Taxidermist :: Field Trip - Eva Varga

June 7, 2011

While we were in Oslo, we visited the Natural History Museum – the kiddos first real experience at a natural history museum of this caliber.  They were fascinated by the exhibits and wildlife scenes from all over the world.  While perusing the exhibits, they asked, “Are the animals real?  How did they make them so life-like?  What do they use for the eyes?”  As I answered their questions to the best of my ability, I made a mental note to seek out a taxidermist upon our return home.

A few days after we returned, I stumbled upon an article in our paper about a local taxidermist and bells began to ring in my head.  Serendipity!!  I gave him a call and he was delighted to welcome us to his shop for a field trip.  Only one other family chose to join us for the outing … many stated their children were not interested in seeing “dead animals”.  I was in fact a little surprised, but certainly understood their hesitancy. 

Upon arrival, Tim McLagen greeted us and identified the mounts in the entrance of his business, including the well-known cougar and less familiar Jacob 4 horned sheep pictured above. From there, we entered the shop area where we were fortunate enough to see several projects in various stages of completion.

Grabbing the kids attention first, oddly enough, was the chemical process of creating the foam base onto which the mounts are displayed.  We watched as one of Tim’s employees poured the resin like substance onto a piece of plywood and then loosely wrapped a piece of plastic around it to prevent it from expanding too much.  The kids marveled at the chemical reaction that took place … and I took it upon myself to throw in a mini-chemistry lesson as we watched.

Buddy explains, “My favorite part was watching him make the foam rock. He mixed these two chemicals together and then poured them onto a board.  The two chemicals reacted with each other and made something new.  As the foam got bigger, it got hot. The heat was going out [exothermic reaction]. If the liquid stuff got on your hands when it was wet, it would stick on there for a long time.  If you put it under a car, it is strong enough to lift up the car in just a few minutes.  I got to keep some of the foam stuff.  It was really cool!” 

Tim then shared with us a number of animal hides that he had on hand awaiting mounting.  As we marveled at the soft fur, Tim was careful to point out the many adaptation the animals have that suit them for their way of life.  For example, the badger’s long claws it uses for digging, shown below.

MeiLi explains the mounting process, “I loved everything! It was fun!  I learned that the animal mounts have a Styrofoam core that they cover up with the fur.  Before they put the fur onto the mount, they get it wet so it will stretch better.  Then they sew it together.  They use glass for the eyes and plastic for the mouth (teeth, gums and tongue).  It takes about 1 day for him to do a bird and it takes him a few weeks for the larger animals. He doesn’t tan the hides, though.  He sends them to a tannery.  That is the part that takes the longest.  When the animal is ready, he places on the scenery.  That is his favorite part of his job.  He likes the art of it.  He can do whatever he wants to make it look more real.”

He enters many of his mounts in competitions.  His most unusual project was a Bengal tiger.  Most often he does birds and deer or elk.  The busiest time of the year is in the fall during hunting season.  He presently does about 400-500 mounts a year but before the economy declined, he was doing closer to 900.

Tim then led us into his apartment behind his shop which showcased many more animals and from there, the kids were intrigued by what they assumed were chickens in the backyard.  We were encouraged to go out and upon a closer look, discovered that the birds we had observed from afar were in fact tumbler and rocker pigeons.  He described to us how he brings them to shows and how he often leaves a small door open for the birds, allowing them to come and go as they please.

The kiddos agree that this was their favorite field trip we’ve ever taken.  They hope to go back in the fall, when McLagen’s is busier as they would both like to see “the messy side”.  Looks as though animal physiology may be a part of our future curriculum.

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