Exploring this Job

Taxidermy is a specialized field, so there are few opportunities for part-time or summer work for students, although some larger companies hire apprentices to help with the workload. It may be possible to learn more by ordering or downloading videos and practicing with mounting kits to experience the mounting process. Other good learning opportunities include speaking to a museum taxidermist or writing to schools or associations that offer courses in taxidermy. Check with the National Taxidermists Association for upcoming conventions and seminars that are open to the public. Time spent at such an event would provide not only a solid learning experience, but also a chance to meet and mingle with the pros.

The Job

Taxidermists use a variety of methods to create realistic, lifelike models of birds and animals. Specific processes and techniques vary, but most taxidermists follow a series of basic steps.

First, they must remove the skin from the carcass of the animal with special knives, scissors, and pliers. The skin must be removed very carefully to preserve the natural state of the fur or feathers. Once the skin is removed, it is preserved with a chemical solution.

Some taxidermists still make the body foundation, or skeleton, of the animal. These foundations are made with a variety of materials, including clay, plaster, burlap, papier-mâché, wire mesh, and glue. Other taxidermists, however, use ready-made forms, which are available in various sizes; taxidermists simply take measurements of the specimen to be mounted and order the proper size from the supplier. Metal rods are often used to achieve the desired mount for the animal.

The taxidermist uses special adhesives or modeling clay to attach the skin to the foundation or form. Then artificial eyes, teeth, and tongues are attached. Sometimes taxidermists use special techniques, such as airbrushing color or sculpting the eyelids, nose, and lips. They may need to attach antlers, horns, or claws. Finally they groom and dress the fur or feathers with styling gel, if necessary, to enhance the final appearance of the specimen.

Taxidermists work with a variety of animal types, including one-cell organisms, large game animals, birds, fish, and reptiles. They even make models of extinct animal species, based on detailed drawings or paintings. The specific work often depends on the area of the country where the taxidermist is employed, since the types of animals hunted vary by region.