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Fly on the Wall 

July 6, 2011

Flying Specimen-Class

Unpacking after any trip is usually a drag – it means the trip is over and it’s back to real life. However, when your luggage contains more than 300 species that you believe are new to science, it can be quite fun! During their seven-week expedition in the Philippines, Academy scientists and their Filipino colleagues surveyed terrestrial, shallow marine and deep marine environments on and around the island of Luzon, collecting specimens that will now be analyzed and cataloged as part of the Academy’s library of life.

Most marine specimens are preserved in alcohol, to stabilize and prevent them from deteriorating. However on airplanes, regulations strictly limit the amount of alcohol that can be present in shipping containers. So, for the flight from Manila to San Francisco, specimens were kept in plastic bags with just a thimbleful of alcohol – enough to help preserve them, but not so much that they couldn’t fly. Extremely delicate specimens like urchins need to be suspended in liquid during transport, so they traveled in a diluted alcohol mixture. All were sealed tight, double bagged, then loaded into buckets and tubs for the journey.

Just as human passengers are eager to stretch their legs after a long flight, scientists are eager to get their specimens into proper storage conditions. Below, staff in the invertebrate zoology department move new specimens fresh from SFO into jars of alcohol. In the coming months, they will study these creatures more closely, using microscopes and DNA analysis to confirm new species and compile distribution maps.

Double-bagged specimensUnpacking Bags to bottles

Filed under: Research Departments — Helen @ 10:25 am

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