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Special Tours Take Members Behind the Scenes

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From the Collections posts

Of the many Museum programs designed just for Members, behind-the-scenes tours are consistently among the most popular. These tours, which are offered to Members from October through May, provide a glimpse of what’s not usually visible in the public halls: scientists at work, research laboratories, and vast collections of artifacts and specimens from around the world that have not been exhibited.

Armadillo Lizard with Osteoderm thumbnail
On a recent tour, graduate student Edward Stanley discussed how he uses the CT scanner to study lizard osteoderms.
©AMNH/E. Stanley

“Speaking with scientists about their work gives Members a sense of how alive the Museum is,” says Membership Coordinator Rogelio Plasencia. “They learn about cutting-edge research, new discoveries, and work with living cultures.”

Tours are generally led by two or three scientists, each focusing on a different subject and guaranteeing that no two tours are alike. On a recent tour of the Department of Herpetology, for example, Members heard from Antonia Florio, a fourth-year graduate student in the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School whose research is revealing that Furcifer lateralis, a common chameleon in Madagascar, may actually be three distinct species. In a walk through the Museum’s Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, Florio discussed the equipment and processes involved in gene sequencing and its importance to taxonomy.

The tour continued with Ed Stanley, a third-year graduate student who talked about how he is using the Museum’s high-resolution CT scanner and computer tomography to develop three-dimensional images of lizards to study their osteoderms, or bone deposits that form scales. Stanley showed the group how he is able to “see” inside the skeleton—view the braincase and inner ear on a computer screen, for example—without damaging the specimen.

And no tour is complete without a peek at the Museum’s extensive collection. On this particular tour, Curatorial Associate David Kizirian, who manages the collections in the Department of Herpetology, wowed the group with whole specimens of an alligator, a Komodo dragon, and a Galápagos tortoise that all share a 300-gallon ethanol-filled tank. In addition, Members saw the remains of Samantha, the famous 22-foot reticulated python that died at the Bronx Zoo a decade ago. Kizirian also displayed dozens of preserved lizards, snakes, turtles, frogs, and crocodiles while describing nighttime frog collecting in Vietnam using headlamps, GPS, and recording equipment.

“Members have a real curiosity about what we do and ask educated questions,” says Kizirian. “They like to learn about our fieldwork, and they are fascinated with the collections.”

Upcoming behind-the-scenes tours for Members include Behind the Scenes in Mammalogy on October 11 and Behind the Scenes in Paleontology on November 8.