Taxidermy Preservation

Taxidermy Housekeeping

Antique Taxidermy Housekeeping

We get asked to recommend Taxidermy Resources by our friends, we now include below advice on the best way to keep your specimens in good condition as to protect them from various environmental issues

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Victorian Hobby, re-cased in to Picture frame case, as if perched in a Scotts Pine. Lovely bird.

Taxidermy HouseKeeping

This page follows extensive research with various entities, namely, The Natural History Museum, The Booth Museum in Brighton, Rentokill and numerous PhD Entomologists here in the UK. This is our interpretation of those discussions solely and you are free to disagree if you wish. We do not suggest nor recommend implementing any of the suggestions outlined below and we suggest that you seek professional advice from a professioanl taxidermist before doing so. We cannot and will not accept any responsibility for damage or harm caused. These technics have worked but we cannot gurantee that they will work in every scenario. Victorian taxidermy is generally delicate and could easily be damaged.

By far the two main areas of issue are Sunlight and Insect attack, the latter is discussed in greater depth.

Historical Perspective

The key to the durability of Victorian taxidermy lies with the preservatives used. In one recipe, laid down by the 18th-century French taxidermist Becoeur, arsenic was mixed with white soap, camphor and salt of tartar and lime to form a preservative known as arsenical soap. This not only preserved skin and prevented the decay of remaining flesh, but was also effective against some insect attack. However, this material was highly dangerous to use and many taxidermists opted for something safer. Charles Waterton swore by corrosive sublimate, while Rowland Ward and Montagu Browne developed their own patent formula. Borax, which is non toxic, is the most widely used preservative today. They are however not as effective for the prevention of insect attack as Arsenic was and is.

I have now lost count how many times people have telephoned me to excitedly tell me that they have either "Albino" otters or albino squirrels, stoats for sale. Need I say more. Keep your specimens out of direct sunlight as they WILL "bleach" the natural pigments from both fur and feather. This in the main is irreversible, and looks worng when compaired with others in your collection. I have an amusing tale of a chap who tried to sell me a once beautiful taxidermy case of Long Eared Owls by TE Gunn. Both birds were almost completely white; one assumes having spent most of their lives facing direct sunlight. Having explained the issue to him, he then went on to state that no, I was incorrect and the birds were in fact in "Winter Plumage". You have been warned.

Insects and Pests

Victorian mounted specimens are composed of skin, hair and feathers, and are often stuffed with organic materials such as sawdust, so they are susceptible to attack by a wide variety of insect pests. Insects progressively degrade a specimen by boring holes and channels and grazing on fur and feather, and the debris they create can contribute to other problems such as mould growth. Few specimens are completely shielded from insect attack. Uncased taxidermy specimens are obviously vulnerable if conditions are favourable, and unless guaranteed airtight even the best taxidermy cases incorporate tiny gaps - between a door and frame, for example - through which small insects can crawl. The importance of regular inspections cannot be overstated. Carpet beetles are scavengers that feed on a variety of animal products such as woolens, hides, feathers, hair, taxidermy specimens and dried meats. They also feed on dead insects such as bugs and attic flies that may be trapped in inner wall spaces. Carpet beetles do not remain on their food material but instead crawl about, often for considerable distances.
Carpet beetle controls include eliminating the beetles by cleaning or destroying infested items (clothing, food products infested taxidermy and wall mounts, etc.). Often, the source may be difficult to find or there may not be a single source. A major part of carpet beetle prevention and control is thorough vacuum cleaning to prevent the accumulation of lint, hair, and other carpet beetle food materials. Clean up or eliminate the source of infestation. Good housekeeping is as important in preventing carpet beetle and clothes moth infestations as it is in control. Your vacuum cleaner is often your best pest management tool. Pay close attention to areas where lint accumulates (corners, skirting boards, shelves, etc.). Be sure to dispose of the contents of the vacuum cleaner bag after you clean. Clean or dispose of infested cases, cloth, blankets and other fabrics.

The adult is 2 - 3 mm in length. The dorsal side of its body is for the most part blackish in the center, with a variable , irregular arrangement of white, brownish, and yellowish scales. Food: The larvae of this pest will feed upon a great variety of animal and plant products, such as carpets, woolen goods, skins, furs, stuffed animals, leather book bindings, feathers, horns, whalebone, hair, silk, fish manure, and dried silk worm pupae. Also it will attack plant products such as rye meal, cacao, corn and red pepper. Life Cycle: The female Varied Carpet Beetle will lay her eggs near a possible food source. The larval stage is the destructive stage. The period from egg to adult will last about 1 year, possibly more depending on environment.
Inspect specimens

Inspect specimens regularly, especially during the spring and late summer. Get to know the life cycle of the most common pests, and time your inspections accordingly. Look for live insects or larvae, signs of new damage, and 'frass' - a gritty, grey or black powder composed of droppings and debris. Other signs of infestation are hair or feathers, discarded skins, and dead beetles or moths. If your specimen is not in a sealed case, check its legs and feet, and any creases and folds. Insects tend to lay eggs in cracks and crevices, and the larvae shun light and seek similar hiding places. A powerful light will help in your inspection. It is important to remember that it is the insect larvae that cause the damage, not the adults.

A selection of common pests " Anthrenus verbasci, the carpet beetle, is about 2-3 mm long, round, and bears a pattern of black, yellow, brown and white scales. The small, brown, hairy larvae are known as 'woolly bears'. With experience, the larval cases are easily recognised and become very obvius even in groundwork.
" Stegobium paniceum, the biscuit beetle, is about 2 mm long, elongated and brown. " The adult form of Tinea pellionella, the case-bearing clothes moth, is a small grey/brown moth of about 4-6 mm in length. The larvae make distinctive tubular cases that look like small white maggots. Use a genuinely environmentally friendly spray such as 'Constrain' to control insect infestations.

Follow all instructions supplied with the product and do not use excessive amounts of the spray. Pet shops sell sprays for household pets or pet bedding, but these should be used with caution, and not just on the strength of label claims - the expression 'environmentally friendly' is used somewhat freely. Unlike dieldrin and DDT, modern non-persistent sprays do not (or should not) remain active on the specimen over long periods, so any treatment will be effective for a limited time only. Therefore re-inspection and re-application of sprays will be required in order to eliminate pests. Sprays may damage fur and feather and may turn white feathers and white fur yellow. Caution is obviously advised here.


Common Clothes Moth. Frail looking creature that WILL cause untold damage to valuable collections or single mounts.

Clothes Moth Larva, Very bad indeed for taxidermy collections of cased birds. Cases by James Gardner are very prone to Moth attack and therefore caution is advised when buying such cases

Museum Beetle. If you see this in your case it is already too late.

This is an example of insect attack. We are not sure what the bird is, perhaps a Water Rail, Snipe or Woodcock. That said, no amount of technical skill can bring that back to what it should look like.

Another good example of insect attack. If you see this in your case it is already too late. This case is now completely beyond repair. What you see in this case are a Little Owl and a Jay

Common Clothes Moth. Frail looking creature that WILL cause untold damage to valuable collections or single mounts.


Common Carpet Beetle. Frail looking creature that WILL cause untold damage to valuable collections or single mounts. Pay careful attention to these in cases purchased or exchanged otherwise say goodbye to your "retirement fund", so to speak.


Common Carpet Beetle adult and offspring.

Insecticide Sprays

I have been reliably informed that neither "Mothballs or Today's insect sprays" have very little affect on both clothes moths and or carpet / museum beetle. This is due to their morphology and their increased resistance to chemicals. Mothballs do act as a deterant for the adult moth seeking to lay its eggs somewhere nice. That's about as effective as it gets currently. Some people I am told actually like the smell of moth balls. Personally I am not one of those people.
Vacuuming and boiling do however have great effect, but are a little impractical when considering the subject matter. DDT works wonders but unless you wish to either grow two heads or die prematurely from cancer, I suggest you refrain from its use. One suggestion is to only buy taxidermy from people where you can be assured the their taxidermy collections are kept in the appropriate manner.
Buying at auctions does potentially derive "bargains" however caution is suggested in bringing such items into the main taxidermy collection unless completely satisfied that there is no current infestation. Your bargain may turn into a liability if moths or other insects that like eating taxidermy get unchecked into a new collection of taxidermy that has been costly to acquire. If large numbers of fabric pests are seen, search for a hot spot as the source. Infested wallhangings, pet food, wasp nests, wool yarn stored under bed frames, furs, or accumulations of dead insects material. Other sources include old furniture with horse- hair padding, and homes built during the 1920 and 30's that commonly used animal hair mixed with plaster. Good housekeeping will remove, lint, dust, or hair . Be sure to move and vacuum under furniture if you have wool rugs, and the 1/2 inch space along baseboards that is missed by many vacuums Areas that are frequently vacuumed do not become damaged., behind heaters, and in.
If you have found a problem, vacuum or brush the insects off the article. Washing or dry cleaning will kill all life stages. Freezing is an option if the article has been kept at room temperature before the treatment. Place articles in freeze or in plastic bags, (with air removed and loosely packed,) expose to below zero for 72 hrs. Clothes moths and carpet beetles can survive in unheated attics, bird nests, wall voids and other sites if they have a chance to acclimate to slowly falling temperatures. The shock of going from 70 to near 0 is what kills the insects. Heating articles above 130o F for 1 hrs will also kill all life stages.
Direct spaying of fabric with insecticides or moth proofing agents is always a risk because of staining, discoloration, shrinkage weakening fabrics , and other chemical reactions caused by water, solvents or the chemical themselves. These chemicals are also difficult to find. There are clothing sprays that contain pyrethrum, permethrin, allethrin or resmethrin. A wider selection of insecticides are registered for carpet treatment but the same care is needed. Moth balls (naphthalene) and PDB (paradiclorobenzene) change into gases and work as fumigants, but are ineffective as repellents . To be effective, they must be confined in a closed system with little air movement such as a sealed plastic box. Hanging these products in a closet will usually not build up to toxic levels, or if they do there is concern if people are breathing that much vapors.

I have also undertaken some research into Woodworm. Whilst this creature doesn't routinely attack feather and fur it does however like pine cases. Hutchings cases are a particular favourite. There are many commercial products available on the market and most tend to be water based. The problem is that most Victorian cases are lined with paper and then painted upon. Any moisture discolours the paper. Below is a very good example of where a water based spray was used. The entire back of the case now has small stains from this preparation, that will not fade with time.

Black Headed Gulls in Winter plumage by Hutchings. Victorian case.

Perhaps a better method you may wish to consider is the use of "ant" powder or "ant" dust. This can be brushed easily into the holes at the back of the case, where it will remain and is far more effective than a spray. You then apply a small amount of beewax over the holes to seal the powder in and it does not stain the inside of the case. I also when painting the back fo cases mix ant powder into the paint before beeswaxing as an added precaution. Remember insecticides are poisonous so you need to keep them out of reach of children and always wash your hands.


This does cure the issue of insect / larva infestation, but as you would agree this method does have its limitations. The size of the microwave is just one of them. I would not recommend this method as the supporting wires of birds and mammals may internally combust the subject matter. Bird's nests and material for groundwork can be safely micro waved, but remember it will combust (BURN!), so make sure you have a good fire alarm or a very understanding insurer if you are not attentive. A few minutes may be all that is required. However this is done at entirely your own risk.

Victorian case of Male Crossbill in close up by FC Waters of Aboyne, Aberdeenshire.


Freezing is another option, and for suitable specimens of a manageable size offers a treatment free of the disadvantages of chemical sprays and other remedies. Wrap and seal the taxidermy specimen in a polythene bag then place it in a freezer at -18ºC for seven days. At the end of the treatment period remove the specimen from the freezer and leave it, still fully wrapped, to reach room temperature. Remove the wrapping only when the entire specimen has reached room temperature, which may take 24 hours for the core.
This process will kill the adult version of the insect that you are trying to eradicate but not necessarily entirely their eggs. Bring the mount back to room temperature and you will "fool" the eggs, which are in suspended animation, that it is now "Spring" (hatching time). They will then hatch and proceed to munch away unaware of the pending surprise you have for them. It is at this point that you place the taxidermy mount back into the freezer for a period, which will kill the newly hatched larva. Remember however if you do not then then re-seal the original taxidermy case and monitor the situation, then freezing in the first place would have been a complete waste of time. This method is only really practical for taxidermy mounts that have been removed from cases, as thermal distortion on this scale cracks glass and splits wood. It is not recommended that taxidermy cases are placed in freezers for this reason unless you are willing to replace Victorian float glass. Not all glass cracks and not all cases split. This is just a precautionary observation which you are free to ignore. Domestic chest freezers are normally capable of the required temperature; front-opening models may manage it provided the door is not opened frequently. Commercial freezers operate at about -30ºC.

Reduced Atmosphere or Gaseous Bubble

This is a method which is absolutely guaranteed. However we do NOT endorse its use and recommend that if you are considering undertaking this that you consult professional advice (Rentokill by example). In fact I am so concerned I am not going to explain the method, rather to suggest that it does work for valuable items that you cannot remove from cases and it kills all carbon based life forms permanently. However once eradicated, it is then up the taxidermy collector to ensure that re-infestation of the taxidermy case does not occur by regular inspection and sealing the cases themselves effectively.

As a foot note to the above, Both Dr Church and I are considering implementing the above as a "controlled" experiment. If we live to tell the tale I shall report back. If not then you will have a field day at auction with both our collections. In conclusion, the best way to prevent insect damage is to ensure that the cases are not split or cracked as to allow insects to get in. This might sound a simple task, but these insects are tiny and therefore the inspections required, require that you ensure that every part of the case, beading and glass is examined. This really is the only way to ensure that no gaps larger than 2mm can be found. Remember insect attack is not a solitary pastime. If you find one example in your collection there are likely to be more around. Vigilence is the only key to any sucess and always try to establish the conditions where your new case was kept before you bring it into your collection.

A chemical that has been used widely and has since been banned under European Insecticide Regulations

Dichlorvos is an organophosphate compound (Vapona / Sheep Dip being some common names) used to control household, public health, and stored product insects. It is effective against mushroom flies, aphids, spider mites, caterpillars, thrips, and white flies in greenhouse, outdoor fruit, and vegetable crops. Dichlorvos is used to treat a variety of parasitic worm infections in dogs, livestock, and humans. Dichlorvos can be fed to livestock to control botfly larvae in the manure. It acts against insects as both a contact and a stomach poison. It has been used to make pet collars and pest strips. It is available as an aerosol and soluble concentrate to be used in the home and by taxidermists.

This is why Dichlorvos is no longer used
Dichlorvos is highly toxic by inhalation, dermal absorption, and ingestion. Because dichlorvos is volatile, inhalation is the most common route of exposure. As with all organophosphates, dichlorvos is readily absorbed through the skin. Acute illness from dichlorvos is limited to the effects of cholinesterase inhibition. Compared to poisoning by other organophosphates, dichlorvos causes a more rapid onset of symptoms, which is often followed by a similarly rapid recovery. This occurs because dichlorvos is rapidly metabolized and eliminated from the body. Persons with reduced lung function, convulsive disorders, liver disorders, or recent exposure to cholinesterase inhibitors will be at increased risk from exposure to dichlorvos. Alcoholic beverages may enhance the toxic effects of dichlorvos. High environmental temperatures or exposure of dichlorvos to light may enhance its toxicity. Dichlorvos is mildly irritating to skin. Concentrates of dichlorvos may cause burning sensations, or actual burns.

Symptoms of acute exposure to organophosphate or cholinesterase-inhibiting compounds may include the following: numbness, tingling sensations, incoordination, headache, dizziness, tremor, nausea, abdominal cramps, sweating, blurred vision, difficulty breathing or respiratory depression, slow heartbeat. Very high doses may result in unconsciousness, incontinence, and convulsions or fatality. Some organophosphates may cause delayed symptoms beginning 1 to 4 weeks after an acute exposure that may or may not have produced immediate symptoms. In such cases, numbness, tingling, weakness, and cramping may appear in the lower limbs and progress to incoordination and paralysis. Improvement may occur over months or years, but some residual impairment may remain. This chemical was routinely used in taxidermy, by taxidermists and households as a fly killer.

The History of Arsenic, favoured by Victorian Taxidermists

Arsenic and arsenic compounds have had a long and Janus-type interaction with humanity; on the one hand they have been extensively utilized, but on the other hand their poisonous properties have caused misery and many deaths. While minerals containing arsenic were known from the earliest times, elemental arsenic was not conclusively identified until 1649. The mineral, realgar, As4S4, was probably described as early as the 4th century BC by Aristotle. The name derives from an Arabic word meaning “powder of the cave.” Similarly, the mineral orpiment, As2S3, has a long history, the name being an adaptation of the Latin, auripigmentum, meaning “gold pigment.” The etymology of arsenic itself is complex but traces to the Greek word, arsenikon (arshenikon) or arrhenikon used for “yellow orpiment,” a word tracing back even further to words from Syriac, Middle Persian, and Old Iranian. In addition, the similar Greek word, arsenikos (arshenikos) or arrhenikos meaning “masculine, male” also contributed to its naming.
The highly poisonous nature of arsenic compounds has been known for centuries. The colorless and tasteless compound, arsenious oxide (arsenic(III) oxide, also termed arsenous oxide and often simply white arsenic or arsenic), was at one time employed as a rat poison; because it was easily available; it was also commonly used for criminal purposes, both in real life and in fiction (see later in this article).
Chemistry is so vast a discipline that most students are exposed to little more than the basic chemical facts about arsenic and its compounds; however, arsenic has had a very pervasive influence on humanity in many ways, perhaps more so than most other metals and metalloids. The name, arsenic, is essentially a household word, being synonymous with poison. Arsenic figures prominently in literature as well as in industry, the sciences, in medical practice, and in everyday life. We recount here some of the many curious influences of arsenic on human lives, influences not usually found in chemical textbooks.

Ptarmigans in Winter Plumage.

Arsenic was used in a compound called Paris Green developed around 1775 by Carl Scheele, which was used as a pigment in paints, wallpaper and fabrics. Throughout the 1800s, there were reports of people becoming ill from living in houses decorated with the poisonous wallpaper, however, Paris Green was not recognized as a health hazard until the end of the century.
When Napoleon died in 1821, his doctors recorded the official cause of death as stomach cancer. Although trace amounts of arsenic were found in Napoleon’s hair, the amount could have been absorbed naturally and not intentionally administered. Napoleon could have absorbed arsenic through eating a seafood meal, as it appears naturally in sea water and in sea dwellers. Towards the end of Napoleon’s life, he spent increasing amounts of time indoors, where his home was decorated with Paris Green wallpaper.
In the 1830s, British chemist James Marsh developed a method for arsenic detection that was so sensitive it could detect the residue of fruit spray containing arsenic on food and in stomach contents. Marsh was the first to use arsenic detection in a jury trial. However, arsenic was often untraceable as the liver metabolizes it into naturally occurring chemicals. Arsenic lingers in urine, nails and hair.
Arsenic was an ingredient in Victorian fly papers. When soaked in water, it would combine with the water to create a deadly liquid that was easily disguisable in beverages and food. Arsenic was also popular due to its easy availability in rat poison and insecticides. Some even called it “inheritance powder”.
Poisoning was a common subject in newspapers in the 1800s, and arsenic-poisoning cases seemed almost fashionable. One of the well-known cases was the trial of Madeleine Smith for the murder of her lover, Emile L’Angelier. Smith was from a well-to-do family in Glasgow, where she met L’Angelier in 1855. Smith began an affair with L’Angelier against her parents’ wishes. When Smith became engaged to her parents’ choice, she ended her relationship with L’Angelier. Smith requested her letters back and asked for his silence. L’Angelier, learning of her engagement, refused and threatened to show the letters to her father.
It is believed Smith agreed to meet with L’Angelier several times over the following month. On three occasions during that period, Smith bought arsenic. She signed the Poison Book (a register of purchased poison) and told the clerk she wished to kill rats. On 23 March 1857, L’Angelier died. Over the previous month he had suffered stomach pains and his death was attributed to arsenic. Smith’s letters were found and she was arrested. She did not deny the letters were hers or that she had been L’Angelier’s lover, but denied poisoning him.
Smith was placed on trial and was not allowed to plead her case according to the law at that time. In her statement she claimed the arsenic had been for her complexion as it was known for making eyes bright and causing skin to exfoliate.
The jury returned the verdict of “not proven”. This verdict signified Smith was not found innocent, but the prosecution had not made a strong enough case to convict. Smith was free, but the stigma followed her.
In the 1890s, medical authorities in Italy were concerned about the unexplained deaths of over a thousand children. A chemist, E. Gosio, was consulted. Gosio did not examine the children, but the rooms where the deaths occurred. He discovered the deaths had two common factors: Paris Green wallpaper in the rooms and a presence of mildew. The children, being shorter and playing on the floor, inhaled the heavy arsine, the byproduct of arsenic and dampness. The removal of Paris Green from wallpaper prevented further deaths.
Up to the 1940s, arsenic was successfully used to treat syphilis; it was a key ingredient in a compound named Salvarsan. It has also been given to leprosy victims and sufferers of yaws (a contagious tropical skin disease).
Arsenic probably reached its greatest popularity in the golden age of murder-mysteries. When not in the hands of writers, arsenic is used today to remove color from glass, as a growth promoter for livestock, as a metal alloy and as a preservative in taxidermy.

Modern History of Insecticides used today and some that are now banned.

The modern history of chemical insecticides in the United States dates from 1867, when Paris green proved effective against the Colorado potato beetle. Within a decade Paris green and kerosene oil emulsion were being employed against a variety of chewing and sucking insects. In the early part of the 20th cent. fluorine compounds and plant-derived insecticides were developed. Except for plant derivatives such as nicotine, pyrethrin, and rotenone, early insecticides were almost all inorganic chemicals. The discovery in Europe in 1939 of the insecticidal value of DDT, a synthetic organic compound, led to the synthesis of thousands of organic molecules in a search for potent chemicals. Today several hundred chemical insecticidal agents are registered by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency and licensed in more than 10,000 formulations. Promptly effective, easy to use, and readily available, chemicals have become the modern weapons of choice against insects, contributing to stable food and fiber productivity, to human and animal health, and to the comfort and quality of human life.
As early as the 1920s, insecticide use in the United States prompted concerns over residues in foodstuffs and calls for regulation. In the 1960s, with increasing worldwide interest in environmental protection, chemical insecticides became objects of scientific and popular protest. Critics charged that chemical insecticides were dangerous and self-defeating, provoking the development of resistance by target pests, sabotaging ecological systems, and poisoning people and other organisms as well as the environment. In response, governments have restricted or proscribed many of the most dangerous insecticides, including many chlorinated hydrocarbon standbys: DDT, benzene hexachloride, lindane, aldrin, dieldrin, chlordane, heptachlor, endrin, and toxaphene—all powerful, broad-spectrum contact and stomach poisons.

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