translating biophilia into a love of life

Reeking of tissue preservative

with one comment

As an undergrad at Cal, I worked part-time in the Essig Museum of Entomology.  The work was of the grunt variety: counting and pinning specimens or topping off ethanol in the jars of preserved soft-tissue specimens.

I spent many stiflingly hot summer days in the basement of the museum — a narrow, circular room lined with hundreds of specimen jars — doing the latter.  The close quarters, summer heat and volatile organics used as preservative left me nauseated and light-headed.  True to my Process Development nature, I’d soon devised a procedure to minimize the amount of time a jar was left open, exposing me to fumes.  Despite my technique and the limited amount of time I’d let myself work in the basement, I’d often leave work with a painful headache, reeking of tissue preservative.  To this day a whiff of formalin or ethanol brings to mind images of partially decayed limbs floating about in murky liquid.

When out of the basement, I had the opportunity to meet several graduate and post-doctoral researchers using the museum as a resource for their work.  One afternoon, I was pinning bugs (Hemiptera, the “true bugs”) beneath a dissecting scope, alongside a post-doc.  Tedius work inspires conversation, and we got around to talking about what we want to be when we grow up.  The post-doc admitted he chose entomology as a field because it allowed him to perform “interesting” population and behavioral research without sacrificing vertebrate animals.  He wasn’t the last entomologist to tell me this.

All this came to mind when I saw the collection of animals in formalin at

Three-toed sloth (Bradypus linnaeus)

Three-toed sloth (Bradypus linnaeus)

Flying squirrel (Sciuropterus volucella)

Flying squirrel (Sciuropterus volucella)


Written by morethangray

December 22, 2008 at 1:24 pm

Posted in photography

One Response

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  1. wow… those are interesting! haha


    December 28, 2008 at 3:31 pm

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