Merwin: Bare Bones Taxidermy

As fish mounts go, these are definitely unusual and maybe even a little gruesome. A small Florida company called Helter Skeletons produces full-skeleton mounts of various gamefishes that are some of the most eye-catching things I've seen in years. The largemouth-bass skeleton shown here is one example. Can you imagine something like this rising from the lily pads?

The makers explained that they'll take your fish as shipped to them frozen, clean the carcass down to the bones, give the skeleton some sort of light-epoxy treatment to hold everything in its proper place, and return the mount in an attractive shadow box, ready for display. The actual cleaning work is done by a horde of carrion-eating Dermestid beetles, which eat away all the flesh. Such beetles are also used by regular taxidermists in producing some animal mounts. For an interesting example, check out a Montana company called Big Sky Beetle Works.

Predictably, and like regular taxidermy, none of this comes cheaply. Helter Skeletons prices their work by the inch, with a 10-inch fish, skeletized and shadow-boxed, costing about $290. The company has some work for sale from stock and also does custom jobs. As a conversation piece to hang on the wall, I find this to be really tempting.