In the Field: Yale Peabody Museum Research Around the World

Scientific fieldwork and expeditions are integral to advancing the research mission of the Yale Peabody Museum. Nine of the Peabody’s 11 curatorial divisions — Anthropology, Botany, Entomology, Invertebrate Paleontology, Invertebrate Zoology, Mineralogy, Paleobotany, Vertebrate Paleontology and Vertebrate Zoology — undertake collecting trips all across the globe. Peabody staff, curators and researchers work on every continent, in 54 countries, and in 49 states in the United States.
Peabody in the Field

Vertebrate Zoology 2006 Expedition to Cambodia
Vertebrate Zoology 2007 Expedition to Alaska, USA
Vertebrate Paleontology 2007 Expedition to North Dakota and Montana, USA

Vertebrate Paleontology 2008 Expedition to North Dakota and Montana, USA
Connecticut Amphibian Monitoring Project 2007 Fieldwork, USA
Ornithology 2007 Expedition to Suriname


These pages not only document some of this fascinating work by Yale Peabody Museum researchers, but provide an in-depth look at the techniques used to discover, preserve and collect rare and significant specimens for the Peabody collections.


Why Peabody Scientists Still Collect Specimens

Just over two centuries ago, as intercontinental travel from both Europe and North America became safer and more common, naturalists and the public began to comprehend and appreciate the vast diversity of life on earth. Many countries funded expeditions around the globe and encouraged the collecting of as many specimens as possible for classification and study. Today, with hundreds of the world's species endangered, many question why museums still continue this practice. It is because the carefully planned collection of specimens, especially from understudied or threatened species, provides us with knowledge that is critical to both species protection and, more generally, the advancement of environmental science.


Yale Peabody Museum scientists do not collect indiscriminately. They comply with all statutory regulations as well as established best practices for collecting, and must acquire many permits and permissions before beginning their fieldwork.


Paleontologists document stratigraphic and geologic information on site and also remove fossils for later analysis in a laboratory setting. Likewise, although zoologists and entomologists observe species in their habitats, their research relies heavily on analyses of a specimen's anatomy and genetics. Further, many organisms cannot be observed directly in the field because of their diminutive size and inconspicuous behavior. For this and other reasons, collecting is necessary to obtain not only data on the distribution and abundance of small organisms, but also unobservable data such as morphology, parasitic prevalence and diet.

Yale Peabody Museum scientists travel all over the world to collect specimens. The Division of Vertebrate Paleontology has sent teams to Utah, Montana and North Dakota to collect specimens from the Triassic, Cretaceous and Paleogene. In 2003 a Peabody team discovered the most complete remains ever found of the extremely rare Poposaurus, a small carnivourous reptile dated to approximately 220 million years ago. Paleontologists continue to work on this amazing specimen in the Peabody's Vertebrate Paleontology Preparation Laboratory.


The associate curator of mammalogy in the Peabody's Division of Vertebrate Zoology has collected small mammals in remote areas of Alaska, keeping the skin, skull and skeleton, extracting external parasites like fleas and ticks, and also taking samples of internal organs for genetic analyses. Other zoologists conduct similar fieldwork. Peabody ornithologists study and collect birds and bats in South America, while Yale Peabody Museum ichthyologists and herpetologists collect fish, frogs and other aquatic animals to learn how the changing environment affects endangered species. The Peabody's entomologists use aerial nets, light traps and artificial baits to catch a wide array of insects.


After collection, all Yale Peabody Museum specimens are processed, catalogued and archived in both physical and electronic systems accessible to the public and the international scientific community.