My vet was kind enough to secure and freeze a fresh skin sample from a recent cat cadaver. I picked it up this morning on my way in to work. In contrast to the human skin samples which I had to leave in the anatomy lab, I could take this to the museum and look at it under the high powered microscopes there. Here’s what I saw:
I was taken aback by the number of hairs coming out in tufts of 5-8 hairs each! For scale, I placed a cat flea on the skin. It traverses about five tufts of hair. This translates into a hairy jungle for the base of my model. Either I cut the hairs down so you can see the flea or I put less hair in the base than what I saw under the microscope, or I make the model viewable only from one side with the backdrop a “jungle” of hair (I think my first choice). I’ll have to think about it and talk to the designer.
The other thing that shouldn’t have surprised me was that fresh skin is enormously malleable. Each time I moved it, pulled on it, or pushed down on it, the surface form changed. At one point, I thought there were fairly even furrows, but when I smoothed the skin, those furrows mostly disappeared. Non-living organisms at this level of magnification seem to be easily distorted. It is something Ray Pupedis and I have discussed looking at the scanning microscope photos of lice on the internet. The specimens look dessicated (they are!) and it is hard to decide what a live insect would look like. The flea in the photo dried and shriveled as I watched while taking this photo.