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Harvard Forest Research Project 2022

  • Title: Large Museum Specimen Preparation via Natural Processes
  • Principal investigator: Mark Omura (
  • Institution: Harvard University
  • Primary contact: Mark Omura (
  • Team members: Mark Omura
  • Abstract:

    Natural History museums routinely utilize natural methods to process skeletal elements from vertebrates. At the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Mammalogy collection has employed several different preparation methods to transform whole animals into research specimens. Typically, dermestid beetles (Dermestes lardarius) are used to skeletonize smaller specimens. Larger specimens, which cannot be initially processed by the beetle colony, are prepared by utilizing natural insect-activity outdoors.

    Large specimens become available sporadically but when they do become available it is imperative we have a preparation site identified and ready to receive the specimen on short notice. Large specimens are initially prepared at the salvage site then transported to the final preparation site. During initial preparation, the skin, large muscles, and organs are removed from the skeleton. The skeleton will then be transported to the final preparation site at the Harvard Forest. At this site, the skeleton will be arranged within a cage of hardware cloth and covered with a blue tarp. The hardware cloth and tarp prevent larger scavengers, such as coyotes, from raiding the site. Once the skeleton is secured, the specimen is left allowing natural processes to unfold. After a minimum of two weeks, we will return to the site to recover the skeleton. Once the skeleton is cleaned and packed for transport, we will return the site to its original condition using rakes to clean up the site. The skeleton will then be removed from the Harvard Forest for final cleaning and storage in the MCZ Mammalogy Collection. Once entered into the Mammalogy collection the specimens and associated data are immediately made available to researchers.