Collections uncovered: Taxidermy – the inside view!

Written by Steve Wilson, Information Officer

Among the numerous objects and specimens on display at Queensland Museum are some with truly extraordinary stories! Today Steve Wilson from the Discovery Centre joins us to share one of his favourite specimens from the museum’s displays.

‘They look so alive!’

Countless visitors to Queensland Museum’s Discovery Centre and Wild State marvel at our wildlife collection. Fixed frozen in time, gazing with realistic, life-like glass eyes, they soar, perch, stand, hop, or reach out to grasp a branch.

By its very nature, the art of taxidermy is concealed. It hides artfully behind the veneer of fur and feathers, mysteriously breathing an apparent life into those mounted skins that will last for decades.

So how is it done? What is the secret? The answer, so often asked of the Discovery Centre staff, is actually on permanent display for all to see. Meet our half-duck!

Viewed from one side, a Pacific Black Duck is poised for flight. With its wings outstretched to display that fabulous panel of metallic green/purple, it looks ready to take to the skies. Or at least fly from one pond to another!

That is in stark contrast to the appearance of the other side of the bird! With skin and feathers cut-away, all the internal structure is revealed. This is the arcane art of taxidermy exposed for all to see.

The bird is supported by a carefully constructed frame reflecting the musculature, sinews and skeleton.  After the skin was removed, the body was replicated using permanent materials. The bill and glass eyes are attached to a moulded starch-based putty skull. The breast, abdomen, wing bones and cartilage have been carefully shaped using natural hemp fibre and synthetic fibre called Dacron, over a non-corrosive wire frame to flesh out the body and support the mount.

The real skin has been dried and treated to keep mold and destructive insects at bay. It was then fitted over the frame and fixed into place.

Some of the tools and materials used by taxidermists at the Queensland Museum. Photo: Peter Waddington, QM.

Our half-duck takes pride of place in the Discovery Centre. It rests, permanently about to take off, in its own Perspex case, positioned so it can be viewed from all sides. That cut-away view, revealing just how it is done, stands as a testament to the art of our taxidermists and demonstrates the skills they apply to bring to life all of those animals in the cases around us.

Next time you visit Queensland Museum, come and meet our half-duck. The Discovery Centre staff will be happy to chat to you about it. You can also learn more about taxidermy on our website.