Museum specimens, as research materials and as permanent vouchers of published papers, require constant care and protection. They are intended to last essentially forever. Some types of specimens, including bird and mammal skins, are fragile enough to demand special handling. This obligation, in turn, requires that the following rules be observed by all persons using these collections.

General Policies

  1. The only persons with unlimited access to the collection without previous arrangement are members of the museum staff (including Director, Curators, and Technicians) who work with the collection or Biology faculty who have been instructed in its use. All other visitors are not to open specimen cases or handle specimens without permission from the Director or Curators.
  2. Visitors to the collection who are unacquainted with its arrangement or without professional experience in a vertebrate research collection should always be guided or thoroughly instructed in the use of the collection by a member of the museum staff.
  3. Investigators from other departments and institutions should request in advance from the Director or Curators permission to visit and use the collection. This request should specify the reason for the visit and the taxa to be examined.
  4. Biology faculty should inform the museum staff (Director if possible) about intended class visits; this will allow us to plan for your visit.
  5. Specimens are removed from the collection only for use in research or in special cases for artwork, class use, or educational displays. In any of these instances, previous arrangement is necessary.
  6. Avoid drinking or eating in direct proximity to specimens. There is no smoking allowed anywhere in Thompson Hall.

Specimen Handling

  1. Be sure hands are clean before handling specimens (sink in prep lab, 295A). Do not place specimens on dirty or dusty surfaces; ask for a table brush or rag if you need to clean a table or case top, both of which can be used for work space.
  2. Specimen cases should not be left standing open. They are normally to be opened only for the immediate removal or installation of specimens, and special permission is necessary for "browsing" in the cases.
  3. Specimens should be left out of the cases for no longer than necessary.
  4. Remove only a single drawer at a time from a case unless you need to compare specimens in different drawers. When you return it, make sure the drawer is in the correct slot, otherwise specimens can be severely damaged. If any specimens appear to be in disarray because drawers are too close together or otherwise need repair, call this to the attention of the staff. When you close a drawer, slide it in very slowly, so specimens do not move when the drawer stops. If you are not sure, leave the drawer out for museum staff to replace. You may remove single unit trays from drawers rather than the drawers from the cases if you have only a few specimens to examine. Be careful when removing and replacing them, as some fit very tightly.
  5. Handle specimens one at a time and carefully. Pick up skins by placing your hand around the body, never by the bill, head, neck, legs, tail, or label, nor by grabbing sections of the fur or feathers. Use two hands for larger specimens, placing one under the specimen as you lift it out of the tray or turn it over. Groups of specimens can be carried in small cardboard trays provided by the staff. Old specimens were treated with arsenic, so you should also wash your hands after handling them.
  6. Wings should be handled as carefully as skins. Avoid pushing the tips of the flight feathers into anything that would bend or break them. Don't slide a wing along a surface against its grain. Be sure the wing fits entirely within its storage envelope and/or a drawer or unit tray when you replace it.
  7. Handling skeletal material necessitates special care. Examine only one skeleton at a time if possible, to avoid mixing up the bones from different specimens. All the larger bones are individually numbered, so if you need to compare and have taken bones from more than one specimen box, make sure each is numbered before you remove it from the box and carefully check the number on every bone as you return it.
  8. Bird eggs may be examined only in the company of the Director or the Curator or unless special permission has been granted.
  9. If you find misidentifications or other data problems, call them to the attention of a staff member. Any evidence of insect presence in a case should be reported immediately.

Taxonomic Arrangement and Species Names

Arrangement and names of bird specimens follow the 1983 AOU Check-list for North American species and a list generated by the Carnegie Museum for species from the rest of the world. These lists are available in notebooks in the museum. Arrangement and names of mammal specimens follow Hall and Kelson (1981) for North American species and Walker (1968) for species from the rest of the world.

Physical Arrangement

Collections are in room 295 of Thompson Hall. The largest mammal skulls and skeletons--large bears, large pinnipeds, and ungulates--are stored in a basement room and need special permission to access.

All vertebrate specimens are now on computer databases (see Search or Browse Collections)