January 11, 2010

Filling in for Mammalogy: Part 1

What happens when the Burke’s Mammalogy collections manager leaves town for six weeks? He asks an able graduate student to look after the place! Before taking his leave, collection manager Jeff Bradley asked me to fill his large shoes while he was gone. I am a graduate student in the Museology Program here at the University of Washington and I have been training with Jeff for over a year, learning how to prepare mammal specimens and care for the collection.

Before Jeff left, he ran me through a crash course on all the things I might need to know in his absence. My weekly duties included checking the insect traps for any intruders, emptying the dehumidifier in the cold storage room, relabeling storage cases, and preparing a collection of small mammals from the Olympic Peninsula. Preparing a specimen involves skinning and stuffing the animal, taking tissue samples and measurements and preparing bones for their short stay in the dermestid beetle colony where muscle matter is removed. If prepared properly and stored in ideal conditions (like the ones in our collection), these specimens will endure for many years to come. I also made sure that volunteer Chandler Coles had bones to wash and prepare for numbering and that fellow museology graduate student and intern Crystal Welliver had mammals thawed out and ready to prepare.

Photo: Justine Walker working with the Burke's Mammology collections

During this time my inbox slowly filled with email requests, as mammalogy collection emails were forwarded to me. Many of these emails contained straightforward questions, asking if a group of students could tour the collection and on what date, for example. Some, however, were more appropriate for Jeff to answer, such as:

-Does the Burke want a couple of dead skunks?
-Can the paper archives of a collection be viewed?
-My personal favorite, where does someone go to obtain a steady supply of “road kill?”

I did my best to provide temporary answers and to politely inform the inquirers that they would have to wait for a formal response from collection manager Jeff once he returns. And I thank every one of them for their patience and understanding!

Check back soon for more stories from my time filling in as mammal collection manager.

Posted By: Justine Walker, Mammalogy