Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

Continued: Dennis Anderson: Tough times In the bug biz

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 28, 2010 - 8:34 AM

Among its many victims, taxidermists -- some of them -- have been stuffed by the weakened economy. The craft is practiced by fewer men (and they are mostly men) in Minnesota today than was the case a few years ago.

Reasons are obvious. Having the head of a deer or elk mounted or a trophy fish memorialized, important as this timeless practice is to hunters and anglers, is nonetheless a luxury compared to eating. And paying the mortgage.

Additionally, hunters and anglers who have been financially able to take "trips of a lifetime'' in recent years have been fewer. Consequently, not as many 6x6 mule deer, for example, have been returned to Minnesota from the West in recent hunting seasons. Ditto big fish from Canada and Alaska.

The fallout among taxidermists can be felt even in the bug business, said Storm Amacher, owner in St. Paul of Remains to be Seen, a provider of flesh-eating services.

"Some taxidermists I worked with for years are no longer around,'' Storm said the other day. "Times are tough for a lot of people.''

The holder of a fine arts degree from the U, Storm -- originally she was named Rochelle, but after only two days of dealing with her infant daughter, her mother opted for Storm -- never thought she would earn a living shoulder to shoulder with a million creepy little insects.

But earn it she does, in the basement of her home, a domicile familiar to UPS and FedEx drivers who routinely drop off the excised noggins of some of America's biggest big game.

"In addition to the bug business, I've also worked in the genitalia paraphernalia game,'' Storm said. "You know, walking sticks, canes, that kind of thing, made from bull penises.''

Happily shod of that handiwork, Storm now concentrates her manifest artistic efforts in the creation of "European'' mounts of game- animal heads. Some work she does direct with hunters, but mostly she contracts directly with taxidermists, near and far.

"Taxidermists are trained and know that licensing of harvested game animals is a big deal,'' Storm said. "No one in this business accepts game for taxidermy work of any kind unless it's been properly registered, and taxidermists are good at doing that kind of stuff.''

Storm was first exposed to bugs-- actually, it's dermestid beetles she employs -- in the 1970s while working with a Twin Cities veterinarian. Subsequently she toiled in the (human) dental business, which she said was also valuable in developing her bone-picking expertise.

So what is a European mount?

It's the cleaned and polished skull, with antlers attached, of a deer, elk or similar animal ("I've done bears, coyotes, you name it,'' she said), absent, often, the lower jaw.

This kind of mount shows off an animal's antlers while also taking up less room on a wall than a traditional, full-head mount. European mounts also can be hundreds of dollars cheaper than traditional mounts.

Given her druthers, Storm prefers to receive her lopped-off heads skinned, boned and dried. Or at least skinned. "I hate skinning,'' she said. "But I can bone a bear skull in 15 minutes.''

Once removed of most flesh, skulls are dropped into one of many large, steel, aquarium-like containers in Storm's basement. Then her beetles -- each container has its own colony -- go to work, chewing away at flesh housed even in the tiniest crevices.

"Dermestid beetles can be found outdoors in Minnesota,'' Storm said. "They finish what the carrion eaters and maggots don't get.''

Fickle, Storm's bugs like their victims dry.

"If the skull's too wet, they simply aren't interested,'' Storm said. "And they don't like chemicals. I once did parts of a human skeleton for the Mayo Clinic of a man who had been undergoing chemotherapy. The bugs wouldn't touch it.''

Which brings up another admonition Storm feels compelled to offer, lest some weirdo shows up at her doorstep with big ideas:

"Don't bring me Grandma,'' she said.

It's not that she hasn't worked on humans over her three decades in the bug game. She just doesn't do it much of it anymore.

"And, as you might expect, it's fairly well regulated,'' she said.

Sheep, however, she's picked apart those -- in one case a full skeleton. Ditto an 800-pound pig. "And I once boned an entire cow in 61/2 hours,'' she said.

But mostly it's deer, bear and elk skulls that her bugs bite. Then they are degreased in a solution of ammonia and dishwashing detergent and coated to a brilliant sheen with a high-gloss clear acrylic.

Other means can accomplish the same end.

Some hunters prepare their own European mounts by boiling skulls to remove excess flesh. This can be problematic, however, because large pots are needed, as are, oftentimes, daylong boils.

Additionally, the bottoms of a trophy's antlers must be kept out of the boiling water and rising steam or they can change color.

Another method -- complicated but theoretically possible -- is to bury a skull and antlers and hope that over time subterranean critters perform the same handiwork Storm's bugs do.

Storm's advice:

"Do what you're going to do, but treat a head that you intend to mount the same way you would treat it if you intended to eat it. Keep it frozen until you skin it and debone it or until you bring it to a taxidermist.''

• • •

Recall now the aforementioned downturned economy.

For about 10 years, Storm earned a living full-time doing what she loves to do, which at its heart is a form of forensic pathology. "Each animal is different from the next,'' she said, "and each individual is different from other individuals.''

But in recent years, Storm's need for health insurance and a stable income led her to seek a full-time job.

Now she does the bug thing in her free time, working night and day.

"My husband and I have been together 39 years,'' Storm said. "He's on a transplant list for a kidney, and we're hoping one can be found. There are just too few donors.''

Upbeat nonetheless, Storm carries on, keenly aware it's a wacky, if not buggy, world.

"Recently my home phone number was mistakenly listed as a housekeeping service and for a while I was getting calls from people wanting me to clean their homes,'' she said. "I told them that unless they wanted skeletons in their closets, try someone else.''

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com.

  • related content

  • Photo gallery: Beware of Bugs

    Sunday November 28, 2010

    Stormy Amacher has an unusual basement business , preparing skeletons for taxidermy.

  • Storm Amacher in her basement bug factory.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Buffalo 17 FINAL
New England 9
Cleveland 10 FINAL
Baltimore 20
Dallas 44 FINAL
Washington 17
Indianapolis 27 FINAL
Tennessee 10
Jacksonville 17 FINAL
Houston 23
San Diego 7 FINAL
Kansas City 19
NY Jets 37 FINAL
Miami 24
Chicago 9 FINAL
Minnesota 13
Philadelphia 34 FINAL
NY Giants 26
New Orleans 23 FINAL
Tampa Bay 20
Carolina 34 FINAL
Atlanta 3
Detroit 20 FINAL
Green Bay 30
Oakland 14 FINAL
Denver 47
Arizona 17 FINAL
San Francisco 20
St. Louis 6 FINAL
Seattle 20
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Pittsburgh 27
Arizona 1/3/15 3:35 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 1/3/15 7:15 PM
Pittsburgh
Detroit 103 FINAL
Cleveland 80
Houston 106 FINAL
San Antonio 110
Oklahoma City 107 FINAL
Dallas 112
New York 79 FINAL
Portland 101
Toronto 116 FINAL
Denver 102
Phoenix 116 FINAL
LA Lakers 107
Toronto 4 FINAL
Florida 6
Vancouver 1 FINAL(OT)
Anaheim 2
Tulane 57 FINAL
St Johns 82
Central Conn St 48 FINAL
Connecticut 81
Iona 81 FINAL
Drexel 62
Concordia (MI) 42 FINAL
Eastern Mich 100
Harvard 46 FINAL
Arizona State 56
Longwood 64 FINAL
Ball State 69
Sacred Heart 76 FINAL
Brown 79
Colgate 64 FINAL
Columbia 69
MD-Eastern Shore 78 FINAL
Duquesne 69
UNC Greensboro 50 FINAL
East Carolina 71
Marist 64 FINAL
Elon 69
NJIT 71 FINAL
Lafayette 76
Cincinnati Christian 58 FINAL
Liberty 78
Morgan State 53 FINAL
Marquette 81
Campbell 56 FINAL
Samford 65
Bucknell 71 FINAL
Siena 73
Long Beach State 67 FINAL
Syracuse 85
Coppin State 80 FINAL
Evansville 85
UMKC 73 FINAL
Indiana State 70
Hofstra 88 FINAL
Long Island 62
Coast Guard 48 FINAL
Army 93
Thomas (GA) 48 FINAL
High Point 85
Texas Southern 58 FINAL
Kansas State 56
Rutgers 59 FINAL
Monmouth 58
NC Wesleyan 54 FINAL
NC A&T 58
South Dakota St 63 FINAL
Northern Iowa 74
Central Penn College 69 FINAL
Radford 119
Bowling Green 79 FINAL
South Florida 70
Harris-Stowe 66 FINAL
SE Missouri St 94
Robert Morris-IL 56 FINAL
SIU Edwardsville 104
Northland College 59 FINAL
North Dakota St 83
Milwaukee 60 FINAL
South Dakota 84
Northwestern St 92 FINAL
Arkansas 100
Saint Peters 59 FINAL
Cornell 52
St Katherine 62 FINAL
Fresno State 93
Haskell 42 FINAL
Oral Roberts 94
Wake Forest 65 FINAL
Richmond 63
Fla Gulf Coast 57 FINAL
Xavier 71
SD Christian 45 FINAL
Northern Ariz 71
Judson 46 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 80
Ill-Chicago 60 FINAL
Bradley 68
Loyola-Maryland 61 FINAL
Fairfield 59
Miss Valley St 53 FINAL
Houston 80
Lehigh 58 FINAL
UMBC 55
Delaware State 56 FINAL
Temple 66
Belmont 56 FINAL
Butler 67
Howard 59 FINAL
Fordham 74
NW Christian 67 FINAL
Nevada 81
UC Davis 83 FINAL
Washington St 90
Abilene Christian 81 FINAL
Grand Canyon 83
UCLA 50 FINAL
Alabama 56
Stony Brook 62 FINAL
Washington 57
Buffalo 56 FINAL
Wisconsin 68
CS-Bakersfield 55 FINAL
California 52
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 36 FINAL
Duke 31
Miami-Florida 21 FINAL
So Carolina 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Penn State 31
(25) Nebraska 42 FINAL
(24) USC 45
Texas A&M 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
Minnesota
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
Tennessee
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
Florida
Toledo 1/4/15 8:00 PM
Arkansas State
Drexel 71 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 54
Holy Cross 63 FINAL
Norfolk State 62
East Carolina 62 FINAL
South Florida 69
(10) Oregon State 63 FINAL
(8) Tennessee 74
Providence 51 FINAL
Boston College 79
Florida A&M 47 FINAL
Miami-Florida 83
Oakland 69 FINAL
Central Michigan 74
Chattanooga 59 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 49
Fairfield 59 FINAL
La Salle 73
St Francis-PA 59 FINAL
Pittsburgh 97
Milwaukee 72 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 78
Gardner-Webb 59 FINAL
Longwood 63
New Hampshire 58 FINAL
Manhattan 54
Bucknell 68 FINAL
Binghamton 57
Northeastern 70 FINAL
Albany 67
George Mason 70 FINAL
Towson 72
Richmond 59 FINAL
William & Mary 56
Tulane 60 FINAL
Cincinnati 50
North Florida 51 FINAL
Florida 63
(14) Georgia 51 FINAL
Seton Hall 70
Tennessee St 75 FINAL
(12) Kentucky 87
American Univ 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 77
Massachusetts 78 FINAL
Boston U 57
Quinnipiac 69 FINAL
Saint Josephs 67
Lafayette 49 FINAL
Saint Peters 34
Northwestern 61 FINAL
(20) Michigan State 57
Duquesne 82 FINAL
Lehigh 75
George Washington 72 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 49
(17) Rutgers 66 FINAL
Indiana 51
(24) Green Bay 66 FINAL
Dayton 72
Western Mich 55 FINAL
Stony Brook 59
Davidson 67 FINAL
Virginia 57
UNC Greensboro 61 FINAL
LSU 82
Denver 63 FINAL
North Texas 55
VA Commonwealth 63 FINAL
Coppin State 52
Huston-Tillotson 36 FINAL
Houston Baptist 86
Lamar 63 FINAL
Rice 97
Miss Valley St 40 FINAL
Alabama 71
Saint Louis 63 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 49
Middle Tennessee 98 FINAL
Tenn Tech 76
Penn State 52 FINAL
(23) Iowa 77
Purdue 62 FINAL
Illinois 55
DePaul 99 FINAL
Illinois State 62
Sam Houston St 46 FINAL
Wichita State 70
South Dakota 76 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 69
(4) Notre Dame 82 FINAL
UCLA 67
Coll of Charleston 51 FINAL
SC State 60
Alcorn State 53 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 63
Dartmouth 76 FINAL
Niagara 70
Colgate 68 FINAL
Siena 80
Michigan 53 FINAL
Wisconsin 63
Fla Gulf Coast 73 FINAL
CS-Northridge 64
Yale 51 FINAL
(25) Arizona State 69
UC Santa Barbara 34 FINAL
(16) Stanford 90
Long Island 63 FINAL
Long Beach St 71
Jackson State 56 FINAL
Louisiana 65
Eureka 50 FINAL
Western Ill 91
Cornell 59 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 76
Temple 58 FINAL
Memphis 57
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close