The simplest method is to place the entire object in a preservative solution, normally alcohol (denatured ethanol, 70%). Objects
are often first treated with formol, a fixing solution which prevents autolysis and tissue decay, before they are placed into
the preservative. Mollusks and sensitive organisms such as jellyfish must first be treated with a fixing solution. Formol
is, however, toxic and should therefore be replaced with ethanol after a few days.
The advantage of using alcohol is that the entire organism can be preserved. This technique is generally used for fish, amphibians
and reptiles, though birds and mammals are also sometimes placed in alcohol (young animals in particular). Although alcohol
causes colors to fade, the groups of animals mentioned above lose their natural color within the first few hours after death
anyway. A further advantage of alcohol is that tissue stored in this way can be used for genetic studies (DNA) for a long
time. This is why these days tissue samples are often taken from newly delivered animals and kept separately in alcohol. Exhibits
preserved in alcohol are often considered unattractive, but for researchers they are absolutely essential.
Pelt is the term used for a skin which has been removed from the animal and tanned. This technique is used for mammals and
birds. Hairs and feathers on the pelt contain important information.
Such exhibits form an important part of mammal and bird collections. Pelts from these groups of animals keep their colors,
making this method good for objects destined for display. A further advantage is that they take up less space than “stuffed
animals” and are easier to produce than dermoplastic exhibits.
For both full and partial skeletons it is first necessary to remove all tissue from the bones. This is generally carried out
by the taxidermist, often after the object has been placed in a maceration solution (enzyme solutions). The final step is
to let skin beetles feed on the skeleton or bones. These insects, normally feared by museums, clean all tissue residues from
the bones within a few weeks.
Skeletons provide important information about the shape and stature of the animal. Bones and skeletons used for research purposes
are simply kept in appropriate containers, while those destined for display are mounted back into the original shape of the
animal using supporting elements.
Dermoplasty enables three-dimensional reconstructions of entire animals. The starting point is always the preserved skin,
the pelt, taken from the animal. In some cases other “original parts” of the animal are used (antlers, hooves, teeth, etc.).
Until a few decades ago the skin was stuffed with a range of materials including straw, moss, hemp and even peat (hence the
term “stuffed animals”), with the resulting exhibits not always particularly lifelike. Today, however, artificial skeletons
tailored to the individual species and body size form a frame over which the skin is stretched. Cotton wool and wood wool
are used to make fine adjustments to the body shape. In the past, arsenic was used in order to prevent the skin from being
eaten by insects. These days this toxic solution has been replaced by Eulan, a mixture of two compounds used in the textile
industry to destroy parasites.
Dermoplasty is without a doubt the most prestigious of modern zoological taxidermy techniques. Producing an object which is
as lifelike as possible requires more than just dexterity and craftsmanship. Taxidermists must have detailed knowledge of
the animal. This often involves lengthy research and conversations with experts from the respective scientific fields. Photos
and videos provide taxidermists with vital information on how the animal moves. Such objects are the most attractive for display
purposes but also require a huge amount of work and are therefore mainly used for exhibitions and presentations.