In this post we’ll cover everything you need to know on how to taxidermy a squirrel.
Before we begin, a quick shout.
I would like to thank Divya Anantha Raman & Katie Innamorato for writing a fantastic book on modern taxidermy which you can and must check out. It was extremely helpful for me to get started.
This post contains everything i’ve learnt and some illustrations from the book.
Also, while some of the illustrations are those of a rat, all small mammals follow a similar process, so you can follow the same steps for a squirrel too!
Here’s all the steps we’ll cover.
Preparing a squirrel for taxidermy
Our first step would be to do preparation. Start by taking measurements
- From the tip of the nose to the front corner of the eye.
- Moving to the belly take measurements around the widest part of the belly.
- Then from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail.
If you decided to go with a frozen squirrel, we start by thawing it in a fridge or cool water, we then place it flat on its belly. You can pack the anus with cotton to avoid any poop.
Skinning a squirrel for taxidermy
The entire carcass will come out as one whole piece, it is held together by a thin membrane. This is common in squirrel taxidermy and that of other small mammals. Start by parting the fur behind the base of the head down to about a half-inch above the base of the tail.
Start from the bottom
Now to begin your incision, you want to hold the scalpel upside down and make an incision.
Once you have the incision in place, you can start peeling the skin down toward the belly and the limbs. If you have any trouble touch the scalpel blade on the white line of tissue with a little pressure from pulling the skin back.
Once you’ve reached the belly of the squirrel slide your hand between the skin and the carcass, hold the belly delicately till you’re able to push your hand all the way through to the other side.
Next you want to focus on the limbs, the front two have more fat in the paws and you need to cut through them and release this tissue before you go down to the toe.
Now you can grab the hock and push the limb inside the carcass. You can now slide your finger between the skin and the meat under the knee joint till it pushes through, try using some borax for help.
To the body
Moving on to the rear cut through the genital area by loosening up the skin and anus. If it’s a male squirrel then pop the balls inside out into the carcass and remove the testes, the balls are very hard to miss.
For the tail, we use tube skinning. You can use your thumb or index, a tail stripper or a clothing pin. Gently work the skin, down the tail, a bit from the inside and gently hold the tail bone between your index finger and thumb.
Use your index finger for support while supplying pressure with your thumb. We will now try to work the skin off the bone, you can use your thumb and nail for this. If it becomes tight, just pull it out.
At the face
At the face we want to be very careful to preserve all the features,
Make sure the reference where you are on the head by inverting the head and placing your index down into the ear. Invert it again and you should be able to tell where the earbutt is.
Cut into it near the skull until it releases and the canal will now come into view.
After this, start working your way down the face and toward the eyes, put your finger in the eye and tug the skin away from the skull, there should be a white line appearing across the eye at this stage.
At this point you want to touch your blade there and release the eyelids from the eye. Make sure you’re close to the skill to get the tear duct and not make a hole
Start working your way down the face and begin to cut into the skull in front of the cheek meat, this will release the cheek and lip.
Releasing the skin
After this start following the lower jaw with your blade and release the skin.
You should now be able to pull the inner cheek skin away from the upper lip and cut between the skull and the skin, up until you get to the tip of the skull. Try and get a feel for where the skull ends and the cartilage begins.
Begin cutting as close to the skull as you can while leaving the cartilage on the skin.
And done! that’s all there is to skinning the squirrel. Keep practicing and you’ll get better and better at it.
Preserving a squirrel for taxidermy
You have a couple of choices here.
- You can tan the skin by using a commercial concoction
- dry preserve it with power
- soak the skin in alcohol for 15-20 minutes overnight and use borax on it.
Borax and Alcohol methods are great as long as you have fleshed the skin properly.
Tanning however, seems to be the best method since the chemicals seep down the tissue completely. Borax and powder are fine too as long as you have skinned it properly.
A well tanned hide has more stretch overall and is easier to work with.
Mounting a squirrel for taxidermy
This is identical to how we do it for rats.
After the pelt is preserved and prepped, we need to find something to mount it on. You can either buy a commercial form or make it yourself.
A good rule is smaller the better, since you can change it later. All animals are a little different in their own way, so it’s difficult to make a one size fits all form.
Prepping the form
If you use commercial urethane foam it will most likely need to be prepped. Start by roughing it up using stout rougher or sandpaper then cart slots under the limbs at the fold. Repeat for lip line, earbutts, eyes, and nose.
Fill up the ears with dyed two part epoxy clay or liners so that they are upright once dried.
When you’re working with clay, remember to keep a wet paper towel or a water mister handy so if you notice the clay getting too hard or cracking you can soften it up.
Fill up the eyes and the ears with clay, pick a good pair of eyes (bubble or black glass bead) and install them in. Be careful about the symmetry and the bulge.
Use small amounts of clay for upper and lower eye lids, even very small changes to angle and diameter can cause the expression to be completely different so pay close attention and be careful!
You can now start adding clay on the nose and sculpt the upper and lower lip, we will tuck the form into the unrolled clay later.
We now need a good pair of ear liners to add shape and structure to the split ears. You can use hard plastic, putty or clay for this, they all work.
Another place you need the clay is for the nose and the feet. Start by rolling thin logs of clay and make sure to pack them all the way down near the toes.
If your form is made of hard foam, you want to use lightly apply hide paste to the face and the belly
Using Hide Paste
Hide paste lets the hide stick to the form to prevent problems like drumming, and unwanted shrinkages.
Tuck the tip between the skin and the form. Wrapped forms don’t need adhesive but you can apply it if required.
Start by sliding the skin on the form, face first, then work the paws into the form from front to the back. This essentially is “taxiing” the “dermy”.
For the tail you can use a red or pink pipe cleaner with some caulk at the end as a filler.
Install the tail before you put the skin on the torso by sliding it into the empty skin, then fix it into its appropriate place around the torso.
Make a small notch at the base of the spine, this is where the pipe cleaner will sit, and add some clay around it to make it look thicker.
Sewing it up
This is the fun-nest part of squirrel taxidermy for me. Once everything is installed and in place, it’s time to start sewing up the incision to finish the mount. For this, you will need an appropriate thread or needle for the critters.
If the skin is thick you will need a heavy and needle and a thicker thread. You can use the baseball stitch to do this.
You do this by inserting the needle through the fleshy side of the skin, pulling it through and passing it down to the other side
Try to keep the fur out of the stitches, be calm and take as much time as necessary, most people prefer to do it form head end to the tail end. as it encourages the fur to hide and lay flatter, also because the butt hides the last few notches quite well.
Now for the head, slide the skin into place, line up the ears, eyes, nose, and lip line. Use a modeling tool for the facial features.
Setting the eyes
Pull the eyes into place and tuck the unrolled skin loosely, shape the eye lids
At this point you will notice the expressions slowly start to come to life. For the ears you can tuck the earbutts into the clay that we put on the form.
You can use something like a wire or mesh to “card” the ears or simply put them into shape.
Position the nose, pull the excess lip skin and tuck it into the slits that you made in the form
Once you’ve done this, you can use pins to pin it into place. They will pass through the interior lip skin and sit inside the lip line.
We must clean the eyes and remove any excess paste or clay for a clean look.
For the body we push the armpit and groin areas into the slits that we created. You can reference the photos for fur patterns to model it like before.
The anus and mouth get tucked in a similar manner.
Finally! it’s time for grooming. You can use brushes or a blow dryer with the cold or low heat setting. The mount will already be slowly drying by itself.
Drying can take its own time, it depends on the hide the size and a lot of other factors. Use pins to keep things in place while drying and don’t remove them till everything is completely hard.
After drying the color on the eyes and lipline might have faded, this is okay we can touch them up later.
Remember to keep practicing, to taxidermy a squirrel takes a lot of practice but it’s very beginner friendly. So keep at it!
That’s it! hope you found it helpful, if you did don’t forget to share it with your friends!
Definitely purchase this amazing book on modern taxidermy
Also, tell me about your experience in the comments below.