THE CRAWLING CULPRITS

Remember when your mom used to store her good wool clothing in those old cedar chests with mothballs sprinkled liberally across the bottom? This was to keep out the common clothes moth (along with case-bearing moth) from using her sweaters as a buffet. While the cedar lined chests and mothballs may be history, the moths are not. And they have developed a taste for something new – your mounts. And it’s not just the moths, there are also a host of beetles that have a voracious appetite for the keratin protein that encircles the base of the hair on your heads. Now, let me clarify an important fact; the flying moths and the hard shell beetles are not your problem.

All the damage, to either your sweaters or your stone sheep, are done by the larvae stage of these insects. The beetles and moths lay their eggs on your mounts and they grow by feeding through the hair until they emerge as an adult which utlimately lay their eggs too, thus starting the cycle all over again. Only this time the damage is increased exponentially. If you miss the warning signs and allow several generations of these bugs to propogate, it’s conceivable your entire collection could be destroyed in a single year. (See the bug identification guide below for more details on these pests).

WHY THE NEW THREAT? THANK THE EPA

If you’ve been hunting a long time like I have you are probably wondering why people with trophy collections for years never had this problem. There is an explanation: Prior to 1993 arsenic was a key ingredient in the tanning process. Commercial tanneries – the ones your taxidermist likely used – included arsenic to keep furs and capes from becoming a target of insects. When the Environmental Protection Agency placed Arsenic on the list of the top 200 known carcinogens, tanneries were forced to remove it from the process. From what I understand, tanneries were allowed to deplete their stockpiles so the exact date that arsenic treatments ceased may vary. But it’s safe to say that now US based mounts are no longer protected against bugs.

EARLY DETECTION IS THE KEY

Ok. So now that I’ve scared the crap out of you and you are all racing to your mounts for an inspection let me explain what you need to look for:

  • Lines or tracks in the hair – the larvae often will travel in a straight line and produce tracks that are visible on the pelt. Likely areas of attack include the base of the horns and ears.
  • Sawdust on, or under the mounts – if you routinely see what looks like sawdust on or under your mounts you have a problem.
  • Rice-Krispie looking shells on or under your mounts – this is the empty larvae casings. This is what I found on the feet of my grizzly bear and prompted me to perform an in depth inspection of my entire collection.
  • Hair slipping out in clumps – the larvae move methodically along the top of the skin where the hair connects and they eat the protein that surrounds the hair. Like a beaver chewing around a tree. The hair will often cling together until enough of it is detached that gravity is greater and it can fall off in clumps. Pulling gently on the hair will confirm this is happening but DO NOT PULL IT OUT! Believe it or not it can be repaired by being glued back to the skin.
  • Small Holes in hollow horns or bird legs – Horns (not antlers) are breeding grounds for larvae. Sheep horns are a real problem, same with the horns of African game. I had no less than 200 small 1/32″ holes on my Impala horns. But the most susceptible critter is a turkey mount. In fact, my infestation was tracked back to my big gobbler from South Dakota. The freeze dried heads and legs are magnets for the bugs. They breed like crazy in turkeys. I removed my turkey from my collection and will never have another full mounted bird in my collection.