Thursday, March 26, 2015

Chupacabra Crafts and the solution on how to not waste the heads.

Today I'd like to introduce the work of Chupacabra Crafts. She's been working with the skulls and face skins from our rabbits that we'd been challenged to find a use for and not waste. She's done an incredible job as you can see Above. Before we go on to that, I wanted to update on the chickens, Tuesday we actually got 5 eggs, and yesterday we got 4, so we seem to be up to about full production very suddenly which I definitely don't mind. Now on to the taxidermy.

Below the cut there will be a couple taxidermy photos that could make some uncomfortable, but it's well worth the read. One of them is a graphic photo of a rabbit head with the skin removed.
From Chupacabra Crafts:
Early last summer the great folks at Hillside Homestead contacted me about making use of their freezer of rabbit heads. They were very committed to finding a better purpose for every part of their prized livestock. I'm a 30 year old artist, worker, and novice but aspiring taxidermist living in western MA. By the time I connected with the Homestead, I had been mounting small mammals for roughly a year. I had about 8 decent squirrels and the like I'd lovingly manufactured in my home workshop. 
While there is a subculture of "creepy" taxidermy enthusiasts out there, I strive for a modern yet respectful vibe to my pieces. But I digress, always on the look out for high quality specimens, we quickly made arrangements for a pickup.... In exchange, they asked for the skulls of their rabbits to be cleaned by my dermestid beetles, whitened, and returned. 

Bone cleaning with dermestids is a very sow, yet fascinating process. The skinned, mostly defleshed, and partially dried rabbit heads are added to the beetle box -- a large plastic bin containing wood chips, a heat source, a water sponge, and Styrofoam chunks (the beetle larva love to burrow and molt in the Styrofoam). My culture is fairly small, about 600 beetles and larva, and it takes about 2 months for them to eat down a pair of rabbit heads - eyeballs, tongue, cheek meat, and most brain matter previously removed.

After the beetles literally abandon a 'cleaned' skull, the specimen receives several weeks of further whitening treatments. Each rabbit skulls goes through 3 or more weeks of a degreasing soak, that's Dawn dish soap and warm water. The next step is a short acetone soak to dissolve any residual oils. Stubbornly greasy skulls may have to undergo several weeks of degrease/acetone/degrease treatments.... Finally a hydrogen peroxide bath further brightens the bones.

Returning to the taxidermic side of my craft; just briefly, the steps for mounting a neckless rabbit head are: 

-Skin, flesh, salt, dry, rehydrate, degrease, rise, drain. After skinning, the salted skin is set to dry on a board for at least 1 week. Salting kills bacteria and helps lock the fur in place. The ears are "turned" as they say in taxidermy, the skin tediously pulled from cartilage and turned inside out. I spent over 3 hours on each head, just to finish the initial skinning and turning of both ears. 

-Before a skull is defleshed and given to the beetles, I trace it against a brick of craft carving foam, and recreate a unique, individual skull for each piece. More traditional modern taxidermy largely involves pre-ordered  animal-shaped polyurethane mannikins, but for my purposes I had to get creative. Such is the fun and challenge of home taxidermy! 

-Facial features are recreated using clay and glass taxidermy bubble eyes

-The freshly washed skin is coated on the inside with dry preservatives - a mixture of borax and salts, clay is carefully stuffed and sculpted into the "split" but right side out ears. 

-The skin and delicate ears are carefully fitted over the foam skull. At this time the posing and shaping of the facial features starts as the animal's pelt continues to drain of water and shrink down. The lips, eyelids, brow, and whisker roots are pinned into place and left to dry for about a week. Generally, as taxidermy dries it needs to be tended to, as the drying skin will move, pull pins out of place, and distort the facial features.

So far I've recreated 3 gorgeous bunny faces, a large albino buck, and two of the dark steel coat color. Each head has finished up a little more expressive, more lively than the last. Surely there's a sign that I'm continuing to improve in my chosen medium. In any case, these large, noble, expressive  american standard rabbit heads were a true pleasure to work with. 

If you liked her work, I'll just remind you of her page Chupacabra Crafts or her Etsy store both of which have a variety of things that sometimes will include some pieces that started on the Hillside Homestead.  
Edited to add:
Chupacabra Crafts recently sent another of our rabbits off to a new home, and wanted to share those photos as well. Here is Ramses, so named because as she put it, he is pure taxidermic nobility.


  1. Uh... that was interesting. No, really! And the bit about having to de-grease the skull was really interesting; I always think of rabbits as a low-fat animal.
    If you ever have a chance to go to the Whaling museum on Nantucket (or the Cape, I don't remember) they have a full whale skeleton hung up in the main exhibit area. A friend who worked there said it was a serious pain in the butt because, even though it was over 100 years old, it still dripped oil onto the floor and they were always having to clean it up so no one slipped.

    Could you make stock from the heads, after you take out the brain? (I read somewhere that you really, really don't want to boil a head with the brain still in, because it's super nasty. Fanny Farmer's Last Supper, maybe?)

    1. Hmmm, not sure about making stock once the brains are removed, it's possible. We actually are going to be seeing about selling or trading the cleaned skulls since there is actually a demand for them interestingly enough. I can say that rabbits are very low fat, so the degreasing being as much of a process as it was reminded me that low fat in a mammal still has to mean a fair amount present for survival.

      I should get down to the Whaling Museum, that sounds interesting, though mopping up dripping oil regularly sounds a little unfortunate.

  2. Taxidermy is such an interesting process. Something I wish I had the patience to do. *follows them on Blogger*