Views from a student intern in the tetrapods collection

Intern Josh after taking down some old shelving units – all as planned

Interning this summer at The Ohio State University’s Museum of Biological Diversity has been an eye-opening experience that allowed me to take part in the day-to-day tasks that keep the museum up and running. I was lucky enough to work in the tetrapod division which contains some of my favorite animals such as birds and amphibians.

catalog scan

Sample of a Catalog Scan

My first project of the summer was scanning our entire specimen catalog so that we can access the information electronically. Although it was a little tedious to scan hundreds of pages, I was able to make all of that information easily accessible on the computer. This should help the collection be more efficient as well as help researchers who are using the museum’s specimens.

A sparrow being examined before becoming a study skin ©Malinich, 2016

A sparrow being examined before becoming a study skin © Malinich, 2016

I also prepared multiple bird specimens during my internship including a couple of House Sparrows, American Robins, and an American Tree Sparrow. Prior to the internship I had only prepared one specimen, so I was able to learn some useful techniques that helped me improve my skills. It was a privilege to learn hands-on from an expert in the art of skinning.


Another one of my duties this summer was georeferencing. I was responsible for determining the latitude and longitude of each specimen for a specific state. I did this by using the locality description that was provided by the collector of the specimen and a map program on the computer. Having a specific location for each specimen will be more helpful for researchers.

The final task of the summer was taking down the old shelving units that were rusting. This involved a lot of physically moving specimens around and trips to the loading dock.

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Getting rid of the rusty old shelving units cleared space for the new ones that match the rest of our collection. This job made the collection much cleaner and more ascetically pleasing.


Overall I had a great experience here this summer, I learned a lot about all the ins and outs that keep a research museum functioning. I look forward to returning for an open house in the future.


About the Author: Josh Elger was a Summer 2016 Intern for the Tetrapod Division. He is currently working on a B. S. from Ohio Dominican University.

Unique Tetrapods: Celebrating Backyard Biodiversity in Ohio

If you were to visit a rainforest or tropical island you would expect to find many unique and amazing animals. But did you know that there are some incredible organisms in the state of Ohio? Giant salamanders, parasitic birds, 1,400 pound bovines, and venomous snakes! All of these animal are uniquely adapted to their environment but some of them are in peril due to a number of human caused factors. Raising awareness of these fascinating animals that live in our own backyards is the first step in conserving the amazing biodiversity around us.

These are three specimens of hellbender salamanders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) which are Ohio’s largest amphibian species. They can grow to a length of 11.5 to 20 inches! They are mainly found in southeast Ohio hiding under rocks in fast moving streams. Despite their size, they are harmless to humans but not to small fish, insects, and aquatic invertebrates which they feed on.

Take a closer look at these amazing creatures!

hellbender specimens - close-up

Unfortunately, hellbenders are listed as endangered by the Ohio Division of Wildlife. The biggest threat to these animals are pollution and degradation of their habitat. Removal of rocks, stream damming, and excessive siltation due to nearby forests being converted to farmland all play a role in destroying the hellbender’s habitat. There has been an 80% decline in their populations in Ohio since the mid-1980’s.

Now to a unique life strategy in the avian world: Brood parasites are organisms that use members of another species to raise their offspring. If you have ever heard of birds that are brood parasites then you have probably heard of the Eurasian Cuckoo which does not occur in North America. But we do have a parasitic bird right here in Ohio: the Brown-Headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater). Look at a mix of male (dark birds) and female (brown birds) Brown-Headed Cowbird specimens in our collection:

Tray of Brown-Headed Cowbirds

Here are, from left to right, a female, nestling, and male Brown-Headed Cowbird

Female, nestling and male Brown-headed CowbirdThe female will lay up to 40 eggs each breeding season. However, she does not lay these eggs in her own nest but in the nests of other birds. She is not very picky about what type of nest either, Brown-Headed Cowbirds have up to 221 known host species. These birds are disliked by many because of their tendency to out-compete other songbirds in particular in the Eastern part of the U.S. where Brown-Headed Cowbirds are not native and many songbird species are not adapted to them.


You may have recently heard that the American bison (Bison bison) is now the national mammal of the United States.

American Bison Skull

American Bison Skull

But did you know that these animals once used to freely roam Ohio? Despite being the largest land animal in North America after the Ice Age, these majestic beasts nearly went extinct in the 19th century.

American Bison Skull

Native Americans in Ohio used to hunt wild bison but the bison population did not decline until European settlers reached Ohio. The settlers hunted the bison commercially for their meat and hides. In 1803, the last bison in Ohio was shot and killed in Lawrence County. Today, you can again see bison in Ohio, but they are all captive. One of these places is Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park where 11 bison are currently roaming the restored prairies.


timber rattlesnake specimens in jarAnother animal you may be surprised to find in Ohio is the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus).

These snakes are venomous but they are very docile (despite their Latin name – horridus) and will not attack humans unless provoked. You can call yourself very lucky should you spot one in the wild, because timber rattlesnakes are now considered endangered by the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

Timber rattlesnakes live in the forests of seven counties in southern Ohio. They used to have a much larger range in Ohio but due to direct killing, unregulated collection, and habitat destruction their numbers have severely declined. These snakes can grow up to 6 feet but on average a length of 3 to 4 feet. Like many snakes, these rattlers usually eat mice, rats, chipmunks, and squirrels.

close up of Jars of Timber Rattlesnakes

So next time you are out on a walk in Ohio, keep your eyes open for some of these amazing animals that we find in our backyard.


About the Author: Chelsea Hothem is a 3rd year student majoring in Evolution & Ecology at The Ohio State University and works as a Research Assistant at the Museum of Biological Diversity in the Tetrapod Collection.

All photos ©Hothem, 2016

Am I or Am I Not a Dinosaur? Skull Identification Quiz

Do you love dinosaurs? Many of us grew up in the shadow of Jurassic Park Mania, and went through a dino-crazed phase during our childhood. Still, can you identify a dinosaur when you see one? There seems to be a lack of public awareness of what is actually classified under the label of Dinosauria.

Test your knowledge with this tetrapod skull ID quiz and check your answers below. The truth may surprise you! We would love to get comments from you. Which of these skulls is the most challenging?

1. Dinosaur or not a dinosaur?

(Image Source: G Terrell 2016)

2. Dinosaur or not a dinosaur?

(Image Source: G Terrell 2016)

3. Dinosaur or not a dinosaur?

(Image Source: G Terrell 2016)

4. Dinosaur or not a dinosaur?

(Image Source: G Terrell 2016)

5. Dinosaur or not a dinosaur?

(Image Source: G Terrell 2016)

6. Dinosaur or not a dinosaur?

(Image Source: G Terrell 2016)

7. Dinosaur or not a dinosaur?

(Image Source: G Terrell 2016)

8. Dinosaur or not a dinosaur?

(Image Source: G Terrell 2016)

9. And finally, dinosaur or not a dinosaur?

(Image Source: G Terrell 2016)

(all photos are by G Terrell 2016)



1) Yes! This is the skull of Herrerasaurus ischigualastensis. Herrerasaurus was an early theropod dinosaur from the late Triassic period, and one of the first predatory dinosaurs. (Image Credit:


2) No! This meter-long skull is from the living crocodilian, Gavialis gangeticus, or gharial. Gharials can be easily distinguished from crocodiles and alligators by their incredibly thin jaws, which are  an adaptation for catching fish.

(Image credit:


3) Yes! This skull is from the Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus), a colorful Latin American member of the toucan family Ramphastidae. Living birds comprise the only extant members of the dinosaur family tree. Dinosaurs are not really extinct at all, there are approximately 10,000 species of living birds. Keel-billed Toucans may seem to have cumbersome bills, but they are surprisingly lightweight and useful for thermoregulation.

The closely related Chestnut-mandibled Toucan Ramphastos swainsonii (Credit: G. Terrell 2016)


4) No! This skull belongs to the early synapsid of the Permian period, Dimetrodon. Dimetrodon is often (mistakenly) labeled as a dinosaur in the popular media. In fact, Dimetrodon is a member of the lineage that eventually lead to mammals. So, as mammals, we humans are far closer relatives of Dimetrodon, than Dimetrodon is of any dinosaur.

(Image credit:

5) Yes! This skull is from the late Jurassic dinosaur, Archaeopteryx . Often recognized as the “first bird,” Archaeopteryx was actually just one of many feathered, fluffy, winged dinosaurs that flitted around the forests of the Jurassic. Though probably not as well as modern birds, it is thought that Archaeopteryx was capable of briefly-sustained flight.

(Image credit:

6) No! This is the skull of the rhinoceros iguana (Cyclura cornuta), a species of lizard in the family Iguanidae. Rhinoceros iguanas live on the island of Hispaniola, where they can reach up to 54 inches in length.

(Image Credit:

7) No! This skull is the skull of a Komodo dragon, Varanus komodoensis, a species of lizard in the monitor lizard family Varanidae. Komodo dragons are the largest living lizards. They reach lengths of up to 10 feet! These large lizards have been known to prey upon water buffaloes.

(Image source:

8) Yes! This is the skull of the Great Hornbill, Buceros bicornis. Great hornbills are large, mostly frugivorous birds of South Asia in the family Bucerotidae. Like many extinct dinosaurs, hornbills possess seemingly-bizarre head ornamentation that is only present in adult individuals.

(Image credit:

9) Yes! This skull belongs to the famous Velociraptor mongoliensis. This late cretaceous predator, made famous by the Jurassic Park franchise, was a member of the Dromaeosauridae. This family of dinosaurs is extremely closely related to birds. All members of this family were fully feathered, possessed wings, and would have appeared to be “weird birds with teeth and tails.”

(A Velociraptor with prey. Image source:


GTerrellAbout The Author: Grant Terrell is a second year student in Evolution and Ecology at The Ohio State University. He works as a research assistant in the Tetrapod Collection at The Museum of Biological Diversity.

Vertebrates in Bits and Pieces: Space Conservation in Vertebrate Collections

Bird specimens that are part of the Tetrapod collection

Bird specimens that are part of the Tetrapod collection

When you picture a vertebrate collection, you probably think of a collection of taxidermied birds and mammals or jars of pickled fish. But when you actually visit the collection, you will find the typical research study skins, and pelts and – out of necessity- preserved parts of specimens such as jars with tongues, eyes, stomach contents, brains, boxes of horns, eggs, nests, wings etc. These are organized as sub-collections within a vertebrate collection and are known under varying names such as the osteological or oological collections. These “sub-collections” can be used as educational tools, in research projects, or in art classes. But when we salvage or collect a specimen, why don’t we keep the entire specimen? One may argue that a whole specimen would have higher value to a researcher than the bits and pieces found in these sub-collections.


Indeed it is useful to preserve the entire specimen but there are many constraints that vertebrate and other museum collections face that prevent us from keeping an intact specimen.

One big issue museums face is space. For vertebrate collections, though it would be lovely to

A walrus skin

A walrus as a whole specimen takes up a large space but when folded up it can fit in a cabinet. (S. Malinich, 2013)

have an entire whale or elephant in the collection, such a specimen would take up a large part of our collection area. If a museum has a whale in its collection it may only keep parts that researchers have requested in the past such as particular vertebrae, a manus, or a partial skull. A great example of this can be found in the AudioVision “Whale Warehouse”  video episode. Within the episode, Grant Slater and Mae Ryan, producers for Southern California public radio, explore the L. A. Natural History Museum’s over-sized specimen storage facility, a place where curators store parts of large aquatic mammal specimens. Not only are the specimen parts inside large but they take up an entire warehouse off grounds from the main facility!

Golden Eagles

Larger birds, such as these Golden Eagles, take up space where hundreds of smaller song birds could fit. (S. Malinich, 2013)

Here at the Museum of Biological Diversity, we do not face the challenge of storing whales, but smaller specimens in large numbers can soon turn into a space problem, too. Over 20 swan specimens, can take up the same cabinet that could be holding over a thousand smaller song birds. This puts constraints on how many specimens of a species we can accession per year and the maximum size of specimens that we can accept.




Another problem museum collections face is the condition of a specimen. Upon receiving specimens we conduct quality checks on varying aspects of the specimen.

Smelling a specimen before preparing it can save a lot of decision making it it smells rotten.

Smelling a specimen before preparing it can help make decisions if it smells rotten.


First, we conduct a sniff check: if the specimen smells rotten, it is past the point of return and we do not attempt to make it into a study skin, because it would continue to decay at a rapid pace.



A student prepares a specimen skin. While she prepares she looks it over for any reasons why it could not be made into a full study skin.

A student prepares a specimen skin. While she prepares it she checks it for any reasons why it could not be made into a full study skin.

Second, we do a visual look over on the outside of the specimen: We look for maggots, large wounds, as well as gangrenous flesh which would prevent us from turning the specimen into a whole study skin.


Third, we consider acceptance of certain specimens over the yearThough

Examining a large Great Horned Owl before making it into a parts specimen.

Examining a large Great Horned Owl before salvaging parts of this specimen.

it would be nice to make every specimen we receive into a study skin, we simply cannot  fit them all into cabinets. So only the specimens that are clean (or cleanable) and not losing feathers or fur will be preserved as full skins.



Sub-collections may arise because of a researcher’s fascination with a particular feature of a specimen, but they have become important parts of modern collections. Some sub-collections of the Tetrapod Collection are: skeletons, wings, feet, tails or samples of feathers. This way important research material is preserved, but instead of taking up a large portion of a cabinet these specimens can be filed just like documents into filing cabinets. This also makes sure that valuable records of species are kept even though a full skin could not be made because of how they were found when salvaged. These parts collections can still be valuable for research, for example, when scientists need DNA samples of a particular species. New molecular techniques allow extracting DNA from small tissue samples. To make up for the loss of a full skin, we take multiple images and measurements during processing to accompany the specimen in the collection.

A typical set up for preparing study skins.

A typical set up for preparing study skins.

Though it would be ideal for museum’s to preserve an entire specimen it may not be possible in the future as museum collections continue to grow. However as science progresses we are finding that even the smallests amounts of tissue samples of specimens can reveal much about a species. Entire collections of just tissue samples are being formed all around the world focusing on specific taxons or groups of species. In the future, as collections continue to grow it will become more beneficial to create more sub-collections with tissue samples to further the research value of museum collections.


About the author: Stephanie Malinich manages the tetrapods collection at the MBD.

STRIKE: Creating Awareness for Bird Window Strike Fatalities

The word "strike" is spelled out of bird study skins

“STRIKE”-An art installation created to represent building fatalities in birds. ©Amy Youngs, 2015

December 2015, OSU Associate Professor and local artist Amy Youngs borrowed specimens from the Tetrapod Collection for her art installation for a BioPresence exhibition at OSU. The word “STRIKE” was spelled out with 116 bird specimens from our collection to commemorate the bird deaths resulting from collisions with human-made structures that occur every year.

Amy describes her motivation for the project:

“The project comes from my desire to see the world from the perspectives of other animals. As a human animal, I can never fully understand the experience of a bird, but as an artist I try to translate that effort in ways that speak to other humans and perhaps have some positive effect for birds. I began thinking about the window strike issue when I saw Angelika Nelson collecting a dead bird that had hit a window at the Heffner Building at the Olentangy Wetlands Research Park. I began asking questions about what birds see and don’t see and what is known about preventing the problem of building collisions. I thought about how many of the dead birds in the collection of the Museum of Biological Diversity could attest to the tragedy of human-built structures. What if the birds went on strike? What if we saw our buildings like birds did? Perhaps we would learn to build in ways that would allow us to become better citizens of the ecosystem.”

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Collaborations between Art and Science like this one are an innovative way to raise awareness of environmental issues. In this case we focused attention on bird strikes. Artists and scientists can work towards creating unique ways to both increase building visibility for migrating birds and public awareness of the problem. Check out this project at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA for some inspiration. For now, we will keep using the bird collision study skins as outreach tools in education events on this pressing matter.


About the Author: Stephanie Malinich is Collection Manager of the OSU Tetrapod Collection.

Striking Out: Building Strike Collections

Students and staff posing with birding binoculars and scopes

OSU students and staff participating in Biggest Week in American Birding in Northern Ohio. ©Stephanie Malinich, 2012

As a bird-watcher, spring is my favorite time of the year. Every spring millions of birds start to migrate from their wintering grounds to their summer breeding grounds. Surprising to most people, many birds migrate at night and typically you will not see large flocks of small birds traveling throughout the day. Spring migration can be a great time to see new species of birds that may not live in your state year round and this is a time for celebrating birds. But this joyous time for birders can also be an incredibly fatal time for birds that have traveled thousands of miles on their migratory pathway to their nesting grounds.

An estimated 500,000,000 bird fatalities occur in North America each year due to anthropogenic sources including collisions with building (Erickson et al 2005). Yes, this is correct, 500 million birds! This number is especially heightened by the peak migration times of spring and fall, when birds migrating at night are most likely to die: Night migrating birds have always used light to orient themselves and usually the moon and stars are the only light sources in the night sky. However nowadays brightly-lit buildings disorient these birds causing them to collide with windows in buildings. Typically, birds are trying to closely approach the light source (similar to insects around a street lamp) or circle the light source (in this case the building) until a point of complete exhaustion.

Yellow colored warbler with black bill

A Blue-winged Warbler collided with a downtown Columbus building. © Stephanie Malinich, 2016

This makes building collisions a top fatality to birds on their migratory pathway. Actions since this discovery have been taken to lower the numbers of building fatalities, e.g. through the national effort of  Lights Out programs by the Audubon society. The overall goal of the Lights Out programs are to work with building managers in major cities to reduce the amount of light at night during peak migration season. Not only will this help reduce fatalities for nocturnally migrating birds but reduce energy costs for building owners – a win-win situation.

Many of Ohio’s major cities such as Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton, and Toledo have participated in Light’s Out Programs. Active in Ohio since 2012, researchers have worked with managers of some familiar buildings such as the AEP corporate headquarters, Columbia Gas, Columbus City Hall, Grange Insurance Audubon Center, and more on reducing lights at nights during peak migration seasons. Are you curious about Columbus’s impact on bird building collisions? Columbus Lights Out monitoring report from 2012-2013 gives insights into how lights on buildings in Columbus are affecting the amount of collision death and injury in birds.

Dead bird on sidewalk

Blackburnian Warbler collected by Lights Out Columbus volunteers for a study of building collisions. ©Lights Out Columbus, 2013

What do programs such as Lights Out, which survey injured and dead birds, mean for museum collections around these major cities? For Columbus it meant that birds found dead were submitted to the Museum of Biological Diversity’s Tetrapod Collection, where they are now used as tools in teaching students and making them aware of the impact buildings can have on bird populations. In the two years when we collaborated with the Columbus Lights Out program we received over 200 bird specimens which had died from building collisions in downtown. These now remain as vouchered specimens in our collection, as physical proof, as well as scientific tool, on the impact that building collections have during migration season.

Overall as collection manager, I see a huge increase in our bird salvage intake during spring. This is primarily due to citizen scientists who find birds that have struck windows on their house, work buildings, etc., and want to make sure the birds death was not in vain. On average the Tetrapod collection receives close to 100 bird specimens with suspected death from building collision each year. This April and May alone, I have already received 15 bird species that have died from impacts with windows or buildings and spring migration is not yet close to completion. If you find a dead bird and do not  know what do with it, please visit the museum’s Contribute Specimens webpage to learn about how to donate a specimen to the Tetrapod Collection. Are you worried that your home may be adding to building fatalities among birds? The Lights Out program has suggestions on how you can stop bird collisions at your home or feel free to contact us for some suggestions.
Are you curious to find out more about what can be done to make others aware of window or building collisions by birds during spring migration? See pictures of what Ohio State University’s BioPresence project has done to raise awareness in their art exhibition last fall.


About the Author: Stephanie Malinich is Collection Manager of the OSU Tetrapod Collection.


Reference: Erickson, Wallace P.; Johnson, Gregory D.; Young, David P. Jr. (2005). “A summary and comparison of bird mortality from anthropogenic causes with an emphasis on collisions.” In: Ralph, C. John; Rich, Terrell D., editors 2005. Bird Conservation Implementation and Integration in the Americas: Proceedings of the Third International Partners in Flight Conference. 2002 March 20-24; Asilomar, California, Volume 2 Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-191. Albany, CA: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station: p. 1029-1042

Living Colorless Photo Quiz

Time To Quiz Yourself

Do you remember the differences between albinism and leucism in animals? Test your knowledge by identifying the unique color trait in the seven animals below. You may want to check our previous post on “Living Colorless“. Find the correct answers to this quiz at the bottom of the page.



  1. Leucistic
  2. Leucistic
  3. Albino
  4. Leucistic
  5. Albino
  6. Albino
  7. Leucistic

Learn more about color traits in animals at our Open House, April 23, 2016.


About the Author: Stephanie Malinich is Collection Manager of the Tetrapod Collection at the Museum of Biological Diversity.

Living Colorless

Many animals have colorful hair, fur or feathers. Many of these colors are caused by pigments, chemical compounds that absorb and reflect certain wavelengths of visible light. This makes them appear “colorful”.

Sometimes though an animal is completely white, suggesting a lack of pigments. What does it mean to be completely pigmentless? Some animals show the reverse, they are darker than usual and produce too much pigment. Animals of these two extremes, known as  albinism and melanism, are viewed as unique and often cause media sensations once discovered. Several years ago, students discovered an albino squirrel on OSU campus which quickly became the unofficial South Campus mascot and a media star, until so named “Whitey” met an early  death through a hungry Red-tailed Hawk in 2007. Highlighting the importance of color, which will be the theme for the upcoming Open House (save the date – Saturday April 23rd), we here discuss the lack of colors in some animals.

Whitey, OSU student beloved albino squirrel at his death

Red-tailed Hawk demonstrating the importance of camouflage color for survival of squirrels (James Greenebaum 2007)

What is an Albino:

One prominent pigment found in mammals and birds is melanin. Melanin causes a wide range of mainly brown and black colors; it also strengthens the hair or feathers and creates the color we observe in the pupil of the eye. Animals directly manufacture melanin, whereas other pigments, such as carotenoids, have to be taken up through food. Thus in some cases what the animal eats determines its color.

Animals that display albinism cannot produce melanin in their cells, therefore they  lack the color patterns we see in their close relatives . Their coloration and skin color are typically pure white. Also, due to their lack of melanin, albino individual’s eyes appear red or pink. Albinism  is inherited, so if both parents carry the genes for albinism their offspring may be albino, too. However, not all offspring from an albino parent will be albinistic, some may only carry the gene without any effects.

Myths and Legends of Albinism:

Not every white animal is an albino. Some animals that appear all white may in fact be leucistic. Leucism is a condition characterized by reduced pigmentation, it affects all pigments not only melanin. In this case an individual’s cells have the ability to produce pigments, but not in significant quantities which cause aberrations in color. Animals with leucism have normal or blue eye color, whereas albinistic animals have red eyes. Thus if you see an animal with blue eyes it is not an albino, because blue eyes are an indicator of some melanin. The individual is classified as leucistic. Leucism is an inherited trait just like albinism and can be passed on to offspring.

Leucistic Red-Tail Hawk (Stephanie Malinich, 2014)

Leucistic Red-Tailed Hawk
(Stephanie Malinich, 2014)

Leucistic Red-Tail Hawk (Stephanie Malinich, 2014)

Note the blue eyes in this leucistic Red-Tailed Hawk
(Stephanie Malinich, 2014)

The terms leucism and albinism are used loosely in defining different aspects of aberrations in individual coloration. Some conditions, such as “progressive greying” and “dilution,” which occur in many bird species are often classified as general leucism, though these traits are not known to be heritable.

We know that albinism is defined as the inability to produce melanin, but that doesn’t stop animals with this condition from having other pigments. Therefore species which take up pigments, such as carotenoids, from food sources may show some coloration. An illustrative example is an albino Northern Cardinal that is primarily white except for feathers with carotenoids, which are red. Note the ultimate indicator that a species is a true albino, red or pink eyes.

White and Pink Northern Cardinal

Albino Northern Cardinal
(John Beetham, 2014)

Coloration is what animals use to survive, thus animals with albinism and leucism usually have a lower survival rate. Their ability to blend in with their habitat is dramatically reduced and many albinos are easily picked up by predators. Many albino mammals cannot tolerate being exposed to the sun for long periods of time and are likely to develop skin cancers. Albino birds have weakened or easily worn feathers, since they lack the melanin that would typically strengthen their feathers.

In a way living “colorless” has brought more attention to these individuals than if they had been born with the normal coloration of their species. Because of how unique and rare some of these individuals are, people have created organizations such as “The Albino Squirrel Preservation Society”. Zoos will take in albino individuals (Claude the Alligator) to insure a longer life than they would have in the wild. If you’re curious about seeing more albinistic individuals, attend our Open House on April 23rd and see other variations of “Living Colors” in the Museum of Biological Diversity.

About the Author: Stephanie Malinich is Collection Manager of the Tetrapod Collection at the Museum of Biological Diversity.

Our Domestics at the MBD

Do domestic species have a place in natural history museums? They can certainly be used for showing evolutionary relationships and morphological changes in a species over time. As a teaching collection, the tetrapods collection has several examples of domestic breeds of birds and mammals that we use for educational purposes. Our domestic specimens demonstrate that they were bred for food, companionship, or work. Following Monday’s post about domestic species, we here show some of our collection’s examples of domestics. Take a guess what each species was bred for!


We have over 40 domestic bird specimens in the collection. Some are very colorful, have extravagant tails, were captive bred birds, and all derived from an ancestral species which still exist today. From pet birds to fancy breed poultry, the domestics capture attention during collection tours.



We have 35 domestic mammal specimens in the collection. For most of our domestic mammal species you can find a living example by going to your local pet store. From small domestic rodents to large cattle we can see great examples of different breeding purposes.


Don’t forget to check out our latest domestic specimen, “Afroduck“, at the Open House this year. See if you can guess the purpose of its breed and find similarities with its ancestral species, the Mallard.

About the Author: Stephanie Malinich is the Collection Manager for the Tetrapod Collection.

Do Domestic Breeds have a place in a Museum?

Afroduck in a box

Retrieval of Afroduck, a doemstic white duck from OSU Mirror Lake © Chelsea Hothem

The recent death of a white, domestic duck with curly feathers on its head (lovingly named “Afroduck” by many OSU students) raised an interesting issue: should this specimen be archived in the tetrapods collection at the Museum of Biological Diversity (MBD)? At the MBD, we focus our research on systematic studies of organisms worldwide. Our research includes species discovery and delimitation as well as studies of the evolutionary relationships among species. Does “Afroduck” meet these criteria?

Obviously this duck was not a wild animal even though it seemed to survive on the pond for several years (though it can be questioned whether it truly was the same duck throughout that period). It was a curiosity, and isn’t that what started many natural history collections during the Renaissance? Aristocrats in Europe were proud of their cabinets of curiosities, collections of objects that could be categorized as belonging to among others natural history, geology, or archaeology. Objects that stood out seemed most worthy of collection. Our collection is witness of this based on the number of white aberrant squirrels, American Robins, Northern Cardinals, etc., that we house. These forms clearly do not reflect their natural abundances.

“Afroduck” though is not just a white form (albino or leucistic form) of its wild relative the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). It is a domestic breed, an animal that has been selected for characteristics that we humans like or can benefit from.  In Afroduck’s case it would be the curly feathers on its head. The fact that it was able to survive for some time in the wild though is proof that it still shares some genes and characteristics with its wild ancestor that enable it to find food, seek shelter and who knows maybe even breed?

Domestic species play a large role in the study of evolution. Did you know that Charles Darwin used domestic pigeons to support his theory of evolution? After he wrote the Origin of Species he  wrote  a book about The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication. Though he wrote about all types of domestication he suggested that the pigeon was the greatest proof that all domestics of one species descended from one common ancestor. In his own words:

Domestic Pigeon

Domestic Pigeon © Stephanie Malinich

Domestic Pigeon

Domestic Pigeon © Stephanie Malinich

“I have been led to study domestic pigeons with particular care, because the evidence that all the domestic races have descended from one known source is far clearer than with any other anciently domesticated animal.” – Charles Darwin

In his book, he described detailed measurements from study skins of over 120 different domestic breeds. These skins were later donated to the Natural History Museum in London, UK. In 2009, those same study skins received again research attention. In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Origin of Species scientists compared the specimens that Darwin studied to living pigeon breeds today to examine any changes in artificial and natural selection. This study concluded that the same changes continue today due to artificial selection exactly as Darwin saw in his time.

How does this relate to our collections at The Ohio State University?

In the Tetrapod Collection we possess many domestic breeds to represent the evolutionary relationships of their ancestral species. We use these specimens to educate people about Darwin’s research and evolution in general. When you look at a domestic species next to their ancestor you can see the subtle similarities of how they feed, move, and more.

Here is an example of an ancestor and some of its domestic descendants:

Going back to our question, should the domestic white duck from Mirror Lake have a place in the collection? We think it should. During our annual Open House on April 23rd, 2016 you will be able to see it as an example of artificial selection, the Mallard and its domestic descendant “Afroduck”. Even though the White Crested Duck has a tuft of feathers which makes it look quite different, it descended from the Mallard. In fact, almost all domestic breeds of ducks descended from the Mallard with the exception of the Muscovy Duck which is of South American origin. Join us during our  Open House to see the White Crested Duck, “Afroduck,” next to its ancestor the Mallard and observe the similarities for yourself!

About the Author: Stephanie Malinich is the Collection Manager for the Tetrapod Collection.