The light- it blinds me

I am pretty fond of the dissecting microscope we have in the lab. It’s good for dissections, but it’s also good at examining any new insects I might find.

The other day I was absentmindedly scratching at my collarbone. It kept itching, and I figured a mosquito must have gotten me at some point. The itching started to migrate though, until my other collarbone was also itching, and I kept scratching until I came away with a tiny, unknown creature in my hand. I put it in a vial and brought it to work to look at up close.

Green Lacewing Dime

Green lacewing larva

Ugh. Nasty jaws that little guy had. No wonder both my collarbones were now dotted with welts, one was as raised and as large as a jellybean.

Bug Guide told me that this was the larva of a green lacewing. They look rather pretty when they grow up.

Green lacewing

The message board on Bug Guide said that they don’t attack humans and rarely bite, and what on earth must you be doing in order to be getting chewed on by one? I pulling up English ivy vines and must have rudely ripped up this one from his burrow. Sorry.

We also have a good light microscope and sometimes I actually do real work with it. I learned to section and stain optic nerves. I cut the mouse’s dissected optic nerve into a million tiny little slices, then stained them. When I took a look, I saw this:

Big Heart

We look at them under a high power than this when we’re trying to assess optic nerve damage, but under the low power I could see something kind of charming. The nerve sections look like little hearts!

Little Hearts

It’s like the mouse’s nerve was designed by a second grade girl. When I discovered this, it was a cheery little surprise to my day.

Tote ’em to the backyard

Taxidermy gets kind of smelly sometimes, so every now and then I like to try some other project. Every time I throw tennis balls to Giles in the yard, I get a little bored and start aiming for the trees, trying to make the balls ricochet and making it harder for Giles. So one day I spray-painted a small target on one of the trees, thinking it might be fun to improve my aim and practice a skill while entertaining the dog at the same time.

The target kind of looked like an eyeball to me, and the next thing I know, this happened:

First Totem

Jon Totem

I liked it so much that I read the wikipedia article about totem poles, and was surprised to learn that the animal’s height position on the totem pole has nothing to do with the animal’s importance or ranking. The animals are supposed to tell a story, though. Another thing I learned is that there are very few totem poles over 100 year old, because traditionally you’re supposed to let the pole rot and return to the earth, not preserve it. And in the dense mists of the pacific northwest, it doesn’t take that long for a pole to rot away. I also liked the part about shame poles, which were totem poles carved and placed in a neighbor’s yard to shame them if they screwed you over in some way. Often the person being shamed in a shame pole is depicted as a frog. So armed with some inspiration and new knowledge about totem poles, I set about to make a better one.

Totem 3

Totem 1


Totem 4

Sure, it’s no Kayung totem pole of the Haida people, but this was my first attempt at using spray paint ever. I’ve always daydreamed about being a graffiti artist, but no doubt I would only be a toy.

More crappy taxidermy

Just to catch up, I have here a quick collection of all my most recent taxidermy projects that haven’t yet been showcased. I made a bunch of them over the winter when everybody was sequestered indoors to escape the block of ice that was The Outside.

My first inspiration was while watching Oddities. That douchey guy from the show, Ryan, was making a shrunken head out of a sloth the traditional way- filling the head with heated stones. His finished product looked like a smaller version of a sloth’s head. That was nice and all, but while watching it I wondered if I could make a shrunken head that looked like a shrunken human head. Out of um…rat leather. Here’s what I ended up with.

Shrunken Head

Not bad, huh? Normally you’d wonder what to do with a disembodied head, but of all the silly coincidences, I happened to have an extra body floating around that required a head. Many years ago, a worker at an oddities/taxidermy shop/artsy shop was cleaning out the excess and he said to me “Hey I have a taxidermed kingfisher. It doesn’t have a head, but do you want it anyway?” I said sure I would, then made a mental note to make the kingfisher a new head. That was 15 years ago. Better late than never.

Shrunken Kingfisher

This rat was Jon’s idea and I really appreciate the suggestion. I’d just happened to have a little snake fixed in a jar, waiting to be put to good use.

Snake Charmer

This next rat was also Jon’s idea, although when he jokingly suggested it, I don’t believe he ever expected this mythical creature to materialize. I wasn’t sure I could pull it off either. It took forever to make.


I called it Ratipede, scientific name Rattus brachipoda. I posted it to Flickr and haven’t done anything with it since. Sometimes you get lucky, though. The owner of the blog Crappy Taxidermy found it and wrote me to ask if she could use it in her book. Ratipede would be honored. So am I.

There was a side effect to creating Rattus brachipoda. I ended up having a lot of extra rat heads and rat butts that I didn’t know what to do with. I tried my best to get rid of a butt or two or four.


I call that one Buttsy. Still more butts, though. Fortunately, just like I’d happened to have a headless animal in need of a head, just like I’d happened to have a small snake for my snake charmer, I did have something I could use for all these rat butts.


I am aware that these underpants were intended for squirrels only, but they seem to fit Buttsy II just fine.

Undapants rat

That’s all for now. I still have a pile of heads and a fish lying around, so we’ll see what happens.