Shrunken heads are exactly what they sound like. The practice has only been seen in a few tribes in the northwest region of the Amazon rainforest, but they have become well-known around the world. They were created after someone was defeated in battle; the loser had their head shrunken and sewn shut to keep their spirit inside, which prevented revenge on the killer later on.
To create a shrunken head, the skull is removed from the inside of the skin and boiled before hot rocks and sand are used to dry it. The eyes and lips are sewn shut to capture the spirit inside. It was also believed that rubbing ash on the skin would help this as well.
When shrunken heads became more popular in the mid 20th century, many people started to make fakes using animal heads or skins. Today it is very hard to find a real one, even in museums. There is, however, a real one at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia which we got to see.
This is a vampire bat suspended in a piece of resin! His name is Wilhelm.
The common vampire bat has specialized thermoreceptors on its nose to help it locate blood that flows close to the surface of the skin of their prey. They also have a special part of their brain, called the inferior colliculus, that processes the regular breathing sounds of sleeping animals that could be their source of food. Their saliva has an anticoagulant to help them feed.
Vampire bats are also unique in that they are the only kind of bat that can run on land. They also are the only species of bat to adopt a younger individual if something happens to that bat’s mother. In addition to this, they will share food with each other if a bat does not find any blood that night by regurgitating some of it’s meal into another’s mouth.
They have a bad reputation for biting humans, but they actually don’t. They focus on other large mammals, such as farm animals.
Species of vampire bat suspended in clear resin.
Size: 3″ wide x 3″ tall x 1″ deep
From: Unknown, but can be found at Evolution or Etsy
Price: Varies greatly
This is a baby octopus wet specimen in a really cool triangle shaped jar. I bought it for M for our 2 year anniversary.
Octopuses (or octopi- both are correct!) are cephalopod molluscs without skeletons that are some of the most intelligent invertebrates in the world. They have hard beaks in the middle of their 8 legs. They have very unique defense systems, from expelling ink at a predator to some of the best camouflage abilities in the animal kingdom. All octopuses are also venomous, but only one species is deadly to humans (the blue-ringed octopus we posted about a while ago for our wishlist!).
Octopuses have a very short life expectancy, living from anywhere between 6 months to 5 years. Males can live for only a few months after mating, and females die shortly after their eggs hatch because they spend the month taking care of their unhatched eggs without eating, eventually dying of starvation.
They can be trained to differentiate between shapes and patterns, they can break out of their aquariums, and they have been observed using tools. As you can tell we think octopuses are awesome!
An unknown species of baby octopus in a jar.
Size: 2.25″ width each side, 4.5″ tall
A mermaid gaff, also called a fiji or feejee mermaid, is the torso and head of a juvenile monkey sewn onto the back half of a fish. They were common in sideshows and were advertised as mummified, real specimens of mermaids. The first one in the Western world dates back to 1822 when an American sailor bought the “original” fiji mermaid from Japanese soldiers. Fiji mermaids, however, were popular in Japan long before this. It was then given to P.T. Barnum, who used it in his sideshow.
Fiji mermaids are probably the most well-known taxidermy gaff after the jackalope, which is why we would like to add it to our collection.
Hey remember that post on diaphonization just a few days ago when we said we had a diaphonized specimen in our collection? Well here it is!
We got these cute little mouse legs in a store called Bazaar in Baltimore, in the Hamden area. If you’re ever around there check it out because it has lots of cool stuff for a good price.
I’m pretty sure these are hind legs, but I’m not positive.
Diaphonized Mouse Legs
Hind legs dyed to show the skeletal structure
Size: 2″ tall x .75″ wide
From: Bazaar Baltimore
Diaphonization is the art/science of staining the bones and cartilage in a wet specimen. The process was first developed in 1977 by the scientists Dingerkus and Uhler, who originally called it “clearing and staining”. The “clearing” part was making the specimen clear by bathing it in trypsin, a digestive enzyme that slowly breaks down the flesh. The specimen is then soaked in multiple batches of bone, cartilage, and/or muscle dyes (the “staining”). The most common dyes are alizarin red and alcian blue. Alcian blue stains cartilage, alizarin red stains bone, and muscle is stained purple.
Diaphonization is almost always used on small specimens under one foot in length because the process takes such a long time. A large rat could take up to six months to complete. Amphibians, fish, and reptiles are particularly suited to this process because their tissues are usually too delicate to be dissected. Using diaphonization on these species is the best way to look at their inner structures without changing or harming them.
We have one diaphonized specimen in our collection so far that we’ll be posting soon!
I gave this ostrich skull to M as a Christmas present this past year. He loves ostriches and even wants a farm full of them one day.
Ostriches are large, flightless birds native to Africa. They are the largest species of bird still alive today and also lay the largest eggs. They can run up to 43 mph, the fastest land speed of any bird.
They can weigh anywhere from 139-320 lbs, and the males grow to be between 6’11” and 9’2″ while the females are from 5’7″ to 6’7″. Their lifespan is up to 40-45 years.
Ostriches are also known for their very large eyes- they have largest eyes of any land vertebrate, measuring 2 inches in diameter.
It is a myth that ostriches hide their heads in the sand when they feel threatened. They actually either lay flat on the ground to blend in with their surroundings or they will attack if they feel threatened enough. They can kick very powerfully with their legs, so much so that they can disembowel and kill a person with their long claws in a single blow.
An ostrich skull with a detached lower jaw is the biggest skull in our collection.
Size: 7.5″ long x 3.5″ wide x 3.25″ tall
From: Clear Creek Trading- Etsy