A Highly Conservative Method For Specimen Dissection

 

This page is rated "A" for "Anatomical" and "G" for "Graphic". By that, I mean it's a little Silence of the Lambs

 

My MS thesis, Examining morphological variation of the hyoid apparatus in monitor lizards, necessitated an unconventional museum practice. I needed to see the hyoid within the body (in-situ). I looked at cleared and stained, digitally scanned and dry (osteological) specimens. Those preparation types were informative but insufficient overall. I needed a bigger, more diverse sample from the museum collections.

Dissection was the answer.

 

One Problem : Curatorial staff become uncomfortable when researchers want to dissect. Understandable! Taking a scalpel to an animal results in the permanent destruction of a piece of history. Not something that we want. On the other hand, specimens exist to be utilized by researchers. Soooo....

 

Solution : Innovate a highly conservative approach to specimen dissection. Implement strategies that taxidermists use to disguise their incisions. 

 

Outcome : Post-data collection, the specimens were stabilized and returned to their collections. I was allowed to dissect in four museums and so far as I could tell, nobody got mad at me.

 

I had incentive to do a good job because; 1) it protected my dissection privileges and kept collection staff happy. If the staff are unhappy, I'm unhappy. 2) the moment that I publish my data, these become voucher specimens. Their values will increase. I DO want my steps to be re-traceable so I do NOT want the specimens to fall apart. I want them to last. So, a conservative approach benefits all.

 

My approach is illustrated in the filmstrip below. For long, boring, written instructions on how its done, see my PDF doc.

Good luck! If you're into this kind of thing. If you're not, I recommend navigating to another page quickly before you become thoroughly weirded out.

When working in collections, permission to dissect was contingent upon my ability to restore specimens to a stable condition. I’m a collection manager at my university so permission to permanently alter specimens was a privilege that I never took for granted. Without dissection, this project would have been hugely expensive and I wouldn't have been able to examine an adult komodo dragon.

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White throated monitor (CAS)
White throated monitor (CAS)

I peeled back the skin in order to examine, then characterize the position of the hyoid apparatus in monitor lizards. Position of the basihyoid was one of the traits that I was interested in.

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Crocodile monitor
Crocodile monitor

Complete. This zoo animal had been necropsied. It was in bad shape originally. In these cases, I had a chance to improve the overall stability of a specimen. That mess in the abdomen was the result of a necropsy. I didn’t do that but I fixed it so that the viscera are now contained. In this way, it’s in better shape now than it was before I arrived on the scene. For a detailed description of how this is done, see the PDF doc on this page. Good luck (if you're also into this kind of thing)!

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When working in collections, permission to dissect was contingent upon my ability to restore specimens to a stable condition. I’m a collection manager at my university so permission to permanently alter specimens was a privilege that I never took for granted. Without dissection, this project would have been hugely expensive and I wouldn't have been able to examine an adult komodo dragon.

press to zoom