Re: NANFA-- Preserving Specimens

Dave Neely (
Wed, 23 Jan 2002 21:01:24 -0600

There's lots of ways to preserve fish. The technique you use really depends
on what you want to do with them- if they are just to keep aroung the house
as "keepsakes" (eeewww, gross!), then you might consider mounting them like
gamefish. Make a small incision in one side, free the skin away from the
muscle all around the fish from the inside, scoop as much of the flesh off
the skeleton with a small spoon, fill the cavity with sand and shape it to
the desired shape, then fill in around it with sand until it's dry. Dump the
sand out, spray with polyurethane, and paint. Freeze-drying is another

If the fish are small, sometimes you can dry the whole thing out quickly and
they'll maintain their shape pretty well. If you live in a humid climate,
you might have some problems with funky mold and/or bugs. Spraying them with
polyurethane sealant after they dry helps.

If you want them to build a study collection to refer to when you're having
trouble IDing live fish, then the best way to do it is by fixing them in 10%
formalin for a week or more, rinsing well (overnight or longer), and storing
them in 50% rubbing alcohol or Everclear (95% grain alcohol) diluted down to
70%. We use specimens preserved like this in an elementary education
program, where kids get to play with a whole bunch of different fish taxa.
As long as you rinse really well after the formalin step, they're safe to

Some of the first naturalists even dried fish specimens in a plant press.
The type specimen of bowfin was preserved this way, and sent back to Europe
for Linnaeus to describe. It's still in good condition, a couple hundred
years later.

Packing specimens in salt dries the specimen well, but causes a lot of
shrinkage. Dehydrating the specimen in 95% grain alcohol is another


>There are some fish I would like to preserve. Can anyone tell me how to do
>this? Can the be "mounted" like bigger fish are or what?

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