In my opinion there isn’t one system to do things correctly in taxidermy, every museum or taxidermist may have their own preferences and strategies already in place. This is simply a guideline that works for me, and I hope it can help others to mitigate some of the problems I encounter when working with skins that have been frozen in a way that has accelerated freezer burn. Following this advice might get more time out of frozen specimens and give you a greater chance that they can be mounted once the budget or staff time is there to pay for taxidermy or processing cabinet skins.
What is freezer burn?
Freezer burn happens when the moisture is evaporated out of the animal’s skin and muscles over time in the freezer. Most specimens even if they are well packed in the freezer will still get some freezer burn over a long period of time but it will be much worse if the specimen is poorly packaged or has something absorbent (like a paper label) inside the bag with it.
You can tell if a specimen has freezer burn because it will look white and dry in areas such as the feet, hands, around the eyes, ears, and mouth. And when you start skinning the skin will be yellowed and hard to remove rather than red, fleshy, and easy to peel away.
Firstly, I advise to always freeze your specimens before handling or skinning them. At a minimum you could record the specimen’s weight before freezing as this measurement is affected slightly after freezing. I personally would not take any other measurements until after they have been thoroughly frozen (unless you want to collect live parasites). As the animal dies, any parasites on the skin of the animal will leave the body as it cools and hop onto the next willing subject which will be you or any living creature in your lab! A note that fleas are not killed over night, if you freeze a fox for example leave it in there for at least two weeks before defrosting. It completely depends on the temperature of your freezer however so if you start to defrost an animal the fleas will defrost first, so if there is movement you know to refreeze! Obviously very large animals may need to be skinned straight away, so in this case my advice is wear appropriate PPE.
Welcome to the February edition of NatSCA Digital Digest.
A monthly blog series featuring the latest on where to go, what to see and do in the natural history sector including jobs, exhibitions, conferences and training opportunities. We are really keen to hear more about what you are getting up to, exhibition launches, virtual conferences, training opportunities, webinars, and new and interesting online content. If you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest please drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Dr Victoria Purewal ACR), Business founder and Director, Connect-Conserve/Cyswllt-Cadwraeth Cymru.
I own a natural science conservation company called ‘Pure Conservation’, however after Covid, I felt differently about working on my own and for myself. Covid has impacted so many people, it has made us revaluate our lifestyle and our relationships, and affected every aspect of our home and working lives. At the end of the last lockdown, I decided to change and improve my working life, to move in a different direction, and be more sustainable and inclusive.
I started seeking out fellow local conservators in Wales, meeting for coffee, and visiting each other’s workspaces. Being able to talk about our lives and businesses was invigorating, and a great relationship developed. However, I realised that when Covid fully retreated and normal working practice resumed, we could be in competition with each other. Every one of us had struggled in some way during lockdown and it would be better to work together, then we could be more supportive and stronger as a team.
These conversations also highlighted that collections had suffered during lockdown. Limited access to collections for staff meant that spaces and specimens had begun to moulder. For most institutions, finding the financial support or workforce to help remedy this is possible, but for many collection owning community groups, it just isn’t an option, and so that is what inspired me to set up this initiative.
I live and work on the Isle of Man, a small island in the middle of the Irish Sea, about 30 miles long and 15 miles wide with a population just shy of 85,000. As the Isle of Man is independent from the UK, we have our own central Government and part of my role includes sitting on committees discussing Government policy development, partnership working with environmental NGOs, land management, ecology and conservation. For the most part though I manage the natural sciences collections at the Manx Museum, including (the other) conservation, preparation, IPM, exhibitions, education and outreach, loans, enquiries, etc. As I work for an organisation that encompasses the role of a national trust and national museum, the job is varied and I work with a great team of people who all support each other. One day I may be working with an intern on reboxing and relocating the Geology collection, the next I’ll be learning how to traditionally thatch a cottage using locally grown materials, and when an unusual cetacean washes up on our shores I get to attend the beach autopsies recorded by the local Wildlife Trust (pro tip: strandings in winter tend to be a LOT less smelly…).