Dissecting Specimens

Use of preserved scientific specimens has increased greatly in recent years. This use is correlated not only with an increase in the number of workers, and new scientific approaches, but also with the decreasing availability of new material because of population declines and extinction due to habitat loss and commercial exploitation. The results are: (1) specimens of many species are now truly irreplaceable; and (2) competition has increased for access to the same specimens by multiple investigators, who often have different and mutually incompatible research objectives. The policy for dissection of AMNH herpetological specimens is therefore conservative and all modification or dissection of specimens requires prior approval by curatorial staff.

Requests for any dissection require a formal, hard-copy letter. This letter must be on institutional letterhead, and provide the objective of the study, why dissection is necessary, and plans for publication. In addition, it must state exactly what specimen is requested to dissect, the type and procedure of dissection, and the resulting effect on the specimen. Requests from students must be countersigned by their major professors, verifying that the student has already acquired competence in such procedures.

Minor dissections that are routinely necessary (e.g., sex determination) in taxonomic studies are likely to be granted to qualified investigators. Requests to do extensive dissection will normally be denied-unless the curatorial staff is convinced that specimens are unavailable in greater numbers elsewhere and that the dissections are necessary to solve a nontrivial systematic or evolutionary problem. There must be reasonable assurance that the study will be published in a refereed journal. Requests to open specimens for reproductive or food studies will not be routinely granted.

We regret that these regulations will inconvenience and disappoint some investigators.