July 21, 2010

Touring the mammals collection

Today Mammals Curator, Linda Gordon, took us on a tour of the rodent collections and provided a brief peak into what surprises they have to offer. The collection is staggering in size to put it mildy. 590,000 specimens of mammals. Each specimen is carefully preserved, measured, cataloged, annotated and tagged, so that future researchers have a continuously expanding reference for studying the diversity of lifeforms on Earth.

Teddy Roosevelt's Elephant

This is one of at least two African elephants in the collection that were killed by President Roosevelt during hunting expeditions.

The collections are housed long rows of white metal cabinets gleaming under white fluorescent lighting. The aisles of cabinets move along tracks on the ground like library stacks in a large university library. This allows for more specimens to be stored in the room. I was told that in case of fire, the aisles are programmed to auto-space themselves to allow the water from the sprinklers to get in.

Rodent Range

The Rodent Range: Part of the dry storage for the Smithsonian rodent collection.

The aisles are labeled with the species they contain, organized alphabetically. First one starts with the scientific name of the organism sought. Once the right cabinet is found, each pair of shiny white doors swings open to reveal a tower of equally sized horizontal drawers. The drawers further refine the collection by the place in which the specimen was collected, again, sorted alphabetically. After that, the catalog number of the specimen keeps them all in neat rows inside perfectly fitted boxes. This gets you as far as the skins and skulls. If the specimen has other bones associated, they will be stored elsewhere… in the bone collection. Why? Because that’s the way it has always been done.

Lingling and Singsing

Mammals curator Linda Gordon reveals the final resting place of Lingling and Singsing

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