Preserving reptiles for research

By: , and 
Edited by: C. Kenneth Dodd



What are voucher specimens and why do we collect them? Voucher specimens are animals and/or their parts that are deposited in a research museum to document the occurrence of a taxon at a specific location in space and time (Pleijel et al., 2008; Reynolds and McDiarmid, 2012). For field biologists, vouchers are the repeatable element of a field study as they allow other biologists, now and in the future, to confirm the identity of species that were studied. The scientific importance of a voucher specimen or series of specimens is that other people are afforded the opportunity to examine the entire animal and confirm or correct identifications. A photographic record is somewhat useful for recording the occurrence of a species, but such records can be insufficient for reliable confirmation of specific identity. Even if a photo shows diagnostic characters of currently recognized taxa, it may not show characters that separate taxa that may be described in the future. Substantial cryptic biodiversity is being found in even relatively well-known herpetofaunas (Crawford et al., 2010), and specimens allow researchers to retroactively evaluate the true diversity in a study as understanding of taxonomy evolves. They enable biologists to study the systematic relationships of populations by quantifying variation in different traits. Specimens are also a source of biological data such as behaviour, ecology, epidemiology, and reproduction through examination of their anatomy, reproductive and digestive tracts, and parasites (Suarez and Tsutsui, 2004). Preserving reptiles as vouchers is not difficult, although doing it properly requires care, effort, and time. Poorly preserved vouchers can invalidate the results and conclusions of your study because of the inability to confirm the identity of your study animals. Good science requires repeatability of observations, and the absence of vouchers or poorly preserved ones prevents such confirmation. Due to space restrictions, we are unable to go into as much detail as we would like in this chapter. A number of publications give more details on some topics discussed in this chapter, such as Pisani (1973), Pisani and Villa (1974), Etheridge (1996), Karns (1986), McDiarmid (1994), Cortez et al. (2006), Foster (2012) (and subchapters therein), Reynolds and McDiarmid (2012), and Simmons (2015). Although some of these works focus on amphibians, they also apply to reptiles in many aspects.

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Preserving reptiles for research
ISBN 9780198726142
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Oxford University Press
Contributing office(s) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Description 14 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Monograph
Larger Work Title Reptile ecology and conservation
First page 73
Last page 86
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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