The University of Michigan is making history with a massive acquisition of rattlesnake specimens

Ann Arbor, Mich. –

Greg Schneider scans rows of liquid-filled glass jars containing coiled snake specimens, just part of the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology's reptile and amphibian collection, believed to be the largest of any research institution in the United States, thanks to a recent donation. .

This fall, the museum acquired tens of thousands of specimens of reptiles and amphibians, many of which are snakes, from Oregon State University. The development puts the university in a unique position, according to Schneider, manager of research collections at the museum's Reptile and Amphibian Museum.

“I'm pretty sure we'll have the largest collection of snakes in the world,” he said. The extensive new additions will also allow scientists to conduct new studies of snakes and amphibians, perhaps looking at the evolution of traits in mothers and their offspring.

Many studies have been done in recent years on amphibian and reptile population declines, Schneider said, noting that they are “very good biological indicators of environmental and ecosystem health,” especially amphibians.

“Amphibians, unlike humans, breathe at least partially through their skin, which is constantly exposed to everything in their environment,” he said, adding that “worldwide events of amphibian decline and deformation may be an early warning that some of our ecosystems, even seemingly intact ones, are seriously threatened.” It is unbalanced.”

Last month, boxes arrived containing water snakes, vipers, wood salamanders, fuzzy salamanders and other species. They euthanized him and finally placed him in a 75% ethanol solution. The donations represent the lifetime achievement of two retired Oregon State professors, Lynn Hauck and Stephen Arnold, who received their Ph.D.s from Michigan in 1972.

Schneider has yet to complete the painstaking process of cataloging the new material, but estimates it contains about 30,000 snakes. That would give Michigan a total of 65,000 to 70,000 swimming vertebrates, he said, surpassing the collections of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the University of Kansas. Donated by the State of Oregon, some of the artifacts housed in the museum predate the Civil War.

The title “The Greatest Snake Collection” would be nice, but Schneider said the real promise of the large collection is the new research opportunities.

“The more things you have and the more associated materials you have, the more things you can do,” Schneider said.

The newly acquired Oregon State Collection also includes approximately 30,000 associated frozen tissue samples. Along with advances in molecular genetics and more sophisticated DNA analysis, the samples will enable research that could lead to a better understanding of heredity, evolutionary relationships, and “huge applications in medicine,” said Hernán López-Fernández, an associate professor at the Michigan department. of ecology and evolutionary biology.

The newly acquired jars contain both the snakes and their newborn litters, which Michigan professor Dan Rabosky says is “very rare for museum collections and incredibly powerful for research because it allows researchers to ask questions about genetics that wouldn't otherwise be possible.” be possible.”

Despite the daunting task of organizing the new collection, Schneider said he and his colleagues have noticed a new excitement among team members working in the university's 153,375-square-foot (14,249-square-meter) research museum center that houses the specimens.

“After those samples arrived, people were very, very, very enthusiastic and supportive,” Schneider said. “And I'm excited about the type of research that will be done with these collections.”