Taxidermy denotes the method of preserving an animal. However, it is also used to refer to the finished result, taxidermy mounts, or simply “taxidermy.”
Therefore, when most people think about taxidermy, they imagine stuffed animals or skulls. However, since the times of William Hornaday and Carl Akeley, taxidermy has been a scientific art.
Therefore, it needs a professional taxidermist not only acquire exact measurements, photographs, and tracings of the creatures they want to mount but also to research the anatomy of those animals to create lifelike specimens.
5 Surprising Facts about Taxidermy (you may not have known)
Taxidermy only gained popularity in the 1900s
Although people have been using techniques like mummification to preserve animals for thousands of years, the modern art of taxidermy did not emerge until the 16th century.
During this time, Europeans started experimenting with mounting different animal skins and developing techniques to preserve them better.
In the nineteenth century, contemporary taxidermy started to flourish. In 1851, London held the Great Exhibition, often known as the Great Exhibition. This event included over one hundred thousand objects from over fifteen thousand donors, many of which were taxidermy works.
Arsenic was one of many chemicals used for preservation
The early preservation techniques varied from taxidermist to taxidermist and were jealously guarded; some taxidermists even died without exposing their techniques.
Taxidermists often used arsenic in arsenical soap, which was applied to the inside surface of the specimen’s skin to prevent biodegradation and insect infestation.
Today, however, Borax or sodium borate is used for salting to kill microorganisms and eliminate extra moisture. The skin is then pickled in acid to improve its ability to absorb chemicals, making it softer and more extensible.
Even Charles Darwin tried his hand at taxidermy
John Edmonstone learned the ability from naturalist Charles Waterton, who accompanied him on travels. Darwin was charged one guinea every hour for Edmonstone’s services.
Darwin likely would not have been able to get employment aboard the HMS Beagle if not for the abilities he learned from Edmonstone.
Taxidermy competitions date to the late 1800s
The American Society of Taxidermists presented the country’s very first taxidermy competition. A Fight in the Treetops by William Temple Hornaday was declared the winner. This illustration depicted two Bornean orangutans fighting over a female.
This taxidermy work motivated other taxidermists to strive for scientific and anatomical precision in their specimens.
The oldest piece of taxidermy still on display is 500 years old
A crocodile hangs from the ceiling of the Santuario Madonna Delle Lacrime Immacolate in Ponte Nossa, which is an important relic.
The church preserves records recording the 1534 removal of the crocodile from the church. However, its origins have been lost to time. It is about 500 years old, making it the world’s oldest taxidermy specimen.
It was supposed to be lost, but the crocodile resurfaced in the church’s attic in the 18th century. It was hung from the ceiling, where it has stayed ever since.
Taxidermy has been around for hundreds of years and has become a valuable tool in the scientific community. The process is intricate, and when done by a professional taxidermist, the end product can last for many years.