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Donating Herps For Research

My daughter's lizard recently died. She is storing it in a plastic bag in the freezer. Can we donate it for research and to whom?

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My daughter's gecko recently died. She is storing it in a plastic bag in the freezer. We live in southern California. Can we donate it for research and to whom?

Your question made me smile. About 10 years ago, I was lecturing at a local bird club, and afterward, a woman came up to me and said her beloved chameleon recently died. She wanted to donate his body for me to “study.” Unfortunately for her, I was working with a reptile importer and spent a good deal of time performing necropsies (animal autopsies) on deceased lizards to ascertain why they died. Although I appreciated her sentiment and motives, I had no need to necropsy her chameleon.


Her name was Paula, and she became a very good friend. She also became involved with our conservation effort in Florida, where we raise marmosets and tamarins for captive conservation.

Many herp vets who work with lizards have performed necropsies on patients that didn’t make it, and it is a sad reality that a certain percentage of herps won’t survive in spite of topnotch care. However, you may be able to find an ambitious vet right out of vet school who would appreciate the opportunity to perform a necropsy on a lizard. Because the body was frozen, it is not possible to perform a microscopic examination of the tissues, called histopathology, because ice crystals in the tissue may have caused too much damage for accurate diagnosis.

You may want to call around to some local veterinary clinics to see if any veterinarian is interested in the gecko. You could also call a high school with advanced science programs and see if a science teacher might want to use the lizard for an anatomy class. Rare and unusual deceased herps are in demand for scientific study. It is very kind of you to think about some good coming from your daughter’s lizard’s death, but don’t be disappointed if you can’t find a taker for the gecko.

Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, DABVP has been an avian/exotic/herp animal veterinarian since 1981. She is a regular contributor to REPTILES magazine.

Need a Herp Vet?
If you are looking for a herp-knowledgeable veterinarian in your area, a good place to start is by checking the list of members on the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarian (ARAV) web site at www.arav.com. Look for DVMs who appear to maintain actual veterinary offices that you could contact.