WAACNewsletter
Volume 14, Number 2, May 1992, pp.18-23, illustrations

Storage Methods for Taxidermy Specimens

by Tamsen Fuller

Introduction

Many materials and techniques have been employed by taxidermists to preserve bird and mammal skins and to create mounted specimens. STUDY SKINS are prepared for scientific research purposes, while MOUNTS typically are created for display. Both may make use of stuffing materials (such as cotton) and a rigid internal support (such as wood dowels or, commonly, wire). Taxidermy mounts, particularly, are mixed-media creations with complex conservation needs (see Ref.1).

Although the environment plays an undeniable role in the preservation of taxidermy specimens, damage is usually ascribable directly to mechanical forces; for example, careless handling, interventive cleaning and repairs, and the removal of specimens from original bases.

Complicating the care of taxidermy specimens, toxic materials such as arsenic trioxide have often been used in their preparation as a pest control method. The use of contact poisons, coupled with dust production from aging mounts, may lead to contamination of nearby shelves and floors, as well as other collection materials. A HEPA-filtered vacuum is recommended for cleanup in such areas (see Ref.2).

Study Skins

A study skin collection may be actively used for research and receive much handling. Specimens are added regularly to such a collection, and specimens are also requested frequently for internal and external loans. Collection managers of such study skin collections require a storage system that meets usage needs in addition to preservation needs.

Although study skins begin as rounded forms, after years of lying on flat drawer bottoms, skins become flattened. An active collection thus mixes specimens of both conformations, rounded and flat. Collections managers resist providing individual supports for specimens for a variety of reasons, including lack of space and intellectual organization which requires specimens to be in scientifically systematic order.

Study Skin Storage Solutions

A trough system (as shown in Figure 1 would be appropriate storage for a new collection of ornithological study skins, but not for mixed age collections in which many specimens have flattened backs.

For the usual collection of smaller size skins, it is advisable to use neutral pH unbuffered blotter paper to line the specimen drawers. The white color assists in insect pest detection and the pulpy blotter also absorbs oils from the specimens. If the drawers are wood or other deleterious materials, a sheet of Mylar-D may be inserted beneath the blotter paper as a partial barrier. The blotter paper should be thought of as a material that needs to be replaced periodically, not as a one-time expense.

Larger skins, such as waterfowl or large rodents, may benefit from individual support. A simple blotter board support with two fold-down long sides that closely fits the external dimensions of the specimen assists in handling (see Figure 2). As study skins age, their stuffing material may shift and frequently no longer closely supports the skin itself, which becomes cockled and brittle. This condition can lead to breaking the skin when a heavier specimen is handled directly. The use of an overall support distributes the specimen weight, protects delicate feet and whiskers, and supports identification labels which are commonly attached to a foot.

Mounted Specimens

Mounted specimens have several enemies, foremost of which, perhaps, is the attitude of their caretakers. Often they have been created for exhibit purposes and traditionally have been considered replaceable and/or expendable. Ramifications of these precepts include that they are displayed in the open, where they are placed in storage in ways that lead to more environmental damage and physical abuse. Although the scientific value of mounted specimens often is considered negligible, there remains in them the potential for instrumental analysis, and older collections increasingly represent rare and endangered species.

Treatment associated with exhibit preparation also can cause problems. Because of their display value, mounted specimens may be reused in different settings or dioramas. This often involves their removal from original bases and perches, with attendant physical damage, the repair of which often has amounted to an interventive treatment with unlikely materials and no documentation. Specimens that are dismantled (herein called DEMOUNTS) and not reused may be consigned to the study skin collection where they are physically at odds with the research specimens. Sometimes, to make demounts fit better within the study skins, their leg wires are cut off at a point just below the foot. Other demounts are placed in storage lying on their sides or backs.

Mounted Specimen Storage Solutions

To save space and provide protection at a lower cost than airtight all-metal cases, taxidermy mounts which remain on their original bases in their original orientation may be secured severally to a rectangle of plank Ethafoam, polyethylene foam block; see Figure 3). The Ethafoam may be cut to available shelf dimensions. A 2-ft x 2-ft x 2-inch plank will accommodate 6 medium-sized mounts (e.g, duck size) and be easily handled. The specimens are secured to the Ethafoam by cutting slits in the Ethafoam with a suitable blade (Olfa knife) to the back and front of the specimen base. Cotton twill tape or polyethylene-covered wire twist ties are passed through the slits and over the specimen base between the specimen feet, to be tied on the upper surface of the plank (not on the underside). If the twist ties are used, pad between the ties and the specimen base with a strip of polyethylene foam (Volara 2A, white, 1/4 inch). Rectangular covers may be made to fit over the specimens, resting on the Ethafoam plank, see Figure 4). The covers are made with acid-free cardboard taped together with Tyvek tape. A window cut at the front of the cover may be made with Mylar-D taped in place, and small cubes of Ethafoam secured with hot-melt adhesive to the plank at the inside corners of the cover will keep the cover from slipping. If the cover is made with its top resting on the cover sides, this system may be stackable.


Temporary relief for small bird demounts is offered by the trough system, in which blotter board is scored at intervals and pushed into rounded troughs which are stapled to a rigid support such as fluted polypropylene (Coroplast) (see Figure 1). The contours of the troughs are appropriate to still-rounded mounted specimen forms, and outstretched wings can be supported by the tops of the troughs. For added protection, trough forms may be cut to fit inside storage boxes with pull-down front flaps.

Demounts whose leg wires have not been cut may be placed in their original positions by straightening the leg wires and pressing these into an appropriate substrate. Straightening the leg wires, however, should be regarded as an interventive treatment, during which damage may occur (see Ref 3). Be aware, as well, that there may be instances in which a specimen preparation was never mounted in the first place. These specimens should be maintained in their near-completion state, as an historical record.

Demounts with cut leg wires are problematic to store in their original positions. One solutions is to extend the leg wires by means of telescoped polyethylene tubing (see Figure 5). The wire is first extended by a suitable length of tubing whose inside diameter fits the curtailed leg wire snugly. This process involves some specimen handling and should not have to be repeated. A specialty tubing is usually required, available from scientific or medical supply companies. A piece of plank Ethafoam is then prepared with a second piece of polyethylene tubing inserted vertically. The inside diameter of this tubing should fit the outside diameter of the leg wire extender loosely enough that the specimen may be removed from the support without its extender tubing being pulled off the leg wire.

Larger demounts (hawk size) may be treated similarly (see Figure 6) counterbalanced support for the increased specimen weight. Once the leg wires have been extended, they may be inserted into a piece of Ethafoam which is then secured as a horizontal cross piece in a records storage box. The interior sides of the box are lined with plank Ethafoam and channels cut to receive the piece of plank Ethafoam that supports the specimen. The cross piece may be sunk down into the channels as far as the specimen will go without its tail hitting the box bottom. The pieces of Ethafoam cut out to form the channels may be reduced in length and inserted at the top of the channels over the cross piece to secure it additionally. Besides a weighted support system, the box provides perimeter protection against mechanical damage (see Figure 7).

Some solutions have been submitted for publication elsewhere (see Ref. 3), and are not described herein.

Acknowledgements

The ideas presented in this article were developed principally during projects conducted in the Science Department of the Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey and at the Everhart Museum, Scranton, Pennsylvania. These projects were funded by the Institute for Museum Services.

Materials and Equipment

HEPA-filtered vacuum

Nilfisk of America, Inc.
300 Technology Drive
Malvern, PA 19355
800/645-3475

A. M. Best Company
Oldwick, NJ 08858
908/439-2200
(catalog of safety supplies companies: Best's Safety Directory)

Blotter board

University Products
517 Main Street
P. 0. Box 101
Holyoke, MA 01041-0101
800/336-4847 (orders)
800/628-1912 (info.

Coroplast

Coroplast, Inc.
302S Skyway Circle North
Irving, TX 75038
800/435-2241
call for local distributor

Ethafoam plank

Dow Chemical
Indianapolis, IN 46268
800/428-4795
call for local distributor

Advanced Packaging, Inc.
Seton Business Park
4818 Seton Drive
Baltimore, MD 21215
301/358-9444

Utility Knives with snap-off blades

Industrial Safety Company
1390 Neubrecht Road
Lima, OH 45801
800/537-9721

Lee Valley Tools, Ltd.
1080 Morrison Drive
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada K2H 8K7
613/596-0350

Cotton twill tape

Light Impressions
439 Monroe Ave.
P. 0. Box 940 Rochester, NY 14607-3717
800/828-6216

Polyethylene covered twist ties

United States Plastics Corp.
1390 Neubrecht Road
Lima, OH 45801
800/537-9424

Volara 2A
M. H. Stallman
292 Charles St.
Providence, RI 401/331-5129

University Products
(see Blotter Board)

Acid free cardboard

Light Impressions
(see Cotton Twill Tape)

University Products
(see Blotter Board)

Tyvek tape

University Products
(see Blotter Board)

Mylar D

Light Impressions
(see Cotton Twill Tape)

Hot-melt adhesive

local hardware store

Polyethylene tubing

United States Plastics Corp.
1390 Neubrecht Road
Lima, OH 45801
800/537-9724

Fisher Scientific Co.
800/635-9451
(call for local office)

References

1. Williams, Stephen L. and Catherine A. Hawks: "A History of Preparation Materials Used for Recent Mammal Specimens," in Gennoway, Jones, and Rossolimo (eds.): Mammal Collection Management, Texas Tech University Press, Lubbock, 1987.

2. Hawks, Catherine A. and Stephen L. Williams: "Arsenic in Natural History Collections," Leather Conservation News 2 (2), 1986.

3. Rose, Carolyn, et al., (eds.): Workbook for the Storage of Natural History Collections, in preparation.

Author Address

Tamsen Fuller
Northwest Objects Conservation
325 S.E. Alexander Avenue
Corvallis, Oregon 97333
503/752-1475

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