Marshall University’s extensive reptile and amphibian collection is fast becoming a “go-to” resource for graduate students and researchers not only at Marshall, but from other institutions as well.
Located in the Science Building, the collection has hundreds of containers that house the preserved remains of salamanders, lizards, turtles and snakes that have been collected throughout West Virginia.
Overseeing the collection as curator is Dr. Tom Pauley, a renowned herpetologist and retired Marshall professor of biological sciences. Since his retirement last May, Pauley has continued his work to turn the 107-year-old collection into a noted research center.
“Having a collection allows researchers to dissect the animals and study what they eat and what their reproductive potential might be,” Pauley told the Charleston Gazette in a recent interview. “We promote the use of the collection to our students, and so far we’ve had four or five masters’ theses be generated from research done from our specimens.”
Currently there are nearly 15,000 specimens, the actual preserved remains of the animals that make up the collection. Today’s technology has nearly ended the practice of collecting physical specimens, according to Pauley. With the array of technical devices available, creatures can be caught, measured, photographed and then released, he said.
Marshall received the collection from West Virginia University in 1939 and has maintained it and added to it since then. Pauley took it over in the 1970s and although he has put decades of work into it, there’s still much more to be done, he says, including identifying specimens, cataloging them and getting the specimens’ collection sites computerized.