Herpetology Collection Policies

woman in herpetology collection


The KU herpetological collections are a widely used global resource. We strive to provide as much access as possible to the KU collection. Access is generally granted to qualified researchers and their students. Online collection information may be accessed via VertNet or the KU Herpetology Specify Portal. We also loan physical specimens and provide genetic material to qualified researchers, and welcome scheduled on-site visits. Our policies and protocols are outlined below. 

Requesting Access

Please review the information and protocols below prior to contacting Collections Manager Ana Motta at apmotta@ku.edu.

Specimen Loan Request Form

DNA Request Form

Specimen Photo Request Form

Visit Request Form

Physical Specimens

Qualified professionals or their students have several options for gaining access to specimens in the KU Herpetology collections. Our catalog of fluid-preserved and dry whole animal specimens can be freely accessed via VertNet or the Specify Web interface. Both are updated monthly to our in house Specify database. In most cases, all of the taxonomic and locality data associated with specimens in our collection is accessible via these online portals. Exceptions include cases where specific locality data is withheld due to concern over wildlife exploitation. 

Specimen Collections Policies

We welcome on-site visits from qualified researchers and their students, particularly if you'd like to examine a large number of specimens. We offer working space for any period of time, and can also assist with some aspects of travel (e.g., referrals to local housing options in the vicinity of the collections). 

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 at the discretion of the Curators only to qualified, recognized professionals (or to these individuals for use by their students) for a period of up to 6 months (initial three month term with an optional three month renewal). We will not extend loans beyond six months, so please plan your work accordingly. No third-party loan arrangements (e.g., a borrower passing KU specimens to another individual or institution) are ever permitted by KU.

Graduate and undergraduate students requesting specimens must have their request co-signed by their academic 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.

The criteria considered in granting a loan request include, but are not limited to:

  • Number of specimens in the request
  • Specific species and specimens and their condition
  • Borrower's stated plans for specimens
  • Project design
  • Previous loan record of borrower
  • Location of borrower
  • Potential priority issues related to overlapping requests from 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, 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 generally be asked to visit the KU collections in person.


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 free of charge 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:

  • Specific catalogue numbers
  • Species names
  • Desired whole-specimen perspectives (i.e. dorsal, ventral, or lateral)
  • Some justification for your photographs request

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.

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) free of charge 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).

Techniques for extracting usable DNA from formalin-preserved specimens have advanced to the point that tissue samples taken from specimens have 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 that 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.

Genetic Resources

The goal of KU Genetic Resources Collection is to conserve and share genetic resources with the scientific research community. We provide extracted DNA to qualified investigators conducting well-conceived and properly justified studies. You can browse our genetic resources using several publicly available portals including VertNet or the KU Herpetology Specify Portal. Please review the information below prior to submitting a request. 

Genetic Resources Policies

DNA extracts are provided as a gift from the KU Biodiversity Institute. They are subsamples and, as such, no remaining extracts are to be returned. KU Herpetology will provide DNA gifts only for well-founded and well-justified scientific applications.

Once availability of the tissues has been confirmed, to request sample(s), please email the Collections Manager, Ana Motta at apmotta@ku.edu and you'll be provided with a DNA Request Form to be filled out and returned to us. You will be required to provide a brief outline on the form of the goals, methods, and time frame for your project, as well as justification for why your work requires samples in our collection. 

A committee consisting of KU Herpetology curators and curatorial staff can generally evaluate requests within a few days. An additional 2-3 weeks are typically required to prepare and ship samples. Loans may sometimes take longer to process if our staff are in the field or otherwise away from the collection. Large requests (more than 16 samples) may require considerably more time. DNA requests may require authorization from the individuals who contributed to our collection, or their collaborators as many samples are collected and deposited by researchers who are still actively investigating their samples. A carefully prepared DNA Request Form will significantly expedite all aspects of the loan process.

If you're requesting DNA, you must also tell us in advance which procedures will be used and how much DNA these procedures are expected to require (total volume and desired concentration).

Rare or difficult-to-obtain samples should be integral to the project design and not just included because they are novel. These samples may require extra justification.

DNA extracts are for research use only and for the express purpose outlined in the DNA Request form. No extracted DNA, derivatives, or products may be exchanged, loaned, or transferred to a third party or cataloged into any other biodiversity collection without the express written permission of KU Herpetology. No genomic DNA, derivatives, or products may be used for commercial purposes or for financial gain of any kind.

State, Federal and international laws will govern DNA distribution. KU Herpetology operates in strict accordance with all relevant laws, rules, and regulations. No exceptions to these legal restrictions will be allowed.

One copy of the loan invoice will be included with the DNA samples as a packing slip. An additional copy of the invoice will be sent via email. The requester is required to sign and return a copy of this invoice to acknowledge safe receipt of tissues. 

KU Herpetology no longer fulfills genetic resources requests by providing subsamples of tissues housed in our permanent collection. This transition to providing high quality genomic extracts instead of tissue samples may concern researchers who have become accustomed to the practice of receiving tissue subsamples when they request genetic resources from natural history collections. However, we believe that this new practice will be beneficial both to the long-term health of our permanent collection and to the research community we are committed to serving.

The main reason that we are no longer providing tissue samples is that this practice has proven unsustainable, and in violation of our commitment to maintain a permanent archive of genetic diversity. In many cases, particularly for frogs and small lizards, we are only able to divide our archived material into two or three subsamples. Some tissues in our collection are already gone forever, and many others are significantly diminished in size. For example, a recent survey of over 100 tissue samples collected between 1980 and 2010 found that 30% of tissues from neotropical frogs are either completely exhausted or down to only enough material for one more extraction. As demand for tissue samples grows, many samples from our permanent collection will be exhausted if we do not institute new policies to preserve them.

Fortunately, providing extracted DNA instead of destructively sampled tissues is a simple measure that will dramatically improve our ability to conserve the genetic resources we curate. The reason for this is that the practice of sending out tissues and relying on the researchers who receive these tissues to conduct DNA extraction is generally extremely wasteful and inefficient. We generally provide researchers with a subsample sufficient for two or more extractions, and a single extraction produces on average an order of magnitude more DNA than is required by even the most demanding procedures used by most researchers. Even if remaining tissue subsamples or extracted DNA are archived rather than discarded after a project is completed, this material is of little value to anyone because it is rarely accessible via public databases and because our own institutional policies prohibit re-use of samples for research project not outlined in the original request or redistribution of tissues or their derivatives to third parties. By sending researchers only what they need and retaining excess DNA directly sampled from our permanent collection, we will be able to make this material available to subsequent generations of biodiversity researchers.

All extracted DNA will be generated by our trained staff using the Promega Maxwell DNA platform. This platform’s magnetic bead based extraction protocol efficiently and reliably produces high quality and high molecular weight DNA from tissue samples. Extracts from this platform have been used for a wide range of downstream applications, ranging from traditional Sanger sequencing of large DNA fragments to next generation sequencing of RADseq and UCE libraries. Because the Maxwell platform uses a completely dripless protocol and self-sterilizes with a burst of powerful UV light after each extraction, the probability of contamination during extraction is negligible. Moreover, our staff are very good at doing extractions and have completed many thousands of successful extractions.

To discourage non-sustainable consumption of genetic resources, KU Herpetology generally expects that the DNA samples we provide will be supplemented by samples collected by the requesting researcher or their collaborators. We will not generally provide a researcher the majority of the samples required to undertake a given project.

The majority of the requests we receive are for fewer than 16 samples. Loans of this size are generally manageable with our current staffing and can generally be processed in about one week. Larger loans may require considerably more time to process so please plan accordingly.

As a reminder, to ensure that we provide the necessary quantity and quality of DNA, researchers requesting DNA must tell us in advance which procedures will be used and how much DNA these procedures are expected to require (total volume and desired concentration).

We expect that researchers will be familiar with the concentration and quantity of DNA required for their procedures. If you do not know how much DNA your procedures require please consult your laboratory protocols for guidance. Based on our own experiences, we expect that researchers needs will range from as little as 10 nanograms of DNA per sample for a single Sanger sequencing reaction to as much as 500 nanograms of DNA per sample for particularly challenging next generation sequencing libraries. In most cases, it is appropriate for researchers to request twice the quantity that they expect their work to require. For example, researchers who use 10 ng of DNA in their standard PCR reactions should request 100 ng of DNA if their goal is to sequence 5 loci.

All published sequences generated from tissues provided by KU Herpetology must be submitted to GenBank with KU catalog numbers from corresponding voucher specimens included in the “specimen_voucher” modifier. Tissue gift recipients are advised to be especially attentive to submitting to GenBank the full locality data and KU Herpetology catalog number (not the field collector number). GenBank accession numbers must be reported directly to KU Herpetology via e-mail to herpsku@ku.edu for inclusion in the KU Herpetology database. Unpublished sequences deposited with Genbank should be registered and reported in the same way. Data obtained from tissue samples that is not suitable for submission to GenBank should be submitted to the relevant public database. Failure to submit data obtained from our genetic material to publicly available databases will lead to rejection of subsequent requests for genetic material from the researcher who obtained the material and others at the researcher’s institution.

If, after 5 years, the researcher has not submitted genetic data to a publicly available database and provided KU Herpetology with the relevant accession numbers, KU reserves the right to obtain the data from the researcher and submit and database it on their behalf. Such actions may also result in the denial of future Tissue Grant Applications.

We now charge a processing fee of $10 per DNA sample. This fee covers the cost of pulling samples from our cryo facility, extracting and quantifying genomic DNA, and shipping samples. Samples that require international shipment or involve other complications may require additional fees. We offer up to 16 gratis samples to researchers based at peer institutions that reciprocally provide KU researchers with free access to genetic resources that are accessible via public databases. Please contact us via e-mail prior to submitting your DNA Request Form if you would like to request a peer institution fee exemption for up to 16 samples.

A copy of any publication citing KU DNA 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.

KU Herpetology generally does not provide DNA samples in exchange for in-kind contributions of genetic resources to our collection. Exceptions may include cases where the proposed exchange involves genetic samples from vouchered specimens housed at KU or another institutional repository that are otherwise unavailable to the research community. Please provide details to us via e-mail if you would like to propose an exchange of this nature.

KU Herpetology does not accept offers of authorship in exchange for access to genetic samples. Such exchanges are unethical and are not permissible by many reputable journals with explicit criteria for authorship.

Researchers who believe that their objectives overlap with those of a KU researcher are encouraged to discuss a potential collaborative relationship that might involve more substantive contributions from the KU researcher than merely access to samples (e.g., development of project, analysis of data, preparation of manuscript). When such collaborations involve a KU researcher authorized to work with our genetic samples, it may be possible to receive a partial waiver of specimen processing fees or to request larger than normal numbers of samples.