I’m a card-carrying taxidermy fanatic. Fortunately, Brighton – with its weird Victoriana fetish and oodles of old trinket emporiums – is pretty much the hotspot of taxidermy these days so I’m in good company! I’m fifteen minutes down the road from the Booth Museum, Eaton Nott and Snoopers’ Paradise, so I have all the borax and wood-wool stuffed critters I could ever hope for.
Recently I booked myself a place at a workshop with the London Taxidermy Academy. They’re great because they run very small classes, with a maximum of around six people (there were four at mine), so you get a lot of guidance and attention from the intense and heavily bearded tutor, Lee Paton. The class was so much fun, and the process is very therapeutic. It’s much easier and far less gory than you’d think – unless you accidentally stab the guts and spill mouse soup everywhere, like my classmate did.
So without further ado, here’s how to skin, clean, stuff and sew a little mouse! It’s under a cut, because I know some of you are a bit sensitive 😉
Let’s get skinning. YOU WILL NEED!
- – Latex gloves
- – Surgical scalpel
- – Disposable scalpel
Oh, and a dead mouse.
Mine had been frozen for about three weeks. We warmed them up in our hands to defrost them. Rest assured that the London Taxidermy Academy goes to great lengths to ensure that their specimens are ethically sourced!
Using the ultra-sharp scalpel, we parted the fur and slit the skin from chest to knees, making sure not to pierce the innards.
Then we very carefully peeled back the skin, which pretty much just came away like PVA glue off your hand! You gently remove the innards from the skin until it’s completely separate, which means getting your fingers right between the spine and the skin.
We broke the tail, the ankles and the wrists – their paws are so bony you don’t need to worry about taking the innards out of them – and then literally pulled it inside out. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was like peeling off an old sock.
Here’s poor old mousey. He’s not looking so good. Check out that ribcage though!
Then came the really tricky part. We had to cut the ears, eyes and nose away without tearing any holes in the delicate head skin. You cut away the thin muscles behind the ears and very carefully scrape at the eyes so as not to lose any of the eyelids or lashes. We kept his nose, whiskers and teeth though – again, the boniest bits are kept inside. Anyone else in the mood for kidney beans?
Then came a good half hour of scraping all the fat and gristle off the inside of the skin, and voila! One mouse skin, washed in cold soapy water, blow-dried and ready for stuffing!
Using wire, string and wood wool, we made mouse-shaped mannequins…
And pulled our skins over the top! Like stuffing a pillowcase. He’s already looking better.
The wires coming out of the arms, legs and tail are fully posable, and the mannequin fits like a glove. Time to add a pinch of borax to help him dry out quicker, sew him up and pose him!
I couldn’t resist getting little Bruce out for a picture on the train ride home.
Next up: GERBIL TAXIDERMY.