How to Taxidermy a Squirrel

This episode contains material that may not be suitable for all audiences. Viewer discretion is advised. Srsly. Grossometer – Extreme
Some blood – skin removal – visible organs – Hey, we’re here with Katie Innamorato who is a taxidermy artist
[Katie Innamorato, taxidermy] and Anna Goldman, mammal’s prep lab manager,
[Anna Goldman, mammals] and me. Today we’re going to learn how to
taxidermy some squirrels. You’re a taxidermist, Katie, how is
that different from what Anna does? – So, when you’re doing taxidermy,
there’s just a couple extra steps you have to go in. There’s a little bit more prep work
we have to go in, we have to split your lips,
you have to split your eyelids, you have to turn your ears inside out, you have to go all the way to to the last
knuckle on each of your toes. So it’s just a little more tedious
to prep your hide properly so you can tuck it on your form later. – What I do is just surround a cotton form
with wires in the hand and wires in the tail. It’s much more simplistic,
[study skin,taxidermy] it dries naturally, and it’s really just so
scientists can look at it and identify color patterns,
fur thickness, different locality data,
that kind of stuff. So it’s, it’s got nothing to do
with these guys. – Ultimately, like the difference
between a taxidermy mount and a museum study mount is that the museum studies are
going to be used for research and the taxidermy things are—you are
literally trying to breathe life back into the shape of the animal.
– Yup. – Like you’re giving it fake eyeballs,
you’re giving it a realistic pose. – Body shape too.
– Yeah. [(no. 1) The Specimen] – Step number one:
find some dead squirrels. – Yup.
– Where, where did these guys come from? – These guys are all from road kill so
they’ve got a little bit of trauma going on. – They had some concrete
surgery done to them. – Anna’s has some of its intestines
blowing out of its leg. – We have an intestinal pocket in the leg. That we can just keep
going and going. – Oh. That’s disgusting. – Let’s just put that
back in there for you. – But the squirrels are all okay,
I mean they’re not ok— They’re really messed up, I— – This is not—This is not okay. This is just not okay. – His jaw, His mandible is
in the outside of his face. – All of them have that going on, too. – Yeah, wow. That guy, uhh— That makes my mouth hurt. Um, yeah. So anyway, we’re going to breathe
some life back into these critters. – So first step is—I like to have
the specimen facing me, because you always want to try to
cut with the direction of the fur. – Okay. – And these guys have some long
fur, so what you want to try to do is make a little bit of a seam so that
we don’t end up cutting any fur so we can use our fingers
otherwise I have wire brushes. We can use those to help card our fur. – Automatically this is a little bit
different than what I’ve ever done. – Yeah, this is like— We are being a lot nicer
typically to the specimen. I mean not that we’re like
totally mean or terrible, but mostly we take our measurements and then we just slice
the belly, so we kinda, we kinda start on the other side. We probably start here because when we make our stitches,
it’s belly side down for our study skins so we don’t want the stitch
to be as visible but also color pattern up here
is really important and a lot more distinctive, so stitching
there may skew with the data, so to say. [(no. 2) Incision & Preparation] The spine it totally shattered, so uh— My line is a little crooked.
– Yeah, that’s fine. So I like to start my incision— I’m not sure how you guys usually do it, I hold the blade upside down,
I just do a puncture and then I just kind of slide the blade up
from the underside of the skin. – This is totally different. – You’re crazy. This is madness.
– So you don’t cut the fur, that’s the big thing. So you’re just kinda gently wiggling the
blade around under the skin to cut it. – So normally what we
would do is not hold— This is literally everything
is doing backwards. Instead of going on the belly
with the blade like this, we’re going on the back
with the blade like this. – I feel like I’m using my left hand.
– Really? – I feel like I’m learning.
I feel like I’m learning. – “I feel like I’m learning.” – No, that came out weird. Yeah. Oh, his brains are coming out
of the back of his head. – And now we can just start peeling
the skin down the back. – So where are we at with
these guys now, Anna? How is your squirrel looking over there? – You can see, this is the femur and
the pelvis is totally shattered so the pelvis would be right here and yeah, that is actually completely
split so the pelvis is there and these are the guts.
My finger’s now in the guts. – So what do we need to do in order
to actually mount these guys? – For taxidermy purposes
you only use the skin. That’s something that a lot of
people are not aware of or kind of get confused with. Old school taxidermists,
they would use the bones, they would clean them and
add wire to them for more structure and they’d make armatures
using the skeletons that way, but commercial guys and traditional guys
nowadays buy commercially made forms. So you only need to use the skin. Let’s see if we can get this to go. I like to cradle the back end
as much as I can just so I have a firm grip on the animal and get that meat off my hands. I like to use my index finger
for support underneath. And then I use my thumb and my thumbnail
to kinda get in here and just slide. So my guy was easier than yours.
– Oh oh uh. – So just grab it with a dry paper towel. – This is his tail that
pulled off of his body. It wasn’t that—It wasn’t
attached very well anyway. Oh, there we go!
– Perfect! [(no. 3) Fleshing & Tanning] – So fleshing just basically involves
taking a pair of tweezers or one of these wire brushes and getting the tissue
off of the skin, right? – Yup. And, when I’m at home
I have a fleshing beam. So it’s just a piece of wood
at a 45 degree angle that I set skin on and
same thing with the blade, it’s about a 45 degree angle, you just want to get
in here under the muscle and you just scrape it off. – And so for the tanning process,
you know, my idea is that we have these huge
tanning wheels out over there and I imagine like this going into some
kind of a version of a dryer or something. But that’s not how you tan the skins
that we’re going to transition to. – Yeah, for these guys, I just
mix up a tanning solution. The one that I use has
a mix of formic acid and a couple other different
chemicals, so they’re really harsh. – So basically, they—the skins go into
a chemical tan and then we get these guys. – Yup. These guys right here. So they’re completely tanned already and we just have to go and
finish prepping them. – So we kind of cheated a little bit. In that we have ones that are
already ready for the sake of the— – It’s like the brownie—
– We could film for like five days, you know. – Yeah. It’s like the brownies
in the cooking show, where you’re just like, “Here’s the
batter and here’s the brownies.” – Jeez. I’m really glad you said something because I brought a change
of clothes. “Five days later.” – Oh yeah. Movie magic. Alright. [(no. 4) Mounting the Specimen] So you have these forms and I can’t imagine this is
what Carl Akeley used. For his taxidermy.
[*Carl Akeley, a pioneer of modern taxidermy] So what are these forms, where can you buy them
and how are they different than using the actual skeleton parts? – Okay. So these guys are made out of
a high density urethane foam and they are just popped out of molds and they come from different
taxidermy supply companies. – Anna and I have the same one. But not all squirrels are—
– Yeah, but your squirrels are smaller and I don’t know what’s going on
with this big guy, but he’s huge. – It’s just crazy to think
about replicating veins and, like, muscle structure with that.
– Yeah. Yeah, we kind of rough it up. Try to remove the lines on here,
go around the face. With the modeling tool
or with the scalpel, I can give you the modeling tool
when I’m done with it. I’ll just use this guy for an example. You want to follow along that lip line
that’s already on your form, and you want to go in about
a quarter of an inch deep or so, and this is our little
relief cut in our form so that we can tuck the lips that we
split, all that loose skin, inside of here. – Oh. So like it really just
goes into the form. – Yup. And that’s how you
get a natural lip line. – Wow. – So now we just want to dig in here
so that we can set in our eyes. – So what do we do with the epoxy?
[*epoxy – clay adhesive] – Epoxy? You want to put it on your skin
[*epoxy – clay adhesive] so I’m gonna hand this
back to you in a second. So you just want to open up
your little leg holes, either with a paint brush or with
the modeling tool and just feed. Front legs don’t need as much… Um, yeah. You can do a little bit more than that, just so we’re adhering our
paws onto our form, and then those back ones—you saw there’s
about like a half an inch or so of wiggle room. – Oh yeah. – So we’re gonna put a little
more down there. And because this is
the type of—it’s a clay, we can also just work it down on our forms if we put a little too much on there. – So we, I already have the epoxy in the limbs, got
those all filled out and now we gotta get a wire in the tail. So I’m just gonna take this wire
and feed it down to the end, and, oh, it came out the end. Okay, so like right there.
Is that long enough? – It’s okay if it comes out
the end of the tail. – Oh, okay.
– Yeah. So we got our forms all ready and
we got our skins prepped. Now we have our hide paste. So all we’re gonna do now is
you want to slather on a little bit on your head and on the underside. You’re not going to go anywhere
on the back right now. So I’ll let you do that. – Okay, how did I do?
– Yeah, that looks good. So can start slipping your
skin onto the form. – Aww, this is so exciting. Where’s your other eyeball, buddy? Op, alright. There’s officially glue everywhere.
– That’s okay. That’s okay. – Around, without putting
a hole in it, there we go. One eye looks… okay. One ear is really messed up. – So we got our skins just
loosely on our form, the faces are a little wonky right now but we’re gonna go tuck everything
after we have them sewn up. So, we’re just gonna use
monofilament to sew them up. – Like fishing line.
– Yup. Fishing line. – Why do we use fishing line? – Because it’s thin, clear,
and super strong. – So what’s the stitch? – We’re doing a baseball stitch. Uh it’s like a reverse whip
stitch, and, um, I like to go with— – Not English language. – I like to go from the— – The sailor’s knot technique of the
roundabout switch up… – So…
– I guess. – What does it look like? – You stick the needle through
the underside of your skin. – Okay.
– Either side. – Okay. – And then you just want
to go back and forth, putting the needle through
the underside of your skin. So it’s kinda like lacing shoe laces. – Am I making my incisions too close? – No, you’re doing fine.
– Okay. – Yeah. It’s just whatever you’re
comfortable with for sewing. – Anna, yours is so cute! – Kinda, he looks—he kinda
looks very scary. – This is like a scary pose for squirrels. Like I feel like I kinda want to do one where it’s like chewing on something.
– Sitting? Yeah. Like put an acorn in its
mouth or something. – Well, it’s getting ready to climb. Something intrigued it and
it wants to go down the tree. – Maybe there is a nut at the end of this pose.
– Yeah. – So how long does it usually take
you to do a study skin like this? – So skinning and study skinning
can take 30 minutes. – Really? Wow.
– Wow. – Especially like a squirrel,
it can be even like 25. – You just get it all out there and then you just big bam boom…
– Yeah, then it’s just… – Yeah. – And we literally spent all day on these guys.
– Yes! – From like 9 a.m. set-up
until 4:30 in the afternoon. – Yeah, yeah, it was a—Yeah. – No, but I think they look pretty good. – I think they look amazing. I’m—I really thought—I had really
low expectations, so this is like the most incredible thing
I’ve ever done like art. In my entire life. – Awesome. Well thank you
so much, Katie, for coming. – Yeah, thank you guys…
– Thanks, you’re totally rad, you’re a really great teacher. She’s super patient. – Yeah, super patient. – You’re awesome. Thank you so much. – Yeah. Awesome. And yeah, good luck
with everything with Afterlife Anatomy. – Thank you.
– Yeah. Yay. The Brain Scoop is brought to you
by the Field Museum in Chicago It still has brains on it.


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