Collections Policies provide details on how to best make use of our collections by detailing how to obtain and use our data, how to request loans of physical specimens, and how to proceed with a request for frozen tissue samples. 

Policies last updated March 5th, 2015

Preserved Whole Animal Specimens

Collection Data
Our catalogue of fluid-preserved and dry whole animal specimens can be freely accessed via VertNet or the Specify Web interface. Both of these online databases are updated monthly with the latest additions to our in-house Specify database. In most cases, all of the taxonomic and locality data associated with each specimen in our collection is accessible via these on-line portals. Exceptions include cases where specific locality data is withheld due to concern over wildlife exploitation.

Examining Specimens
Qualified professionals or their students have several options for gaining access to specimens in the KU Herpetology collections.

Visiting the collection in person
One option that is popular among researchers who would like to examine a large number of specimens is to visit our collections in person. We offer working space for specimen-based researchers visiting for any period of time, and can also assist with some aspects of travel (including referrals to local housing options in the vicinity of the collections).

Specimen loans
Specimens in the collection are available for loan upon approval by either of the curators, Drs. Richard Glor or Rafe Brown. Specimens may be loaned only to qualified, recognized professionals (or to these individuals for use by their students), at the discretion of the Curators, for a period of up to 6 months (initial three month term with an optional three month renewal). We limit loan periods to 6 months only; no third-party loan arrangements (e.g., a borrower passing KU specimens to another individual or institution) are ever permitted by KU.

The criteria considered in granting a loan request include, but are not limited to, the number of specimens in the request, the specific species and specimens that are requested and their condition, the borrower's stated plans for the specimens, the project design, the previous loan record of the borrower, the location of the borrower, and potential priority issues related to overlapping requests by multiple researchers. The time for processing and approval of loan request will depend critically on the degree to which the requester concisely provides this information to collections staff at the time of the request.

In the case of large loan requests (<20 specimens), loans requiring sorting and selection of particular specimens by KU Herpetology staff (e.g., specimens of one sex or life stage), or requests involving large numbers of particularly valuable specimens (e.g., type specimens, endangered species), researchers will simply be requested to visit the KU collections in person. Graduate and undergraduate students requesting specimens on loan must submit a letter of request co-signed by their advisor. Loans are institutional; thus, the borrower's institution assumes full and complete responsibility for the material on loan, and agrees to all conditions specimens for the handling and storage of borrowed specimens. In the case of students, loans are made to their advisor for their use, through his/her institution.

Specimen photographs
High resolution digital photographs of specimens may be requested in cases where examination of physical specimens is not required or when shipment of specimens is undesirable or impossible. Up to ten high-resolution whole specimen photographs may be provided gratis with appropriate justification. These photographs may be divided according to the specific needs of the person requesting them, and might, for example involve dorsal images of ten individual specimens or both dorsal and ventral images from five specimens. When requesting photographs of specimens, please provide (1) specific catalogue numbers, (2) species names, (3) desired whole-specimen perspectives (dorsal, ventral, or lateral), and (4) some justification for your request when requesting specimen photographs. The typical turn-around for basic whole-specimen photo requests depends on collections staff availability, but averages fewer than two weeks. Additional photographs and special requests such as close-ups of specific morphological features can also be obtained, but must be billed at an hourly rate ($20/hr). Contact the collections staff for additional information (

Specimen measurements
In some cases, our collections staff can obtain specific observational notes or measurements on behalf of a researcher. As is the case with photographs, requests for observational notes or measurements are generally made when shipment of specimens is undesirable or impossible. We can provide up to ten brief observational notes or standard measurements (e.g., obtainable with a ruler or calipers by an untrained assistant) gratis with appropriate justification. The turn-around time for obtaining these data depends on the nature of the request and collections staff availability, but averages less than two weeks. Additional observations or measurements can also be obtained depending on staff availability and expertise, but will be billed at an hourly rate ($20/hr).

Destructive Sampling Policy
Techniques for extracting usable DNA from formalin-preserved specimens have advanced to the point that tissue samples taken from specimens has become a non-trivial portion of the total number of requests KU receives each year. With regard to whole-animal specimens, KU Herpetology operates under the general philosophy such any destructive sampling should occur only when non-destructive options have been exhausted or do not exist. Requests for such grants from the KU collection will be subject to the criteria listed for standard tissue requests, but will also take into account the following factors. Because destructive sampling requires irreparable damage to the specimen, only small requests will be considered. Destructive sampling should not be considered an alternative to collecting fresh material. Specimens to be destructively sampled should be unobtainable by conventional methods, and usually, sampling will done by Division personnel, possibly at a cost to the requester. Destructive sampling of tissues from type specimens will not be permitted except in rare, well-justified instances.

Tissue Samples

Tissue Loan/Gift Policy
Tissue policy rationale: KU collections are part of a global network of institutions that house and curate biodiversity data and biological resources. In this capacity, we must conserve this limited and finite material for future use. Consumptive sampling of tissues for DNA extraction in molecular studies are the limiting resource in almost all modern phylogenetic studies. Most tissues at KU have been obtained in the field by KU researchers for their own research. Because these tissues are not an unlimited resource, permission for destructive sampling will only be considered if it involves well-qualified investigators conducting well-conceived and properly justified studies. Principles of our tissue policy

1. KU Herpetology will grant tissue loans/gifts only for well-founded and well-justified scientific applications.
2. KU Herpetology expects users of our genetic resources to be contributors to collections of genetic resources. KU preferentially provides access to of tissues researchers who contribute to genetic resources collections worldwide. We are far less likely to provide large numbers of genetic resources to investigators who are not contributors to genetic resources collections at freely available institutional biodiversity repositories.
3. Because genetic samples are used in a different manner than traditional museum specimens, a different set of criteria applies to loan requests. In general, we support high-quality research proposals from investigators seeking samples to supplement their own collecting efforts. Samples are gifted to specific investigators only for specific projects. Samples, and/or their derivatives (extractions), cannot be transferred to other researchers without permission from KU Herpetology. If project plans change significantly, approval for modified uses of KU tissues must be obtained from our staff.

Tissue Gift Policies
1. Tissues are provided as a gift from the KU Herpetology Tissue Collection. They are subsamples and, as such, no tissue remnants or derivatives are to be returned. In rare cases (i.e., extremely rare taxa or small tissue remnants), KU reserves the rights to request the return of extracted genomic DNA after researchers have completed their project.
2. Tissues are sent in 95% ethanol or RNALater unless otherwise noted on the invoice or unless otherwise requested by the researcher.
3. One copy of the loan invoice is included with the tissues as a packing slip. An additional copy of the invoice will be sent via email. The requester must print, sign, and return a copy of this invoice to acknowledge safe receipt of tissues (a PDF scan of this signed invoice returned to our curatorial email account [] is preferable).
4. Tissues are for research use only and for the express purpose outlined in the tissue request. No tissues, derivatives, or products may be exchanged, loaned or re-gifted to a third party or cataloged into any collection without the express permission of KU Herpetology. No tissues, derivatives, or products may be used for commercial purposes or for financial gain of any kind.
5. All published sequences generated from tissues must to be registered with GenBank and KU catalog numbers from corresponding voucher specimens must be submitted to GenBank as the official voucher corresponding to gene sequences. Tissue gift recipients are advised to be especially attentive to submitting to GenBank the full locality data and KU Herpetology catalog number (i.e., not the field collector number). Failure to comply with this policy may adversely affect the ability the researcher, his/her collaborators, and advisor(s) to secure future loans from KU.
6. Genbank accession numbers must also be reported directly to KU Herpetology for inclusion in the KU Herpetology database. The "loan" is considered "closed" or "returned" when KU receives this information from the researcher. Unpublished sequences deposited with Genbank should be registered and reported in the same way. Please note the failure to report this information to KU Herpetology may adversely affect the ability the researcher, his/her collaborators, and advisor(s) to secure future loans from KU.
7. If, after 5 years, the researcher has not submitted gene sequences to GenBank and returned GenBank accession numbers to KU Herpetology, KU reserves the right to obtain sequences from the researcher and submit the data to GenBank on his/her behalf.
8. A copy of any publication citing KU tissue sequences must be submitted to the KU Herpetology Library, care of the curators. A digital version of the publication in PDF format would fulfill this obligation.

Tissue Requests
Tissue request proposals usually involve two steps: First, researchers should examine the specimen holdings on the KU database at HerpNet2/VertNet. Because the "prep status" field on these search engines is not always up to date, inquiries as to whether corresponding tissue samples are available can be directed to collections staff. KU has collections going back over a century and a half; the majority of these collections (~90%) have no corresponding tissues. A good rule of thumb is that our collections hold no specimens with corresponding tissues before 1985. Second, once it has been established that KU holds tissues of interest, specific samples should be requested in writing on institutional letterhead from the Curators. Graduate students are required to submit a letter co-signed by their advisor, who will assume responsibility for use of the samples. If the tissue request is approved, subsequent communication will be handled via email with curatorial staff.

A tissue request must provide the following information:
1. A brief outline of the goals, methods, and time frame of the project.
2. Justification for the use of the samples. What is the scientific merit of the proposed study?
3. A list of the KU specimens by taxon and catalog number.
4. The total number of tissues to be used in the project, in addition to KU’s contribution. Please specify the non-KU number of tissues per taxon that will be included in the study.
5. A statement of reciprocal benefit (can include contributions to other, non-KU collections).
6. Indicate how you prefer your shipment to be sent and provide the full mailing address and telephone number.
7. A statement indicating agreement to the KU Loan/Gift policy (below) and an estimated time frame for submission of sequence data to GenBank.
A committee that consists of KU Herpetology curators and curatorial staff will evaluate the tissue request. If the requested tissues have been donated to the collection by a non-KU researcher who wishes to be involved in the granting decision, we will obtain his/her opinion. Questions about the KU’s tissue-use policy should be directed to the curators.

Key considerations in decisions regarding tissue grants are as follows:
A. Scientific merit: Samples will be provided only to investigators who demonstrate clearly and convincingly the scientific merit of the proposed work. Among the factors that will be considered are (1) the degree to which the questions being investigated are scientifically compelling; (2) completeness of taxon sampling already obtained by requester; (3) character sampling; and (4) the investigator’s track record of research and timely publication.
B. Collecting effort: Priority will be given to researchers seeking key samples to augment the results of their own collecting efforts. In the case of students, the collecting activities of the advisor or institution will be considered. Unvouchered samples have little scientific utility, and indeed conclusions based on such samples often are best considered speculation, rather than scientific results. Assessment of the collecting activities of investigators and institutions regarding a particular study thus will take into account the limited scientific utility of unvouchered samples.
C. Number of samples: Requests for a limited number of samples to be included in a larger project are more likely to be approved than requests for large portions of the project’s sampling. If KU samples will constitute a large proportion of the sampling, then collaborative arrangements or some sort of in-kind support for Division activities should be proposed. KU Herpetology generally will not provide a researcher or student all (or even the majority) of sampling required to undertake a project (e.g., every species of a particular genus).
D. Conflict with existing projects: Sample requests that conflict with KU projects already planned or underway are unlikely to be approved. In such cases, collaborations may be explored, or projects (either KU or the proposed projects) can be altered to minimize conflict, character overlap, or taxonomic overlap. E. Rarity of samples: Requests for rare or difficult-to-acquire samples may require extra justification. Such samples should be integral to the project design and not just included because they are novel.
F. Former relationship with KU Herpetology and record reciprocity in the network of institutional collections of biological resources: The requester’s past relationship with KU Herpetology will be considered when loan requests are reviewed by our curatorial staff. If an individual lacking a past relationship with KU requests tissue samples, an explicit statement of the reciprocal benefits to KU and/or the global network of biodiversity collections will strengthen their request.
G. USDA and USF&WS regulations will govern tissue distribution: KU Herpetology operates in strict accordance with all relevant laws, rules, and regulations. No exceptions to these legal restrictions will be allowed.