Alice Kwapis is a Chicago-based taxidermist and craftswoman.
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