Taxidermy, the art of preserving the skins of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish, and of making lifelike replicas of animals for study or for exhibition in museums and private collections. The word is derived from the Greek word taxis, meaning arrangement, and derma, meaning skin.
Museum taxidermy also includes the art of arranging replicas of animals in habitat groups, exhibits showing animals in a natural setting. This work typically involves preserving and making replicas of many small animals (such as snails, worms, and insects), as well as making artificial plants, rocks, and soil that serve to create natural-looking surroundings.
Taxidermists must have a knowledge of zoology, botany, drawing, painting, and sculpture. They must also be familiar with chemical processes called tanning, which are used to preserve animal skins. Taxidermists generally learn their art by working as apprentices to experienced taxidermists.
Replicas of large mammals are usually prepared by mounting the tanned skin on a model of the animal. The model is usually made by injecting polyurethane foam into a mold of the animal; once the foam hardens, the model is removed. The taxidermist then inserts eyes made of either glass or plastic and restores faded colors with paint.
Specimens of reptiles, fish, birds, insects, and small mammals are often prepared using the freeze-dry method. In this method the entire animal is placed in a vacuum apparatus that, at subzero temperatures, withdraws all the water from the animal and preserves it. In another method, the taxidermist makes a fiberglass model of the animal. This method is used for small specimens, particularly fish.
The oldest mounted animal in existence is a rhinoceros prepared around 1600 for the Royal Museum of Vertebrates in Florence, Italy. During the 17th and 18th centuries, skins were mounted on an animal's skeleton and stuffed with straw, excelsior (wood shavings), or other filling. Ward's Natural Science Establishment, founded by Henry A. Ward in Rochester, New York, in 1861, was a center for experimentation in modeling and casting techniques.
In the early 20th century, Carl E. Akeley developed the hollow-model method. In the 1950's, Roland Howser developed the freeze-dry method. The solid foam model method was developed in the 1960's by Ambrose Daigre. In the 1980's and 1990's, taxidermists began using such materials as plastics, silicones, and resins in their work.